The climb on Mount Brno left me completely drained: my knees reminded me of the heavy load I’d had to carry every time I had to bend or stretch them; my shoulders had bruises and blisters on them where the backpack straps had cut into the skin. Yet, I’d passed the test and was allowed to continue: climb 3 mountains in 4-5 days to get my certificate. As I met the team of three men I would be joining and talked to them, I sighed – I already knew I wasn’t comingwith them but wanted to keep deceiving myself, pretending I could make it. I packed, made several calls and paid an obligatory visit to the doctor…
‘On your fifth instructor already, are you Mila?’ the doc inquired judgementally, examining the names on the team list. I nodded, smiling.
‘I’ve never met anyone like that before,’ she added, looking at me with an expression of the deepest disapproval.
‘Mila,’ the other camp doctor called me when I left the first one’s office. I’d become good friends with him: whenever he had a moment to spare he would call me into his office for a chat about philosophy, or travel, or ‘difficult’ people, or Russian versus Western mountaineering, etc. ‘Well?’ he asked, grinning at me, ‘So you’ve managed to climb Brno?’ I told him about the climb briefly and the man, touched, embraced me, saying: ‘I’ve never met anyone like that before,’ You will understand why I had to laugh :).
Back in my room I tried on the backpack – it wasn’t particularly heavy, and I knew I could carry it comfortably to Teplii Ugol once again. However, I still had this strange feeling – I knew I wasn’t going there.
Later that evening I wandered out of my room for a cup of coffee only to find the bartender, Tonya, looking sick and distressed: someone had stolen the revenue from the day before – a sum equal to her two months’ salary, which she would have to replay.
‘There are three large groups coming down from the mountains tonight. I don’t know how I’ll manage on my own,’ she said grimly. I volunteered to help, hoping to cheer her up in the process – after all, her coffee and stories had made me smile many a time during my stay at Bezengi.
I swept the floors, cleaned the tables, washed the dishes, served food and repeatedly answered one and the same question: ‘What on Earth are you doing?’ Tonya was looking better by the end of the night, which made me truly happy, and I’d had a good time, too.
I went to sleep late and woke up at around 3 am with a fever. My knees, too, were swollen and hurting badly, but the sudden illness neither surprised nor upset me. I lay in bed till morning, when I let the instructor, the team and the director know I was sick and not going anywhere: some people looked relieved to hear the news, others – upset, while I was actually happy: happy that something had stopped me before I would hurt myself even more. It was time to leave – my body and even my stubborn mind were telling me so.
My team left for Teplii Ugol, where they would climb their first mountain the next day, while I would be getting on the bus to Nalchik. When I left my room in the morning, I was surprised to see tens of people gathered around the old blue bus – I’d never before seen that many come out to say good-bye to those departing from the camp. To my astonishment, it was me they came to say good-bye to. The director, Tonya and all the kitchen staff were there, as were some of the mountaineers I’d only talked to a couple of times. They smiled and hugged me, wishing me well, asking me to promise that I would return next summer, while some were even trying to persuade me to stay. I was beyond surprised that they all seemed sincerely to… like me. Were they just happy I was leaving at the long last? Not those people, not with those smiles – one couldn’t doubt them.
As I was smiling to myself on the bus, halfway to Nalchik, somebody’s phone rang and the news came in that two girls from St. Petersburg, my home town, had had an accident near Teplii Ugol: one was fine but the other had broken both her legs. She would only be evacuated to the hospital two days later, one of her legs requiring partial amputation. It’s a silly, selfish thought, but I feel it would have been me had I stayed and pushed on stubbornly, in spite of my body’s signals and my mind’s intuition. I am deeply sorry for the girl and wish her to recover soon and completely; I wish her strength and luck.
As for me, I hope to have interesting news for my readers soon. I know, I know, I should be writing poetry and not… this – whatever this was :).