Thursday, 14 November 2013

Honey-Hued Eyes by Zarina Zabrisky

Read by Sin Gwamanda

When I was sixteen I was still a virgin.

That was because, first of all, I was in love with the boy who didn't know me. He couldn't know because he left for the army before I had guts to say hi. At that time all boys in the Soviet Union had to serve in the army at eighteen. For three years.

Second of all, I dated a girl from my college. I dated her because the boy was away. We only had girls at our college, anyway. All boys served in the army. In Afghanistan and other places. Homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union, but that was what they called love between men. Men were put in prison for love.

Love between women did not exist. We never told anyone we were in love. We did not know how to do anything in bed because there were no books, no movies, or anything like that. We kind of invented stuff. We invented a lot of things, tampons, for example, as all that was available in drugstores was loose cotton wool and it was not always available.

So I was still a virgin and it was a problem.






I didn't feel like sleeping with the boys I knew. They had all just returned from the army--or sometimes prison--drank vodka and smelled bad like onions and dirt. My girlfriend already had an abortion. Condoms were not available either. She didn't want to sleep with boys anymore.

One winter day I got a ride from a gypsy cab. Gypsy cabs were illegal cabs. Plenty were available; men would give girls a ride for free "for a talk" and would ask for stuff, but if you said "no," it was a "no," usually. It was dangerous at night and many girls got raped but that was their own fault, right?

So I got a ride from my work to the college. The gypsy cab was a long black government car with a lot of zeros at the license plate. The man wore a leather jacket and talked and smoked without a break. He was maybe fifty and had a strangely large belly, while the rest of him looked skinny. He looked like a pregnant cockroach, I thought. He asked me about school and work. I told him I worked at a military factory and I was studying to be an English teacher.

Then he asked me if I wanted to fuck. And, though normally I said no, I said yes. Because I thought it was a good opportunity to lose my virginity and never see him again. He was married; his wedding ring gleamed in the smoke. He drove me out of town and parked behind a train station.

"Only," I said. "I never did it before."

"Hahaha," he said. "Hahaha."

And then he kept laughing and he laughed and laughed as he found out that it was true. He smelled like moldy cucumber and cheese salad and Marlboro cigarettes, his giant stomach was soft and heavy, and it lasted three minutes and hurt a lot but not as bad as at the dentist's. We did not have anesthesia, so drilling teeth hurt the worst in the world, and we compared all pain to it.

The train passed by; I still remember that tududum-tududum-tududum sound of the wheels, and the whistle and the bright passing light, a flash over the car. I kept my eyes open. And my eyes were dry. So he laughed and gave me 30 roubles and three roubles for not crying. It was a lot of money, my monthly pay, and I said, "No, it's ok."

And he said, "Take my money and my advice: never give anything away for free. Got it?"

And I said, "Got it, can I have a cigarette then?"

He laughed more--his belly trembling--and gave me the whole pack of Marlboros, red and shiny. I'd never had a Marlboro before. It was strong and I liked it. Then he drove me to college, and on the way he told me that he wanted to rent a room for me and have me there as his mistress.

"You have big boobs and speak English," he said. "You could work for us by going to hotels and sleeping with foreigners and asking them questions. Nothing special, how was the weather in London before you came here and when are you going to the theater to see the ballet. We will pay you three thousand roubles a month and in five years will find you a nice Finnish or Swedish man and marry you off abroad. Deal?"

"Who are 'we'?" I asked.

"KGB," he said, laughing, and his belly trembled like Jell-O.

I gave him my number and went to the cafeteria. There I met my girlfriend and we smoked Marlboros and I told her everything.

"Does it hurt?" she asked.

"Not like at the dentist's," I said and we laughed.

We then skipped the class. We bought a big bag of pot from a pusher we knew. We were still sixteen and no one would sell us heroin before we turned eighteen. We smoked that pot all winter, it was so dark and cold outside.

My dad was dying from cancer and mom was busy. My girlfriend's mother had killed herself a long time ago. Her father was never at home. No one bothered us as we smoked and kissed in her bedroom. Mainly just held each other and looked each other in the eyes. Her eyes were like warm honey. Her arms felt like home.

I met the KGB guy few more times that winter. He gave me a lot of money and Marlboro cigarettes. I got used to his trembling belly. I was going to work with the foreigners. Then he brought another man in a black leather jacket to try me out.

The second man had this narrow face like a rat and scary blue eyes that drilled into me. He was younger, maybe thirty, and very pale. He looked like a dead man, but now that I look at photos in the newspapers I think he looked like Putin. Very much so, but a lot of Russian men look like Putin, so I am not sure.

I looked into his cold eyes and ran. Jumped out of the car and ran down the road. I just couldn't do it with both of them. I never saw them again.

By the time the boy I had loved returned from the army, I already had a kid. I was nineteen. My parents had died, so I moved to Finland. I got married to a nice man and I lost touch with everyone.

A year ago, a college friend called me. She talked about some girls we used to know. Some got married, some divorced, and some died.

"Oh and you know who else killed herself?" she asked. "Can't remember her name but you guys hung out all the time. The girl with the yellow hair? Yeah, threw herself under the train. She was raped or beaten up or something. She had no face left, they beat her so badly. No face at all."

I have a good life. My kid is doing well. But I just keep thinking about the train coming. And I still hear in my ears tudum-tudum-tudum, and the whistle, and this bright flash, and I feel the pain. It's worse than at a dentist's. At night, I look outside the window at the snow. Snow is just the same as at home. Snow is the same everywhere. I think about that winter and her face. And I just can't remember her face. All I see are the honey-hued eyes.

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