Nastenka the Tree
Nikolay Konyaev
Reprinted from: Global Seminar of Fiction and Dialog Among Cultures, Farokh Negar Pub., Karnameh, Negar EskandarFar, 2004

At twilight, when the pallid mist slowly crept along the garden paths, Nastenka would often leave the house and standing beneath the windows, imagine that she was a tree. In this way, she passed her earliest childhood, and when she started going to school, a funny thing happened to her.

"What do you want to be, when you grow up, children?" The teacher asked and looking at roster, called out a name, "Aydyuhin?"
A boy, somewhat resembling a hippopotamus, stood up at his desk and he said in a forced bass, "I want to be a pilot."
"Very good," the teacher praised him and he called out the next name, "Averkin?"
Everything went well. The children wanted to be policeman or doctors, sailors and salesmen, deep-sea divers and astronauts, until the teacher's finger hit on Nastya's name.
"I want to be a tree," Nastya said simply.
"Why a tree?" The teacher asked perplexed, tearing her eyes from the roster to stare intently at Nastya.
"Because, it's green," she answered smiling. "Bugs and all kinds of birds live in it."
"Now, now," the teacher interrupted her. "We all know, what trees are. Please tell us what profession you're choosing. It's impossible to be a tree."
Nastenka became sad and she said, "I know! But, I just like to be a tree. That's all."
The teacher said, "What?"
"Tree," nascence said and broke into tears.

At that point, she was called into the principal's office, but even there, she shouldn't renounce the tree. "You're particularly all grown up," they told her.
"I know," nascence answered, "but, I want to be a tree."

"You, ungrateful girl", her parents scolded her, when they were summoned by the principal. "We do our best you, try to raise you properly, and you refuse to become anything."
"But, I do," nascence hurried to answer, swallowing parts of words, "I want to become a tree, with bran-so lots of birds and bugs... can live in me."
Again, they scolded and shamed her, and just her old, wrinkled grandmother asked: "what kind of tree do you want to be, sweetheart? A birch or maybe a cherry tree?"
"Oh, grandma, you're so silly, I just want to be a tree."
Grandmother turned away, pressing a corner of her kerchief to her lips grief.

But, soon, they quit bothering her. Years passed. Nastenka grew up, and so did the boys in her grade, and Avdyukhin looked less and less like a hippopotamus. The school was over, and Nastenka started college. It turned out that she and Avdyukhin were thought to be on friendly terms, but they spoke only rarely, and mostly Nastenka watched him from afar. It was from her friends that she learned that Avdyukhin was getting married. She cried all that day, burying her face in her pillow. In the evening, she got up from bed and suddenly remembered that she was a tree.

She quickly got her things together and hurried to catch last commuter train the country. It was already dark. Huge stars were shining above the train station. Dogs were drowsily at each other, behind tall, obscure fences. When she reached her place, she didn't enter the house, but she headed straight for the overgrown orchard, where she threw off overcoat and she took her place among the trees.

That night was long and blissful. Rough bark gradually enveloped her, and buds languorously swelled up on the branches. Still conscious on herself, Nastenka tried to rearrange her feet, so she would be facing the house, but her legs refused to obey her. They had taken root.

Her parents looked for her for a long time, but neither the police nor the feeds could help them. All her parents could do was growing old in the bitter silence of the overgrown orchard.

Her father was eventually transferred to another city, and they sold their cabin. They sold it to Avdyukhin, the same young man, with whom Nastenka had been so totally and hopelessly in love.

Avdyukhin had changed a great deal in the course of the years. He was fatter, balder and very domesticated.

He wandered through the orchard a long time and he sized things up. Here, he would put it some strawberries, and they're some cucumbers. He sighed. The orchard was old and dilapidated, and it had to be thinned out. He stood in front of Nastenka for a long time, but he could not figure out, what kind of tree she was. Then, he gave up and decided, it had to be cut down, too.

The tree was removed, but the shadow of its branches remained on the ground. And in this shadow neither strawberry nor cucumbers grow.

Before long, Avdyukhin was asked to come to school. Apparently, his son, a first grader, had said he wanted to become a lake.
"It's so bright and shiny and big," he said and he cried.
Avdyukhin gave his son a thorough beating with his belt.

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