In the Riga crowds, the wide eyes of a little girl fixed on my own. I went up to her, exhausted, and sat on the bench that backed onto hers. The music was deafening, and it was starting to rain. All around us, the hoard of festival-goers dived under a sea of gleaming umbrellas. For three hours now, I had been walking these packed alleyways beneath the staring eyes of the gargoyles. What had made me stop here, in this disconcerting town, to meet a man I hardly knew?
When I had arrived at the station, a kid in a medieval costume had handed me the festival program and a balloon, which followed me thereafter like a mocking shadow.
There was movement behind me, a cold little hand brushed against mine. It was the wide-eyed little girl. She stared at me with hostility, then looked away.
“Is it the balloon you’re after?”
She didn’t reply, of course not. I didn’t speak her language. She began to blush, stifled a giggle and pretended to look away.
I rolled the balloon’s string around my finger. My palm felt along the damp wood of the bench seeking the little hand, which hesitated, then shied away. A little laugh broke out but was quickly suppressed.
Around us silhouettes slid by, a continuous stream of faces passed without any resembling the one I was waiting for. Yet it was indeed the right day, the right place, I was almost sure. We had arranged to meet for the fireworks. I tried to remember the exact details of the photo of my stranger: long blond hair, a rather large nose… but what color were his eyes again?
I started to tremble. I should have continued on my way as I’d intended, as far as Tallinn, and taken the boat to Helsinki. The stone stares of the gargoyles weighed upon me in disapproval.
At last the rain stopped. The icy little fingers closed over my hand. I let go of the string, it slipped softly away. I turned around, and the little girl was gazing at her treasure in amazement. Suddenly, she sprang to life and waved joyfully and energetically at a man who was approaching, with two steaming waffles in his hand. I looked up at him. He was watching me, smiling. He pulled back his hood and his long blond hair fell over his eyes. They were green, his eyes, how could I have forgotten? In the distance, the first rockets of the fireworks burst into the gray of the sky.
Translated by Wendy Cross