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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Women in books - "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Maria K.

Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is one of the most complex multi-faceted works of Russian literature. And I am not just saying that, because it happens to be my favorite book. If you have ever read it, you know what I mean.

One of the distinguishing features of this narrative is that the title characters appear very late in the story: the Master - well into part one and Margarita - at the beginning of part two. The book has many climactic points, and the first meeting between the title characters, as narrated by the Master to his room mate at a mental institution, is one of them. It is a rather subdued scene, but there is no question about its pivotal role in the book.

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"Pontius Pilate was approaching the end and I already knew that the last words of my novel would be 'the fifth Prefect of Judaea, horseman Pontius Pilate'. Naturally, I went for walks. A hundred thousand rubles is an enormous amount, and I had a beautiful gray suit. Sometimes I went to dine at some inexpensive restaurant. There used to be a wonderful restaurant on Arbat, I don't know if it's still there."

The visitor's eyes opened wide and he continued whispering while gazing at the moon, "She had in her hands the disgusting disturbing yellow flowers. Hell knows what they are called, but they are always the first to appear in Moscow in spring. The flowers stood out prominently against her black spring coat. She was carrying yellow flowers! It's not a good color. She turned from Tverskaya into a side lane and glanced back. Do you know Tverskaya? Thousands of people were walking down Tverskaya, but I swear to you, that she saw only me and looked at me not even anxiously, but almost painfully. And I was struck not as much by her beauty, as by the incredible unprecedented loneliness in her eyes!

"Following the yellow spot, I too turned into the lane and followed in her tracks. We were walking down a crooked boring lane silently - me on one side of the street, she on the other. And imagine that, there wasn't a single soul in that lane. I was torn, because I felt I needed to talk to her, and was afraid that I couldn't say a single word, and she would leave and I would never see her again... And imagine, suddenly she spoke to me, 'Do you like my flowers?'

"I remember clearly the sound of her voice, which was rather deep but with an edge to it, and, as silly as it may sound, I imagined an echo hitting the lane and reflecting off the dirty yellow wall. I quickly crossed the street to her side and replied as I approached her, 'No.'

"She looked at me in surprise, and I realized suddenly and completely unexpectedly that I have loved this very woman all my life! Isn't it something? You must think I'm crazy."

"I think no such thing," Ivan exclaimed and added, "Please, keep going!"

The guest continued, "Yes, she looked at me in surprise and then asked, 'Do you not like flowers at all?'

"There seemed to be a kind of animosity in her voice. I was walking next to her, trying to match her steps, and much to my surprise felt no awkwardness whatsoever.

"'No, I do love flowers, but not these,' I said.

"'Which ones then?'

"'I like roses.'

"Then I regretted saying it because she smiled guiltily and tossed her flowers into a ditch. Somewhat at a loss, I picked them up and handed them to her, but she chuckled and pushed them away, and I carried them.

"We walked silently for some time until she took the flowers away from me, tossed them on the sidewalk, then put her arm in a wide black glove through mine, and we walked together."

"And then?" Ivan said, "And please, don't skip anything."

"And then?" the guest asked, "Well, you could figure out on your own what happened then." He wiped a sudden tear with his right sleeve and continued, "Love appeared before us seemingly from nowhere, like a murderer in a dark alley, and struck us both simultaneously! It was like lightning, like being stabbed with a knife!

"She did say later that it wasn't so, that we have loved each other a long time ago, not knowing each other, never having seen each other, and that she lived with another man, and I was... with... what's her name..."

"With whom?" Homeless asked.

"With that...that..., well..." the guest replied and snapped his fingers.

"You were married?"

"Yes, that's why I'm snapping... to... Varen'ka, Manechka... no Varen'ka... in a striped dress... from the museum... although, I can't remember.

"In any case, she said that she walked out with the yellow flowers that day so that I could finally find her, and that had it not happened, she would have killed herself, because her life was empty.

"Yes, love struck us instantaneously. I knew it that very day, in an hour, when we ended up near the Kremlin wall at the river, not noticing the city around us.

"We talked as if we'd only parted yesterday, as if we'd known each other many years. We agreed to meet the next day at the same spot near the Moscow river and so we did. May sun was shining upon us. And soon, very soon this woman became my secret wife.

"She came to me every day, but I began waiting for her in the morning. My way of waiting was to move around the objects on my table. Ten minutes before her arrival I sat down near the little window and started listening for the knocking of the dilapidated garden gate. It was so curious: before I met her, very few people visited my little courtyard, nobody ever came, and now I felt as if the entire city was stopping by. The gate knocked and my heart knocked, and then someone's dirty boots would appear in my window level with my face. A grinder. Who needs a grinder in our house? What is there to grind? Kitchen knives?

"She walked through the gate only once, but my heart rose and fell at least ten times. It's the truth. And then when her time came and the clock showed noon, my heart kept beating wildly until her shoes with black suede bows and steel clasps silently appeared behind my window.

"Sometimes she felt mischievous and, pausing near the second window, knocked on it with her toe. I dashed to it that very second, but the shoe was already gone, the black silk no longer obscured the light, and I went to open the door."

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