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What you said is absolutely right. Oblivion doesn’t matter. And death doesn’t matter either. Death does exist. You can’t even imagine how close to us it is. But that’s not what I’m getting at. Our death, our disappearance, and our passage to the kingdom of the dead don’t have any real significance because they’re all inevitable. After all, it would be silly to reject the lunar cycle, or the natural course of a river. You have to take it as a given and accept it peacefully, like all inexorable forces. The only thing that actually holds any significance is love, both exhilarating new love and the enduring love we keep inside, the love we carry with us, and the love with which we live. You never know how much is allotted to you, how much you have, or how much is yet to come. Finding it brings great happiness; losing it causes great misery and vexation. We all live in this strange city; we all stuck around, we’ll all come back sooner or later. We live, bearing this love like guilt, like our memory that contains all of our experiences and all of our knowledge, and its presence in our breath, on the roofs of our mouths, is what makes life so riveting. Every morning when I wake up, I think of all the women I’ve been blessed to meet and know — all those cheerful and unsettled, carefree and helpless, virginal and pregnant women. I’d say my exchanges with them have always been the most important thing for me, my ability or inability to share love, whether new or enduring, with them. Everything else was a consequence of falling in love, so it had no meaning, no significance on its own. So there’s no sense talking about anything else. That’s all I have to say, now it’s time to go for a swim!

That’s what everyone did. Our boisterous crew started spilling out into the yard, thanking the host for his words, remarking that they were wise, though perhaps a little overloaded with passion. Somebody grabbed a bottle of wine, some others used their phones as flashlights to guide us down the path toward the riverbank.

I thought, “It’s so good to finally find myself here, on this bank, by this water, just standing and watching her undress and step into the river, knowing that you can wade into any river forever. You can hang onto the wet air that enfolds you — you can hold onto it forever; you can wait for everyone you have known and loved to return — you can wait forever. The river will bring you all the different inflections you’ve heard, the river will conserve all the warmth you’ve left behind; rivers know how to wait, rivers know how to start anew. Riverbeds abide, currents abide. Nobody can stop this whole mass of damp light, this heap of warmth and cold. All I can do is wait for her, here on the riverbank, and return with her to the city, like the thousands of refugees and migrant workers, sojourners and newcomers, all those crews of manual laborers who roam the earth building towers and prisons, but eventually come here, sooner or later, to these riverbanks, lit by these moon rays.”

I thought about how I’d remember the smell of this water, the smell of clay and grass, the smell of smoke and autumn, the smell of life that hadn’t ended, and the smell of death that hadn’t come yet. “What’s she going to remember about all this? Will she remember the silence that hangs over us? Will she remember her breath expanding in the midst of this silence? After all, it’s up to us — it depends on our desire to remember something. Or our desire not to remember anything at all.”

© Serhiy Zhadan

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