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Svetlana Aleksieva


For centuries he stood on the sidewalk under the chestnut trees. For centuries the pageant of life flowed past him. A tough root amidst the silky May river. A massive man. Always standing above his scale. Weighing passersby for small change. He never shouted, never invited, never begged. Simply stood. Somewhere below him, in an enormous wheelchair, a lump of flesh was breathing. A woman's head and atrophied hand appeared from beneath a colorful peasant's blanket. The two came every day. The sun sent white glimmers that deflected off the wheelchair's spokes and extinguished on the woman's hair. King Lear tucked his Cordelia under the speckled shade of the chestnut tree, pulled the scale out of the bag with his thick fingers, and set a piece of cardboard in front of it, with "Accurate Weight" written in indelible pencil. They waited. People had no interest in their weight. Only children hopped onto the scale and gaped at Cordelia's head. The needle didn't move, and grandmothers scolded either the children or the old man, who explained casually, "Your child has no weight, that's why he doesn't register on the scale." Cordelia was still, but her eyes agreed. The young girls waved their laced skirts under her nose, leaving behind a scent of lavender and violets. Cordelia agreed. She always agreed. They left at sunset, slowly, silently. The old man pushed the wheelchair lightly, as if it were a cart of flowers. Men followed them with their eyes, wondering how much he had earned from their weight; women sighed, "Hope it was enough for bread..."

One day they didn't come. There was a void under the chestnut tree like the empty bed of someone who had died. The festive May river spread its silk over the sidewalk and filled the empty space. Only since then, there has been no one to weigh us, but in May one feels weightless anyway.



© Svetlana Aleksieva, 2003
© Emil Lazarov and Robert Dirlam - translated, 2003
© Publishing LiterNet, 01. 08. 2003
First edition, electronic.