From films, from literature and from his grandmother Adam knew that when it comes to love, it is eyes that are most expressive. Where words fail, an eloquent look may succeed. Eyes say everything, they beg, cry out, chill. Adam gazed at Silvia six hours a day for three years. She always sat in a bench at the back, in the row next to the door, and he in the second from the front, next to the window. His glances sent her daily reports on the state of his soul. In this way, he told her he loved her. That he loved her as much as always, because it was not possible to love her more. Everyone in school participated in their (non) relationship: their classmates and their teachers. Adam didn’t begin to give up and he had no reason to, as he had no doubts whatever about what he was doing. He was given no chance to choose. And he didn’t even want one. For the moment he was only paying for it with something he had voluntarily renounced – the freedom to fall in love with other girls. He took this as a fact and in a way he even relished this state of affairs. Communication between him and Silvia did not improve in any way, but it didn’t get worse either. He was not rewarded by reciprocation, but not punished either by definite rejection. He told himself he had the situation under control. His efforts were in vain for almost three years, but so touchingly understandable that even the most cynical teachers tolerated him. They allowed Adam to follow their lessons with his back to the blackboard and his eyes resting on the girl in the back bench, who pretended it wasn’t happening. When Silvia spoke about it later, she said that she had at first disliked his staring at her, but later it amused her. And in the end she grew accustomed to it. Apparently, if he had given up, she might even have missed it. But she knew he wouldn’t give up. At first the class regarded Adam’s behaviour as a sensation, then as admirable persistence and, eventually, they also got used to it. Silvia’s defences were impenetrable. She didn’t accept a single report from Adam, she did not acknowledge his gaze, she did not speak to him. He didn’t think up ways to charm or surprise her. He waited.

For ever since he could remember, he had lived in a world of good and bad omens. He had always seen a little ordinary, everyday magic in life. On the routes he took to school or training sessions, he had places where he was ritually forbidden to tread, and others where he had to, but only taking a predetermined number of steps. For example, he knew that on the way from their house to the tram stop there was a round manhole cover, and he decided that he must take three hundred and twenty steps to the sewer opening, in order to step onto the cover with the three hundred and twenty-first. If it didn’t work out, he had to stop and perform a ritual involving Sredni Vaštar. Sredni Vaštar was a middlingimportant god, to whom he had to promise a sacrifice, in order that he would free him from the snare of the steps. According to whether he did or did not succeed in making the correct last step to the metal cover, he predicted whether his tram would come and how long he would have to wait for it. Adam also foretold the immediate future according to whether the trams were on time or late, and the number of passengers and free seats. Every place could mean something different; it could ameliorate the previous forecasts or make them more certain. He didn’t even consider this little bit of shamanism to be anything exceptional. In his family hitting your elbow was

seen as predicting the arrival of guests, and his grandmother was frequently visited by her dead parents, who foresaw fragments of her future. They were always wiping from someone’s forehead the curse of the evil eye or bellyache from overeating.. His grandmothers, aunts and great aunts predicted happiness in love, gifts or health from small omens. They plucked little leaves from acacia twigs; they let ladybirds crawl over their fingers and observed their flight to forecast what would come, what could come and what would not happen. They were constantly knocking on wood, crossing themselves, reading fortunes from coffee grounds and chicken giblets. They called it “superstitioning”. In the pantry next to the kitchen there was a blind horse that got cross when Adam didn’t want to finish off his soup. Everyone in the family had their lucky numbers and dates. Adam’s were 9, 15, 17 and 33, though he didn’t know why. They simply were his important numbers. When he walked along the street, he unconsciously counted everything: trees, swallows on a telegraph wire, slats in a fence, and if there were 9, 15, 17 or 33 of them, it was a good sign. The network of good and bad omens overlapped, one omen was conditioned by another. Adam couldn’t say whether he believed in their efficacy or not. He didn’t think about it. He just learned to facilitate a good outcome. It was enough to pluck two acacia leaves at a time by mistake or to lengthen or shorten his steps a little on his way to the manhole cover for fortune to incline in his favour.

He wrote Silvia a letter.

Dear S.,I’m sorry, I apologise, but I would like to meet you and spend a few moments with you – it doesn’t matter how long or where. I just want to tell you something I don’t know how to write.

You needn’t reply in a letter. It’s enough if you choose one of the following possibilities:

a) We’ll meet and I’ll be happy.b) We won’t meet – I’ll write again in a year’s time.If I manage to deliver this letter to you and you read it, then please reply. Or – if the answer is yes, wear that mysterious black blouse with frills tomorrow. If no, then put on that beautiful white one. The Japanese consider the colour white to be the colour of sorrow. I’m sorry to bother you like this, but Adam wants it and I don’t know how to refuse him.

He wrote the letter on an old typewriter his father had left him. Adam came to an agreement with himself that he would run his fingers over the keys of the typewriter to help him decide whether the letter was in a good or a bad sign. He started with the numeral one and exclamation mark. It was – it wasn’t, it was – it wasn’t. It almost came out as “it wasn’t”, but then he noticed that at the right end of the bottom row there was one more key; it’s true, it wasn’t marked as anything, but it counted too: it was!

During the long break he seized his chance when Silvia was alone for a moment and there were just a few kids around from the lower classes. He went up to her, thinking he would say, “Please”, but said nothing; he just tried to give her the envelope. She drew back her hand. This lasted a few seconds, with them dancing a little dance together, an involuntary pantomime. They were both trying to attract as little attention as possible, while at the same time attempting to achieve their goal – he to hand over the message and she not to take it. Silvia finally drew back her hand and glared at Adam as if he was an intruder, shoving him away with a look. She made it clear to him that he was harassing her and behaving disrespectfully. Adam accepted her refusal as a part of their relationship. There were three possibilities. Either he had written the letter too soon, having misunderstood the prediction of the typewriter keys. Or everything was all right, just as it should be. Adam decided it was the third possibility that was valid. As Petrus said – everyone does what he has to do. Adam had to write that letter and Silvia had to refuse to accept it.

Translated by

Heather Trebatická