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from Aliide, Aliide
Mare Kandre
Translated by Eric Dickens

This article appeared in the 2008:2 issue.

 Two girls are visiting a classmate who lives in a shabbier part of town:

They did not, of course, dare to ask anyone at all the way to Suna's house. As a result, they wandered about, filled with fear, for quite some while quite unnecessarily, before they finally found themselves outside her door, number seven, the entrance to a house that was so dark, shabby and grim that this could very well have been the first, oldest, original house in the middle of the city.

A very fine drizzle had begun to fall, powdering their faces ­

These were already slightly swollen as a result of the difference in pressure, and the damp-laden air now made their eyes open to their depths to the misery they saw all around.

From inside the yard, the crying, shouting and shrieks of children could be heard in a language that was quite incomprehensible to Aliide and L and frightened them initially. But since they could hardly turn on their heels and go back now they had come this far, and as they wanted to get the whole thing over and done with as soon as possible, they went through the gate without further ado and across the yard which glittered in the rain with tiny reflections, but was otherwise quite dark ­

A group of little girls, plus a boy who was significantly older, all with dark faces like stone, were playing some kind of unfathomable game near the over-filled dustbins and the row of privies which appeared still to be in use.

Neither Aliide nor L managed to gather how the game was played because as soon as they turned up, the game stopped and the children instead directed their gazes at them, staring so hard at Aliide and L that they were unable to take one further step as they were being warded off by their stares ­

And in spite of the relatively large distance and the rain now coming on heavier,Aliide immediately noticed that the boy had a large, quite fresh sore on his upper lip, wide open and pus-filled, as if, while he was asleep and unawares, some huge insect had sat on his face, his mouth: a horrible insect that had eaten and eaten and chewed up a large piece of his lip!

This was dreadful to think about, to look at, and Aliide shuddered, a shudder that was so deep that she felt a sour taste rise up into her mouth. And yet she was incapable of taking her eyes off the sore, and the more she stared the more the boy grimaced, now balling his fists, as if it hurt even when someone looked at the sore, and in the end he looked so bitter and worked up that he might be going to attack them both. L gently tugged at Aliide's shoulder to wake her, and both thought it best to leave, they strode close together slowly across the yard, with the boy's stare and the cold gazes of the girls following them.

It had now begun to rain hard, heavily, without their noticing, and in this cramped little yard it suddenly became both dark and cold ­

L wrenched open the first, ill-fitting, little wooden door they came to in the house opposite. They entered the dark stairs and began to climb upwards. And on each landing they went from door to door, stopped for a moment at each one, comparing the name on the slip of paper that Aliide was holding in front of her with the name taped above the letterbox ­

From each flat came muffled cries and laughter; women were yelling; children crying; strange sounds; and here and there a splash of weirdly meandering music such as they had never heard before. When they stopped to listen to it properly they were sucked into themselves, almost began to evaporate, no longer knew where and why they were there and whom they were going to visit, and to put an end to all this, they were in a hurry to find Suna's flat, and ran from door to door, shaking their heads now and again.

The walls of the stair well were painted in a pistachio green.

The paint itself was a little blistered, like rancid old icing on a cake, and had long ago begun to peel away. Large flakes now fell down over them in the draft they caused as they passed, and the layer of paint underneath showed that the wall was rough, black and worn

So, at last, right at the top of the building, they were standing outside Suna's door ­

On a small white piece of paper above the letterbox, the surname was neatly printed in a hand that they both immediately recognised as Suna's. From inside the flat came a curious, dry rasping sound that they could not quite place.

They knocked, cautiously; once, twice, but not until the third time did someone in there, a man, shout something. They then pulled open the door and they saw a long hallway, a corridor, lit up only by a naked lightbulb that hung from the roof on a black wire. At the far end of the corridor stood a swarthy man, bent over a white wooden door, taken off its hinges, planing away like mad ­

Round his large naked feet lay the yellowish white wood shavings which, as they fell on the floor, first writhed like dying white worms, then lay still.

In the room behind him ­ dark, except for a hazy half-light that came in through the window ­ they caught a glimpse of Suna herself. She stood with her back to the wall, her hands clasped behind, having just at the moment they had pulled open the door looked up, and gave them a quick instinctive glance filled with fear, that stiffened what were usually such relaxed, soft features. But now, a moment later, she stood there again, her eyes lowered, as if in shame, as if she had done something terrible and was now suffering punishment.Aliide and L found the whole of this ­ Suna's look, and the room; everything ­ extremely bewildering, ominous, but suddenly had something else to think about when the man, catching sight of them, put down his plane immediately, leaned the door against the wall and came towards them, smiling ­

They were almost startled and backed off at his eagerness.This was not what they had expected, not at all; they had only expected to give Suna the bag with the books and then run away as fast as they could. But now that he was receiving them in his overpowering way, and was also addressing them, darkly but smoothly, in an incomprehensible, guttural language, with a deep, large almost suffocating smile to boot, they dared not protest, out of fear at all as he might suddenly have an outburst, grow livid, beyond himself, yes, God knows what could happen were they to resist his welcome!



Later in the book, in a key scene, Aliide finds a lost handbag

When she opened it, it turned out unfortunately to be completely empty. She wasn't going to be content with that, and when she looked about her and her eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness (it was cold and very quiet in there, as if in another time, somewhere else, in an underground passage sealed and forgotten since time immemorial, or the earth cellar behind her grandparents' summer house near the lake) she discovered to her great relief that the objects had simply fallen out and now lay spread all around ­

They shone dully in the raw, cold air, and when she looked a little closer, she could make out, in the following order ­

A lipstick in a golden, rather worn holder ­

A powder puff of cream-coloured plastic, shaped like a mussel, with an emblem, like gilded bird shit in the middle of the lid ­

A little, cracked, hexagonal mirror, a rusty key to an unknown door, a screwed up handkerchief with bloodstains and last but not least, fantastically, just EXACTLY what she had hoped for ­

Money!

(...)

And when Aliide reluctantly tore her eyes away from her own reflection and instead stared straight out into the darkness ahead of her, there suddenly stood, as if sprung up from the earth, an extremely thin and knocked-about woman who at first, before Aliide had managed to catch her breath, could only be made out as a shadow by the contrast of the background of the yard ­

Aliide was so struck by the appearance of the woman that she felt neither fear nor panic. The mirror with the face dropped back into the purse. She couldn't bring herself to move from the spot, didn't give a peep. Where the woman had come from was a mystery, but it could well have been that she had stood there for a long time, hidden inside the black wall by the entrance but had simply had enough of standing there, broken free, shaken off the darkness, climbed out ­

The woman staggered, threw her head aside and shook it in order to rid herself of the pressure and weight of the wall that had for so long forced silence upon her. And the fact that she had been beaten and abused, that something had happened to her, something terrible that had had even damaged her inwardly a good deal, was quite clear to Aliide ­

A stale stream of air, years of dammed up darkness, streamed from the face of the woman's still invisible mouth. It struck Aliide's upturned face and now she had breathed out, the woman came slowly to life. She stretched out a yellowed hand, fumbled for the wall and in the air around her.

A light breeze wafted through the street, a pinch of dusky light spilled into the portal and thanks to the faint blue light the face of the woman came into view and Aliide saw, with horror, a gaunt face that had shriveled up like an old fruit. Which had closed in on itself, as if the blood in the face had evaporated! The cheeks were sunken, pulled together in their shriveled state, her mouth reminded one most of a little grey and bitter berry, or a wart that had grown under her nose. And the face was, on top of this, covered with a carelessly applied layer of make-up; a powder of an apricot tone, foundation cream and emerald green eye shadow smeared too thickly round the eyes. These were dark and halfclosed, covered with an oily sheen that made the pupils open to their depths when the woman blinked.

When she was struck in the face by the blue light, she suddenly stiffened and mumbled something faint and odd ­

Between the sunken lips, which she had bitten holes in here and there, blood had seeped and clotted, Aliide could see a row of chipped teeth whose canines were missing, and the tip of a shrunken tongue, grey as that of a large parakeet. And she could see that everything about this woman, her cardigan, its buttons, her skirt, the badly laddered nylon stockings and pumps, skin as well as nails, teeth and hair, were all of the same parchment-yellow range of colour.

Aliide shivered, as it was very cold in there, the darkness had, even under the short time they had stood there eye to eye, thickened significantly ­

And while the woman continued to grope about her, she suddenly caught sight of the bag that Aliide was holding in her hand, and whined in a low voice ­

DEAR SWEET LITTLE CHILD, YOU'VE FOUND IT!

She stretched out a hand to grip hold of Aliide, but luckily could not reach her. And out of sheer fear, Aliide could feel nothing but shame. Shame that she had even had the thought of robbing this poor pathetic human dross of all her last, miserable possessions!



A traumatic school medical blows Aliide's world apart

And on account of the two ominous, dark and dirty coins, and the fact that she accepted them from the woman and had, without giving it much further thought, eaten all the sweets she had then bought, there was a knock some time later ­ one rainy day after lunch ­ at the door of the classroom.

When the door opened, there stood a rather large woman, clad in white, who made Aliide immediately grow uneasy. The woman promptly exchanged a few words in a whisper with the teacher, whereupon they both directed their gaze at Aliide, whose name was duly called, twice, just to make sure ­

ALIIDE!

ALIIDE ­

And as it happened she knew immediately, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, that the hour had struck, that all was over, and that this was but the beginning of all the horrors to come.

As in a deep trance, completely paralysed by forebodings and horror, she had to stop right in the middle of the drawing she was already deeply involved with, this in itself was horrible enough, like being forced to get out of a warm bath long before you were ready. She had to leave her seat with all eyes fixed on her and walk, as if drugged, up to this woman who seemed frightening to her, although she was smiling rather coolly, and then had to stand at her side, so close that after a while it began to feel that she was beginning to be blotted out and become numb all over, right next to the woman's big body, because this was devastating in the power it radiated.

She had to let herself be led by the woman in white up the stairs, right up to the top floor where she had never been before, and go with her into the changing room where there were benches fixed to the wall, hooks and two high windows, but nothing more. And she was then told by the woman to take off all her clothes, except for her panties, and although she was now completely filled with fear, she did what the woman told her.

There was also another door, to another room. A door the woman went through, then shut behind her, beyond which light could be seen, and which she shortly afterwards opened again.

And when Aliide went in, naked except for a pair of panties, she saw, in the light of the lamps that blinded her at first, a dark figure sharply outlined against one of the high windows at the other end of the room ­

A shadowy figure that immediately stood up and came towards her, stretched out a hand and began to feel her, everywhere, without saying a word, but she could not see who it was, and the shadowy figure stood bent over her for a long time, breathed heavily and continued to feel her all over, as it pleased him, exactly when he wanted to, and it was this that should never ever have happened again, but now it had done ­

And it grew, even with this thought, completely cold in Aliide's head,

completely cold,

completely empty,

as if that thought had to be blotted out entirely forthwith. And from that moment onwards, right up until she woke up out in the dark waiting room where the clothes were still hanging on a hook and the boots stood there right next to one another, she remembered nothing, nothing.

But when later she moved a little again and carefully peeked down at her body, which he had been feeling, whoever he might have been, it suddenly felt very strange and alien and not at all like her body any more. She wanted to cry, scream and maybe even kill it, now she looked at it and didn't recognise it at all, For it was as if she were cut off from it now. She no longer felt it in the same way, she didn't feel it really belonged to her and was her. She didn't want to know it any longer, never! And now she also saw, in the light of all this, how revolting and dead it in fact was; horrid, dead, dead ­

And she felt strange; so weak, so empty, so dead, so cold!

She had probably spent no more than five minutes in the lit-up room, yet it felt as if a much longer period of time had passed, maybe countless years, as if she had now woken up and was back somewhere, but where? She didn't know.

And at the same time, right then, from the depths of the dark void that opened up in her head, a tiny voice emerged. A voice, which was that of a child, quite clearly, but not entirely her own, and what the voice said with unnerving clarity was that ­

SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAS HAPPENED!

And when she heard this coming from inside she knew at once that it was true,

that there was no escape from it,

that henceforth she would have to try and live with the knowledge, she alone. But what it was that was so terrible she didn't know either, she had no idea as she had not been allowed to, as the thought had been destroyed at the moment she thought it, and what left was silence, chill, fear and a body that was completely alien to her.

She stood there for a short while longer, then began to hurriedly get dressed. She was trembling a lot, she could hear voices behind the closed door in the lit-up room, and it was a mystery even to herself how she managed to descend all those flights of stairs and make her way up to the classroom door, which was shut.