It had been four years since we’d won the Olympics and I had grown up, I walked with more confidence in my stride as I lived the life of a college student registering for classes, living in a dorm room, attending classes, working on computers, talking with my peers none of whom knew who I was, the anonymity gave me freedom. I had managed to get through almost all four years of University until the day a reporter for the student newspaper discovered me. I was totally unprepared when one day a man came running up to me and said, “you’re Vlad Smirtonev, aren’t you?” But I guess it would have happened sooner or later and I was fatalistic about it. I admitted it right away.
“Yes, I am.”
“The Olympic shooting team captain?”
“Yes, and who are you?” and then he started talking fast making his pitch.
“I’m with the school newspaper, and I was wondering if I could do an interview with you? And maybe we could take a couple of pictures for the article too?”
“I don’t think so, I left that behind a long time ago.”
“It wasn’t all that long ago, and people would really like to know that a national hero goes to the school.” I hesitated, maybe it was my vanity and the reporter sensing my indecision pushed his advantage.
“Look, the photographer is right over there, and we can take the pictures right now.” He waved over to someone on the sidewalk behind us to come over. I turned and I saw her for the first time, Kaja the woman who would become my wife. She was beautiful, a round face with long blond hair cascading down her back, a camera around her neck and her hair falling around it, she walked over smiling, her face shone in the sunlight, or maybe the light emanated from her. The reporter kept talking as I watched her approach us, “and then go to a coffee shop and do the interview before your next class.”
“How do you know…” My thought trailed off, distracted.
“I looked up your schedule. What year are you?”
“This is my last year.”
“How have you managed to remain anonymous?”
“I didn’t want anybody to know so I didn’t talk about it. I just wanted to be like everyone else here.” When she walked up I asked, “you’re the photographer?”
Her answer was a simple, “yes.”
“This is Kaja.” The reporter said, knowing he had me.
“Well…, I guess I could talk to you.”
“Great!” The reporter said, “let’s do the pictures.” He stepped out of the way and I smiled at Kaja as she aimed the camera and with the bright flashes of light the pictures were taken and the memory of the interview washed out of my mind.
Then coincidence, or synchronicity or plain fate intervened. That same night I went to a party, the house was jammed with people. I was off talking in the living room with a group of my friends, when from across the room I saw Kaja come in the front door. She was dressed in a white peasant blouse and black jeans. I kept my eye on her as she talked with her friends until finally she was off by herself and I could pry myself away from my friends.
“It looks like we were destined to meet again,” I said.
“Or to meet,” she giggled. Looking into her gray eyes I could see forever. I could see the future, our future. Her smile was the sun and brightened the room, and for the first time in my life I was filled with hope for the future. “You’re the gun enthusiast, right?”
“Well, it was a little more than that,” I said.
“I know, I’m just teasing a little. Mikal is a big fan and when he found out you were at the school, he made it his mission in life to hunt you down. So, you were on the Olympic shooting team?”
“I was the captain of the team.”
“Does that mean you’re the best?”
“One of the best. Not many people in the world can shoot better than me.”
“What made you so good?”
“A lot of natural ability, good hand eye coordination, and a father who was glad I was good at any sport.”
“Do you still shoot?”
“I thought I did the interview this afternoon?”
“Well, you didn’t answer the question.”
“No, I put that part of my life away after the Olympics. I thought it was time to do something else with my life, it was something I was good at, but not my life.”
“So at the risk of asking a clichéd question, what’s you major?”
“Computers, they’re the future, and I want to be part of the future.”
“And you couldn’t be, in shooting?”
“I guess I could be a coach, but it’s a lot of politics and I had six years of politics and politicians on the national team.”
“What’re you going to do after graduation? Design computers?”
“No, I don’t think I’m smart enough for that I guess I used all my natural ability on shooting, but I’m good with my hands so I can fix them, maybe have a shop and sell them.”
“When are you going to open your shop?”
“After graduation, for my services to the state I got a scholarship for University and a small stipend to get me started in life.”
“You gave better answers to me than to Mikal.”
“I didn’t want to talk to him, I only agreed to the interview when I saw you.” She smiled, she was clearly impressed and flattered by what I had said.
“What about you?” I asked, “are you going to be a photographer?”
“Sure!” She said, confidently, “Kaja Valorc girl photographer! Sounds like it comes straight out of a comic book.” We both laughed at the joke, as only two people can who are sharing a private joke and a private language that lovers speak in, “it’s maybe not as ambitious as you, but I could see myself working on a magazine or newspaper.”
We spent the rest of the night talking to only each other looking into each others’ eyes. As the night progressed slowly the crowd thinned out, and we sat on the couch in the living room, talking and holding hands until we were the only two left. About two or three in the morning the hostess came in, she wasn’t angry she only smiled tiredly at us.
“Kaja, I’m going to bed if you two leave, can you lock the door on the way out?”
“Sure,” Kaja said, “we’re only going to stay a little longer anyway.”
“Or you can stay the night.” She turned out the light in the other room, and we were bathed in a soft light and everything that followed seemed to be happening in a gauzy impressionistic film, like in the movies. We talked until we couldn’t talk anymore, and we stretched out on the couch holding hands until we fell asleep. The next morning we awoke on the couch still holding hands. It was the most beautiful night of my life. As we awoke I noticed that her makeup had worn off and for a brief moment I was taken aback, not all looks are classical, Greek in symmetry or precision, parts of her face, taken out of context she might not be pretty but as a whole she had context. but the moment passed and I saw the true beauty in her. In that moment you also catch a glimpse of yourself reacting to our superficial ideas of beauty, but you quickly forgive yourself when you let these superficiality’s wash away and you see her and the underlying beauty that is there, and the makeup was only magnifying the beauty that is always there. I could see myself waking up to her every morning. The night seemed to take us out of ourselves, out of time, we became immortal, at least for a little while. Later when I told her of this feeling she said, “it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Although I hadn’t known her very long, and we hadn’t had much of a chance to talk of many things I felt comfortable with her like I’d known her and about her for a very long time.