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The Girl in Red Apron

By Suyash Saxena

It had been a long day for Andrei.  Clumsily he walked dragging his shoes in mud. His hands were loosely tucked into his pockets. His sleeves were untidily folded almost up to his pointed elbows. His shirt was scruffily gathered into his trousers that hung around his thin waist. Cool summer breeze sifted

 through his unruly hair. Fatigue of the day’s work reflected on this young man’s demeanour. As he walked he never lifted his downcast eyes. Perhaps he was reluctant to face the glimmer of the setting sun. He had not even realised how bright the day had been. He reached his room; lifted his eyes to take a brief glimpse of the disorganized state his room was in. Taking no notice of the toppled pile of military books, three carelessly placed army medals and the blown away pages written in his hand, he reached out to the easy-chair at the window. Suddenly he sprawled over the chair as if he longed to do this.

He began to gaze through the window. The sun hung low. Birds were returning. The skies were orange. Twilight diffused through his window. For Andrei, it was just like that day which has been so deeply etched in his memory. It was dusk even then. Both of them had stood staring at each other. It was time to part. She knew it. He knew it. But they just couldn’t drift apart. So difficult it was for Andrei to tear his eyes off her face. Oh her face! How innocent it was. Those eloquent eyes- how deep they were. How soulful! Andrei remembers that moment. He will never forget it. He can’t forget it. Each and every fraction of that moment files pass his mind. In that one perpetual moment she had given him everything that he had ever lost.

The dusk always reminds him of that day. It has been three years since the war broke out in Austerlitz. Andrei was a young soldier in one of Russian battalions. He fought valiantly but he was wounded. Two bullets pierced his flesh- one in the arm and the other beneath the chest. The injury was not fatal but the poison had begun to spread. He was left untreated on the battleground for a day. Only after the battle was over, somebody took him on the crude military stretcher and dumped him into the makeshift medical camp adjacent to the battlefield. The military doctor pierced his knife into his flesh and took out the bullet. With his rough strokes he then sewed his wounds. Andrei cried out of excruciating pain. Doctor left him in pain on his blood stained, crude stretcher next to the window. He just dosed off. Septicemia was setting in.

He woke up after a day. A beam of sunlight through his window welcomed him. It was a bright morning. Springtime in Austerlitz is always beautiful. Fields stretched endlessly. Long green grass fluttered in the breeze like the soft manes of a galloping horse. Buds were blooming into flowers all over as if colourful petals were strewn till the horizon. Gently and carefully picking those flowers was a young girl wearing a bright red apron.

The girl in the red apron immediately arrested wounded Andrei’s attention. He gazed and gazed through the crude wooden frame of his window. ‘There- at the horizon’, he thought; ‘the rising sun’s brilliant light touches her reddening cheeks. The fleecy clouds are gently caressed by the cool summer breeze that sifts through her curly locks. Melodies of the chirruping birds blend with the sweet aroma of the April Rose carelessly held in her delicate fingers. How sweet is the fragrance of the green grass that oozes its juice underneath her dainty little feet. How beautiful are those rejoicing daffodils on the ground that are graced by her downcast eyes. How surreal it is to feel her breath mingling in the melodies of silence around her.’

Andrei found himself in acquaintance with strange and overwhelming emotions. But what emotions? Did he feel lured? Was he in love? Or was he just admiring the beauty- a non corporeal, surreal sense of beauty? Or was it just a sense of comfort after a gory battle? He was confused. None of his answers convinced him. It was just a feeling- a bare feeling. An emotion that was unique in itself. There was no word that could describe that emotion. It was neither attraction, nor love, nor comfort, nor was an admiration of non-corporeal beauty. It was all of them and much more. No word, no sentence, no idea could he conceive through which could ever fathom what that feeling was. It was just unique in its own way.

Andrei remained obsessed with those emotions all day. Image of the girl in red apron picking flowers did not leave his vision. Painful cries of soldiers around him were drowned in the silent tune that the girl might have been humming to herself. The stretcher that reeked with his blood appeared sweetened by the aroma of the roses that the girl in red apron had picked. His own pain was lost in the bliss with which the girl was prancing her way through the meadow while collecting flowers. He dreamt, slept and woke- all indistinguishably.

Without any break in his dreams, he found that it was morning again. The girl in the red apron was again there, collecting flowers in her basket. Andrei silently watched her through the window. Soon her basket was full. She disappeared. And she appeared again, now through the door of the medical camp. Andrei watched her as she entered and gradually advanced towards him. Distributing roses and smiles to the wounded soldiers all her way, she glided gently through the plethora of ruin and pain all around her.

Finally she reached the window where Andrei was lying. He saw her. She was standing just before him. He kept gazing at her. She gazed at him. He couldn’t say anything. What could he have said? There was no name to his feelings. There was no accent that could provide him an expression. There were only eyes- eyes blurring with tears. What were those tears for? He could hardly understand. Both gazed at each other- speechless, wordless and voiceless. They couldn’t have been more eloquent. Impulsively she placed a rose on his pillow. She uttered a few words which Andrei could hardly grasp. He was too deeply sunk into those wordless emotions for words to make sense to him.

The day passed in her thoughts. The rose was kept besides him. Its fragrance carried him to her. Its crimson colour was reminiscent of her presence. He brought the rose close to his chest and hugged it hard. Tears rolled down from the sides of his eyes. The flower was so dear to him. He couldn’t part with it. It was his sole companion, his mate, his love. He adhered to it for it was only the flower that was eloquent enough to reciprocate his voiceless sentiments. He dreamt, woke and slept- all as if in a trance.

Without a hiatus of any sort, he found it was the next day. Sun was setting. It was dusk. She was there. Both of them stood staring at each other. It was time to part. She knew it. He knew it. But they just couldn’t drift apart. So difficult it was for Andrei to tear his eyes off her face. Oh her face! How innocent it was. Those soulful eyes- how deep they were. How eloquent! Andrei exerted to bring out some words. He wanted to make a promise of his return and expected an assurance of her presence. But all that he managed to say was too vague to make sense to the two souls communicating in accents far beyond words. He climbed into the military van and the gap between them stretched. He raised his hand to make the final gesture. It was partly an attempt to make a wafture and partly an attempt to seize the infinitude of that moment in the little palm of his hand.

The story continued here.....