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Hello?

Have you ever traveled in an overcrowded bus? Rammed up against the window with your cheek squashed against the glass and the handrail bruising your ribs? No need to answer. Of course you have. No, really, I’m not being rude. Why am I asking? Because I need somewhere to start and that was the setting of the incident which set off the thoughts which underlie this narrative.  All right? So I got on a bus. Well no, I didn’t just get on. I forced my way in like a digger biting into sand. Then, amoeba-like, I assumed the shape of the gap between the jostling bodies of my fellow passengers (Good morning, comrades!), and slithered my way to the window. My face was squashed against the glass, the handrail was bruising my ribs . . . OK, OK. The bus pulled out and my fellow citizens were winnowed into place. Just as well that, when push came to shove, we all proved soft-bodied. Our narrative has begun.

“Hello?”

Fortune favors some over others. The start of a good day is when you get a seat on public transport. Your hand is free to follow its trajectory to your pocket, withdraw your mobile phone, and proceed with it thence, as the requisite buttons are pressed, to your ear.

“Yes, it’s me. Hi!”

A moment’s silence.

“On my way to work.”

Another short pause.

“Why not? OK. Fine, no problem. Why? When? Yes, sure! No, it’s cool. I’ll call you when I get there. So long, mwah! Me too!”

The hand follows the reverse route from her ear, pressing the “end call” key as it does so, to her pocket. Eyelids close on a face in her hand. The fortunate young lady in possession of a seat now has every right to doze until she reaches her office, and has all the necessary conditions for doing so.

What dreams are you dreaming, Cruiser Aurora, detonator of the Great October Socialist Revolution? No, wrong frame of reference.  The dreams of the poet’s Fair Lady are a better metaphor. What was the voice on the telephone proposing, what did you agree to? Will you follow him wherever he goes? Are you in love? May blessings light upon you. I hope you both find happiness.

But let us step back a few moments. The conversation is still in progress, the emoticon has not yet closed its eyes, and the young lady enthroned on her very own seat in the bus is cooing, unabashed, with her beloved, heedless of the passengers crowded around her. Of what interest to her are they and their problems and hopes, their toes trodden on by the people next to them, their arms numb from immobility and stretched by heavy bags?

Her soft-bodied fellow citizens, however, have turned and are looking at her with curiosity. How interesting to know what the two of them have just agreed to. Even more intriguing—so intriguing, indeed, that they have quite forgotten their trampled toes and numb arms which by now might as well belong to someone else—is that casually dropped phrase which just slipped from her tongue: “Me too!”

You too what? And he too what? Just what are you reciprocating? Did he say he loves you, or something quite different, like “I’d forgotten you completely,” for instance? In which case you replied that you’d completely forgotten him too. No? Perhaps he did say he loves you, but is he telling the truth? “Love”—do you really know what love is? Have you the faintest inkling? Well, all of us standing here do. Don’t underestimate the reason for our looking so exhausted. It’s not because we haven’t had enough sleep and are all pressed against each other so early in the morning. We have been worn out by love, the immensity of which has filled us to overflowing, which is why we take up so much space. If we didn’t know love we would have withered and there would be plenty of room for everyone in the bus, which is actually quite spacious.

Hey, just a minute! Why all this finger pointing? Are you trying to pretend you are so amazingly well brought up you don’t poke your nose into other people’s business, unlike certain other passengers who are demonstrably less well brought up? (I’m addressing this to myself. What else can you do if you’re being crucified on a handrail other than talk to yourself?) Admit it, pal, you’re Hoovering up every word, constructing hypotheses, trying to reconstitute such fragments of this enthralling dialogue as were inaccessible to your ear. Just turn away right now and close your ears! Ah, but first I need to detach my cheek from this window and find what’s happened to my arms among all these bodies pressing against each other.

Right, then. Love. If you only knew, dear young lady, the things I have experienced in my life. To give just one example . . . But actually, what is there to tell? It’s just that the minute I see her every cell in my body is filled with something ethereal. I feel as if I’m walking on air. I glance at her again, and . . .

No, sorry, I’ll have to tell you the rest another time. It’s my stop and I need to get off the bus. I assume liquid form and, flowing like a mountain stream over rapids, percolate through my fellow citizens. All the best, comrades! Ah, love.

Translation of “Hello?” Copyright Dimitry Biryukov. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Arch Tait. All rights reserved.