The First Flight

Ringing. Loud, piercing ringing.

Nicholas held tight to his pillow, as if he wanted to hinder the reality from breaching into his dreams. But it kept ringing, painfully and without mercy. He had to wake up.

He opened the door still half asleep, without checking who it was who had so callously awakened him.

“Nicholas, I have to talk to you…” said a rugged, somewhat sad voice.

Nicholas rubbed his eyes and was then able to see his landlord, Phillip Horsten, looking at him with an expressionless, blank stare.

“I’m really sorry, I’ve just woken up…” it was hard for Nicholas to set his vocal chords in motion. “Tell me, what do you need?”

He then remembered. Yes, that must be the issue… Nicholas was late with his rent. But it wasn’t his mistake! He should’ve already gotten his salary, but for some reason his bank account was still completely dry. How could Nicholas explain that his salary simply didn’t come? Will the landlord believe him?

“Nicholas, I’m afraid you’ll have to find another flat”, was the cold, bitter answer.

“But, sir!” Nicholas cried out. “I know I’m late now but I’ve always paid my rent in time. When I get my…”

“No, that’s not it”, the landlord stopped him. “My son is coming back to town and I need the flat back. I won’t be renting it anymore.”

Nicholas stood motionless, trying to process the information his brain refused to accept.

“I’m sorry, Nicholas, but it is what it is. It all happened too fast and I wasn’t able to inform you in time, but I would like you to move out by the end of next week.”

Nicholas wanted to say something, to complain, but the words remained stuck in his throat. He almost felt sorry for himself – always a lowly loser who can’t stand up for himself.

“I’m sure you’ll find something”, said Horsten and sympathetically patted Nicholas on the shoulder.

It felt false, and very hypocritical. Nicholas felt the rage simmer inside of him. But he still did nothing. He nodded in agreement and locked the door. He never really liked this flat. Maybe it would be better for him to move away from it, to forget about this bitter part of his life and, most importantly, to forget about her…

The alarm clock rang. Another set of maddening high-pitched sounds. Nicholas just couldn’t move and turn off the ringing. He couldn’t stop the deafening pain.

***

And that’s why he had to run… He was late for work, and that was something he couldn’t afford. On the way, a pigeon almost hit him, but it just grazed him with its wing. Nicholas suddenly felt as if someone was aiming at him, and shooting him with invisible missiles of sadness which dispersed once they hit his weakened body. And then, the pain would stick to him, and like some foul liquid soak his clothes, and absorb through every pore of his body, leaving him cold and covered with stains which can never be cleaned.

He stood in front of the door of the fast food restaurant he was working in and desperately reached for the key to open them as soon as possible. But they did it on their own, and Nicholas faced the boss’s red face.

“You’re late again!” he screamed.

Again? Nicholas couldn’t remember the time he was late. He always tried to come on time. Ashamed, he looked down, at his old, torn sneakers. And then he remembered the morning he was late. It was the day she left…

“I’m sorry” he said quietly.

“I’m not interested! I told you last time I won’t tolerate it! You can easily be replaced, you know!” the boss was very intimidating when he was angry.

“It won’t happen again…” Nicholas was still staring at his sneakers and was a bit ashamed of the way they looked.

“It doesn’t matter anymore! You’re fired!”

The door slammed before his eyes, and Nicholas finally had the courage look up. The place sickened him, stuffy and hot. He could feel it, no air inside, just the smell of food and human breath. The dreadful kitchen, repulsive pieces of red meat fried in deep oil which spattered around, greasy and nauseating. If the people who so voraciously devoured their hamburgers knew how horrible it was to spend hours and hours in that little oily room, they would surely never even think about eating the food that was made there.

But, unfortunately for Nicholas, it was his only source of income, and he would give anything to be let in again into that world of fat and blood. He wanted to go to college and make something of himself, earn his place in the social hierarchy, but the lack of money averted him from his plan. For the same reason, he was now wearing those dirty, torn sneakers. Maybe that was the reason she’d left. Because his clothes smelled like hamburgers and he wore disgusting sneakers.

“Nicholas!” a familiar voice called him.

Nicholas looked at the man who called his name in such a friendly, warm voice. But he couldn’t place his face into a story which would connect them. This man was dressed elegantly, in a smart suit and patent leather shoes. He carried a briefcase and a silk tie hugged his neck.

„Don’t you remember me? It’s me, Miles Richards! We went to school together.”

After hearing his name after a long time, Nicholas remembered his former colleague. The same man who was now looking down on him used to copy his homework and sometimes even exam questions. Miles wasn’t particularly smart or persistent, but his test results were always good.

Nicholas felt shame in front of this clearly successful man and he looked down. Across from his shabby sneakers, Miles’s shoes shined.

“Well, what happened to you? You don’t look so good”, Miles’s words seemed harsh, but his voice sounded sympathetic, almost worried.

“A lot’s happened… I’m being kicked out of my flat, and now from my job…” Nicholas wasn’t completely aware of his words. Why was he telling all this to a man he hadn’t seen for years and had never been particularly close to?

“Really?! O, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out. Come on, I’m taking you to lunch and we’ll talk.”

Even though Miles was just a barely known character from the past long forgotten, Micholas felt an inexplicable need to talk to him. He had no true friends; he lost contact with most of them after high school. Most of them went to college and then scattered all around the country and the world. And if he talked to his family, everyone would get worried and cause him even more headache.

In the end, it somehow happened that Nicholas moved in with Miles. Miles lived in a huge flat, but all by himself, so he offered Nicholas to stay one of the rooms for a few days, until he decides what to do.

Nicholas couldn’t sleep that night. He found himself sitting at the designer glass table which could’ve been his, in a living room filled with wonderful things which could’ve been his, in a flat which also could’ve been his, if only he’d had more luck.

Nicholas felt as if something was suffocating him. The air in the luxurious flat suddenly became too heavy for him to bear. His heartbeat accelerated and panic rushed through his body. It was so hard to stand up, but Nicholas couldn’t stand the stagnant atmosphere so he ran out into the street.

He was looking at the concrete, feeling too humiliated to look up. It was there, on the chilly street, where he realized that he forgot to put on his shoes. Maybe it was better this way. Better not to look at their shabbiness. His bare feet looked like the feet of a homeless beggar. Was that this destiny?

Nicholas couldn’t stand the thought so he finally raised his head to avoid looking at his feet. He then saw a flock of pigeons on the roof of the building. They stood there, almost completely still, like statues. They, which were given wings, just stand in resignation. They, which could easily fly away. Someone once said: “I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth, then I ask myself the same question.” And it was true. Aren’t we free? Don’t we have the right to go wherever we wish? Why do we so cruelly put ourselves in boxes and impose rules on ourselves? Why did we even create a society which suits only a minority of lucky individuals?

Nicholas once again found it hard to breathe. He felt claustrophobic, and he felt watched. As if his own anger and panic became a separate being which was now lurking, hidden in the darkness around him, invisible but strongly present. He was afraid to look around, certain that some kind of creature might appear, so he kept looking at the top of the building. Yes, he would go there, up there where everything has to be better, where the pigeons are, pigeons which have wings and can fly!

The elevator ride was almost too much. Nicholas felt so feeble and unsafe in that tight little compartment. And then he was finally able to run out onto the roof.

The pigeons remained still.

Have you dozed off? What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you flying away? Fly!

Nicholas stormed towards the pigeons; they got scared and flew away. It’s what they always do. If they feel some kind of danger, all they have to do is spread they wings and go somewhere safe. Nicholas sensed danger as well. Life was wrapping around him like a snake and threatening to suffocate him. Could he fly away, too? Leave to a different place, take a new path in life?

Why not?

Nicholas approached the edge carefully. What if he really tried to fly away? He would fall and become a lifeless, bloody stain. And maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would go to a better, fairer place. Or maybe to a place where he would be stronger, where he could look at others with arrogance and laugh at their poor life choices.

Steadily, he crossed the edge. He felt no more rage, no more sadness. Around him just cold air. And her face, a pair of green, almost yellow, cat shaped eyes. For a moment he remembered her eyes were actually blue. But it didn’t matter anymore, he would never see her again. But why were the feline eyes still staring at him? And why was he certain that the creature which followed him was closer than ever?

 ***

The next day, entire country was shocked by three murders which happened the same night. Phillip Horsten, a pensioner, Arnold Andrews, the owner of a fast food restaurant, and Miles Richards, a businessman, were all found dead in their homes. The police still don’t know if the murders were committed by the same person. The three men had never met.

Thoughts and impressions after reading The Golem and the Djinni

New York, 1899:

CHAVA is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a Jewish rabbi. When her master dies on the voyage from Poland, she arrives alone in an unknown city.

AHMAD is a djinni, a being of fire, trapped for centuries and brought back to life by Arbeely, an impoverished tinsmith who invites him to stay in his workshop in Lower Manhattan.

Together, experiencing freedom for the first time, they form the most unlikely of friendships. But a powerful threat will soon test their bond, driving them back into their own worlds and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

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I’ve just finished reading The Golem and the Djinni, and I thought it deserved a review. The book description on the back of this chunky, green paperback got me interested. Just as expected, the book read like a fairy tale – woven with magic, mysterious characters, and a myriad of emotions.

Ahmad and Chava look at the human world with childlike naivety, but also with fear and skepticism. In a way, the novel tries to look at people from a neutral, otherwordly point of view. How would someone who knows nothing about humans perceive our weaknesses, strengths, emotions, social constructs and habits?

Ahmad doesn’t really understand human constraints at first. Human values don’t apply to the djinni. However, once trapped in the human form, he learns how his actions affect those around him. Chava, on the other hand, was made by a human. Her master decided on her character and values, he made her proper, intelligent and curious. And it was in her golem nature to be strong but obedient – once bonded to her master, the golem has to do everything he orders. After the death of her master, Chava is without purpose and has to adapt to “normal” life. She is aware of her strength, and fears for the people around her. She accepts their values and norms, and tries to live by them. Ahmad does what he wants, just as he did once, a long time ago. He wants to be free.

“I depended on no one! I went where I would and followed my desires. I needed no money, no employer, no neighbors. None of this interminable good morning and how are you, whether one feels like it or not.”

Chava would rather go mad than hurt anyone so she hides as much as possible, and she even secretly wishes she had a master again.

“To me it felt like the way things were meant to be. And when (my master) died (…) I no longer had a purpose. Now I’m bound to everyone, if only a little. I have to fight against it, I can’t be solving everyone’s wishes. But sometimes, at the bakery where I work, I’ll give someone a loaf of bread – and it answers a need. For a moment, that person is my master. And in that moment, I’m content. If I were as independent as you wish you were, I’d feel I had no purpose at all.”

Once the two characters meet, they talk about their own natures, and try to find solutions to their situation. They are the complete opposites, and make us think about the two opposing forces that drive us all – a need to be independent, and a need to be a part of a community. People cannot live alone, but they also cannot allow themselves to do only what the others think they should. That is one of the main concepts the novel deals with – the importance of being true to ourselves, while at the same time accepting the company, friendship, love and responsibility for others.

Chava and Ahmad also discuss their own impressions of what they have seen and learned about humans, each from their own point of view. I found their conversations really interesting. They pose some questions which don’t really have an answer, and make us think about ourselves and our own character. As they try to understand human nature, the reader finds out that we don’t really understand ourselves as well. At the same time, when the golem and the djinni talk about themselves, they once again pose some universal questions. What is one’s “nature” and are we all slaves to it? What characteristics are we born with and which ones do we learn?

Ahmad also has some interesting conversations with Arbeely, and it is Arbeely, a human, who says the most harsh, and to me the most resounding claim about human character:

“They’d need no reason!” shouted Arbeely. “Why can’t you understand? Men need no reason to cause mischief, only an excuse!”

It’s clear that people are capable of great evil, but they are also capable of good. The villain, who goes by few names, embodies the insatiable thirst for power and immortality. The fear of death is something that is capable of bringing out the worst in people, making them fight for their survival regardless of the consequences, and I think this is shown quite well in the novel. But sometimes, people also show the willingness to sacrifice themselves for the others, and the novel addresses this other side of human nature as well, through some other characters.

There are so many interesting characters, and it would take too long to mention them all. And I wouldn’t want to reveal too much. What I have will say is that in the end, I really feared for them. I cared about them and hoped for the best possible outcome. I also liked how the novel combined different cultures, mostly Jewish and Muslim from which the two main characters originate. It also shows New York in the end of the 19th century, a place where people from all around the world came to start a new, better life. On the one side, the readers get en insight into the life in New York tenements, and on the other side they are able to follow Chava and Anhmad and explore the empty streets at night.

Do I have something bad to say? Not really. I do wish some things were explored a little bit more, but the book was what I expected it to be. It drew me into it’s magical world and what more could I ask from it?

Coffee

COFFEE PROVEN TO BE LIFE-THREATENING!

Ron was worried. The bolded headline seemed more threatening than the boss’ complaints. Ron was good at his job and he had nothing to fear. The boss just likes to make threats when he has a chance.

Health’s not to be played with. Ron was holding his freshly made cup of coffee, with carefully added milk, just as he liked it. He opened the online newspaper which he reads every morning before work. He would never actually read it, he would just open the page and scroll through it, only to see what’s new in the world. He wasn’t particularly interested, nor did he ever feel the urge to devote more attention to this immense series of events. Some of them were quite disturbing, others even more so, but there is no point in crying over spilt coffee. There’s nothing Ron can do to change what’s happened.

But why does it say that coffee is life-threatening? Since he was a child, Ron had the habit of drinking white coffee. When he would crawl out of his bed in the morning, grumpy and not eager to go to school, a cup of coffee his mother made especially for him would be waiting on the kitchen table as a consolation. It was basically milk with a few drops of coffee, but those tiny drops were enough to awaken his love for the hot, black drink.

Maybe he shouldn’t drink it as much? No, that wouldn’t be enough, after all those years of devoted consummation. He should stop. Grievous, Ron drank a little sip and then spilled the coffee down the drain. A great sadness filled him as he watched the dark liquid disappear.

Ron put on his jacket and headed to work, with determination in his steps. It may be Friday, but it doesn’t mean the day would be less tiring.

Friday. Yes, there was something about Friday… Something he should’ve remembered. He thought about it as he drove, but it had escaped him completely. He knew he had a meeting with an important client today. A lot of money was in question. But no, that wasn’t it. It probably wasn’t as important, because Ron always remembered important things.

On his way in, Ron met Lea. She was very pretty, as usual, even in strict business attire, with an old-fashioned silk scarf around her neck and tied hair. He smiled at her, because that was all he could do. Even though they were seeing each other for a while, they didn’t want it to become the talk of the office.

“I’ll see you in the evening”, she said as she walked by, leaving behind her a sweet trace of perfume.

Lea was not one of those women you can recognize by the perfume scent. It seemed to Ron that she smelled differently each time. He knew she had a lot of perfumes. She liked to collect interesting little bottles. She would arrange them carefully, first the bigger ones, and the smaller ones in front of them. For her, perfume bottles were decoration. The only decoration besides a big painting in the living room. She liked simplicity.

As he walked past her, Ron thought he should book a table in a fancy restaurant. They weren’t able to spend time together for a while. Last weekend, she went on a business trip. He wasn’t sure where, but he remembered it was something nice and warm. Mediterranean? Greece maybe. He should probably go to Greece once, on a vacation.

There was some time left before the meeting. Ron felt the urge to drink a cup of coffee but he was determined to stop. He’s been refraining from smoking his entire life, even though he found blown out cigarette smoke seemed oddly alluring. He wouldn’t, after years of restraining from cigarettes, allow to be killed by coffee. He doesn’t even drink alcohol, not nearly as much as some of his colleagues who turn into monstrous drunkards every Friday. Especially not now, when he spends his weekends with Lea.

That’s what he had forgotten! He and Lea were supposed to have dinner at her place after work. That’s the thing he couldn’t remember in the morning. He felt a little ashamed for forgetting it.

It was the time for the meeting. Ron took a deep breath and swallowed his worries. He knew how to put his feelings aside and get things done – orderly and efficiently.

When the meeting was finally over, and they always take longer than they should, Ron felt ashamed again. He decided to buy a box of chocolate for Lea. Or maybe flowers? She doesn’t really eat anything with too much sugar, and he didn’t want to buy the wrong thing. Ron had never actually seen her eat anything sweet and he didn’t know what kind of candy she liked.

In the end, he bought roses. Red ones, like in the movies.

She welcomed him, looking completely different than few hours ago. Her hair was down, and her dress flowy and light, the complete opposite of the uniform-like grey skirt she wore in the morning. It seemed to Ron that there were two Leas – the one he knew from work and barely spoke to, and the other he spent his free time with. There was something mysteriously attractive about business-Lea, the person he didn’t feel he knew. Lea never spoke about business. She didn’t want to talk about work at times when she should be relaxing.

When they first spoke outside of the office, she was also wearing a dress. It was red and she stood out in the crowd. He couldn’t resist the urge to talk to her.

“Lea Pratz? Publicity department?” he sounded embarrassingly official.

“I’m only Lea now. No departments”, she smiled.

It was the first time she saw her smile.

“Roses?” this evening, she was smiling sarcastically.

“You don’t like them?” he asked, a little confused.

“I don’t really like to keep flowers in the flat. You need to change the water, clean up the fallen petals… But they’re nice”, she said, unimpressed.

Lea didn’t make the food. She didn’t mind cooking, but she couldn’t stand cleaning the kitchen. However, the food was from a nice restaurant, and it was very good.

“Have you heard about that young actress…? Horrible”, she commented.

“Which actress?”

“Emilia Nestor. Didn’t you hear?”

“Oh, I think I know who she is. I remember seeing her name in the newspaper but I can’t remember what the article said.”

“Well, it seems she’s going to marry this old guy. I mean, she’s twenty-and-something, she shouldn’t even be getting married in the first place. Especially not this manager… He’s almost sixty!”

“Yes, that is horrible”, he agreed.

“Do you want coffee?” asked Lea as she ate her last bite.

“Oh, no, thanks.”

“Really? You always want coffee.”

“I read something in the newspaper. It seems coffee is really bad for you.”

“And you believe that? I did hear something about it, but I didn’t really pay attention, didn’t think it was that serious”, she shrugged.

“Maybe you’re right, but I decided to stop anyway.”

She smiled. She didn’t seem to take his decision seriously.

“I don’t like coffee anyway, so I don’t really care”, she added.

Tomorrow morning, Ron woke up at exactly seven o’clock, as if he was going to work. His body was completely accustomed to waking up at this precise time it almost became its own alarm clock. Ron didn’t mind. On the contrary, it was the perfect time for a morning run. Jogging is always useful – it is good for your health and makes you feel better. He was never quite sure if it was recommended to run before or after breakfast.

After a good run around the park, Ron turned on his computer to scroll through the newspaper as he ate his breakfast. He couldn’t read about the wars, inflation, and the violation of human rights, he felt too good to trouble himself with things like that. Then he paused for a while, a little confused.

In bolded print, glaring in front of his eyes, the title said:

COFFEE PROVEN TO HELP YOU LIVE LONGER!

My Top 7 Books

Since my blog is mostly book and literature-related, I thought it would be fitting to make a short list of all-time-favourites. I won’t go into much detail, I’ll just explain shorty why I like them, but you’re welcome to ask me anything you want. Why top 7? Well, I didn’t want a huge list, but top 5 just wasn’t enough so 7 it is! XD

These are not in any particular order, I feel it would be almost impossible to rate them like that. So, here we go:

1. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

The series that made me fall in love with books once again, and is probably the reason that I’m such a bookworm today. My love for this series cannot be put to words. 🙂

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

When someone asks me what my favourite book is, I usually say Frankenstein. This book is amazing on so many levels… Looking at the world through the creature’s eyes makes you think about human nature and humanity in general, about all the evils we do and the injustice many have to face. The book incorporates so many different elements – from Gothic to SciFi, questions related to science and philosophy. The ultimate question – who is the real monster: the creature of Frankenstein – is up to you to answer.

3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

The book is set in the Middle Ages, and that always attracts me. It’s devastatingly sad and dark, but the style is the complete opposite. Hugo is sarcastic, even funny, while all the characters’ stories are heartbreaking. And it works so well… I just love everything about this book.

4. The Seven Churches: A Gothic Novel of Prague by Miloš Urban

This book’s subtitle is a good introduction to what you can expect. A bit of history and architecture of Prague, a bit of spookiness and gore, and also a murder mystery. And and amazing ending! The book is incredibly atmospheric, I dare to say kafkaesque (and I love Kafka!) and medievalist (yes, the Middle Ages again). There’s just so much to say about it and that’s what makes it so great.

5. The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I just love Zafon’s writing, and I had to mention him in this post. I chose The Angel’s Game because it’s my favourite, but I would recommend The Shadow of the Wind and Marina as well. The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven are actually a series, but the last one was a bit of a disappointment. However, the other two were so good that I decided to overlook that.

6. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

You might have noticed that I like a bit weird books. So, of course, I adore Murakami. 1Q84 made me fall in love with him, but you won’t be sorry for trying Murakami in general. His books make me feel like I’m on some other planet, and they draw me so much into their strangeness that I start to expect strange things to happen in real life, too.

7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

And in the end, something completely different. Nothing strange, nothing weird, but still so engaging and wonderful. Honestly, I didn’t expect much of this book, but it surprised me. Another wonderful perspective on humanity, human feelings and weaknesses. And Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is great, too.

And here the list ends. I’ll probably remember a book I loved but didn’t mention here but what can you do…

People and Insects in A. S. Byatt’s “Morpho Eugenia”

In her novella “Morpho Eugenia”, A.S. Byatt questions the ideas people have about themselves as the most advanced species on the planet, addressing human weaknesses, but also stressing our most important values. One of the most noticeable themes of the novella is the comparison between human and ant societies which poses some ever-lasting questions and doubts about human character.

The 1860s is a period that suits this subject perfectly. After the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1959, the new insights on human nature forced people to rethink everything they considered unquestionable. “Morpho Eugenia” “reflects ideas, obsessions or feelings characteristic of that time.” (Nistor, 137) However, it also challenges the contemporary readers to ask themselves just to what extent our genetics and biology determines who we are and how we behave. Byatt obviously believes and is interested in science, but at the same time she explores the often unexplainable human emotions. This novella combines the two:

“Byatt refuses to accept the division between feeling and intellect as she refuses to accept the division between the “two cultures” of science and the arts, a division taken for granted at the time and place at which she was educated. She is acutely aware of the interplay between intellectual and emotional life… Increasingly her writing is concerned with the actual operations of the mind, the brain, whether physical or metaphysical.” (Sturrock 101)

One of the issues the novella deals with is the concept of humanity and what the term actually stands for. June Sturrock points out that this issue can be best presented in A. S. Byatt’s quote from her novel Possesion in which she asks: “Are we automata or Angelkin?” (qtd. in Sturrock, 100) More elaborately, Byatt makes the readers think about themselves in connection to animals which seem to be much more reliant on their instincts and certain behavioural patterns. As a man of science, William Adamson, the main character of the novella, accepts the idea that people might be dependant on some kind of patterns as well. Even the aspects of our personality that we consider to be independent of any genetic influences, such as our beliefs, might also be designated by our inborn instincts. William doubts the concept of belief, and wonders if what we believe in is a product of the history of mankind through which we learned what makes our survival easier. Therefore, belief itself has the instinct for survival at its core.

“I believe I have indeed been led by my studies – by my observations – to believe that we are all the products of intexorable laws of the behaviour of matter, of transformations and developments, and that is all. Whether I really believe this in my heart of hearts, I do not know. I do not believe that such a belief comes naturally to mankind. Indeed, I would agree that the religious sense (…) in some form or another – is as much part of the history of the development of mankind as the knowledge of cooking food, of the taboo against incest. And in that sense, what my reason leads me to believe is constantly modified by my instincts.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 34)

Later on, William dwells on the subject, wondering: “How does instinct differ from intelligence?” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 111) He concludes that a combination of both is  necessary for survival. Instinct is what determines the behaviour, but intelligence is needed to cope with different situations in which certain behaviour has to be preformed.

“The terrible idea – terrible to some, terrible, perhaps to all, at some time or in some form – that we are biologically predestined like other creatures, that we differ from them only in inventiveness and the capacity for reflection on our fate – treads softly behind the arrogant judgement that makes of the ant a twitching automaton.” (Byatt, ‘Morpho Eugenia’ 113)

William concludes that insects are not just automation, and finds comfort in that fact after realising the similarities between them and people. What Byatt seems to be proposing is that people are even less automatically determined. Inventiveness and capacity for reflection that William mentions are more important than he thinks. That is what makes us able to determine our destiny – the ability to think and the ability to create: intellect and art.

The borderline between people as independent beings of free will and insects as programmed, almost machine-like creatures is here being questioned by constant comparisons between the two. The film adaptation, Angels and Insects, follows this rule by inserting the scenes with insects whenever the imagery or actions of people can be compared to that of the insects. It is almost as if the insects constantly appear just to draw attention to themselves, and poke the audience in the eye to make sure they do not miss the resemblance between them and the characters. However, as expected, Byatt does not conclude that this distinction is something completely vague. She herself says: “I see insects as the not-human, in some sense as the Other, and I believe that we ought to think about the not-human in order to be human.” (qtd. in Sturrock 97) The comparison to the insects almost serves as a warning. Do we really want to be like insects? Instincts may exist, but they do not necessarily make us less human. In an anthill, or a bee-hive, every insect has a certain role that it obeys throughout its entire life. However, that cannot be applied to people. Social structures that prescribe roles to people based on their background, sex, or some other feature, are made unnaturally, and are against the very nature of human beings who are complex creatures with more than just one aspect of personality. If we compare our society to that of insects, we pass into a dangerous area. Byatt herself warns: “I worry about anthropomorphism as a form of self-deception.” (qtd. in Nistor 138). Vanderbeke sums this problem in following words:

“Thus, the ‘visual image’ that first drew A. S. Byatt to her topic is also one of the aspects that actually undermine the analogy between human beings and the ant heap as presented in her text. One could well argue that the closer the analogy between the Victorian mansion and the ant heap, the less it applies to humanity in all its cultural diversity. Neither can the wider historical context and the specific perspectives on human natures as evoked in Byatt’s novella be taken as indications of biological universals, even if they appear as such to the protagonists.” (Vanderbeke 295)

It soon becomes obvious that Byatt applies the aforementioned issues not only on the individual human beings, but on the society as a whole. “Byatt goes back in time and, starting from Darwin’s idea of natural selection and the survival of the fittest, performs a difficult operation: that of revaluing Victorianism from the (rather curious) point of view of British postmodernism.” (Nistor, 135) She observes the Alabaster household and positions of individual characters inside of its strict structure. Similarities with the ant colony are easily noticed, but towards the end of the novel they become more and more extreme, up to the incestuous relationship between Eugenia and her brother Edgar. “First he (William) must understand the relation between incest and insect that is, he must see that Bredely Hall is, like the ant-hills, essentially an incestuous society, must become conscious of what Sally Shuttleworth calls the incestuous dynamics that lay at the heart of the Victorian family.” (Sturrock 100) This idea is proposed earlier in the novel, when the Alabasters are described as “an ancient and noble family, who has always been very pure-blooded.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 22) This can also be seen as a certain critique of elitist society in which the aristocratic families never mix with those that do not belong to the high class society. That kind of social structure resulted in many marriages between close relatives, and from the contemporary perspective it is obvious that does not work out well.

The similarities between people and insects show the superficiality of human society. It is no wonder that the novella is set in the Victorian period when the roles were prescribed to people based on their sex or background, but it also speaks about the contemporary society in which the necessity to create systems at any cost still exists. In an interview for The Paris Review, Byatt says: “I don’t know of a system that I believe in. I do feel a compulsion to respect people who build systems, because it’s obviously a human thing. (…) They think it’s a form of sanity in an insane world, but I’m not sure it is.” In the novella, the comparison between people and insects is based on this human need to artificially create rules and systems even when they should not naturally exist. Therefore, it is mostly not a flattering comparison. At one point Byatt addresses the painful issue of slavery. “Matty at one point, possibly cynically, observes that slave-making ant species ‘resemble human societies in that, as in many things.'” (Vanderbeke, 295)

This is the point where Byatt’s warning about the anthropomorphism becomes more clear. If animals behave in a particular way, it does not mean that people should do the same. On the contrary, people have the ability to tell apart good from wrong, and should act upon their conscience. The comparison between insects and people in “Morpho Eugenia” therefore serves to make people aware of their weaknesses. “The way in which people are made to resemble insects, to behave like them, and still sound perfectly (and, in some cases, monstrously) human shows us how fragile and transient individuals may be.” (Nistor, 139) The desire to make order of things sometimes goes too far, and forcing human society to appear as the perfectly structured ant society cannot possibly work. When William says that an ant community cannot possibly function without a queen, it is possible to compare that to a human way of thinking. People often feel that they need a leader, someone who will tell them what to do. The consequences of that have often been proven disastrous. Even though people often need a sense that everything is organised and working well, it should not be taken to extremes. Freedom always means more responsibility and risk, but it is a price worth paying. There is no perfection, but people should try to do what is best for them, and not what is easiest. “The lesson to be learned from the analogy drawn by Byatt could be that insects are truer to the natural laws than humans; the latter try too hard to achieve perfection, in a world where beauty is only a transient thing.” (Nistor 139-140)

When it comes to perfection and beauty, Byatt even touches on the subject of eugenics, and the concept of desirable and undesirable qualities of people. “In 1865 [Francis] Galton introduced the idea that human traits (be they moral or mental) could be inherited, and, therefore, principles of animal breeding could be applied to humans. It is, probably, this idea that has inspired A. S. Byatt to think of characters that are obsessed with the idea of breeding, beauty and the survival of the fittest, and to prove them wrong in “Morpho Eugenia”.” (Nistor, 136) Eugenia is in the beginning of the novella portrayed as an image of perfection, a representative of desirable human traits. The main part of her description revolves around her beauty.

“He [William] looked down from his height at her pale face and saw her large eyelids, blue-veined, almost translucent, and the thick fringes of white-gold hairs on their rims. Her slender fingers, resting in his, were glowed and only faintly warm. Her shoulders and bust rose white and flawless from the froth of tulle and tarlatan like Aphrodite from the foam.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 6)

Eugenia is mainly compared to a butterfly, especially the Morpho Eugenia which even shares her name. In the film, the scene in which a female moth emerges from its cocoon and spreads its wings is immediately followed by the image of Eugenia’s dress. Interestingly, the male moths soon begin to crawl up Eugenia’s dress. “They advanced, a disorderly, driven army, beating about Eugenia’s head, burring against her skin, thirty, forty, fifty, a cloud, the male Emperors propelling themselves out of the night towards the torpid female.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 54) The male moths appear to be smitten, uncoordinated, driven by pure instinct, just as William is when he is around Eugenia.

In that sense, Byatt also questions the Victorian concepts of romantic love, based mostly on the physical appearance: “I wanted in Morpho Eugenia to depict my hero’s passionate attraction to the beautiful and well-bred Eugenia Alabaster as a question of pheromones and Victorian romantic love combined – disastrously.” (On Histories and Stories 81) Even though Eugenia seems like a perfect match, her marriage with William turns out to be a mistake. Her flawless features do not guarantee a harmonious marriage. The premise of eugenics, that only perfect specimens of a species should be allowed to mate, here proves wrong. Furthermore, two “perfect” human beings, Edgar and Eugenia, are put into in an incestuous relationship to show, in an extreme way, just how wrong eugenics can go. It can be seen as a comment on Galvin’s idea that the intermarriage within a social caste, and marriage between people with desirable, therefore similar features, should be encouraged. (Nistor, 136)

William finds himself entrapped in this superficial world. He cannot resist Eugenia’s beauty, even though he is aware that her behaviour and the dance he attends is “designed to arouse his desire in exactly this way, however demure the gloves, however sweetly innocent the daily life of the young woman in his arms.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 6) He notices how it resembles the dances of the native peoples of the Amazon. The similarity is also shown in the film adaptation which starts with scenes of the native dances, and soon the body paint on the natives merges with the colours of ladies’ dresses in the ballroom. The dance is also similar to the mating rituals of some animals and insects. But as William is drawn into the aristocratic household, he seems to be neglecting his own insights. He becomes a part of the structure of an anthill, and transforms himself into the male ant whose only job is to serve the queen ant – Eugenia. She becomes his only desire and obsession, as he keeps repeating: “I shall die if I cannot have her.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 13/14) William’s role is not only to serve Eugenia, but also to keep the whole household at peace by making everything seen normal. As Eugenia’s husband, his presence in the household  removes every possible doubt about her behaviour, glossing over the death of her previous fiancé, and possible suspicion about her relationship with her brother. That strongly resembles the behaviour of ants he later on describes: “…they exist, it appears, only for the good of the whole nest, and the centre of the nest, and the centre of the nest is the Queen ant whose laying and feeding the others all tend ceaselessly. (…) The worker ants lose their will to live without the proximity of the Queen – they become immobile and listless…” (Byatt, ‘Morpho Eugenia’ 37)

In the film, intimate scenes between William and Eugenia are followed by shots of ants, including the queen ant, to visually represent the connection which can be read from the novella. Also, the scene in which Eugenia announces her pregnancy to William is followed by William’s conversation with a maid who complains that the property is full of insects and that the more she kills more keep coming. Human reproduction is therefore put in comparison to that of the insects. As the number of the members of the Alabaster family grows, so does the number of insects; and Eugenia is obviously the “ant queen” of the family.

Another “ant queen” in the family is lady Alabaster. She even physically resembles the swollen, immobile ant queen. She is always inside the house, in her overheated chamber, and is tended by the numerous servants.

“Lady Alabaster appeared to be immobilised, by natural lethargy more than by any specific complaint, though she waddled, more than walked, when she progressed along the corridors to eat luncheon, or dine… She lay on a deep sofa, under the window, but with her back to it, oriented towards the fire. (…) She was hugely fat, and did not wear corsets except for special occasions, but lay in a sort of voluminous shiny tea gown, swaddled in cashmere shawls and with a lacy cap tied under her many chins. Like many well-fleshed woman, she had kept some bloom on her skin, and her face was moony-bland and curiously unlined, thought her pale eyes were deep in little rolling pits of flesh.” (Byatt, ‘Morpho Eugenia’ 26/27)

In the film, she also looks almost funny, colourfully dressed and almost completely dependent on her servants. She is always in a sitting or recumbent position, and never on her feet. Later on, Eugenia, while pregnant, starts to resemble her mother. She lies on the garden chair, surrounded by servants, immobile. “Swollen through idleness and or pregnancy, cosseted and waited on by their servants as the ant-queens are by the workers, they become much like the ant-queens, egg-laying machines, gross and glistening, endlessly licked, caressed, soothed and smoothed veritable Prisoners of Love.” (Sturrock 99) One of the scenes that show pregnant Eugenia sitting in the sun is connected to the scene of her mother breathing heavily in her room and consequently dying. The two of them amazingly resemble each other, as to show that though they are two different people, they both have the same role in the house, and as that role is the only thing that truly defines them, they are like two completely identical beings. However, they cannot both exist at the same time. Lady Alabaster cannot give birth to the successors of the family anymore, therefore she is no longer needed, and Eugenia is the one who takes over that role. And indeed, Eugenia seems to be constantly pregnant. On the other hand, there is the character of Eugenia’s sister Rowena who cannot have children. Just like the anthill, the Alabaster family can have only one queen. The disconcerting resemblance becomes even more disturbing in the end, when it becomes obvious that the father of Eugenia’s children is her brother. At that point, it is obvious that human society cannot naturally be a copy of a society of insects.

Matty (Matilda) Crompton is the one who enables William to resist this ant-like resignation with his life.

“From the luxurious Alabaster complex William does ultimately escape, to return to his lifework in the mysteries and hardships of the Amazon. The means of his release comes largely through the diligence and practical intelligence of a femme inspiratrice, Matty Crompton, who holds no classifiable role within the household, and is notably lacking in beautiful form.” (Richardson)

Matilda crosses the borders of the role that is prescribed to her. When William notices that she “thinks a great deal” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 41), Matty responds: “For a woman. You were about to add, ‘for a woman’, and then refrained, which was courteous. It is my great amusement, thinking.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 41) She does not let the perceptions of what a woman is, and is not supposed to do define her, and does not neglect her interests. Unlike Eugenia, she does not represent herself by her looks. In a scene, both in the book and in the film adaptation, William is talking to Eugenia who does not seem to understand his fascination with the Amazon. In the film, Matty can be seen in the background, and when William mentions a paragraph from Milton’s Paradise Lost that he relates to the Amazon, she quotes the lines correctly, and Eugenia, a bit bitterly, comments: “Clever Matty.” Matty emerges from the background not because of her appearance, but because of her knowledge. The lines from Paradise Lost are Matty’s first lines  in the film, and it shows exactly what her personality is all about. Matty is bright, well-educated, interested in science, and a person William can talk to without restraints.

Matilda and William both feel that the life they are living is not enough for them. They are trapped in the situation they are in and cannot achieve anything they want to. William expresses his dissatisfaction indirectly when it comes to choosing a name for his son, and Eugenia wants to call him Edgar. He admits that the Alabaster family is treating him kindly, but still wants to give his son a name from his own family. “I should like something of my own” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 72) he says, as if he were becoming aware that he is no longer the one who has control over his life. Later on, when he finds out his wife’s secret, he admits that a part of him is happy that he is now able to leave, and admits: “I find that – my most powerful feeling – is that I am free. I ought to feel – shocked, or vengeful, or – of humiliated – and from time to time I feel these things – but mostly, I feel – I can go now, I can leave this house, I can return to my true work.” (Byatt, “Morpho Eugenia” 155) The truth liberated him, and he became even more aware of the feeling of uneasiness that had been following him for a long time. “Only then is he enabled to see Matty as the sphinx who set him this liberating riddle, the asker of riddles and the answer too. (…) After this, he can liberate himself and become like the phoenix, reborn out of his own ashes.” (Sturrock 100) William must realize that he does not have to behave as it is expected of him. He must sacrifice his role in the Alabaster family in order to become himself again, and to live a fulfilling life. Just like Matilda, he also becomes a character who rejects the imposed roles.

“…being the ‘new man’, the scientist, William the Conqueror, and sets off for the rainforest with Matty – Matilda – the predatory worker-turned-queen in the metaphorical anthill. It’s a quiet image of shifting class and sexual hierarchies, too – both Wallace and Bates were explorers from modest backgrounds, who travelled not in the British Empire, but the unknown Amazon, for reasons of pure curiosity.” (Byatt, On Histories and Stories 81)

Therefore, first of all, by leaving, William will quench his thirst for exploration and knowledge. Secondly, and more importantly, going back to the Amazon is his way of taking control over his life. It seems that he is going to a wild territory, but the real wilderness for him was living in the house where the rules of the ants were applied to people. Unlike any ant, William flees the anthill, proving that he is more than a creature with a predestined role.

All things considered, the comparison between people and insects in ‘Morpho Eugenia’ is more than obvious. It is the focal point of the whole story. However, this comparison does not exist in order to affirm that insects truly reflect the behaviour of people, but to undermine that conclusion. When William proclaims that people are not like ants, the reader has already drawn the opposite conclusion. However, even though the whole novella seems to be proving William wrong, the ending leads to another conclusion – William was actually right. The world of the aristocrats that resembles the behaviour of the insects is not the world William could ever live in. That thoroughly structured world is an anachronism. Even the characters who seem fit for that kind of life do not obey its rules. Incest, which is a component of the ant society, is forbidden to people and leads to serious consequences. Slavery as the way in which the ant society works, is most certainly not something that people should apply to their own society. The ant-like structure of the Alabaster household, and the ant-like organisation of Victorian society are artificially made structures that suit no one, and now, in the 21st century, it is important to finally accept and live by that conclusion. Life cannot be based on the sole fulfilment of the role the society imposes on a person. Every person is an individual and needs freedom. Therefore, it is not important to what extent we resemble the insects, but what makes us different.

I don't own a copy of "Angels and Incests, but I do own another Byatt's book, and it's also amazing!

I don’t own a copy of “Angels and Insects”, but I do own Possession, and it’s also amazing!

Bibliography:

Angels and Insects. Dir. Philip Haas. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1995. Film.

Byatt, Antonia Susan. ‘Morpho Eugenia’ in Angels and Insects. London: Vintage. 1995. 1-161. Print.

—. Interview with Philip Hensher. The Paris Rewiew. No. 159. (2001): n.p. Web. 4/1/2013

—. On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays. London: Chatto & Windus. 2000. Print.

Nistor, Cristina. ‘How to Translate Durable Science into Transient Fiction: The Case of A. S. Byatt’s “Morpho Eugenia.”’ University of Bucharest Review Vol. XI, no. 2 (2009): 135-140. Web. 2/1/2013

Richardson, Mary Lynn. ‘Jungian Paradigms in A. S. Byatt’s novella “Morpho Eugenia.”’ WhiteRabbit.net n.p. n.d. Web. 9/12/2012

Sturrock, June. ‘Angels, Insects, and Analogy: A. S. Byatt’s “Morpho Eugenia.”’ Connotations 12.1 (2002/2003): 93-104. Web. 9/12/2012

Vanderbeke, Dirk. “Analogies and Insights in ‘Morpho Eugenia’: A Response to June Sturrock.” Connotations 13.3 (2003/2004): 289-299. Web. 9/12/2012

The Map

Nadina waited impatiently for the passengers of the recently landed plane to pass through the glass door with a bright sign which spelled “arrivals”.

After a few years of separation, her best friend is coming to visit.

Nadina thought that she would never get used to a life without Eva. They were inseparable and shared everything. Well, almost everything. What Eva didn’t know about Nadina was that she had always been in love with her. Eva knew that Nadina dated women, but she never saw herself as one of those women. She was Nadina’s friend, and that put her in a completely separated category. And Nadina, despite always being honest to Eva, never had the courage to admit the truth. She didn’t think it would make any sense to do it. Eva was always a friend, and that was something she was not willing to lose. It was perfectly fine the way it always was. All right, maybe not perfectly, but still fine.

For a moment, Nadina got lost in her thoughts, so she didn’t notice Eva until she got quite close to her. From the moment Eva sent her an e-mail explaining that she was coming home for a while Nadina imagined this moment. And she almost missed it.

“Have you turned blind?” joked Eva and hugged her confused friend.

Touch meant reality.

“You haven’t changed at all”, smiled Nadina.

What a stupid thing to say, she thought. She needed time to gather her feelings, but she didn’t want to sound weird. She couldn’t believe Eva’s return shook her this much.

“I haven’t changed? So why didn’t you recognize me?” Eva continued in a joking tone. She always talked like that, remembered Nadina.

“Of course I recognized you. You haven’t even changed your hairstyle since I last saw you. I would recognize you from a mile away”, replied Nadina.

“Oh, well, that wasn’t so long ago”, said Eva.

“It depends how you perceive it… Five years is not that short”, noticed Nadina.

“Five years!” Eva seemed stunned. “That much? It seems less… Well, that must be my vanity, bursting out at the surface. I don’t want to admit that I’m slowly getting old.”

“To be completely honest, it is a bit less than five years. It was summer when you left, wasn’t it? I remember we went to the beach the day before. You knew you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the sea that much once you leave.”

Nadina remembered it perfectly, but was afraid to admit. She had never been so sad. And Eva smiled, enjoyed the bright sun, sparkling sea and warm sand under her feet. A part of Nadina wanted Eva to be sad too. The other part was happy to remember her as she always was – irredeemably optimistic.

Nadina insisted that Eva lived with her for those few months she planned to spend in the town. There was no need for Eva to pay for an expensive hotel room. Nadine had a large apartment with two bedrooms which were mostly bare and lifeless. Nadina often slept on the couch, in front of the TV. The sense of loneliness eased in the presence of sound and moving images. Ever since Sofia left, Nadina felt surrounded by unpleasant emptiness.

“So, you never told me what happened with you and your girlfriend… Sofia, right?” asked Eva as she sunk into the bright yellow sofa, the only colourful thing in Nadina’s pale living room, and took a careful sip of hot tea.

“Not much to tell”, replied Nadine, looking thoughtfully at her cup. “It just didn’t work out.”

“Really? Just like that? After, how much, it must be at least seven years?”

“A little less than six, actually. Well, things like that happen sometimes”, Nadine looked at her fingers which grasped the teacup almost defensively. Her fingernails were short; she used to bite them. Somebody told her it is a sign of anxiety, or even depression, but she never believed it.

Her fingernails got uglier after Sofia left, it is true, but Nadina never really loved her. For Nadina, Sofia was a habit, and never excitement. They somehow ended up in each other’s lives, at that was all. At least in the beginning. It became complicated later on. Suddenly, Sofia cared too much, and the inability to respond to that pained Nadina. Eventually, it had to end. And now, sometimes, Nadine could feel that she truly missed Sofia. Everything was different. Sad and hollow.

Eva’s e-mail was a wake-up call for Nadina. An awakening from a long period of hopelessness. It seemed that nothing could be better than seeing Eva again. The unexpected visit soon became the only meaningful aspect of her existence. It was all she could think about, all she hoped for.

And now, Eva was finally here and it seemed there was so much to catch up with. But Nadine just didn’t know how…

“You know, Nadina, I didn’t come here just for a visit. To be honest, there’s a very specific reason for me coming here”, Eva said it all in one breath.

“So, why are you here for?” asked Nadina.

“You are probably going to think I’m crazy” snorted Eva.

“Well, I already think that”, laughed Nadina. “Come on! I have known you for centuries! You cannot surprise me anymore.”

That wasn’t true. Eva could always surprise Nadina.

“I know. That’s why I wanted to share this with you. But, please, listen to me until the end and don’t make fun of me!”

Nadine found Eva’s behaviour curious. Eva was never this careful and she always did whatever she wanted, no questions asked.

“Come on, already! You’re killing me!” Nadine hurried her.

“OK. But first there’s something you must see.”

Eva searched her travel bag and carefully drew out a large, yellow envelope, and presented Nadina with a weighty, brownish paper which looked like some sort of a parchment.

“I found this in an old book, completely by accident, while I was, bored as I often get, browsing through the oldest books I could find in the library. I don’t even know why I did that…” explained Eva.

A large map was opened before Nadina’s eyes. It was obviously drawn by hand, but it still looked very detailed and precise.

“See this?” Eva pointed at a little red cross.

“Like in a pirate film!” Nadina laughed out loud.

“Yes, with a slight difference that this is not a film. Who knows what lies there?!” Eva gently touched the little red cross.

“You can’t be serious?!”

“I might be…”

“But…”

“I found the place that the map represents. And guess what! It’s here! Just a short ride from the city. Can’t you see? The river is there, so the city should be below… It matches completely! Don’t you think it’s weird that I found a map of this place in a country so far away?”

Nadina didn’t know what to say. She wouldn’t like to hurt her friend who smiled so enthusiastically. Eva really believed in this insane fantasy. She had always been quite childish, and Nadina used to like it. Now, it seemed quite ridiculous.

“So, what are you planning to do?” asked Nadina warily.

“Find it, whatever it is, marked by the little cross.”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit silly to believe you’ll actually find something there?”

“Maybe, but don’t you think it’s worth a risk?”

Nadina wasn’t sure, and Eva realized that immediately.

“It’ll be fun. Just you and me, a real little adventure. So what if we find nothing! We never needed a reason to do something crazy.”

Nadina remembered the time when Eva persuaded her to sneak into their school at night. Nadina was very afraid. Eva wasn’t. There was no plan, and no point to that adventure. They did nothing, but they did have fun in the end. And that was the point. Fun.

Nadina didn’t have fun for years. She was always tense, a now Eva seemed to be her cure.

„You are right! We need to find the buried treasure!“

***

Lunch break. Nadina normally had no trouble concentrating on her work, nor did she find it tiresome. However, today was different. She couldn’t bare sitting at her desk, and she felt as if she was losing her precious time with Eva. Her friend came back after so many years, and she felt she should be with her. Strange how Eva’s arrival completely changed the pace of her life… And in just one day, Nadine stopped thinking of her office as a sanctuary. Today, she thought of things she should say to Eva, details of her life she could share, small things she has to show. She was scared they won’t be able to talk like they used to, and that they might run out of topics. She feared she might realize that something between them simply and irretrievably changed. That just mustn’t happen! Eva was always the most important person in Nadina’s life, and that cannot change.

“What’s with the frowning face?” chuckled the cheerful voice which belonged to Nadina’s colleague and friend, Lee.

Lee was an interesting girl, seemingly quiet and serious, but actually quite goofy. She always wore simple black dresses which got along perfectly with her completely black hair and eyes, and contrasted her pale complexion. Nadine imagined Lee’s closet was just a never-ending line of black dresses. Nothing ever distorted Lee’s black and white image, she even painted her nails in one of the two non-colours.

“Am I frowning?” Nadina was surprised. “I’m actually very happy. My best friend lived abroad for five years and now she’s back. She’s staying with me for a while.”

“Really? That’s nice”, replied Lee and put her lunchbox on the table.

Lee never ate the food they offered in the canteen. She was extremely picky with her food and she preferred to torture herself with cooking early in the morning, than with eating in the afternoon.

“Have you got any plans for the weekend? I assume you plan to hang out until you get tired of each other”, smiled Lee.

“Well, yes, actually, I think we are going on some sort of a field trip”, Nadina remembered the old map and realized how the whole idea still seemed absurd. And she feared Eva would be very disappointed when they find nothing. If they find nothing… But Nadina doubted it.

“A field trip? Sounds interesting. Where are you going?”

Nadina didn’t know where the map would lead them. She was ashamed to admit what the whole insane trip is really about. She bit her lip nervously.

“Well. You know, Eva is the one who organizes everything, so…”

Lee looked vigilantly at Nadina, who wanted to hide her face but couldn’t.

“Spill it out. Why don’t you seem thrilled by this whole field trip idea?” Lee asked starkly.

“I’m not sure myself…” admitted Nadina. She felt the need to share her feelings, and Lee was the only person she could call a friend for the last few years. “I’m acting like a boring, old woman. This trip should be fun, right? Eva stayed her same fun self, ready for action. And I… I want to be fun, but I am afraid I’m not anymore. And I don’t want Eva to see that.”

“You don’t have to do things you don’t want to just to prove you’re fun”, frowned Lee. “I don’t see you as old and boring.”

“I don’t know… Eva was my protector when we were in school. She was loved by everyone, and I was mocked for my ugly, round glasses. Once she started hanging out with me, everything got better. Nobody is as important for me as she is. And now, I’m afraid that changed. And she is not the one to blame for it, she stayed the same, I am the one who changed. When have I stopped being a little geek impressed by little things in life?”

“You never have. You are still that person”, smiled Lee. “You keep forgetting I know all about your collection of dragon toys. I even gave you one.”

Nadina cheered up.

“I still feel guilty because of that. You’ve had that dragon since you were a child.”

„I think he’s happier with others of his kind.“

***

Eva checked the map once again while she fastened her seatbelt. She insisted that she would drive, since it was all her idea in the first place. There is no need for Nadina to bother driving, she explained, especially if her directions are wrong and they end up driving for a very long time. She pushed the seat forward and put and old CD in the CD-player.

Nadina finally felt that this could be fun. The music was loud and they sang along the long forgotten tunes from their childhood. They couldn’t believe they still remembered the lyrics. They talked about nothing else. Nadina feared that this was all that bonded them. Memories of some really bad songs.

Then Eva stopped the car.

„We have to walk from here“, she said..

Nadina followed her without a word. The silence made her uneasy.

„You haven’t really said much about your life there“, she muttered.

„There’s not much to say. It’s fine“, Eva was focused on the track ahead of her.

„Have you met any interesting people“ tried Nadina.

„Yes, many. But none of them interesting enough to… Stay. You know?“

„You made no friends?“

„I did, actually. Just not any close ones.“

„I understand. I don’t really have friends either. Maybe just Lee…” Nadine started, but Eva stopped her.

„That sounds boring. Who do you go out with?”

„Well, since Sofia left I haven’t really been going out…“ admitted Nadina.

She did’t feel like sharing this with Eva who surely had a lot of fun. She was always surrounded by a bunch of people, and Nadine was her complete opposite. Eva never quite understood Nadine’s need for peace and quiet, but she respected it. And now, somehow all of their differences seemed greater. Insurmountable. It was so much easier once…

Nadina and Eva were silent for a long time. They weren’t on a path anymore, they walked on grass. And then, Eva cheered:

„It’s here!“

Tired, Nadina dropped her backpack on the ground and pulled out a bottle of water. Eva was still full of energy. She started digging.

„C’mon!“ she called Nadina. „Help me! It’s here, it must be here!”

Nadina sighed, but joined Eva. As the time passed, she stopped believing they would find anything. The hole in the ground was getting deeper and deeper, and then she finally gave up.

„I can’t do this anymore. There’s nothing here…“

„No! We must dig some more.“

„For crying out loud, let’s at least eat something!“

It was past 5 p.m. and they hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. For some reason, Nadina remembered Lee and her carefully prepared meals. The sandwiches they brought were quite dry, but they ate them quickly anyway.

“When you’re done we can start digging again”, said Eva.

“Already?!” mumbled Nadina and almost choked on a bite of her sandwich.

„Ok, we’ll rest a bit. Just don’t die on me“, Eva smiled.

„Maybe I made a mistake. I don’t understand…“ Eva looked at the map and started measuring distances again. They dug until they reached a giant stone. They couldn’t proceed.

“I think I took a wrong turn… We should have driven a little more… That must be it.”

„Eva! The sun is almost down! This is insane, we should go back! We won’t be able to reach the car at night.” Nadine was starting to panic.

“Well, we have sleeping bags. We can proceed in the morning”, shrugged Eva.

“Sleeping bags?! No, we should get back on the road and find a motel. I saw several…”

“I don’t see a problem with us staying here.”

„I’ve got only one sandwich left!” cried Nadine.

„I think you should leave it for breakfast“, was all that Eva had to say.

Nadina didn’t sleep at all that night. The sleeping bag wasn’t comfortable and she kept having a feeling of something slithering across her body. Each time she heard a strange sound, she would turn and desperately look at Eva who breathed slowly, safe in her dreams. Nadina felt like she was in a horror movie. And besides all that, she was agonizingly hungry.

Nadina regretted going to this crazy trip. She did it for Eva, but her friend showed no consideration. She barely spoke to her. Nadina felt like crying, but was too scared that something would hear her sobs.

In the morning, Nadina ravenously ate her old sandwich. Eva ate peacefully and looked rested. Then she went to check the map.

„It’s not here!“ Eva was distraught.

„Where did you put it last night?“ asked Nadina.

„Here, in this pocket! And now it’s gone!!“

Nadina pretended to look for the map, but was actually really happy that it was gone. Soon, she suggested they should go home.

Eva went mad.

“I thought you wanted this!” she yelled. “You don’t even care!”

Nadina drove home, and Eva stayed quiet.

When they came home, she moved to a hotel.

***

“I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m really sorry, Nadina. When I find the map I will call you and I promise it’s going to be great this time.”

A text from Eva came the next day. Nadina didn’t text back.

She called Lee instead.

Tea – what is it good for?

I’ve been an avid tea drinker for years. I haven’t started drinking tea because of its health benefits, even though in my family tea was mostly reserved for the times you were sick. I just loved the taste and the feeling. It made me warm when I was cold, it made me feel cosy when I was tired, and it provided comfort when I was sad.

But tea really is good for your health, and that’s something I would like to talk about in this post. I’ll start with “real” teas, those made from the tea plant or tea tree – Camellia Sinesis. Those are black, oolong, green, yellow, and white tea. I want to explain the main differences between them, even though all of them have similar effects on your health. Then, I’ll mention some other types of teas, not all of them, of course, because there are so many it’s impossible to count.

Let’s start!

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Black Tea

Black tea is probably the most popular type of tea. It’s the most oxidized type of tea, and it’s completely fermented. That makes it the strongest in flavour and darkest in colour. It contains caffeine, but it is not true that black tea contains the most caffeine. All kinds of tea contain approximately the same level of caffeine, but it depends on the part of the plant used and the brewing technique.

When it comes to health benefits, black tea is proven to lower the risk of a stroke and heart attack. The antioxidants in black tea improve metabolism, lower the risk of high cholesterol and diabetes, and even help in prevention of some types of cancer (for example ovarian cancer). It may also lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Black tea can, however, boost your blood pressure, but the effect doesn’t last long, and can help those with low blood pressure when they suffer for dizziness.

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is the next type of tea when it comes to the level of oxidation. It’s higher in the level of antioxidants than black tea.

I must admit I have never tasted oolong tea, as it’s not very popular in my country, and I don’t know as much about it. However, what I do know is that it is said that it combines the best qualities of black and green tea.

Green Tea

Green tea is less oxidized than black tea, which makes it’s flavour milder. This also means that green tea contains more antioxidants than black tea, so you get even more health benefits from it. Its taste is a little grassier than the taste of black and oolong tea.

Green tea helps with prevention of some types of cancer, Parkinson’s and even Alzheimer’s disease. It boosts your metabolism and lowers your cholesterol level. It’s also frequently used in cosmetic products. Because of the antioxidants it contains, it’s a good anti-inflammatory agent, it rejuvenates the skin, and has a sun protective effect.

Yellow Tea

Yellow tea is processed in the same way as green tea, but it’s drying process is longer – damp leaves are left to sit and gain yellow colour, which also gives it a different smell.  It’s made from the buds of the tea plant, before they turn to leaves.

Yellow tea has the same amount of antioxidants as green tea, and similar health benefits. However, it’s taste is milder and much less grassy, which is something most people don’t like about green tea.

I love the taste of yellow tea! I remember how sad I was when my mother forbade me to drink it once. She said her friend drank a lot of yellow tea to lose weight, and it did help, but a little too much. She lost too much weight in a short time and had many health issues because of that. However, even though yellow tea, as all other teas, helps with metabolism and digestion, which helps when you want to lose weight, it can’t do that kind of damage to you. The woman from the story was probably on a strict diet. My mother also realized that, and now I can drink yellow tea again. 🙂

White Tea

White tea goes through minimal oxidation during processing. Similarly to yellow tea, it is made from the buds and leaves of the tea plant, and the buds give it its white colouring. Its taste and smell are similar to that of green tea, but a little milder, and less grassy.

White tea is not as popular as the other kinds of teas, and it’s not researched as much. However, it contains the most antioxidants, so it is considered to have the most health benefits. I have also discovered it just recently, and it has become my favourite!

Other types of tea

Mint Tea

Mint tea is made from peppermint leaves. Personally, I’m not a fan of the taste of mint. For me, it’s something that goes in toothpastes and chewing gums and refreshes your breath. (Mint tea does that, too!) However, mint tea is very popular so it’s impossible not to be familiar with it.

Besides helping with dental hygiene, mint tea helps to soothe an upset stomach, vomiting or nausea, and it helps with digestion. It also helps with coughs, respiratory problems, and is beneficial for those suffering from asthma. It’s also a good idea to drink mint tea before going to bed if you suffer from sleep deprivation, as it relaxes you and helps you get some good night sleep. Because of its relaxing qualities, mint tea can also help those suffering from stress and/or anxiety.

Chamomile Tea

However, when it comes to sleep deprivation and stress, nothing is better than a cup of chamomile tea. Chamomile is a herb similar to daisy, and its healing powers were often used in traditional medicine.

Chamomile tea is high in antioxidants. Besides relaxation, chamomile tea helps with menstrual cramps, and can prevent some types of cancer. Chamomile is used in cosmetics as well, both for the skin and hair care.

Sage Tea

Sage tea is very popular in my country, and it was even more popular in the past. If you had a cold – you drank sage tea. (All teas can help with cold, though.)

Sage helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also an effective antioxidant. However, it should be avoided during pregnancy.

Nettle Tea

When you think of nettle, you imagine it burning you. However, nettle tea actually helps to rejuvenate skin and helps with skin infections. It’s used to relieve allergy symptoms, and it helps with respiratory issues and asthma. It supports the kidneys and helps break down kidney stones. It’s also a great source of minerals.

Cranberry Tea

Because it’s made from, obviously, a fruit, cranberry tea contains vitamins and minerals which can’t be found in other teas. This is the case with most fruit teas, which I’m not going to mention in this post.

This tea is most known as a medicine for urinary infections. However, it’s is advised not to drink it during pregnancy.

And here my list ends. In the end, I just want to add that all teas have one more purpose – they are great reading companions. 🙂

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