by Kleitia Vaso

At first sight, nothing seems to connect Anna Karenina, one the most intriguing and tragic literary characters of the modern world to the dreary shopping mall next to my workplace. But, as we all know, appearances often deceive and countless invisible ties lie below the surface of this strange world. Stranger, indeed, than all fiction which, whether it is based on order or a rejection of it, uselessly attempts to outdo reality’s natural blend of chaos and strange coincidences. Regardless, fiction cannot fully escape the world as it inevitably represents a reaction towards it.

But, let us return to the story which will unravel just such an imperceptible connection. One day, as I was entering for the umpteenth time the same mall through the same delayed-reaction automatic door, looking at the same store windows with their terrifying mannequins, I heard and then saw the new unnecessary addition to this circus-like environment. This new element must be seen to be believed and I’m afraid that the reader will question the veracity of my words. My sense of wonder was activated not just by the object’s appearance but also by its inclusion in an already overcrowded tacky-looking place. In addition to the many stores and stands awkwardly placed in the middle of hallways, the mall is also busy with families accompanied by their constantly screeching babies and screaming children.

“This place sounds like a living hell!” the reader will rightfully think. “Why, then, do you insist on going there? Why don’t you run away without ever looking back?” Because – and this explanation applies to so many things – it is the only option, momentarily. Thus, I live out one of god’s little jokes every day. Precisely during my lunch break, instead of feeling relieved, my desire to escape to a remote mountain top reaches its zenith. A break I need a break from.

The moment has come, I believe, to break the suspense and reveal the bizarre and hybrid character of this object which left me speechless the first time I set my eyes on it. It is a mini-train with panda-shaped wagons which takes the children around the mall while playing festive music. Actually the songs remind me of songs from communist festivals but I’m not sure what they are exactly. I can’t imagine how looking at stores and clothes while smelling cafeteria food could be a fun activity for kids who, I imagine, prefer playing outside in the fresh air. Yet here, parents insist on sitting their bewildered progeny, drowsy usually but unable to use the metallic panda arms for lulling them to sleep because the blaring music prevents them from just that one highly-desirable activity. A few children look happy but only prior to departure, anticipating the excitement rather than living it.

Initially, I considered the train a veritable aesthetic and ethical sin but now I am used to its presence and even find its awkward appearance endearing. Avoiding it represents a daily battle. Indeed, it has become such an intricate part of the environment that sometimes I do not notice as it passes by right in front of me. As unfortunately happens with most familiar things.

And so, one day, absent-mindedly looking at the clothes in the store windows while most certainly thinking about something else entirely, I almost fell under the train’s little wheels. A friend swiftly pulled me away and rescued me from danger. The whole scene was so comical that I laughed out loud. A ridiculous, slightly tragic Anna of today running into a toy train, I thought. The damage could have been, at most, a slight ankle twist and a few bruises, all of which would have been much easier to bear than the absurdly comical parallelism with the grand heroine. “Each epoch has the heroes it deserves,” often repeats a wise friend of mine. Indeed. But, I am not yet prepared to face the truths that this incident reveals about me and the world we live in.

by Kleitia Vaso