LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 31, No.1 - Spring 1985
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1985 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
ROMANCE ON A BUS
by PULGIS ANDRIUŠIS
Today the Birštonas-Kaunas bus was carrying a sleepy and not full load of passengers. The bus driver had apparently thrown back a few glasses at the bus station in the way of ensuring a lucky trip. Driving though the forests he tried to exchange a few jokes with his passengers, but not receiving any encouragement, he gave himself over completely to that epidemic of sadness which was devastating the inhabitants of Kaunas, who had had to interrupt their lazy summer dreams to return for a time to the prose of everyday life.
Bringing to mind the recuperating nature of Birštonas, it wasn't surprising that the majority of passengers were of an elder age: a trio of officers who had undone their stiff collars, a podgy priest completely engrossed in a holy book, a couple of businessmen in their black cylindrical hats, a few women in black dresses, one of whom sported a no longer stylish crocheted shawl all of them together solid citizenry of the temporary capital, bureaucrats, contractors, landlords, for whom it was just the time, to seriously concern themselves with that old rheumatism, arthritis, or other statements of account presented to those of advanced years. And so all the hooks and mesh shelving of the bus were filled with indescribable, to a healthy person bewildering, orthopedic appliances.
At one window, to herself sat a young, blonde girl, dressed up in a handsomely knitted blue dress. She was reading a French novel and from time to time lifted her head to gaze at the end-of-summer birches and fields. The late season sun, twisting through the glades, gaily played on the girl's light tresses, bringing out the summer's tanned oval of her face in all its beauty. On the corner hook there hung all folded out a jacket of foreign manufacture; apparently under its jutting angles were deposited all necessaries for the road. In the netting above contentedly reposed her smartly beribboned suitcase. The beauty had covered her knees with a travel blanket of unfamiliar pattern. The blonde girl was truly the pride of the bus, the only flower amongst dried out brushwood.
The bus stopped for a short time in Prienai, just long enough for the nimble bus driver to drink down while standing a couple of mugs of the renowned local beer and to board a few new passengers. Just before the bus took off, a not very tall student jumped in, bedecked in the full panoply of fraternal ornaments and ribbons, all ready to celebrate initium semestri or other inanities. The setting sun flashed against the gold and silver in his cap, the woven ribbon across his chest, the freshly pressed vest, the healthy milk and blood of his face. Prienai setting out to conquer Kaunas!
The bus driver rejoiced in having found such an agile person to converse with and showed the collegiate an empty seat near himself. But the beer-town academic, before sitting down, gazed like a conqueror over the entourage. When, however, his vision took in the blonde it stumbled and he suddenly lost all his cock-of-the-walk boldness. Waving the bus driver into silence, with the back of his hand, he meekly approached the girl and asked if he could sit by her. She, breaking off from her book, almost imperceptibly inclined her head, remarking,
"It's an unnecessary question. The seat belongs to anyone who has a ticket."
The student's face, having just been milk and blood, now betrayed no trace of milk but was red all the way up to the ears. He barely managed to stammer out,
"Well, anyway, I thought it couldn't hurt to ask . . ."
"I appreciate politeness, even when unnecessary," replied the lovely passenger, "It's only forced courtesy I dislike. Well, where are you travelling to?"
She spoke those last words in so friendly and open a manner that the Prienai dandy felt at once that his conqueror's weapons were unneeded here, conforming his earlier impression formed after a quick glance at the French novel in her lap, her exotic baggage and her tasteful clothing. The collegiate, having recovered his color, now spoke with her as if she were an old friend. Following his Dzukian predilection he told her all about the ball his fraternity was hosting that night. The student had fallen in love with this rare beauty at first sight, and now showered her with questions, burning with curiosity to discover as much as possible about her. He was prepared to slow down or even to stop the bus, which hurried on by the bored driver, inescapedly sped towards journey's end.
"Are you a student, Miss?", he asked, looking at her French book.
"Yes. I study people, life . . .", she answered with a sad smile, brushing back a golden tress that had fallen across the bronze oval of her face.
Noticing how intently the student's eyes were studying her suitcase, covered as it were with colorful stickers of foreign hotels, the blonde began to tell of her travels throughout Europe. The ears of the lad from a Dzukian one-horse town rang with Romantic names of Mediterranean cities, of the Alps, of Black Forest.
Our frat-man, not having been farther than Karaliaučius and Riga, bewitched by those names of far places, slumped in his seat, realizing that his wings were too short for such flights, inasmuch as the resources of his father, a Prienai shopkeeper only just permitted him to continue his studies in Kaunas.
The bus flew past Garliava, annoying the local ducks, and then slowed up at the large hill of Aleksotas. The student realized the situation demanded fast and determined action if this interesting acquaintanceship were not to remain only an autumn journey's pleasant memory.
"A first meeting is perhaps not a sufficient cause," he began, wanting to invite her to that evening's college-style ball, but the girl did not let him finish his sentence. She just smiled even more touchingly and softly remarked,
"A first meeting is sometimes also the last . . ."
The youth jumped to his feet to protest passionately. But the bus was already turning into the final stop in the old town, and the passengers were jostling one another, getting their baggage, putting on their coats. Now was the time for lightning actions, not for words. Charge! The collegiate politely offered and was grabbing the girl's things, saying he'd hire a taxi for her in the station yard. But the girl, without making a move from her seat into the confusion, unexpectedly and strongly objected,
"No, no, you get off first and perhaps give me a hand outside, but right now the driver will take care of me we've already agreed!"
Into her smile now stole perhaps even a hint of mockery, which the student lacked the time to notice.
Burning with envy of the bus driver, the student waited impatiently in the station yard until the last person got off the bus. He was about to jump back in when on the bus steps appeared she of his dreams, assigned him by fate . . . leaning on two crutches.
The collegiate disappeared into the crowd.
Translated by Audrius Tadas Klimas