Galina. Is a Russian girl’s name and means ‘the Goddess of Calm Seas’.
We meet Galina in ‘our’ courtyard in Odessa. With Julia, but this is not about Julia. This is about Galina … who encloses me. It is hard to explain …
I suppose her poise pins me down. Her serenity, her calm, her bearing. She stands in such strong contrast to her surrounds.
Eyebrows arch. Eyes pierce. A head held so high, so high. Below hair swept up in a bun. From a proud frame beautiful arms drop. An air.
Yet, around her lies a life that knows no waste. Not of things, nor of time. She stays in the messy back corner of the courtyard. Her pots and plants press against walls. And run up and down stairs. She grows and sells these. And tends to the gardens of nearby restaurants and shops. It is a busy life. It is a hard life. And still there is room for a litter of abandoned cats. And later a little black one joins, the one stuck in the gutter.
We sit together amongst plants and cats and odds and sods. She brings out cups of an herbal brew, then warm spicy milk, then tasty little potatoes. We piece together our lives. We say so much with so few words!
She is 70. First, a little girl in Astana, Kazakhstan. Then a wife, mother and fish ecologist in Vladivostok, Russia. And now a babushka in Odessa, Ukraine.
The map, that marks our journeys, rouses her.
That night, as I hang t-shirts out to dry on our balcony, we spot each other. Galina stands in soft light. She throws open her window and gestures; ‘I write you a poem’.
That next afternoon, Daria is called down, to translate. And with great ceremony, Galina recites her poem; our poem. Beautiful cursive slides down a piece of cardboard shaped like a scroll. Her poem delights in our two motorbikes, kissing in the courtyard. Her words celebrate our journey. It heralds the place we come from and the places we have been to. It rejoices in the power of our smile.
Yes, I realise, our SMILE has POWER! The safeguard of our journeys?
After 5 days, our farewell closes in on us. I pull together a parting gift. A shell, a pomegranate seed and a myrtle twig from Iran. And a scarf from South Africa.
Harry and I stumble down to the courtyard with our loads, two times each.
There, Galina waits in a beautiful long dress. Lips and eyes bright with lipstick and eye shadow. She holds a plate of breakfast fish. A bouquet of flowers lies on each bike seat. And a plastic bag with little plastic bags. Seeds for our garden at home. A bottle with a mix of Black Sea and Dead Sea salt. A tube of antiseptic lotion, she swears by. And a scroll, with paper end-pieces and a red ribbon, that safe keeps Galina’s poem.
I feel tears well up! But Galina arches an eye and mouths a ‘no’.
We mount our bikes and leave our courtyard in Odessa. With Galina behind us and Calm Seas before us.
It is a full day’s ride to Kiev. And I bawl my eyes out.
It is the Magnificence of Our Encounter. It is the Strength of Her Elegance.
Oh life. We all have one. Chance is arbitrary. Loss is inevitable. Choices are irreversible. It takes its toll. But like the roll of the dice, so much more on some than others.
Galina! Through it all, holds on tightly to … the STRENGTH of Her ELEGANCE. How does she do it? She does it by not losing it for a single day!
I love her.
The Goddess of Calm Seas.
We cannot help ourselves. We go back to Odessa. And we take ourselves, and Galina and Julia, to the ballet, Giselle. We are, unashamedly, a happy and motley crew.