by Olivia Steel
A story about a Russian teenage girl based on real life.
One of the most essential prerequisites for personal happiness is to be loved. And the life of an average person is envisaged to be filled with love during each period. As a child you get love from your parents, then friends and sexual partners replace them, then your own kids and grandkids do. Happy is he whose chain of love never breaks, but runs a straight line from birth to death. But it doesn’t always occur. Not always. And, unfortunately, not to everybody.
Where did the terms of “teenage crisis”, “mid-life crisis”, “late-life crisis” come from? All those crisises are no more than the broken links of the chain of love for the person. During those periods nobody loves you – that’s where the crisis comes from. In your old age it is explicable: your significant other has long been in the grave, your children and grandchildren have grown up and got lifes of their own, and the feeble, unkempt old man or woman with a number of illnesses is a mere millstone round their neck. Everybody secretly wishes you dead. You can feel it and it consequently makes you cranky and irritable.
What about the mid-life crisis? Same: the kids have grown up and gone, your spouse has no feelings for you anymore, and grandchildren supposed to come and take the baton of love are not yet existant. And so the person gets devoured by depression and the feeling of devastation and loss of meaning in life.
But, perhaps, the most painful, heartbreaking, crushing period of a human’s life, the period leaving untreatable scars in your heart and soul forever is the crisis of adolescence that starts at eleven years old and ends after seventeen or eighteen – or never in the worst-case scenario. It is the age when your parents and family no longer love you (at least not the way they used to when you were a sweet little baby, not yet a gangly, pimply teen), and people of the opposite gender don’t love you yet either. That is why it is so important to have friends when you are a teenager, and it also explains your longing for gathering in groups in order to just fill that gap. And if, for all that, you get rejected by your peers as well, all that remains for you is to soap a rope and hang yourself on it. That’s what some people do. But, as for doing it you need courage which not everybody has, most people just break, bottle it up inside, become something like “the men in a case” – or, put simply, computer wonks, and sometimes they stay hiding in their shell until their death. The modern virtual reality contributes to it perfectly well. The Internet and its social networks, forums, dating sites and so on give us an illusion of life. Even if in real life you are a musty sad sack, on FB you can always have a big list of virtual friends, liking the fake photoshoped pictues of a virtual you, and on Tinder you can always find him or her pissing in your ear about their virtual feelings for you but they will sure make a wry face on seeing you in person and, citing exhaustion, beat a hasty retreat after a fourty mitutes’ interaction.
Take, for instance, one average apartment building and view it in cross-section, and in three of each five flats you will definitely find a sad wanker, male or female, sitting at a computer with a hunched back inside of a messy, untidy, stuffy room.
Now let me introduce myself. I am one of them, female, even though I am over thirty. Yeah, I am one of those lonely sad losers slouching in front of a computer I described above. Nobody remembers my real name, but it doesn’t matter for I’ve been living under an assumed one for over a third of my life.
What made me take a different name once I reached my adulthood? The answer is simple: my teenage insecurities flourished in the most fertile ground. Back then I believed that having changed my name and my surroundings I’d immediately become a new person and solve all my problems with that. And I did, partly. But in the end I got back to square one. So the registry office lady had been trying to talk me out of it quite needlessly; there was no use in her repeating that changing your name you take another person’s destiny. I was ready to take any other destiny but my own, totally unaware that a man’s destiny is his character and habits, not his name, surname or location. My character and habits were way harder to change.
Ok, let’s not put the cart before the horse.
The crisis of adolescense had really knocked me down. Even though there was no serious tradegy in my life, such as my parents’ death or a car crash with a bad injury and subsequent disability which some people of little brain like to show off in real life, and some other make books and movies out of. I nevertheless felt very unhappy. Life sucked, and I would find heaps of reasons for it. Other people’s happiness and well-being would enrage me and plunge me into severe depression. I couldn’t stand it when somebody else’s life was more successful and colourful than mine. At such moments I hated and resented the whole world, and I would vent my anger on everything that was unlucky to come to my hand.
It was the end of 1997 when the film Titanic with DiCaprio in the title role was first screened in Russia. I was in the seventh grade, and after seeing that movie all the girls in my school would cry buckets and drool over “Cutie Leo” as they used to call him.
Of course, I didn’t go out to see the movie. Besides, I didn’t have the money for that. My family had never had money for anything, and it subsequently gave me a poverty mentality forever. It has made me a sheer cheapskate watching every penny. The seeds of my future cheapness had already been planted, when I, a girl of twelve, skimped on the cinema ticket and decided to just wait for the movie to air so I could watch it for free and form an opinion of my own about the blockbuster that had taken my fellow schoolgirls’ breaths away back those days.
As is the custom, “Titanic” came out on TV almost a year late, when the main wave of Leo’s fans had subsided and the teenage girls’ excitement over him had decreased by a factor of three.
I can’t remember what exactly month it was, November or February. It was one of the dullest winter months, dark and gloomy, for the Chrismtas with its lights and tinsel was either over or not there yet. There was nothing much to wait for, and I was hibernating like a bear in his den. One of those dismal days I sat in front of the TV watching the acclaimed film Titanic.
Honestly, I didn’t fall in love with Leo even though the age of thirteen is considered the most fanatic. I was pretty safe on this matter. Even at that age I was sceptic about it and I didn’t understand how it was possible to fall in love with a magazine picture or a movie character instead of a real person, and cherish hopes for anything between yourself and an international celebrity. Even the guy next door might never be available for such a peewee as you. And a Hollywood actor is even less so.
However, I watched the movie from start to finish. The plot was gripping and breathtaking except for a few drown-out scenes of the shipwreck which had taken almost two thirds of the storyline. But as soon as the film was over I felt so hopelessly bitter against my own life, so bleak and dreary like the dull winter day outside my window, totally eventless – in comparison with the heroes’ last day on the Titanic, full of excitement and bright emotions. The rest of the evening I spent lying face to the wall on my sofa. The next morning I went to school in a foul mood.
The first lesson that day was Russian literature. As I recall we were analyzing Turgenev’s novella First love. The text of the composition, like everything else at school I had barely read, but the main character of the novella, Zinaida, who had managed to keep five gentlemen at once on their toes was making me feel jealous and miserable. What bugged me the most was the fact that Zinaida had been LOVED, but I wasn’t. That’s why, when the teacher asked me to tell about the “Turgenev’s girl” character, without thinking of the consequences I grunted:
“She’s a freaking idiot. Five men dance attendance to her, but no, she thinks none of them is good enough. Who the hell else does she need? Some other women can’t get a single man in their entire life.”
“Oh yeah, just like you” remarked the boy sitting next to me.
“Titov!” the teacher called him out reproachfully and adressed me:
“Why are you being so pessimistic, Andreeva?”
“I see no reason to be optimistic,” I muttered.
“Why not? You’ve got arms and legs, and living parents, have you not? You are a young girl of thirteen yet you sound like a cranky old woman.”
I sat down in silence. Having living parents and both my arms and legs was not enough to make me feel happy.
Regardless of the fact that I had an intact family, mom and dad, I wasn’t happy or content. I didn’t really love my dads for I thought them narrow-minded and unintelligent. The conclusion was based on comparing them to my friends’ parents – I had often visited their places and communicated with their families – and the comparison wasn’t kind to mine. Irina’s mom was twelve years younger than mine; Anastasia’s dad was a major diamond expert and a good provider while mine was a miserable couch potato not even willing to lift his ass and make a dollar. Masha’s parents were intellectual philosophers discussing such topics as the origin of the Universe, while my old lowbrows had only two topics of conversation: “What we gonna eat tomorrow” and “When we gonna do renovation”. I was totally disrespectful to my dads – and I wasn’t hiding that.
Me falling in love as all teenage girls do exacerbated the situation. My crush was not an actor or a singer, but just a regular country guy. He was a neighbour of my relatives I was staying with for summer vacation. He bore the most ordinary name, too – Alexander, or Shurik as they called him. Still, that Shurik looked cute as hell and all the girls in the neighbourhood including my cousin Tanya were crazy about him, and the chances of something to develop between him and myself were close to zero. To me he was even less available than Tom Cruise.
But I was hoping, to no avail. Shurik didn’t know I was alive – I was no more than an empty spot for him. His indifference was riling me up; I bent over backwards to get his attention every way I could: I would sling chokeberries at his back, hide his shoes when he was visiting my cousin’s elder brother. Sure those childish attempts hadn’t worked out, they’d put Shurik off me for good. Not only was he ignoring me now, but avoiding me quite openly.
That wouldn’t stop me, though. As is well known it’s easier to stop a wild horse than a hopeless teenager in love. I continued my attemts to win his heart by all available means. Our four-year age difference felt like an irredeemable abyss to me; I believed that not my stupid behaviour but the age difference was the obstacle. And I wouldn’t give up the hope that two or three years later, when I was fifteen and he was nineteen the age gap between us would no longer matter.
And then, while I was so desperately hoping and suffering over my unrequited love, my silly dads cut in.
They popped up at the worst possible time. It was a May holiday, the weather was still freezing out there and the four of us were sitting on the bench wearing jackets – me, Tanya, her elder brother and Shurik. Shurik was tuning a guitar – the one that had been collecting dust in our loungeroom for years. Mom had last played on it before she married my dad, I suppose. She’d used to compose songs and lyrics and pick up chords. They sounded pretty nice, although somewhat primitive. Perhaps, those songs had helped her get my dad snowed. Despite her total illiteracy in the Russian language she had passion for words; she would make up poetry describing feelings she had never really experiensed. She had never truly loved my father and married him just for convenience; but the love she hadn’t felt for him had to be imitated – and so she’d imitated it with her author’s songs about spring and cherry blossoms, pure white snow and other attributes. Like a lace-making machine, doing its work authomatically, produces fabric of immense beauty, my mother would make the lacework of her author’s songs not putting one bit of her soul into what my naive dad had fallen for so gullibly. I inherited from her the poetic sensibility and schizophrenic perception of the world. From my father I got his laziness, gullibility and inner softness which ruined me afterwards. But that’s not the point right now.
So, Shurik was tuning the guitar I had stolen from my mother for Tanya. Tanya had said she wanted to learn playing the guitar and singing to it, but her parents wouldn’t buy it for her. While I had a quite useless guitar collecting dust on the wall, for even I didnt show any interest to it. So why not do some good? The more so, I had the twin advantages of getting rid of an unnecessary thing and making my cousin happy. When you make someone happy, you make it double for yourself. As the saying goes, giving is better than receiving.
I sat next to Shurik and was on cloud nine conscious of my own generousity. Even as Shurik casually remarked that the strings and tuning pegs were not very good and, in truth, they should have been replaced – it couldn’t lower my high spirits.
Having done with the tuning, Shurik started strumming some chords – unbelievably sweet and so painfully familiar (later on I found out that the sweetest, heavenly music he’d been playing then was taken from Musicola’s song – I Will Never Forget You).
And just like that, at the sweetest moment, so rare in my poor eventless teenagehood, my old buffoons came and put a damper on it.
There they appeared, the two old idiots – one fat, bald and four-eyed, the other one still looking okay for her age, though, but wearing a poker face, dry and very unpleasant. Seeing her guitar in someone else’s hands, my mother gave me the stink eye.
“What’s your problem? Why are you staring at me?” I muttered in an unfriendly tone.
“I’ll talk to you later,” she hissed through her teeth.
But I got carried away and said to her:
“What the hell did you come for? No one wants you here, so come on, piss off now!”
Shurik gave me a contemptuous look but said nothing. He handed the guitar back to Tanya and left with the excuse of having things to do.
That very evening I was “put on trial”. Or, put simply, was attacked by the whole family, from my own parents to the other relatives – uncles, aunts, grandads and, most disturbingly, Uncle Anatole, Shurik’s father who was present in our house as well. Actually, he was the one who started the “trial”.
He was sitting at the table between my father and my uncle, discussing something, when I, wearing my bright-purple low-cut top picked especially for Shurik, sat down right opposite them.
“Who is this pretty young lady?” said Uncle Anatole as he noticed me.
“Do you really think I’m pretty? Your son doesn’t think so, though.”
“Doesn’t he?” he chuckled exchanging looks with my father.
“No,” said I, “And it’s totally wrong of him. If you must know I’m quite a catch and I can prove it.”
“Really? That’s interesting.”
“Oh yes,” I began with the air of importance, “First of all, I have a good dowry. I’m an only child, which means I’m sole beneficiary of two apartments in Moscow, two summer villas…”
My parents blushed beet-red, evidently wanting to sink through the floor with shame. Uncle Anatole, his cheek upon his head, lifted his brow.
I waved my hand.
“And that’s not even including my other grandmother’s estate…”
“You know what, young lady,” said my would-be father-in-law, “I’m only a guest in this house, yet I would like to give you some advice.”
“What kind of advice is that?” I asked.
“Never brag about your property, especially what doesn’t belong to you so far. For it’s here today and gone tomorrow; you can never know whether or not you get it. Besides, people trying to show off like that don’t get much credit but look somewhat… pathetic.”
And just like that it started and the meeting was declared open.
“She wasn’t belted enough as a child!” said Aunt Klava in her thick voice, “I’m sorry for your mother and father but I’d have you thrashed if you talked to me like that!”
“Never mind, she’ll face the music quite soon,” said my father, “Life is gonna screw her anyway.”
“Dad, it’s my life, ok?” I said condescendengly.
That trial, however, had had a big impact on my father. Apparently, some negative remarks cast by my relatives along with my stunt made him thoroughly overhaul his upbringing methods. And dad, my soft dad who had never beaten me and turned a blind eye to all my pranks, changed dramatically after that incident. He went ballistic and as soon as we returned back home he gave me a proper flogging.
“We won’t take her to Kruglovo anymore. Staying there made her quite uncontrollable” said my mother adding fuel to the fire.
And then all hell broke loose. Every day Dad would find new reasons to punish me. In all likelihood, my offensive behaviour in the presense of Shurik’s father and Aunt Klava’s words had got in his head. But, maybe, the reason was different – it might just be the wrath of a father whose young daughter runs after men without dignity.
But, whatever it was, my life at my parents’ home had turned into hell. Usually, at about seven o’çlock in the morning, when it was still too early for me to get up to school (I always liked to stay in bed as long as possible, and would get up ten minutes before leaving) – a hard knocking at my door would wake me. After that my father would call my full name in an angry voice.
“Get up! Do you hear me?!”
Perhaps, that was the real reason I hated my original name to the extent of changing it. It was something like a Pavlov’s dog reflex: if every time you treat a canine to a cupcake you hit him on the head, the poor animal ends up fearing cupcakes. Just so did I feel when waking up in the morning to an angry roar calling my name which was accompanied by a hard knock at my door.
“Leave me alone!” I snapped out as I shrank into my duvet like a hunted animal.
Thereafter, things followed both expectedly and unexpectedly, which made them even more terrible. My duvet would get blown off me at one fell swoop, then a tremendous punch on the ear would toss me down on the floor. Then I was kicked and punched all over my body, slapped in the face and belted. There was my father’s furious face hovering over me, his bloodshot eyes behind his spectacles. I felt the red mist coming over me; I was so enraged that I couldn’t even feel the pain – and I tried to kick that hateful face and knock off those spectacles. Sometimes the spectacles flew off his nose, sometimes they got smashed and his blood splashed all over the bedroom.
“I hate you!!! I hope you die in a car crash!” I screamed at my father.
He would give me another whack or two before my mother pulled him away.
It was a great start to my day, wasn’t it…
My days at school weren’t very good to me either. For it could be said that I had no friends there. Well, actually I did have one, Volkova – but she was in a different class known as “special” for smarter kids. Our public school divided its students by classes from A to D. Class A was for the A-students, Class B for the B ones and so on. I was in Class D – among slow pupils. I don’t know how I’d managed to get in there, but I suspect there was a reason. I remember they were actually going to hold me back.
I struggled to follow the school program. My great efforts to concentrate on the teachers’ explanations were futile; all the new information I got would come in one ear and go out the other. Later on I realized it was not me being thick; I just have a different mindset. I need to find out and digest information on my own, learn it by trial and error, even if it takes a lot of time. But our educational system wouldn’t let me spend a lot of time on searching and analyzing things on my own, so my school performance left much to be desired.
I also hated labs (laboratory assingments) which were supposed to be done collectively. Even back in my school days I knew for sure that teamwork was not my thing. So, by hook or by crook, I tried my utmost to dodge all kinds of labs, team projects, school clean-ups and other collective chores.
Although, speaking of school clean-up chores, I can not refrain from bringing up one curious event. It occurred when I was in the eighth or nineth grade; that week our class was charged with a cleaning duty. Some girls and I were assigned the task of cleaning up the kitchen and running the dishwasher.
Having done with the dishes we sat down on the windowseat to wait for further orders about setting the lunch tables. We’d got an hour and a half of free time left; so we decided to spend it playing cards.
It was one of those rare days I was included in the game instead of standing off alone in a corner. I was in a great mood; it was a bright April day, the sun was shining through the window, and on the radio the newly released song by Chaif – Argentina-Jamaica was playing.
And, as ill luck would have it, at exactly that moment we got interrupted by the appearance of the boys who were on duty, too. And of course, they started bullying me as usual.
“Hey, Philipok, what are you doin’ here? Go clean the loo!”
I had long been used to such attacks and I’d learned that the best way to cope with the situation was to ignore my offenders, mentally building an invisible wall between them and myself. Bullies taunt their victim because they expect some funny reaction – for example, crying, waving their fists around or something. When there’s no reaction, the taunters get bored and bug off.
Just so I’d liked to tease one rooster in the country when I was small. The rooster was scrappy and when he was angered he would chase me trying to peck me in the butt. As I drove the rooster mad I would run from him with laughter, and it was funny. But later that rooster had either got cooked or dead – I’m not sure – but I confused him with another, a calm one, and when I started teasing him, no reaction followed. Having realized that the game was over I lost interest in visiting the henhouse and doing such a nasty thing.
Perhaps, Buddhists are right and karma is real. Apparently, as a punishment for making fun of that poor rooster when I was six, I ultimately had to pay for my karma.
However, as they made a comment or two about me, the guys focused on someone else. It was evident that they had come not for my sake. They were keen on the girls, among which there was Elya, a very interesting character, I must say. Many guys in our school had a crush on her, even though she looked rather plain – short and redheaded; besides, she couldn’t pronounce the letter “r” properly. But how confident she was! She was reasonable and pretty smart; she had a perfect sense of beauty. But the main thing in her that attracted both guys and girls was the total absense of insecurities. She was aware of her shortcomings but she could also accept them which is unthinkable for a regular teenager. When someone not very wise tried to mock her improper “r”, her reaction was surprisingly calm:
“I got a tight lingual frenulum. It needs to be cut; then I’d be able to speak properly.”
It was disarming: her opponent didn’t know what to say next. I envied her secretly; I struggled to understand why she was taking it so easy. Only years later I’d got the clue: she was truly loved by her family, and the energy of that love could reach any point of her localization. The love of her family had boosted her aura and helped her stay immune to any toxic environment including our school.
It was quite understandable that the guys had come to see her. So we were sitting there and talking (I mean, they were – I was sitting silently in my corner). And then the curious event happened, when one of the girls asked the guys about their footsizes.
I have no idea where that silly legend popular among teenage girls back those days came from, that the footsize of a guy is relevant to the size of his dick. Practice showed me afterwards that those parameters do not correlate with each other in any way. But the trick question was asked, and the giggling girls waited for a trick answer.
“Wanna know my size? Here!”
It happened in a blink of an eye. One of the guys, Marchenko, unzipped his fly and pulled out something red and slimy, and incredibly disgusting. I uttered a cry and turned away as I covered my eyes with my hand.
Everybody burst out laughing.
“Ha-ha-ha, look at Philipok! Why did you turn away? Are you a virgin?”
“Why do you care?” I said frowning.
“Hey, really, why are you so weird?” a guy nicknamed Chechel asked me, “You always look as if you’re about to be beaten up.”
“Aren’t I?” I thought to myself.
“Just keep it simple, you know?” said Chechel, “If you go on with the way you are, you’re screwed.”
“He’s right” said Elya, “You don’t even watch your posture, let alone your style.”
“Exactly, you keep slouching around and it makes you look like an underdog. Everybody can see it.”
And just like that I was “put on trial” once again. Another meeting was declared open.
How many times have I been put on trial like that? At home, at school, at work, on the Internet… Meaning well and truly believing in their good intentions people have never spared criticism with me – they would lecture and criticise me right to my face. Maybe they were just aware of my inner softiness and spinelessness which are probably still there.
When my school year was over dads usually took me to one of two places for summer vacation: my paternal grandmother’s villa in the suburbs or the hometown of my mother in the country. I had never in my life been taken to beach resorts: only after finishing school I first saw the sea. With palm trees and other exotic pieces of southern nature I got acquainted even later. Who knows, maybe that’s why I have never been able to truly love the South or make it a piece of my world even though I’d longed for it in my childhood. I used to draw the sea and palm trees according to my imagination, that is, different from reality. The sea in my drawings looked like many little sine waves (kids usually add to them a ship with a triangle sale), and the palm leaves like daisy petals. After hearing out my classmates’ boastful stories about spending their vacation at the beach I whimpered and pestered my parents to take me to the beach, too. And every time I was fobbed off – they just didn’t seem to give a toss.
As the saying goes, the only thing worse than a dream unfulfilled is a dream fulfilled in the wrong time. So it happened to me. My beach dream had finally been fulfilled too late when I didn’t want it anymore.
Meanwhile, in my teenagehood, I didn’t have much choice for my holiday. There were only two options: the suburbs and the country. Of two evils choose the lesser; and I would have chosen the suburbs if I had had the right to choose. I was never asked where I’d prefer to spend my vacation; I was just told to go to the suburbs and stay there until July; then in July when my parents had their time off from work, they picked me up and took to the country with them for four weeks. Then, in August, when their leave was over, they brought me back to my grandma’s villa. I hated to waste a whole July – the best summer month away in the boondocks, and I had my reasons for it. So, every time I was taken there against my will, with yelling and fighting. I tried in vain to break free, kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs: “Let go, you idiot motherfuckers! I’m not going to your shitty country!!!” In vain I balked and clutched at shrubs and bushes when being dragged to the car; I have always been too frail, especially as a kid, so I was pretty easy to be twisted and forced into a car.
In the country I languished terribly; the place was a real dump in the middle of nowhere. The town was named Vyshvirka which translates as “Dumpsville”. One couldn’t think of a better name for that godforsaken hellhole. The very sight of its shabby unpainted wooden huts in the middle of a swamp depressed me and drenched me deep in sadness. There was absolutely nothing to do there; I tried not to interact much with the locals. Depraved, vulgar and extremely rude, the country teenagers repulsed me to my core.
The girls, Irinka and Irinka (the most popular female name over there was Irinka) were a year younger than myself. Their thirteen-year-old age notwithstanding, they spoke foul language; cursed in their husky voices, and you can bet your sweet patootie they knew firsthand all about sex. They would dress and paint provocatively, like real whores. The more vulgar looked their louboutins caked in manure, bright polish on their dirty fingernails and tons of concealer they’d been trying to cover just as dirty abrasions on their faces with. I still clearly remember the strong smell of their patchouli mixed with manure, moonshine and Prima cigarettes – that distinctive aroma of ”Vyshvirka gals”.
The main entertainment in town was the nightclub gathering all the cream of Vyshvirka’s society. Young folks used to hang around the club house inside which there was low dubstep blasting from the stereos and an absolutely empty dance floor. The drunk country guys groped the screaching gals’ boobs – they would call it the English buzzword “flirt”. Wherein they all smoked like chimneys cheap cigarettes, drank cloudy moonshine. Some unexperiensed youngsters would get overdrunk and puke on the nightclub walls; then, with their pants pissed, they would conk out right on the ground.
I really disliked those filthy hangouts; their lewd way of speaking rife with most disgusting expletives would make my ears bleed. But I couldn’t escape it anyway; to refuse to go out with them put me at risk of a big trouble. Conflicting with the locals was just hazardous to my life.
The locals, though, didn’t like me either. The guys in Vyshvirka had also given me a moniker – Chinese. Probably they’d picked it because of my narrow eyes, very conspicuous in their European-like backround.
“Hey, are ya’ll city folks jus’ as dumb?” they would ask me straighforwardly.
Such “positive” communication would leave me with a really bad taste in my mouth. Yet it wasn’t the worst thing. One night some of them put burdocks in my hair – they had to be cut out with scissors. As a result my hair was a mess making me look like something the cat dragged in.
To make it short, I had my reasons to hate the country just as badly as I hated my home city.
The villa of my grandmother Zoya was probably one of the few places I felt rather good at. I had many friends all over the neighbourhood so I was hanging out with them from morning till night. We would have a lot of fun together, riding bicycles, swimming in the lake until we got blue in the face, gathering in the upstairs of Nastya’s house, playing all sort of games: cards, hide-and-seek, blind man’s bluff…
We would also entertain ourselves with random phone calling. Back those days mobile phones weren’t just as widely spread among simple folks; so people in our neighbourhood would use the old phone booth in the main street – it was the only spot in the whole village to make calls from.
The calls were free, and from early morning there had always been a crowd lining up to the phone booth. It never dispersed as the day went on, but became even bigger. The calls were unlimited, so the callers were not in a hurry to get off the phone. In our days of mobile technologies people, indeed, have learned to keep it short and to the point in order to save their time and money. But back then people lacked this skill for it was quite useless. So, the ones waiting in the queue were compelled to hear out the insessant prattling of some old Aunt Anna:
“Hey, Nadya! Hello-o-o! I say hello!!! How are ya?… Great! I say, great!.. Yeah… What’s the weather like? Been raining a lot? What?.. Oh yeah, yeah, it’s been raining cats and dogs over here, too… What did you say? Come again?… Lovely weather for ducks, yeah…” – etc, etc.
Only fourty minutes after, when Aunt Anna had got her fill of talk and finally started saying goodbye, everybody knew that her farewell would at least take another twenty minutes.
Now, looking back from the vantage point of a different time things like a two-hour-long idle conversation and half-an-hour-long goodbye on the phone seem implausible. Now the phone in my terms is something like an emergency button used only in cases of absolute necessity. So, my usual phone conversation now will never go over this limit:
“Hi, where are you? How long will you be? Ok.”
That’s enough! Idle words such as “hello, how are you, ok then, I gotta go now, it was nice talking to you, see you later, bye-bye” are unneeded and expected to fall into disuse soon, because they waste your time which is limited as it is.
But back those days we were young and had all the time in the world. So, late in the afternoon, when the bored villagers had already finished flapping their jaws on the phone and left the phone booth, we rushed into there to have fun. We would dial random numbers and crack jokes depending on who had picked up. If there was a pleasant young male voice at the end of the line – we giggled foolishly, trying to flirt. If the voice was old, female or childish – we had a couple of hockneyed tricks for such cases:
“Hello, is this the home of Hares?
“Then why are your ears sticking out the phone?”
Or we would pose as “poll managers” and ask tricky questions:
“How many times a week do you have sex? In what positions? Do you use a condom?”
Sometimes we were told to stop goofing around and go do the homework. One pleasant male voice, as we had tried to flirt with him, said kindly:
“Someone missing a good fuck, huh?”
I bet any of us would have rather died of embarrassment if such things had been said to her in private. But, as we were all united together, under the illusion of safety in the crowd – all the insults rolled off us like water off a duck’s back. We just didn’t give a flying fuck, as we used to say.
It is not without reason that even crimes are easier done in the crowd than single-handedly. At no time do people feel the need to flock together so pressing as in their teens, when they are most vulnerable to external influence. A lone reed is easy to break, a bunch is not.
So we held on to one another – not because we were soul mates sharing the same common ground and other kinds of bullshit usually mentioned by grown-ups teaching us how to pick up good friends. Even then any of us vaguely realized that we were different and when the time came our paths would diverge forever. But meanwhile we were huddling together to feel safer and more confident – and we sincerely believed that our friendship would never end.
There was another friend of mine in the village. I mean, she was not just a friend of mine, she was my bestie – my closest friend ever. Her name was Susannah, in Russian it sounded as “Sashka”. Having her in my life made me what I am now. Anyway, she played a very important role in the following story.
I met her as follows. I was riding my old “clunker” as I called my jacked-up bicycle when at the gate of our village I got stopped by a neighbour boy in the company of a tall teenage girl of twelve with curly hair down to her shoulder and thick bangs over her forehead.
“You must pay a fine for violating the traffic regulations!” she said in one breath.
“What the hell traffic regulations?”
“In the name of Victory, the Queen of Great Britain! I am Inspector Susan Starfield.” the girl introduced herself with an important air.
“Oh ok. I’m Margaret Thatcher, then.” I tried to laugh it off.
“But, really, my name is Susan. You can call me Sue, though.” she said.
“Sasha! Have you torn your skirt again?” came the harsh voice of an old woman leaning out of the nearest house’s window – evidently, she was Sue’s grandmother.
Sue made a face and sighed.
“Oh, that’s just so you, dear granny!”
Deep down I was amazed at the odd relationship between the grandmother and granddaughter. There she went yelling and scolding Sue, yet the last didn’t look one bit ashamed. Things were different in my own family. I was afraid of my grandads even though I could show them my teeth sometimes. It was not so much fear as some kind of alienation. I didn’t know how I was supposed to address them – formally or familiarly, so I tried not to address them at all. Grandmother would notice it and rebuke me for it.
“Why do you never call us anything? Can’t you move your tongue to say “Granny”, “Grandpa”?
I frowned silently. I couldn’t indeed move my tongue to call them so – I fancied that the word “grandma” or “grandpa” coming out of my mouth would sound strange and out of place.
Not only did I have difficulty in pronounciation the words “granny” and “grandpa”. I couldn’t call by name my aunts, uncles, neighbours, teachers. I have no idea where that odd barrier had come from, but even now I avoid addressing people by their names as well as looking them in the eye during a conversation.
I made friends with Sue immediately and forever. It’s truly said that the older you grow the harder it is to gain new friends. Now I can’t even fancy coming up to some nice-looking lady of my age somewhere in the street or a supermarket, starting a conversation and inviting her over to a cup of tea – such things seem incredible in the age of thirty. Back in childhood they were way easier and occurred as a matter of course.
“Let us be the best friends, the best of the best of the best!” Sue suggested rapturously and, grasping my hand, skipped down the road as she sang:
“Hey, Captain, smile!..”
“No, that’s childish,” I said with a grimace, “We learned that song at a singing class in primary school. We should make a special new song that nobody else knows!”
“Oh yeah, we should! So it’s very special for us only, and nobody else!” exclaimed my new buddy.
And we started composing stuff. But, as the imagination of silly teenagers we were is very limited and always boils down to the same one thing, the first words that occurred to me were:
“A cunt and a cock…”
“Pissed on a rock!” Sue carried on.
And just so we skipped down hand in hand and sang at the top of our lungs like two freaks:
“A cunt and a cock
Pissed on a rock!”
An old lady neighbour cast disapproving glances in our direction from behind her fence.
“The foul-mouthed little oiks!”
But it couldn’t stop us. The “gymn” to our friendship created by us was no limit. We would twist the lyrics of popular songs such as, for instanse, “the silken heart, the silken heart can never ache when torn apart”:
“The silken cock, the silken cock
Can never raise, looks like a sock…”
No wonder that both our families – mine and Sue’s – weren’t too thrilled with our friendship. Her grandads believed I had a bad influence on their lass, mine thought exactly the opposite.
“Stop messing with that yer Sashka,”grumbled my grandad, “She’s a quirky one.”
I chuckled. “Quirkies” was the brand name of cookies advertised widely on TV back those days. And as I imagined Sue “quirky” with those quirkies all over her face and body, I couldn’t help laughing. And anyway, I wasn’t going to quit messing with her over that reason.
(THE END OF PART ONE)