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stopped on the top tight S-turn of a mountain pass up in the Carpathians and a solitary man stepped down from it. He went straight to the concrete road rail fencing off the steep ravine and riveted his hungry eyes on a certain spot across the abyss and onto the peak of the next mountain crest east. All the way down and across the valley then up again there were the ultrahigh voltage gantry poles aligned like huge, bleached skeletons of some breed of giant warriors long dead but who still clung in a supreme, impressive and somehow not entirely futile way to a former, distorted by geology front line they wouldn’t surrender not even in death. As they uninterruptedly and dutifully streamed uphill all the way across the mountain side and across it then way beyond its crest, their array of Spartan-like giant warriors obediently holding and guarding the post long beyond the call of the duty was lost here and there into flimsy banks of quickly shredded mist which from time to time obscured either partially or in whole a couple of them, and this only movement in an otherwise not budging scenery was even more dramatic yet; the shadows of ancient enemy came to fight the detritus of faithful soldiers. Oh, yes, the mist was the only enemy of the ultrahigh voltage gantry poles. For a long time now the man stared in their direction but actually not quite exactly so. The true focus of his scrutiny was a spot well buried into the depleted now rusty foliage of fall. It was stark white and tiny, as it lay perched on the mountain side half revealed, half concealed, a bright speck of unnatural blinding white pitted against the green-to-red-to-yellow lavish spectrum of hues in the backdrop just a couple of minutes of arc away from the UH voltage post offset by skyline right on the mountain crest. The man looked at it for a very long time now – almost as long as what it would’ve taken him to reach out there by car, driving east all the way. From his vantage point in a slightly elevated glade across the parked car and into the woods a shepherd of a small flock in his teens , chin rested on a knot-curled dogwood staff was watching the watcher. He had chanced unawares on the newcomer and kept staying so, stock-still, although the tiny bell hung by the neck of his leading ewe chimed always giveaway while grazing. The man was no tourist – no camera dangled on his neck. Neither was he a rapt sightseer in love with the majestic views of the Romanian mountains. He was just a bit too tightly wound up, the young, serene shepherd thought, almost to the breaking point. His ashen face cringed with assault upon assault of inner, invisible yet brimming, sensible, utter pain. But there it was even more. The young shepherd was amazed with the lavish display of feelings that came up on his face over and over, like the gushes of a torrent. In his remote, lofty pastures he rarely saw people, so he extra-loved to see them, longed to see them, was looking forward to meet them. And when that happened, he
usually indulged himself in literally drinking in all their presence, and beings and words and all, no matter how peculiar those seemed to him – with a fresh, never satiated thirst, just to brood over them later, long after they were gone and to wonder tenderly about the ways the people who did not herd sheep flocks used to do instead. Yet this particular man overwhelmed with the richness and suddenness and the intensity of feelings he saw them mirrored on his face which seemed to stare fixedly into one single point, the white speck on the next mountain east. His chin trembled, his eyes were brimming with tears, his cheeks went hollow and bony as if he struggled to intake a breath and hardly succeed, his mouth had scorched, chalky lips that kept muzzling at themselves with that feel of things carelessly left alone to run about just by themselves. Suddenly struck by a primeval instinct which somehow warned him that to overreact enough and to do was overdo enough, the young shepherd demurred mute and unmoving, intoxicated with such a firework-like display of stark conflicting emotions. Although barely literate in a bookish way, he was able to read on the man’s face hate, baleful, naked hate, and it was love also on his face; it was black despair and ethereal hope, it was mirth and despise, deep sorrow and soaring joy but in the unblemished eye of his untroubled mind, the young shepherd saw that the overriding sensation about that man was an air of sound numbness and uttermost incomprehension, as if bewildered with the shock of so much a pity, too much a mercy. The spot the man was looking at was the apparent reason of the man’s turmoil, and he knew the spot too; it was the convent. Every other week except the fast periods in the Romanian Orthodox Calendar he used to go up there himself to trade hard cheese, milk and wool for hand-woven, one-thumb gloves, socks and trousers, hand sewn linen shirts, mushrooms and berries preserves or some jug of dark ember thick woods honey or whatever the nuns had ready for barter. They never left the convent yard and only rarely received visitors, mostly first grade relatives and only at outstanding praznicks, saints’ day celebrations and then for just short, cramped visits since the place was a recluse, out of the way, barely accessible nunnery. Not that they didn’t welcome visitors when they dropped to see their vowed to Christ daughters or … Scarcely knowledgeable of people ways as he was, the young shepherd learned fast about people and their shattered dreams, about illusions, delusions and surrender. His ballast free brain told him in the blinding flash of a split second the story whose follow up he now witnessed unwanted and unnoticed, reeling out like a zipper through his mind with sharp contrast and acute resolution. The man who watched the mountain was in his late forties. Of medium build. No visible fat cushions on his average frame. His hair was a non descript color, ripe rye perhaps, and the nose small, the mouth large and a two-day stubble on his rather flat, trembling chin. Apparently his brow was prematurely furrowed and his overall appearance was one which didn’t fit the image of a father, nor the one of a lover and he looked like one of the many drifters who didn’t , don’t and wouldn’t live enough to see his mug on no wedding black and white photograph never in his lifetime. No, this man was no visitor, yet he was not just a simple sightseer either. He was a man torn up between the two statuses equally non-attained nor ever to be attained.
All deductions and additions being made the shepherd could tell the man missed something or someone awfully bad and that something or someone had something to do with the convent. Then, at once, all made sense to him: he must have missed a nun up there, no, not a close enough connection to muster himself enough courage to go see her – and the young sheep tender knew it was no outstanding saint’s celebration today, nor a remote enough acquaintance to just shrug his shoulders and quit, yet he did neither. He just stood there by the concrete rampart and staggered under the tremendous burden of the remembrance incensed by indecision, unable to take his eyes off the bright white spot of the convent. He felt it had something to do with one of the nuns in there - he had seen a couple of them while in his trading trips uphill and he had a mental a mental rundown of them and their faces, trying frantically to figure out whose face could be tied in no matter how far fetched or what flimsy a basis, to the middle-aged on-watcher who couldn’t make up his mind, mindlessly nibbling at his inner lower lip while staring like a zombie with shaky eyes blinded already with tears at the white spot of the convent. The young shepherd could not tell who was the nun, yet he knew better still; he knew why. It must have been an old feud of love settled way back once, but not quite for good, and now stirred up again to full blaze yet not daring enough for him as to cross the mountain and trespass the overriding power field of another kind of love originating into the white speck hung over the next valley. The image cleared to absolute resolution. The man who came and stood there like the living statue of Adrift in Torment was himself a detritus of a lost, too human a battle, a living reminder of surrender years ago, when his terrestrial love could have triggered in his fiancée this trip that made her in love, go over the top and long to be the bride of Jesus Christ. How many years could have passed since? Ten? Fifteen? It was that privilege of watching such a strange, unworldly beauty of seeing hurt love paying homage to the Most Sweet Winner that made the young shepherd, spy by chance alone, quake with emotion and feel the strong urge to become friend, relative or just about anything else which might mingle him to or involve him into what was taking place just before his very eyes, being part of it, hold it everything in communion with it all; and suddenly he was happy with the apprehension that some day, when he grew up, he will do just that. He will also remember that one can’t tell true love from true pain and real self sacrifice. Then suddenly the man turned in a peculiar way, head and eyeballs locked together in one single motion, like a haunted animal of prey turned himself prey, tame and meek whose beyond pain stricken look crossed his eyes for a split second , but the man either didn’t mind his spying on him or he didn’t see him at all. Still unnoticed, the shepherd saw the crying man getting into his car, behind the wheel, slamming the door, turning it back and gunning the engine out west. The roar gone, the chimes of the leading ewe’s bell was the only thing left moving into the majestic landscape, except for the dim hum of the ultra high voltage zooming out everywhere from the white spot gradually emerging from under the rusty foliage out into
the forthcoming fall and from the towering mountain in which it clung a long way up, near the top, closest thing down from the sky. The shepherd was five years short of right. Actually, some twenty years had passed now since their separation on grounds of much, too much love. Of hers, for Jesus Christ.