Luba Ushakova

Luba Ushakova, as is well known, talks at an average speed of 150 words per minute. In times of intellectual stress or excitement or on the subject of French cinema, this rate rises to 165 words per minute. Floating high on its Akhmatova-like neck, Luba Ushakova's head does not even bob as Luba Ushakova's mouth produces a steady, even stream of words. To the unpractised listener, this sounds like a rare form of bird song, but if you hold your breath and listen closely the song breaks up into distinct words; amazingly, each word is perfectly formed, each word makes sense.

One day a strange thing happens: Luba Ushakova falls silent. True, the silence does not last for long - for an hour and a half at most; even so, those who know Luba Ushakova can be forgiven for wondering what has happened. Has she had bad news of some sort? Has she just come back from the dentist? Is she ill?

No: none of these things. It is just that she is in a state of shock, having met Sveta Stakanova(1), the only native of St Petersburg who regularly talks faster than herself.

One day a strange thing happens: Luba Ushakova again falls silent. This time she has toothache and the silence lasts a couple of days. Not long perhaps, but quite long enough to decide the fate of Kira Chernov, 28, poet, archaeologist and talented bottle-emptier. Looking out across a crowded room, Kira Chernov falls in love with the taciturn, mysterious, delightfully reticent, dark-eyed girl with a neck like Anna Akhmatova. Later that day he asks her to marry him. Two days later, when Luba Ushakova opens her mouth in his presence for the first time and does not close it again for the next hour and a half, he realizes his mistake; but now it is too late for him to go back on his word. And besides, he is still in love with Luba Ushakova, who now seems to him like an exotic form of bird.

(1) Sveta Stakanova, 35 yrs old, road- and courtyard-sweeper, expert on Italian cinema and oriental artefacts, cruises at 175 words per minute and has been known to talk for five hours at a time, breaking only to make a 30 minute call on the telephone. Return