I remember that day. I am thirty years old and about to get married for the first time. There, in the place where I come from, marrying so late is not approved of. For the people in my village, I am already old and probably spoiled, because it is not possible to be fresh when you are thirty. Besides, in a few weeks, I would be thirty-one.
According to my childhood's dream, I am getting married in the capital of our country to a local man, originating from a very intelligent family, certainly not like my family.
I am happy, skinny, beautiful. I wear a dress made by my own design and sewn in an expensive studio. It is seven in the morning. I am being dyed by a real makeup artist and being filmed by one of the best photographers in Kyiv. In twenty minutes I will meet the groom and we will go for a photo-shoot to an apple orchard, then the wedding ceremony, followed by dinner with relatives and an evening party for friends.
I have only one video recording of the wedding. My husband switched his smartphone on to video mode and put it into his shirt pocket. Our friends were waiting for us outside near the house. They were standing to form a corridor and they were throwing rose petals on us. They shouted harshly: “Bitter!”, as is the wedding custom in our country. We were kissing for a long time and then after we had read the vows, I promised to give birth to a bunch of children. And he promised his love for eternity.
We fell asleep very drunk. It seems that only the boys and I were drinking because all the girls were pregnant. I thought it was a good sign. My husband and I tried very hard all month to get me pregnant. Soon I was pregnant for sure and in exactly nine months, I would have my first child. Everything would be as in the tale, ideally, because that's how I imagined it all from childhood.
I'm in a wedding dress sitting on a chair in the middle of the garden.
"Feeling like the most beautiful bride in the world".
114 likes, 98 comments
In the morning, my period began. Looking at myself in the mirror, I loudly swallowed saliva.
Outside, flies were consuming the leftovers from the dinner. The DJ was sleeping by the pool wrapped in a pink jacket. Next to him were lying deflated balloons. One goldfish in an aquarium, in the rented-for-a-day house, floated belly up. In the evening, I had carefully stuffed the wedding cake into the fridge. When I opened the fridge door – I saw someone's face print on it. It seems that it was the imprint of our best man.
On the way home I felt gloomy. I was touching the wedding ring on my right hand with the thumb. I was sort of happy but for some reason, there was tightness in my chest.
A year has passed. Today is the first anniversary of our wedding. A vertical wrinkle between my eyebrows has begun to appear. I'm not a very cheerful person already and this thing makes me look even more stern. To hide the wrinkles I started to make a forelock with the help of the scissors my husband uses for his moustache. The same forelock as the Duchess of Cambridge has.
Every morning I do the same ritual and I do everything fast. I clean my teeth, stand on the scales, piss on the pregnancy test, cook breakfast, throw the pregnancy test into a rubbish bin, cry bitterly a little, flip through the Instagram feed followed by the Facebook feed. Then I take out the pregnancy test from the rubbish bin to check it again, pack the bag for the pool, stroke the dog, yell at the exit, "I love you", slam the door, and look as the elevator door automatically shuts in front of my face.
My husband's ex-girlfriend is standing behind me and breathes heavily on the back of my head. I count down in my head so as not to think about her. We live in the same house; she lives ten floors higher, and she is ten years younger and ten centimetres taller than me. In my left hand, I hold a bag of garbage; my endless hope shines through the thin polyethene – it is a whole bunch of one-strip pregnancy tests. I wonder, does she look at them? Does she know what it is? Why, the hell, are we constantly meeting in this, as narrow as a coffin, elevator?
On the ground floor a toothless concierge is sitting, the watchman of our lives.
"Good morning!” - I yell through the door, pinching my nose with my fingers because it always stinks of fried onion and unhealthy body odour from her pantry. She has not been out of the house for a hundred years. Her whole life is concentrated in one small room. Stepanivna knows everything: who, where and how everyone lives in our building. At first, I liked this sweet woman, but when she started retelling my husband's personal life from before I had met him, I started to avoid her.
Outdoors, I breathe in hot August. We diverge with my husband's past in different directions. She – walking gracefully; me – hunched under a heavy sports bag, hanging over my shoulder.
My husband and I are smiling straight at the camera.
“Twelve months of happiness”.
67 likes, 34 comments, one unhappy woman.
I go to the pool between high-rise buildings, covered with external advertising. I pass sad faces of local people, small cafes, stalls with flowers and the local Kyiv bread, eavesdropping on conversation excerpts of the stalls’ saleswomen, who sell vegetables and are always talking on their phones. I walk along a pathway by playgrounds, dog shit and garbage skips, making photos of fluffy clouds in the sky for future posts on social networks.
My husband and I live in a giant dormitory area of Kyiv. Thirty years ago it was a wasteland with tumble-weeds. Now it is a concrete garden that is constantly growing far and wide. Yellow and somewhat rusty Bogdan minibuses, almost the same age as me, are moving along the main streets. Time stops when you get on such a minibus at eight in the morning. It’s as if you are not moving forward or backwards in space, almost as though you are stuck somewhere in the middle. In order to get to the underground you need to pass five traffic lights, four regular stops and another six or seven stops on request: "at the turn near Kyshenia”, “at the ATS”, “at Knyazhyi Zaton”, etc. Plus, there is a small traffic jam during the process of all this, and afterwards you want to take a shower. Therefore, I always try to walk.
Sleepy people fall out of the minibus at the bus stop. They are carrying heavy bags and free underground newspapers in their hands. They dream of how they would work for themselves, not for the bloody boss. They part in different directions, to the right, to the left, through the passage; someone stops at a coffee stall. I merge with the crowd for a moment; in another second I am alone again.
At the reception by the pool, perpetually sluggish girls give out keys to the customers.
"Good morning", the first girl takes my plastic card, presses it to the machine and all the information about me appears on the screen. “You will need to upgrade your medical certificate for the pool in fourteen days”.
"All right", I say, and take the keys out of the drawer from the second girl.
I go through the turnstile to the entrance of the locker room, hoping I don’t meet anyone I know. I grew up in a small village and during my whole childhood I dreamt of escaping from there to walk streets where no one knows me. But, after twelve years of living in Kyiv, that became impossible. The city is large, but it is overcrowded and you cannot be alone anywhere; it is like living in a village. Also, unlike the countryside, the air is stale, and not so pleasant to breathe. Now I would like to escape to another city or even a country where nobody knows me; where forest or mountains can be seen. And the surf is noisy.
On the right side of the locker room door hangs the inscription ‘Premium’, but on my subscription card nameplate ‘Normal’ appears ordinary. Inside I meet the sluggish bodies of tired elderly women, they train them, wash them in the shower, wipe them, smear them with oil and cream, dry their hair, put make-up on their faces, change their sport shoes to regular shoes, stand on scales, sigh, close their closets loudly and go away.
A naked girl with bouncy breasts and buttocks in the form of nuts runs out from the shower. She has an even tan, a perfect manicure, and no scratches on her face. Unfortunately, I'm too lazy for solariums, barbells and regular workouts with lunges.
I found myself fond of swimming at the age of seven when I learned to float on water in the bathtub that my grandmother used to prepare for me in the summer, in the middle of the yard. Every Saturday I lay on my back in the bathtub between the summer kitchen and the house and looked at the leaves of the trees. Sometimes a cherry or an apple fell in the bathtub. Plop!
I taught myself to swim. I swam in all the ponds and rivers that I had the chance to. When I was five, I was taken to the sea. There I became ill with tonsillitis. We stayed in the hotel room for two weeks with my mom and we read the “Fly the Tsokotukha” a hundred times a day. A kilometre away the sea was noisy. And as I was told later, we swam in it on the first day, but I do not remember this at all.
Water refreshes me. I merge with it like a mermaid. In my twelve years of living in Kyiv, I have changed about ten pools, depending on the area in which I rented an apartment. Every six months I look for a new swimsuit. It holds its shape for just that long, then spreads, turning into a jellyfish.
Now I have a real blue sport swimsuit with two red stripes under my small breasts.
I tie a towel around my waist in front of the mirror and go through the shower room to the pool. A Georgian man, red after a sauna, comes towards me. He slaps with rubber slippers as he walks, and while looking at me he begins to smack his lips: "ts-ts-ts". I put on goggles with a mirror surface and go, looking downwards at my stale pedicure.
I adore the smell of chlorine. I often eagerly sniff my swimsuit before washing it. I love this scent on my skin and in my hair.
I hear the echoes of the trainers’ advice in the pool room; I am embraced by a feeling of cold water and wet hair which snakes out unpleasantly behind my ears. I splash into the water on track number four, in front of which is the inscription: "For a quick swim". I feel like Michael Phelps at this moment. There are two more people with me on the track; I cannot make out whose bodies they are – boys’ or women’s, so fast do they swim. I dive underwater, push off my heels from the side of the pool and start swimming with a crawl style. On the first line, I do everything really fast, like crazy, inhaling on every seventh dive; the second line I swim slower, and so on to the tenth line, then I am levelling up the speed and swim sixty lengths without stopping.
The pool is like meditation to me; no worries, all my thoughts come out through my nose with bubbles of air underwater. When I finally stop and pop out of my cave of peace, I wipe the sweaty goggles with my finger from inside, then a painful problem falls over me from a big poster in front of the track. A pregnant woman in a swimsuit encourages swimming for girls in hope. I stop, drink water from my bottle, then swim with breaststroke style. Nothing else exists, just me and my swimming strokes. Everything is fine there; I cannot cry, I cannot think, everything disappears in the water.
At the exit from the rectangular water island of peace, I praise and congratulate myself in my mind for the victory. I feel like Michael Phelps at the Olympics. And I see it in the eyes of elder women on tracks three and five. They, like frogs, are sitting in their rubber swimming caps and staring at me with old age and wrinkles.
In the toilet, Michael feels that a period has begun. He sobs, but does so that no one hears. Then he wipes his tears, washes his face and goes to change his clothes.
I can't look at myself in the mirror. Not that again; it didn't work out again. I tick the mark 'period began' in the phone’s calendar. The next one will start in twenty-eight days. In fourteen days – ovulations, and maybe then somebody little will decide to stay inside me. I search in the bag nervously. Where are those damn pads?
I walked out of the hall, slowly dragging my legs that were carrying my heavy head.
“Khrustyku, is it you? Oh, hello! How are you?”
"Hi!" - I said, jumping up.
“What's new?” - Olena smiled with the extra white veneers that peeked out from her lips, pierced with Botox.
“You look tired”.
“Yes, I, uh, swam; that's why I am tired”.
“I saw a post on Facebook. You finally got married, ha-ha. You are the last of Boleyn's family, and when children?”
“Yes, hm, don’t mind, Khrustyku, you know, I must run, training will start there now”. And then she leaned closer to me and added quietly: “I have a good cosmetologist, she gave me Botox. I see it is already time for you to have some also; I will send her phone number directly to you on Instagram”.
“Yeah, well, okay”.
“Come on, baby, ha ha ha, it was good to see you”.
I was going to have breakfast on the ground floor of the hall: coffee with nut milk, two white flour buns, a slice of butter, an omelette with vegetables, and one calming pill. It started to rain outside. I was watching people running out in different directions, covering themselves with packages, bags or file folders. I got my phone out of the inner pocket of my bag. There was a light signal on it. It had received a bunch of messages; one of them was from Lera.