The End Of Summer (In Vilnius)

On Monday evening I was meeting someone outside the Philharmonic. I had just come out of The Passage street when a loud bellowing came from the Unitarian Arch:
‘ ...Mee! ...Mee!’
And again:
‘ ...Mee! ...Mee!’
After a few seconds of confusion my brain feebly offered the following possible explanations (not really supported by experience): A mystery play? A street performance within the framework of Capital of Culture? A religious procession with sheep?
A minute later my eyes established: it was the Duke. My ears reported: he was singing.
All of a sudden the multilayered world around me opened up in its fullness: the blue hour, the sickly yellow illumination of the Radisson SAS hotel, the dark windows of the Nekrošiai apartment... A cathartic awareness washed over me: here, in this city, I know how everything is. I know that this singing nutcase is the “Duke”. I know that he has just returned to Vilnius by train because he is striding down The Gate of Dawn street – from the railway station. I know that he is coming back from the countryside because he has a cap on his head, a rucksack on his back, and in his hands a large bunch of wild flowers. And I also know he is singing at the top of his voice the well-known American song from the well-known Soviet Lithuanian film
Rich Man, Poor Man: “AmEEErica, AmEEErica…”
While I waited on the “new benches” in front of the Philharmonic, “AmEEErica” still echoed for a long long time, receding down The Great or German street – throughout the whole city.

New Europe

A New European left his wife and small child at home and travelled for 50 hours by bus from Lithuania – crossing Poland, Germany, Belgium, France and the English Channel – to London, to earn some money, could not find any work for a month, got drunk, in a train station put his hand on a woman’s breast trying to ask how to buy a ticket, was arrested, charged with sexual assault and taken to court, pleaded not guilty as he did not see anything wrong in his actions and could not remember very well what really happened, was found guilty on the basis of eyewitness evidence and sentenced to six weeks in prison, could not understand what was happening to him and why, and expressed dissatisfaction with the situation in one sentence: ‘That’s America for you – free country.’

My language

The other day a young man was standing in front of me and uttering meaningless combinations of sounds, pretending to speak Lithuanian to me without knowing a word of it as he was trying to avoid arrest as an illegal immigrant. It was then that I heard what my beautiful language sounds like. To others.

A Letter

Dear Jean Baptiste,
My journey back was good, if not to mention I was in a certain state of mind they call here ‘anticlimax’. On the ferry I watched The Quiet American – unconvincing, tried on Christian Dior’s Addict – uninspiring, finished reading Slowness by Milan Kundera – disappointing. The ferry arrived late, the train to London arrived late, two aggressive men were fighting and shouting and chasing each other all the way down the platform, on another train a huge man with enormous, incredibly spotty face was sitting right in front of me. My street was covered with litter. My house smelt like someone else’s home. I didn’t know where I was. Apart from all that life is great, thank you for everything, and hope we will meet again in 10 years’ time.

Hamlet and Marlon

In a courtroom dock behind the glass I see two men: an Armenian prisoner and a Caribbean guard. The prisoner’s name is Hamlet. The guard’s name is Marlon. Looking at them I not only wonder if Hamlet is thinking that the whole world is a prison, I wonder also if Marlon is thinking that he could have been a contender.

Friday Bridge

About an hour’s trip north there is a small town called March. In December, on my way to March I hear a train conductor deliver a little lecture about how and where in these parts it would be best to watch birds: “In a moment on the left-hand side of the railway you will see about sixty swans – there, in the distance! A little less on the right-hand side, maybe twenty.” True, the swans are there. Only it is impossible to count them. I am travelling all this way to find out just this: beyond March there is an even smaller town called Friday Bridge; in Friday Bridge on Sunday a young Lithuanian man stabbed another young Lithuanian man for not bringing a bottle of vodka as promised. Later the attacker explained his actions thus: “Don’t worry, he’ll live, we didn’t stab him in the heart.”

A Time Came

And now, somewhere in a strange city, through an open window of a courtroom, I see a big lawn full of water birds, further – trees, and a pond, and behind it – a street and a three-storey house with three balconies. An old man is there in one of the windows. I cannot see him from the courtroom – too far – but I know he is always there. He cannot see me either. He will never see me. He looks onto the pond with birds.
Meanwhile a time came that they call here winter: the grass is still green and the trees still have their leaves, but a thin layer of ice has formed on the pond – so thin one can easily mistake it for algae on the water surface. But the old man saw that some birds walked on the water.

© Paulina Pukyte