– Wha-a-a-at is this?
– What is this? I’m asking you, – the PE teacher was vigorously pointing his finger into my birth certificate. On the reverse side of the certificate, in beautiful calligraphic handwriting, was printed: God’s servant Valentina took the rite of baptism… (such-and-such date, in such-and-such a church).
-What is pretty? –The PE teacher’s face reddened.
-It’s written beautifully. I can’t write like this… and the ink is brown… – I have not had time to understand the meaning of what was written. How did I not take notice of this? The PE teacher told me to bring the birth certificate, I took it from my mom and brought it here. And the letters, like ballerinas – jumped up, spun, waved their hands-legs and settled down on my birth certificate.
-So, what will you say? And why have you all crowded here?
The fifth ‘B’ grade stopped running around the gym and encircled us.
-Oh, I’m going to die laughing. – cried Zhen’ka. In the classroom he was sitting behind me and was secretly in love with me (I think). – God’s Servant Valentina.
-Silence! Everybody do the warm-up! And you – come with me!
“To the headmaster’s”. – I thought and I was right. The headmaster was sitting corpulently in the chair. He appeared tired. Even the first formers knew that he was going to retire. The
headmaster examined my birth certificate, shook his head from top to bottom, then from left to right, and sadly told the PE teacher: “Petr Petrovich, go with this to the head of teaching, please”.
The head of teaching said: “N-yes. Tell your father – to come and see me”.
-Dad, the head of teaching asked you to come see him.
-I am going to the regional Olympics.
-“Why physics?” – I thought with a sigh, but said out loud: “No, for physical education. I can run better that anybody else. So … they’ve asked me to bring my birth certificate”.
There was a grand scandal at home.
-How could you? – Father was indignant, saying to my mother – I am the head of a solid organisation…
-Do not scream at me.
– … I am a Communist. I am the chairman of the parents’ committee at school…
-Do not scream at me.
-… this is a relic of the past, and suddenly it turns out… you knew, knew… why didn’t you tell me?
I was standing behind the door and, holding my breath, eavesdropping.
-That’s mom, your mother-in-law… – now mom started shouting.
-My mother-in law will get what’s coming to her!
-Don’t you remember that summer, when Valya was ill, almost dying? Then we decided the only thing that could save her…we got her baptised. I didn’t think that…
-My daughter is baptised.
-I didn’t think that it would be like this with the birth certificate.
When I was about to die – I don’t remember. What I was worried about more– won’t I get punished? And what is my fault? Nobody had asked me before I was baptised.
-What a shame! – I was rubbing the reverse of the birth certificate with a red eraser – for the whole school! God’s Servant!
It was more difficult to pick the right colour – lettuce green (I didn’t have a pencil of this colour), to cover the stain. I shred some powder from the yellow pencil, and some from the green, rubbed it with my finger and carefully spread it on that area of my birth certificate where the priest put his hand on so diligently. Where did he learn how to write so beautifully?
All in all, it turned out alright, but all t he same it was still noticeable. “If they ask, I would have to lie, – I was pondering, – it fell on the floor, and then… so, had to wipe away the stain”.
I remember that the exam on the scientific atheism in the university I passed on the very first go. With my grandmother I had constant quarrels, scientific ones (how they taught us at university) arguing that God does not exist. Grandmother contested, crossing herself and whispering something whilst doing so. Grandmother, where are you now? If you hear me – please forgive stupid me.
When was the first time I’ve timidly crossed myself? I don’t remember.
Three fingers together: forehead, belly…
-First the right shoulder, than left. – mom told me. – Do not mess it up!
-Why the right one?
-Behind the right one – is your Angel guardian.
I look at the cross, under the magnifying glass, so I would not miss anything. It is made of tin, slightly darkened (mom kept it in the chest for many years, hiding it from people’s eyes, father’s especially). On the cross – the crucifix – Jesus.To the left – near the right shoulder – “alpha”, to the right – “omega”. The first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. Life, lived from “alpha” to “omega” (I read that somewhere later).
When I enter the church, three fingers on the right hand, put together, move automatically: forehead – belly – right shoulder – left shoulder.
I should not have erased the writing on the birth certificate. If I could restore it…And the calligraphy… Would you believe somebody could write like that. And then: firstly I cannot find a brown ink, then I cannot find a sharp pen, then I do not have the time. And time is insidiously and unnoticeably running somewhere past me, and closer and closer to my “omega”.