A Nymph’s Kiss
Andrey was absent-mindedly running in the park. He had seen her again. For the third time that week. The girl with the green eyes. She was gracefully running towards him, in her blue and green sweatshirt. Running by, she cast a vacant glance at him and he sank into the turquoise depth of her eyes, tranquil and tempting like the crystal clear water of a heavenly island. He had no recollection how he had reached the huge oak-tree where the alley sharply curved. On the ground there was a green textile ball in familiar looking nuances. Andrey picked it up carefully and unfolded it. A hair band with sequins, his colleagues wore such in the office. Gently pressing his find, Andrey rushed to reach its owner but she had vanished into thin air. He headed to the exit of Boris’ Garden. There was no trace of the nymph. He ran back and turned into the alley leading to the pond. He saw her, next to one of the few fountains in the park. She was trying to cup the cold water and splash it on her freckled cheeks. Her light auburn hair freely fell and framed the high cheekbones, and emphasised her translucent skin.
“This is yours, right?”
“Oh yes,” she looked at him, surprised, “I haven’t even noticed I’ve lost it, and it’s my favourite one. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Glad to help you,” Andrey wrung his hands. He did not want the conversation to end but he could not think of anything meaningful to say and placed his palm under the running water.
“I need to go now. But I’ll buy you a coffee one day,” she said, waving the green ball. “I’m dying for a cappuccino; they’re making some great one over there.”
The girl smiled and was lost in the green vegetation, leaving Andrey’s heart beating fast. As if he was not a mature 32-year-old man, with a good job, and a serious girlfriend until not so long ago. What else can you call 5 years of cohabitation today? He had already been dreaming of wedding bells and children’s laughter when, one day, Nina packed her luggage and left him without any explanation. She left him alone with his broken heart. He had been going over all possible
answers to the question “why” for a long time. For the first time after their break-up he had felt excited at meeting someone.
An hour later, Andrey, whistling, was at the office and even saw the fresh flowers on his desk. Freesias. He inhaled the sweet fragrance and thanked, in his mind, his thoughtful assistant Lora. Then he forced himself to remember why he was there and got down to finalising the reports on his desk. The deadline for the annual financial reports was drawing nearer, a heart-stroke period for any accountancy business, when leaving the office before eight was as ridiculous as getting sick. As deputy head accountant in an accountancy company, his duties and responsibilities were close to infinity. He buried himself in the files but his thoughts refused to give in to the dry subject matter. They kept chasing the girl in the park. Little by little, however, routine prevailed and he sank into the piles of documents. He had lunch in the office: a sandwich and salad, which Lora had brought.
It was already dark when Rosa Petrova, the owner of the company and his employer, popped in his office. Andrey considered her to be a remarkable woman. She had begun with an assistant in a rented room and for years had been building up the business with hard work. In her seventies, Rosa still seemed full of energy. She arrived early in her spacious office and all too often was the last to leave it. Nothing could escape her. Neither the figures nor the employees. Actually Andrey thought that her most valuable quality was her ability to select and motivate her staff. They were her family. She did not have another one. He really struck it lucky when she took him on during his final year at university. He was a novice but a quick-learning one. She showed him the ropes that thick books did not mention. She appreciated his skills and promoted him to her deputy three years ago.
“Well, Andie, I’m leaving. I’ve got an appointment. How are you?” she asked him with a somewhat tired smile.
“Fine, thanks. I’ve done almost everything for today. I wanted to talk with you about Ultra Supermarkets. According to the documents, which they’ve submitted monthly, their turnover over the last quarter has been inexplicably falling. I talked with the manager and he seemed worried too. I asked for some further documentation and advised him to go through the check registers and reversals.”
“I’d have advised him the same. If nothing turns up, you know what to do next. Good job. Really, to be honest, you look different. See you tomorrow.”
Rosa closed the door and Andrey looked at his reflection in the mirror. Was it so obvious? His thoughts ran off again and after a few futile attempts to concentrate he gave up and went home. He did not sleep well but he was up at six in the morning. He took out his new outfit, overused the perfume and headed for the park. After an hour running along the alleys, it struck him that it had been his most exhausting training session but he was not going to get the promised cappuccino. He left the park down-hearted and the whole day dragged, slowly and despondently. Rosa sent him home at seven. The evening was long – a little beer and a lot of music, or the other way round. A film put him to sleep; he had some dreams in green.
When the first pale daylight sneaked into his bedroom, Andrey opened his eyes. It was jogging time. He loved those moments when his body warmed up and filled with adrenaline and his mind unwound and cleared. That day, however, was different. The frantic suspense exhausted him.
Thanks God, after the third lap he saw her at the pond with the water lilies. He waved at her and she returned the greeting. He cut short through a green area and after a minute was running next to her, taking in her smell deeply. They agreed to keep running for another 15 minutes and to have a coffee afterwards. He learned that she was called Elena, was a student in sociology and worked part-time for an agency. She was interested in photography and did not miss any new exhibition. He found the cappuccino tastier than the one he had in Rome. They parted promising each other to meet next to the fountain the following morning. They met every single day.
Andrey was getting more and more enchanted and less and less capable of focusing on his daily tasks in the office. Lora kept sighing deeply and Rosa looked at him mockingly. Andrey was wondering whether they could read his mind.
He had a date with Elena in the evening. They were going to the theatre. He left her choose the play, which was really good. Absorbed in the fictional world, Andrey occasionally pressed the girl’s warm hand just to make sure that she was still there. Then they had dinner in an Italian restaurant. The food was delicious and the place was cozy; the evening was perfect until she told him that she was going to the US in a week, on a student brigade. For three months. Andrey almost choked. He was looking at her and could not believe what she was saying. It was as if he was allowed to go to Heaven but then was told that it had all been a mistake. The same night he took her to his place. And he did so on all the nights before she left. They promised each other to keep in touch every day.
“I’ll be waiting for you,” Andrey uttered after their final kiss.
They texted each other almost every day. She was telling him about his work and encouraged him to go out more often and to enjoy himself. He did so but he wanted her to be there too. Thanks God, the stress in the office was over and things were back to normal. Just as any other year, they celebrated the successful end of the financial year with a briefing in the office. Rosa thanked everybody and shared with them the case of Ultra Supermarkets. They had cameras installed above the checkouts and had observed the cashiers for a number of days. As Andrey had suspected, two of them, newly hired, were regularly reversing purchases as if the customers had given up on them. After the reversals, however, they did not register those and the system failed to trace them. Their supervisor turned a blind eye and the three of them split the sum. Andrey did not ask how they had split the money. The supermarket had dismissed the enterprising employees but had kept the cameras, added Rosa.
One evening, about a month after Elena’s departure, Andrey was going back home after a friend’s birthday party. He was heading for the taxi rank. His eyes were instinctively drawn to the couples, seated at the tables in the cafes. The people were enjoying the warm evening and their feelings. Suddenly he stood still. She was with her back on him, her hair was shorter but the resemblance was striking. Her head was leaning towards the man in front of her and her face was in the shadow. Andrey did not dare to draw closer; instead, he took out his phone and sent her a message. “Where are you?” At that moment the phone on the table which he had been watching pinged. The girl did not react. Andrey could not move although he realised he could not stay there longer. After a while, the girl stood up, took her handbag and her mobile and went inside the cafe. Andrey passed by. He had made just a few steps when he got a message. He touched the screen – “Working, can’t talk. Kisses. Later.” Andrey stopped, turned around and saw her. Elena had just come out and went back to the chair freed not so long ago.
He did not answer her messages. He let her write, describing her made-up stories, asking him why he did not write back and, most painfully, lying about her feelings. He sent her just a word “WHY?”, and she responded “We have to meet.”
“We didn’t meet accidentally. I was hired. I work for an agency…for companions. I had to make you forget about an old relationship for two weeks and then disappear. But things got different; I fell in love and that’s why I’m here. I’m not supposed to be telling you this; I’m violating my contract. I just wanted you to know that.”
“An agency…so, it was all a lie?”
“Not quite, my feelings are true; I didn’t have to make love with you.” “I find it hard to believe, after all of this…Who hired you?”
“We are not told but I knew you would ask me and I tried to find out…well, how shall I put it? Actually, it’s the company you’re working for.”
Andrey left without saying goodbye. He left her there, her eyes welled with tears and he was racking his brains with questions. Maybe it was better not to know the answers. The following morning he called the office and said he was sick. Lora was worried and suggested dropping in. Andrey did not want to see anybody. He felt betrayed by everybody. He had to pull himself together and to decide what to do and how to live in the future.
Three days later, he went to the office and knocked on Rosa’s door. “Come in, Andie. Are you better?”
“I wasn’t sick.”
Rosa looked at him in surprise.
“I found out what you’ve done.”
“Yes, you look mad; I think I know what you’re talking about. You had looked so miserable for months on end and you didn’t seem to be able to cope on your own although you’re young, handsome and intelligent. I decided to help; you know I value you a lot; you’re like a son to me.”
“Do you believe any mother would d that to her son?”
“Now that I think of it, no. But many mothers and relatives try to arrange dates for their children. I don’t have much time and I don’t know the right people so I decided to turn to an agency.”
“I’m disgusted …and I quit,” Andrey said and handed out a sheet to Rosa.
“I’m not sure I can sign it. I still have the necessary power but I’m thinking of retiring and of leaving the company to you. My lawyers have prepared all the necessary documents,” said Rosa and looked at the file in front of her. “We just have to sign them at the notary’s.”
Andrey was looking in disbelief. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You’d better not say anything. You’ll manage, Andie. And consider Lora. We often overlook important things and take them for granted but thus, we miss our real chance. Don’t repeat my mistakes, Andie.”
Andrey instinctively reached in the inside pocket of his jacket. He had the airplane ticket to the Bahamas there. His flight was in two hours. Shortly before visiting Rosa he had made a series of substantial money transfers from both their key accounts and his own company to newly opened accounts in the haven islands.
By Irena Georgieva from Bulgaria