The sigh was too great, the burden too heavy for him to bear. He sat on his bed, clothed only in the faded jeans that he wore nearly every day, his slender body looking on the verge of emaciation. Whether or not he admitted it, he was ill and would have to miss classes today. Even if he could have walked to the school and carried in his books, he wouldn't be able to maintain his attention long enough to make it worthwhile. Even now, sitting in his cold room, he could feel the lack of equilibrium that made his head swim; probably an ear infection of some sort as well as bronchitis. He lacked the funds to see a doctor, and no one from the Soviet mission was available to help him.
There was an overwhelming sense of isolation, of missing home or what passed for a homeland. His life had been spent roaming from the streets to the state institutions, then serving in the navy aboard a submarine. Now, here in Paris, he had thought his life would take flight as he moved among these free people. It was not so, and he longed to be in a familiar place among Russian speaking people. He wanted the warmth of those people, so willing to take in a starving boy in spite of their own lack.
He knew it was a version of his country that was colored by melancholy and homesickness. It still drew him though, and being ill in this cold city made him feel desolate and alone. He was alone. No one would come to him and inquire of his health, and the professor would only chastise him for missing a day. He was so skinny that even he thought it unhealthy looking, his eyes too big in his thin face. Even the unattractive girls were loathe to entertain him. The Russian. Alone and rejected. Hungry and sick.
He was definitely Russian, for his angst and melancholy were overwhelming him. Perhaps it wasn't so bad, and if he could make more of an effort then he might have some friends. His shyness was his deficit in the art of socialization. Ha! He was a socialist who couldn't socialize. What an irony to not be clever enough to make a few friends.
Weariness overtook him as he gave in to the bed once more. Curling up and drawing the thin little quilt over his meager body, the blue eyes stared resolutely into the nearly empty room; his room in a foreign country where no one would call him to supper or bring him a poultice of herbs for a fever. His name would not fall off the lips of a loved one or be uttered in a recollection of the day. He shuddered at his own misery, vowing to find a place where he could fit in and be a part of something greater than himself. That was the only way he could lose this feeling of isolation; be one of many whose ideals matched those in his own soul while still allowing him to grow and learn. He was stifled within the grasp of the Soviet machine; without nurturing or recognition he thought he might die a slow and agonizing death, and no one would be affected by it. He would not be missed.
Now it would be good to have vodka. That would help him wash away this Russian angst. Life was better than this colorless picture he was painting. It was the fever and the sickness causing this morose reflection, and he needed to arrest it now before it completely overwhelmed him.
A knock at the door roused him from his miserable relections on life. Wrapping the quilt around his bare shoulders, he answered it cautiously, not prepared for the visitor who stood waiting.
"I didn't see you in class today, and remembered that you did not look so well yesterday. Illya, you are ill, yes?" The girl was one of his lab partners, and unbelievably she was here with a crock of soup and her lecture notes. He was speechless, and reminded again of the shyness he had just been ridiculing...to himself.
"Claudette, come in. I am surprised by...you being here. It is so kind, I ..." He faltered, she smiled and came in with her offerings.
"You, you look awful. And so skinny. You need to eat this. Have you seen a doctor?" He shrugged, then shook his head, embarrased to admit that he had no cash for medicine. He had planned on just toughing it out. He had done it before.
"My father is a doctor. He will see you, and don't worry about the cost...please, Illya. Let me help you".
She ignored his shaking head and attempts to refuse this charity. In the end he dressed and went to her father's office, yielding to their kindness and the reproachful lecture on keeping one's health. The admonishment to gain some weight was accompanied by a dinner invitation that he thankfully accepted, amazed at this new stroke of luck and friendship.
Life might get better, he thought. At least, for now, he wasn't alone.