( a psychological sketch )


Aunt Sonya is making her bed. The children are asleep . I can go and meet Lena after the concert.

The lobby of the Philharmonic Hall is empty. Two or three young men haunt in the corner, waiting. The white staircase is brightly lit. Subdued music seeps out through the closed doors.

A few minutes before the end of the concert a departure show begins.

First enter The Clever.

They are not many, just a few people. They come out, go down the stairs in a relaxed manner, proceed into the empty cloakroom, take time to put on their boots, tie their scarves, and properly button their coats in front of the mirrors. Their motions are stately, their faces calm and friendly.

With the final chords the doors open wide and The Smart pop out.

They are about fifteen or twenty young, fit, cheerful people. With merry shouts they bound down the stairs skipping two or three steps at a time to get ahead. In the cloakroom they snap up their coats in a moment and disappear from sight.

Then The Masses pour out.

Lively, many-voiced, many-headed and many-legged, the crowd fills the entire staircase, the lobby and the cloakroom. In the cloakroom a hot, tight swirl of people is instantly created. Several multi-lane caterpillar queues interlace, hustle, push and sway under the pressure of new arrivals. The noise is unimaginable . The cloakroom attendants rush around with tags and piles of clothes, all in a stew. Coats flit, handbags and scarves fall down and get stepped on, quarrels flare up, faces are tense. Men with heaps of coats in their arms and with their own and women’s hats on their heads struggle their way back through the crowd to their ladies.

This entire welter lasts about half-hour or forty minutes. Gradually the crowd thins out, calms and dissolves in the doorway.

There’s more room in the lobby now, and on the staircase appear The Diseased.

It’s usually old people slowly making their way down the stairs; the disabled, with sticks and crutches; sometimes it’s sturdy chaps carrying their palsied friends. This group is small in numbers, unhurried and collected; it inspires respect and even admiration.

This group is followed by a short pause, then come The Insane.

They are few. Every one of them is a bright spirit. They are extremely interesting to watch. The main distinguishing feature is an unusual mode of motion. Each of them is walking in his/her own direction and rhythm. Some quickly go down halfway, then stop, stand still, then turn round and slowly walk upstairs and stand back there for an indefinite time. Others cross the flight diagonally without looking. Upon reaching the wall they bump against it, turn and change direction going across towards the other wall. Separate individuals, having descended a few steps, start moving along the step left or right, occasionally bump into each other and drift apart without apologizing. Their look is absent and fatuous. Singles, as a rule, are numbly withdrawn. Small groups desperately argue and gesture as they stand on the steps. In the cloakroom they muddle around and give their tags to the wrong attendants; then they receive their coats and hold them for a while, thinking about something, then somehow manage to get dressed and move to the exit followed by the attendants’ shouts “You’ve left your hat! Your handbag! Take your scarf!..”

Then there is a long pause.

The cloakroom attendants sort out the tinkling tags. The lights go down one by one. The lobby becomes deserted . Silence falls .

In the doorway two figures emerge. One is carrying a bucket and a broom.

The other is Lena .

The cleaning lady walks along her side and excitedly tells her about something. Lena silently and very slowly goes downstairs, moving her feet mechanically. Her cheeks are ruddy; her eyes are wide open, staring above the horizon line. A vague otherworldly smile plays on her lips.

She silently and slowly pokes her arms into the sleeves and blindly buttons the coat. We step out on the dark Nevsky prospect and quietly, as if in a silent slow-motion film, walk home. Talking with her is not possible; asking a question is dangerous. I must walk along mutely, trying hard to hold back my hasty pace.

At home I slip off my coat and run through the rooms. The children are asleep, Aunt Sonya breathes noisily in her room – everything is fine. I go back to the kitchen. Lena is standing in her coat in the same position, leaning against the door-post. Her stare is fixed.

The clock shows half past twelve.