The silence of the apartment was broken by the even strikes of a distant church bell. The old lady lifted her head from the book she had been reading and gazed into the cloudless sky. The old clock finished striking noon and she thought how good it would be to take a walk. She laid the book down on the table, which was cluttered up with medications, the remnants of biscuits and with her silver filigree and amber jewellery. She rose with some effort and made towards the door.
The old lady stopped at the exact moment she stepped onto the street. The sunlight was so strong that she had to close her eyes. A blazing red disc filled her vision, changed direction, approached and moved away, pulsating with its own rhythm and eventually disappeared.
“The July heat can be quite unbearable,” the old lady thought to herself and went on towards the riverside embankment.
The promenade was empty. No one, save a few cyclists, was on it. Walking slowly, she strolled along the familiar path, casting her gaze along the drooping willow branches and poplar leaves that slightly quivered in a barely noticeable breeze, and up to the vermilion tops of a tree whose type she couldn’t quite make out. This slender, proud tree, as it seemed to her, rose above the dense greenery, aspiring to the heights above and opening its unusual reddish-brown foliage wide towards the sun.
Her attention was drawn to a wide tree-trunk growing to the right of the path. She walked up to the tree and, stretching out her palm, touched the rough bark, admiring the intense lines of the wavy ridges and enormous knots which extended right up to the treetop. She gave a weak smile and her wrinkled yet pretty face lit up for a moment.
She remained for a few moments with her palm pressed against the trunk and then went on.
It was becoming almost impossible to breathe because of the humidity. As she watched the thrilling dance of shadows on the ground, for a moment it seemed to her that she was passing through a space which was in a world of its own. Separate and special. As if, so she thought, she was roaming through a world, which only looked like the old one she knew so well. But it was actually different. More like a dream or an apparition.
A dark shadow passed over the old lady’s hazel-brown eyes. She was not sure if that new, but old, feeling was caused by the shadow cast by the sun overwhelming her, there on the embankment, or if it was because of the long, lonely hours spent in her apartment. Caught in these thoughts, she gave a cough and a kind of unusual stiffness appeared on her face.
She looked around for two mallards. When she caught sight of them, she took out of her pocket a bag of barley seed and emptied it onto the water. She had been feeding these ducks all summer, enjoying their wonderfully coloured feathers and voracious appetites. She watched their dark-green heads, the light-grey colour of their bodies and brown breast of the larger duck. When the last grain of barley had disappeared down through their brown beaks, she turned round and set off for her favourite spot.
She approached the riverside and, bending with some effort, she sat down. The slender shape of the bridge trembled in the murky green surface of the river. The chorus of chirping crickets could be heard in the distance. The sunlight pierced the branched tree and formed a few light spots which danced along her swollen legs.
When an old branch floated past down the river – who knows where or when that branch had fallen into the water – the old lady remembered the words she had read fifty years ago: “The water of the river which flows is that which is first to arrive and last to leave.” Heraclitus of Ephesus had penned this. Only now did she realise what the wise Greek had meant; she thought for a moment, absentmindedly letting drop a prematurely fallen leaf into the water. The leaf struggled for a while with the strong current, and then disappeared from sight. The old lady indistinctly murmured about how yellow leaves disappear forever into the mist without turning back, and gave a slight nod with her head.
After she stood up and decided to go back, she noticed a young man who had been drawing graffiti on a high wall extending along the whole of the embankment. The young man was applying silver paint from a spray-can, after which he stepped back and, cocking his head to one side, scrutinised his work with curiosity.
This young man had adorned that wall with ten huge paintings over the last year. Without particular dimensions and with unlimited form, he tried to transfer his enthusiasm and scenes from his imagination using lush colours and figurative forms onto the stone surface. A few critics, who agreed to go down to the riverside and see what that young artist had created, pointed out that he was always searching for something special and different; while other critics would say that he was persistently striving to open up new perspectives in the consciousness of the beholder. His images emphasised the most important things of the particular time when they were created. And these transient moments were transformed into a lasting experience.
The enormous face of a man was reflected in the young man’s eyes. With the edges of his lips curled into a smile, the man was looking at a distant white outline which resembled death. The young man approached the image and added some turquoise around the lips, emphasizing the sneering attitude of the depicted man towards the silhouette.
Pleased with what he had done, the young man looked at the drawing once again through half-closed eyelids.
As the young artist was finishing his graffiti, the old lady walked down the path. She crumpled the hem of her cotton blouse and thought about the bitter dank smell and silence that was waiting for her back at the apartment.
Translation into English: P. Stonelake, A. Nikčević-Batrićević