Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Work Out Your Own Happiness (book 3 chapter 10)

This chapter continues the story of Aniuta. Here, Vladimir does not believe that Anastasia's words could have made much difference to the little girl's life, but Alexander tells him otherwise.

"Well, Alexander, those are all theories of yours, assumptions. You still have to look at real life and see whether any destinies will change on account of a bunch of words or not. Anyway, what could possibly change in life for that little girl? Unless some sort of miracle happened."

"A miracle has happened. It turns out that all the miracles we need are within ourselves."

"What kind of miracle happened?"

"Little Aniuta's whole mind and life got reprogrammed. She broke all the bonds of karma for herself and those around her."

"What do you mean, 'broke'? How do you know this?"

"I know it. Some time afterward I went back to the village. I decided to offer Aniuta my radio receiver, since hers was too crackly, and set up an antenna for it on the roof. So I'm walking along to Aniuta's house and I notice that the boards on the wooden sidewalk have been fixed. Before they were quite decayed, and now all the rotting boards had been replaced with new ones. Wow, I thought, what's all this renovation going on here? I saw Aniuta's granddad sitting on the porch, washing his boots in a pail of water. I said hello to him, and explained why I'd come.

"'Well, fine!' said the grandfather. 'Come on in, if you like. Only you'll have to take off those shoes of yours. You see, we've got new rules around the place.'

"I took off my shoes on the porch and accompanied the grandfather into the hut. Everything was simple inside, as you'd expect in a small village, only extremely clean and cozy.

"'You see, our granddaughter's got this new order set up for us,' the grandfather told me. 'She worked at it for a long time. She cleaned the floor, and then washed everything spic and span. She was at it from morning 'til night for over a week, like a wound-up spring. She would have a rest and then start cleaning again. She persuaded me to paint the walls a fresh coat of white.

"'And now when I come into the hut with my boots on and leave tracks, right away she gets out a rag and starts cleaning away the tracks. So, I guess, it's better not to leave any tracks. We don't have any slippers. Instead of slippers she adapted some old galoshes. Here, you can put these on. Make yourself comfortable.'

"I sat down at the table. It was covered with an old, but clean tablecloth. The cloth was torn in one place, and the tear was patched, as neatly as a child's hand could make it, with a piece of coloured cloth cut in the shape of a bunny-rabbit. In the middle of the table stood a cut-glass tumbler, out of which corners cut from notepad sheets neatly protruded - instead of serviettes.

"'I see they've started improving your village, too,' I said to the grandfather. 'And it looks like the authorities have been paying attention, seeing they fixed the wooden sidewalks.'

"And he replied:

"'It's got nothing to do with the authorities. They don't pay any attention to us. It's my granddaughter, Aniuta. She just can't keep still.'

"'What do you mean, Aniuta? She's still a wee one, much too little to repair sidewalks. Those are heavy boards there.'

"'Heavy boards. Yeah. You see, one day I was about to set out hunting, and I asked a neighbour if she would look in on Aniuta. And Aniuta says to me, "Go on, Grandpa, go on about your business. Don't worry, I'll take care of everything myself. Just let me take a saw to that board that's standing against the wall in the barn."

"'I was surprised, but I thought: why not let the child play, if that's the way she likes to play. So I put the board on the wood-block, handed her a couple of saws and set off to do some hunting. Later my neighbour told me what happened while I was gone.

"'Aniuta pulled out the old rotten pieces of board from the sidewalk. She measured the hole with a string and began sawing the board I had given her according to the measurement. The neighbour says she spent half the day sawing the board, but she managed to do it somehow. Then she lugged the new board right up to the sidewalk and put it in the place of the rotten one.'

"'She's so thin and frail, how on earth could she have lugged such a heavy board?' I asked.

"'She found herself a helper. Back a couple of months ago she made friends with an orphaned dog, a Siberian laika (husky). An old lady died who lived at the other end of our village, leaving a large dog. Back at the funeral Aniuta kept stroking him. Then she started taking him something to eat. At first the laika wouldn't leave his own yard, even though there was nobody left living in the hut. The old lady had been living alone.

"'Aniuta fed the dog for several days. He started following the girl around, and now he never leaves her side. Now this old dog helps carry out whatever our granddaughter fancies. So he helped her lug the board over. Aniuta tied a string around one end and started in dragging it herself, when the huge dog grasped hold of the other end with his teeth, and between the two of them they managed to drag it to the sidewalk.

"'Then Aniuta asked a neighbour lady for some nails, and borrowed my hammer. And here she was trying to nail the board into place with the hammer. But nothing happened. The neighbour saw Aniuta sitting on the sidewalk, trying to hammer in the nail. She hit her hand in the process and blood started oozing out. The dog was sitting right beside her, watching and whimpering.

"'The neighbour came over, took the hammer and nailed the board in place. The next evening she saw Aniuta and the dog dragging another board over. Which meant there was another hole in the sidewalk to patch up.

"'The neighbour asked Aniuta if she were going to patch up all the holes this way - couldn't she think up some other little girl's thing to do? And my granddaughter replied:

"'"It's very important, Auntie, for all the sidewalks outside the houses to be new and free from holes. You see, otherwise someone might decide to come visiting, walking along the boards, and there's holes in them, and that would spoil the visitor's good mood. And my Mamochka, when she comes, might get upset if she saw such a shoddy sidewalk."

"'So the neighbour hammered down the second board for her. And then she raised a hue and cry throughout the village, shouting out to everyone: "Get busy fixing the sidewalks in front of your houses. I'm not going to let a child do drudgery on account of your disorderliness! She's working her hands to the bone!"

"'So, you can see, everyone's fixed up the sidewalk in front of their houses. So they wouldn't have to hear the neighbour lady rail at them any more.'

"'And where is your granddaughter now?' I asked the old fellow.

"'She's lugged a tin of paint over to the house at the far end. She'll probably spend the night there, with the old Losin couple. Yeah... She may spend the night there.'

"'What kind of paint, and what's it for?'

"'Just ordinary oil-based paint, bright orange. She got it from the steamship in exchange for fish. That's her latest fancy.'

"'And what kind of fancy might that be?'

"'She's decided that all the huts need freshening up. Need to look more cheerful. So when the ship comes - that's the ship that collects fish that's been caught around here, she goes and offers 'em a whole catch of fish in exchange for paint. And then she lugs the tin of paint to one of the huts. She asks them to paint the nalichniks (ornate window frames). And the old people start painting. Soon it'll be my turn. Whaddya know! I'll do the painting. Why not? Maybe it'll be better if the painting gets done, if the huts are going to look more cheerful on the outside.'

"'And where does she get the fish from?'

"'She catches them herself. Every morning she brings home two or three connies, sometimes more. If only once she'd come home empty-handed, but no, the fish just seem to land on her hooks all by themselves. And here I'm lying in bed with my back problems, and she says to me: get up. And keeps at me: "Get up, Grandpa! You've gotta salt the fish, so it doesn't go bad." Every morning it's the same,' the old fellow muttered, but with no trace of annoyance in his voice.

"So I asked him how Aniuta managed to cope with the fishing tackle - all by herself?

"'See, I told you,' he replied. 'Aniuta's got a helper - this Siberian laika. He may be old, but he's smart, and obedient. He helps her carry out all her fancies. Aniuta takes my throw-line with its five hooks, neatly arranges the bait on the hooks and goes down to her treasured spot on the riverbank every evening with her laika. She'll tie one end of the line to a post on the shore, then attaches the other end to a stick. The dog then takes the stick in his mouth and swims out into the river. He keeps on swimming as long as Aniuta, standing on the shore, keeps encouraging him: "Swim, Druzhok, swim, Druzhok!" The dog keeps pulling the line until Aniuta changes the tone of her voice as she calls: "Come here, Druzhok, come here Druzhok!" Then the dog releases the stick from his jaws and swims back to shore...

"'Well, that's enough for now. Let's get some sleep.'

"With that the old fellow climbed onto the stove. And I lay down on the wooden sofa. When I woke up at dawn, I went outside and saw Aniuta down by the river tugging on the iron ring to which the fishing line was attached. A huge Siberian laika was helping her. The laika had grasped hold of the ring with his teeth and braced himself with his legs as he backed up. Together they were dragging the line with quite a decent catch on the end of it. Aniuta was wearing rubber boots three sizes too big over her bare feet.

"Once the catch was almost at the shore, she took hold of a scoop net and ran down to collect the fish. The laika was standing on his hind legs, holding the ring in his teeth. Aniuta went into the water deeper than her boots allowed, and the water started pouring over the tops of her boots.

"She drew the catch onto the riverbank and unhooked three splendid fish, which she put into a bag. Then she and the laika together took hold of the rope attached to a piece of plywood carrying the bag, and dragged it home.

"The water was sloshing around in Aniuta's boots, interfering with her walking. She stopped and took off her boots - first one, then the other - and stood barefoot on the cold ground while she emptied out the water. Then she put on her wet boots again and continued on her way.

"As the two of them together lugged their morning catch up to the porch, I got a good look at Aniuta's face and was amazed.

"Her cheeks were a rosy red, and her little eyes were sparkling with determination. These, together with the hint of a smile on her face, made her virtually unrecognisable by comparison with the sickly, sallow-skinned little girl I had met earlier. Aniuta set about rousing her grandfather. With a rather loud wheeze he climbed down from the stove and put on a jacket. Then he took a knife and salt and proceeded to cut up the fish. In the meantime Aniuta served me tea, and I asked her why she got up so early every morning to bring home the fish.

"'Those fellows on the steamship, on the river, they come and collect our fish,' she said. 'They give me money. And I asked them to bring me paint for the houses in our village. They brought me the paint in exchange for the fish. Along with some lovely material for a dress. For that I gave them all the fish I had caught that week.' And when she said that, she went and fetched a huge piece of magnificent silk fabric.

"'Well, Ania,' I observed, 'I see there's enough here for more than one dress. How come so much?'

"'This isn't for me. I've got it ready as a present for my Mamochka, when my Mamochka comes to see me. And I'm also going to give her a beautiful shawl and a long beaded necklace.'

"Then Aniuta opened an old worn suitcase and pulled out a pair of imported women's pantihose, a pearl necklace and a magnificent brightly-coloured shawl.

"'I don't want Mamochka to be upset that she can't give me any presents. I can buy everything for her now myself. I don't want her to think she's been wasting her life.'

"I watched as she joyfully showed me the gifts she had prepared for her mother - she was so happy admiring them - and I realised what had happened: here Aniuta had transformed herself from an utterly helpless, pitiful little girl, waiting for somebody else to help her, into an active, self-confident individual. And happy that she has known such great success, or maybe her happiness stems from an entirely different source...

"Now I believe that each one's happiness lies within themselves, within each one of us. It is there at a particular level of awareness. The only question is: how do we reach that level?! Anastasia helped little Aniuta reach it. Will she be able to help everyone else do the same? Or maybe we ourselves need to learn in some way how to figure things out ourselves."

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