The Redhaired Friend. Chapters 2 and 3
The Dissensions Among Sisters
The school ended at two in the afternoon. Dina and Nick together walked onto the school’s porch. Dina inhaled with relief the fresh air of autumn and ran down the steps. Nick slowly followed her. He was wearing a thin bright-green coat and a dark-green scarf with yellow strips. Dina caught the first fallen leaf with the tip of her shoe and kicked it into the air.
“Where are you going to go?” she asked, turning back to her new friend.
“There,” Nick nodded towards the street.
“That’s my way too,” Dina smiled.
“Mom will cry again,” said Nick wearily, trying to fix his hair. “She always cries when I come home after a fight. She never even scolds me for the torn shirt, but my father…”
“Really?” Dina was surprised. “My mom never cries on such an occasion…”
“Do you have brothers or sisters?” asked Nick.
“I have five sisters,” Dina chuckled.
“That means, you never fought bad enough to make her feel like crying” admitted Nick.
“I have fought,” Dina sighed. “Once my whole eye got covered by a bruise…”
“Creepy,” replied Nick. “You know what, do you have anything to eat?”
“I do,” Dina took her backpack off her shoulder. “I always take a sandwich with me. You never know what they will feed you in that eatery.”
“That’s a good idea,” agreed Nick. “Today they gave us some muck.”
“Just a casserole. That was actually the best food in our school, everything else is even worse,” declared Dina and gave him a homemade sandwich, wrapped in aluminum foil.
“Thank you,” Nick took the sandwich and unwrapped it. “I couldn’t eat your casserole. It was disgusting.”
He broke the sandwich into two halves and gave one to Dina. They walked and ate the sandwich, and Dina felt quite good, because it was almost the first time that she walked along with a friend. Nick looked nightmarish after the fight, especially bad were his lips and his shirt, dotted with blood.
“How did it happen that you stood your back to the desks, but you landed on them with your face?” asked Dina carefully.
“Ah, Dima hit me into the shoulder, so I got turned around,” explained Nick, knocking the crumbs off his hands.
“And you still call him by name?” Dina was impressed. “After all those insults that he gave you? I never call him anything but the Seal for the last couple of years!”
“He insulted me, but I do not want to look like him,” said Nick, proudly straightening his shoulders. “He is not the first one to do so, and I think, he is not the last. You see, I am red-haired.”
He shook his head, and Dina thought that it is probably hard indeed to be red-haired. They walked a few blocks, turned, turned again and again. Dina got to a familiar street at the edge of the town, where the bumpy road was surrounded by big and old wooden houses.
“My house is at the end of this street,” said the girl, a little surprised that Nick still waked next to her and never said where he himself lived.
“Really? That’s funny, my house is that one, with blue platbands,” he pointed out. “So, we are neighbors.”
“How long have you lived there? I thought this house was empty last night! It has been without an owner for many-many years,” said Dina.
“Nay, we moved there yesterday at night. We had a small number of things, so you could have just missed our arrival,” explained Nick.
“You can live in there?” asked Dina, twisting her lips. “I thought it was such an old house…”
“Relatively old. There are a lot of spider-webs and dust, and the floors are a little rotten, but we won’t stay here for long,” said Nick.
“Yeah?” Dina looked at him anxiously. “For how long?”
“I don’t know for sure. Maybe for a month, maybe longer,” Nick sighed.
“Where will you go then?”
“Probably to Moscow,” said Nick. “Or to Saint-Petersburg. My father is looking for a job.”
“O-oh,” replied Dina sadly.
“Don’t worry, I am not leaving now,” exclaimed Nick. Dina shook her head to make the sad thoughts leave her.
“You asked about my relatives, do you have brothers? Or sisters?” she asked to change the topic.
“Yeah, three sisters,” answered Nick. “One is older than me, the other two are younger.”
“Do you fight with them?”
“Well, to say the truth, yes, sometimes we fight,” said Nick. “The youngest of my sisters is little, she is only three. The other one is a year younger than me and we fight a lot with her. The third sister is an adult, she is almost thirty, so it’s a little hard to fight with her…”
“Yeah, amusing,” Dina chuckled. “There is a year difference between all my sisters, so I fight almost with every single one of them.”
“My mom says, that when we’ll grow up, we’ll stop scratching one another,” admitted Nick. “But I am not sure how that is possible…”
Dina laughed. Then she became thoughtful: Nick is twelve, his youngest sister is two, but his oldest one is thirty, then how old is his mom? Strange that this can be true.
There was a girl standing next to the gate into the garden at the old house with the blue platbands. The only thing that suggested that she was a girl was a knee-long light-blue skirt. Her face was narrow and triangular, thickly powdered with darker freckles. Her hair was lush and very curly, of burning red color, and her large green eyes looked mischievously and tenaciously from the shadow of her triangular red eyebrows. Once she noticed Nick, she slipped onto the road and walked towards him.
“Dinka, let me introduce you, this is my sister Finna,” Nick presented, smiling.
“Nice to meet you, Finna,” Dina stretched out her hand. “I am Dina.”
“Hi,” said Finna with quite a low voice for a girl. She shook Dina’s hand with her strong freckled fingers.
“It’s her birthday today,” said Nick, nodding at his sister. “And I haven’t wrapped your present yet, as usual!”
“Are you going to wrap it into a towel again?!” Finna protested.
“No,” Nick crossed his arms.
“Why did you rip your shirt?” asked Finna with reproach in her voice.
“Because it looks better this way!”
“What a taste you have…” said Finna sarcastically. “Come on, mom is preparing the table already.”
“Good, you may go, I’m coming,” said Nick. Finna snorted, turned around and walked to the house.
“Would you like to go to school together tomorrow?” asked Nick.
“Yeah,” agreed Dina.
“Cool… Well, bye!” said he, waved his hand and run off to the gate. Dina followed him with her gaze and turned to her house. It was a regular wooden two-storied house. The girl crossed the street, whisked into the gate in the fence and walked on the wide platform that was surrounded with flowerbeds and fruit trees, that covered the garden with the lace of their brunches. It smelled of apples and pears in the garden – the autumn was near. Next to the porch, at the flowerbed, there stood a man on his knees. He was about fifty years of age. His ash-brown hair with white stripes in it was laid in a whirlwind upon his head. His heavy glasses once in a while slid down his hose, and he fixed them with a long, jointed finger.
“Hi, dad,” said Dina, stopping on the steps. Igor, it was Dina’s father’s name, looked up and fixed his glasses again.
“Hello,” he answered. “See, I decided to replant these little bushed, they withered so badly here in the shadow…”
“Interesting,” Dina looked at his plaid shirt the color of which almost faded, his light-colored jeans, greened at the knees, and his pink rubber gloves that went up to his elbows. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Igor sighed, fixed his glasses once again and started to dig out a little bush. He was a house flower breeder and at the moment was trying to create a special type of begonia that would be able to survive through the winter underneath the snow.
Dina went into the corridor. She threw off her shoes and her coat, stopped in front of the mirror and examined herself with curiosity. While she was gazing at herself, her face turned to be more and more dissatisfied. She did not find anything of interest in the mirror: a large nose, round light-blue eyes, flat lips, ash-brown hair, that was fixed into a long braid at the back of her head, and a funny-looking forelock that fell on both sides of her face.
Dina grimaced, shook her head, grabbed her backpack and went to the living room. It was the kingdom of the preparation for lunch. The scent of borsch mixed with the aroma of buns and house flowers. The elder sisters were helping to get the table ready, the younger ones were fussing and got underfoot to those helping. All the backpacks and parts of school uniform were piled next to the couch. Dina placed her own backpack there, slipped between two arguing sisters to the kitchen, from where came Olga, Dina’s mother. She was a small shapely woman with dark-brown hair. She hugged Dina carefully.
“How did your day go?” she asked, stroking Dina’s forelock.
“It was fine,” said Dina. She was not exactly sure how her day went. There were good parts, there were bad parts.
“Well, that is great. Sit down, we’re going to have lunch,” suggested Olga. Dina nodded and went back to the living room, where she bumped into eleven-years-old Ira, the third sister in the family.
“Dinka! Move aside, I’m carrying the plates!” said Ira indignantly, turning her lips into a little bow.
“Irka!” parried Dina. “Didn’t I forbid you from calling me Dinka?!”
“Didn’t I forbid you from calling me Irka?!” Ira boiled.
“Well I ban it!” said Dina in a raised voice.
“Y-yh!” breathed Ira, inflating her cheeks, and went the kitchen with a pile of plates on her hands. Dina shook her head indignantly and sat at her place. Lida, the oldest of all sisters, ran to call Igor for lunch, and finally everyone was in place.
“Dina, what happened to your sleeve?” asked Olga, standing up a little and looking at her daughter’s right arm tensely. “Did you have an art-class today?”
“Ah! No,” before this moment Dina did not realize that a few drops of blood got on her shirt when she grabbed Nick’s elbow. “This’s blood. Such a story…”
“Blood?” Olga was confused, but Ira shouted excitedly:
“Did you get bored of living?!”
“No!” Dina blushed. “Nothing of that sort! There is a new boy in our class…”
“And he got bored of living?” rejoiced Ira.
“Stop talking!” demanded Dina.
“And he asked you to kill him?” Ira got even more excited.
“Ira, be quiet for a moment,” Olga requested.
“No!” said Dina loudly. “No one was bored of living! The thing is that this new boy got into a fight with Dima Tuna, and his face got smashed over the desk. I helped him to stand up and some blood got on my sleeve.”
“What a horrifying story,” said Olga. “What’s his name?”
“Nickita,” explained Dina and felt like she did not want to talk about him anymore. He is her friend and no one else needs to know about him.
“I hope, he didn’t get hurt too much?” said Olga.
“Nay, just a little bit,” Dina sighed. “Only his nose and his lips.”
“Uh, uncomfortable,” Olga noted.
“Fe-e, how horrible he looked probably!” exclaimed Lida. Dina frowned and did not reply.
“Why in the world did you decide to help him and get into the fight yourself?” asked Ira.
“Tuna knocked him on the desk, and I was the closest to him. I couldn’t just stay there, it wouldn’t have been polite,” explained Dina.
“Why did they fight?” wondered Olga.
“Tuna didn’t let Nick out of the class,” said Dina. “And they argued, and Tuna insulted me, but Nick stood up for me, so he got to fight.”
“What a classical situation,” noted Olga, talking to her husband. “I don’t understand, why do such relations between the classmates still exist. Is it acceptable?”
“Surely not,” replied Igor abstractedly.
“Oh, what a hero!” giggled Ira. “Stood up for a girl and got a slap in the face!”
“What is wrong with it?” inquired Dina.
“He is just funny. I saw a guy with smashed lips in school today. A redhead, hair is long like he’s a girl. Him?” asked Ira.
“He doesn’t look like a girl at all,” murmured Dina.
“Who in the world wears their hair that long in our time?”
“He does,” snorted Dina.
“Only idiots do such hairstyles,” stated Ira.
“If you knew anything about hair!” offended Dina.
“I know more than you do!”
“Well, that is enough. Ira, Dina, let’s be calm,” said Olga.
“Mom, can you imagine, they placed Ira Soboleva at my desk! So now we don’t know who of us is supposed to come, when they call “Ira”! said Ira.
Dina ate her soup in silence and did not listen to her. She did not like hearing so many bad words in Nick’s address from her sisters. It disappointed her, especially the fact that her sisters did not want to understand, how noble and gentle Nick’s actions were. His respectfulness and strangeness interested Dina. His carefulness and mannerliness pushed away others, those, who could not understand and know what he knew and understood.
After finishing her lunch, Dina brought her plate to the kitchen and went upstairs, to her room. There she sat down on the bed and felt like crying because the thought that there is such small amount of people in the world who understand and respect good manners in those around them. Only one thought consoled her: Nick was the friend who understood her, who brought happiness into her heart, even though he was rather strange.
A Man in a Coal Coat
That morning Dina woke up with a feeling of something extraordinary about the new day. Today she will not be alone when going to school. After so many years, since her mom walked her to school for the last time, Dina never went there with anyone at her side. She ate her breakfast as fast as she could to be able to get out of the house before her sisters would, collected her things and slipped onto the platform. A greenish-blue twilight still lingered here and there was a patch of blue sky showing over the fence.
Dina went to the gate, breathing in the familiar scent of the autumn morning. Her sneakers rustled in the fallen leaves, and she felt the coming of fall stronger this way. Once Dina walked to the street and closed the latch, voices rose behind the gate of the dilapidated fence that surrounded the garden of the old house with the blue platbands. Nick ran out of the garden, putting his coat on as he went. Dina stopped and waved her hand at him.
“Hi!” said Nick, flying to the road by a narrow path that led from the gate.
“Good morning,” Dina smiled, hooking her hands at the slings of her backpack.
“How’s life?” asked Nick politely, once they walked together towards the school.
“Fine,” Dina sighed. Not knowing what else to say, she started to talk about the awful math assignment that they had for homework. When she was done, Nick changed the subject:
“So, they asked my parents to come to school…”
“Because of the fight?” guessed Dina.
“Almost,” Nick shook his head slowly and sadly. “Because I came wearing inappropriate clothes.”
“Inappropriate clothes?” Dina was taken aback. “I thought, you were dressed better than any other boy in our class!”
She bit her tongue and looked at him guiltily, feeling her ears turning red and burning.
“Thank you,” Nick chuckled. “My mom’s work. Anna… Nikolaevna, I believe is her middle name, said, that it is not nice to stroll the school wearing a dirty and torn shirt. I told her that it got torn because of Dima. Then they didn’t like my pants, they said, they are too skinny… I don’t know, what’s wrong.”
“Oh, bulling once again…” Dina sighed heavily. “Every single time it is this way. A newbie comes into a class and they torture them with every method they know.”
“It’s fine, my mom knows I didn’t tear my shirt on purpose…”
“When will they come?” asked Dina.
“When the classes are over,” replied Nick. “My father was very displeased with me coming home all beat up, but I explained what happened, and he understood everything.”
“Hold on,” Dina told him. “They will be testing your strength for the next week.”
“Alright!” Nick shook his head furiously and his hair flashed like a flame in the air. “I will get through it!”
Dina looked at him with a smile. He did not seem to be the one who can easily be broken. Naivety and tenacity combined in his gaze with beautiful fineness. Control and courage added to the unusual character.
* * *
Dima Tuna was late to school that day, so Nick delayed the meeting with him until the break. As soon as the bell rang and the teacher allowed everyone to leave, Tuna got up, threw his belongings into the backpack and on the way out of the class, dropped a small note onto Nick’s desk. Dina stared at it with confusion.
“Be careful,” she suggested. “He might’ve put a spider or a wasp in there.”
“Oh, what a horrible insect!” Nick laughed and unfolded the note. There was nothing dangerous in it, but Nick’s fuzzy eyebrows frowned, when he read the gnarled lines.
“What’s in there?” asked Dina.
“Nothing of interest,” Nick folded the note and shoved it into the pocket on his blazer. Dina was left to wonder. On the second break Nick disappeared and returned only at the beginning of the next lesson, together with Tuna. Both of them were disheveled but they looked calm. They walked to their desks and Dina saw that Nick’s neck was red under the collar of his shirt.
“Well,” he said, settling down. “What a scoundrel…”
“He got hold of the keys to the dressing room and called me to come there to talk about what happened yesterday,” Nick fixed his long black tie. “But today he did not take me by surprise.”
Dina grinned. Today’s victory may lessen Tuna’s power as of the strongest guy of their age. Even though Nick looked smaller and slenderer, he did not yield to him. The last class was physical education: their teacher decided to make a preparation for the shuttle run, because there were supposed to be competitions at the end of the semester. Dina could not stand shuttled run. She was good at running long distances, when she could keep one tempo. Shuttled run required rushing from one corner to another and keeping track of time for doing that!
Wearing sport shorts and a t-shirt Nick looked funny. He left his hair as it was and when Dina suggested tying it up into a ponytail for him, he refused to let her do so. It was the boys’ turn to run first. Dina sat on the long bench at the wall and watched them whistle their sneakers about the floor from one orange cone to another. She could not wait to see Tuna run, because he almost couldn’t run, he only fought good. But first it was Nick’s turn. He took a low start, skinny and well-shaped, froze for a few seconds, biting his lower lip and widening his glossy eyes.
The teacher whistled and the boy flew from the spot like an arrow, that was set on its way with a strong bow. His sneakers clicked at the floor, shuffled, stopping at the cone. Nick ran a little too far, but he was already turned in the direction of his way. He ran again, then back and in the other direction again and jumped over the cone. The teacher clicked the timer.
“Six seconds, two milliseconds,” he said, fixing his glasses with amazement. “You are a monster.”
Nick shrugged and sat on the bench. After so much running he did not seem to be tired, he only breathed a little faster. Dina noticed that he did not even get sweaty. She started to think that this boy – is an alien creature. He has different dimensions and different perception of the world. Maybe, he can walk on the ceiling? Who knows?..
* * *
Once the lesson was over, when Nick and Dina went down to the school’s lobby, Nick went on, squeezed through a group of high-schoolers and went to a young woman, that was cautiously looking around herself. Dina followed her friend and that was when she saw a marvelous creature, standing next to the woman. It was a man about thirty or thirty-five years of age, very tall, slender, with a pale laid-back face and moisty eyes, shielded by long bright-red eyelashes. It was not all that was astonishing, there was also his straight silver-grey hair, that spilled over his coal coat and ash-grey sweater and fell all the way to his thighs. Dina stared at him in amazement, startled, with eyes wide open.
“Dina, let me introduce you,” said Nick, touching her sleeve. “Here are my parents.”
“I am Anna,” the woman named herself. Her lovely face and glistering eyes seemed trustworthy.
“Nice to meet you, I am Dina,” replied Dina.
“Eldar,” said the man with grey hair, bending down and stretching out his long thin palm with straight lean fingers. Dina wanted to shake it carefully, but Eldar squeezed her fingers, pulled her hand towards himself and gently touched her wrist with his cold and dry lips. Dina felt like blushing because of the surprise and confusion that rose within her.
“You don’t have to wait for me today, I will probably stay here for a while,” said Nick, facing his friend.
“Okey,” Dina nodded.
Eldar smoothly took Anna’s arm, and the three of them went to the school director’s office.
“See you tomorrow!” exclaimed Nick.
“Bye,” murmured Dina. Never before she met such extraordinary and such beautiful people. The three of them together, the three of the most incredible people whom Dina ever knew in her life. When they were together it seemed like some magic concentrated around them, something that was not comprehensible but something that existed.
Dina left the school under an impression of today’s meeting. The day was sunny and warm, but she did not take of her jean coat and did not become interested in walking on the leaves in the school’s backyard and making the maple leaves rustle, as she would have normally done. She went on walking to her house, filled with one sorely inebriating need – to draw!
* * *
Glittering paint spilled inside the grey slate outline, softly soaking into the grainy watercolor paper, and gained its customary light-spotted color. The sides of the painted spot were slowly drying and were defining the shape of the lines as thick as a hair may be. Dina washed her brush in a glass jar, jingled it by its side and started to mix another tone. It smelled of wet lumber, fresh paints and of apple garden.
A scenic landscape started to show up on the paper of the color of the elephant bone slowly and unwillingly. Dina has been drawing for the whole evening. Sights of an astonishingly beautiful country, made up by her imagination, appeared on thick and sturdy pieces of her paper. Paints, mixed together with phantasy, stained it ruthlessly and fearlessly. Dina was never afraid of using desperate colors and sharp shadings. Being impressed by today’s experience, she had to create something. Creating and making was as important to her as breathing.
Hands that allow to create are a gift that gives joy and pain at the same time. Dina knew that her abilities are limitless, she only should learn and work hard to make them all come to being. She looked at the world with her eyes open wide, she looked, and she saw it magical and infinite, and the work of her hands mirrored that magic. But homework, sisters, mom, weariness – everything distracted her from her creation. Questions and requests of her household irritated Dina especially hard today, even though she knew there was no need in being angry with them. Sighing, she would answer and hide deep inside her soul her inspiration and her gift – to see the world differently.