“You know, I can pay you through a bank transfer if you give me your account number.” I tell my dentist as she’s pulling her instruments out of my mouth so I can talk again. “I don’t have enough cash and I don’t have my cards anymore, but I can do that.” I add.
“No, no, it’s fine, I told you. I was actually thinking I might give you some money for food” she says and that brings tears into my eyes but I quickly swallow them thanking her for her infinite kindness. She’s a good friend, my ‘dangerous Syrian boy’ would say. I’d told her my wallet was stolen/ lost and she insisted I should still come for the appointment.
And when she’s done fixing a tooth on the upper right side (the side with the swollen eye and the upset ear from landing this Saturday and the bike crash before my birthday this autumn), we both get out and she gives me a lift and drops me close to my home. We catch up on each other’s lives on the way and I meet her husband when I get out of the car and knowing that he, too, exists is reassuring and makes me more confident about my resolutions.
I stop at a small electricity shop and I find the door is locked. I look for the schedule on the narrow glass door and, before I find it, the door opens and a beautiful lady in her mid sixties welcomes me in.
“I’m listening. What is it?” she says and I notice her heavy makeup behind her thick glasses and her beautiful mouth and her clear, shiny skin.
“I need two light bulbs. A smaller one and a bigger one” I say hesitantly, realizing I sound like a woman who doesn’t know about electrical stuff. But since I’m talking to another woman, I’m relaxed about it.
“Do you know this neighborhood?” she asks fetching a couple of light bulbs from a shelf behind her and placing them on the counter in front of me, taking them out of their boxes and trying them for me to see that they work.
“Well, a little bit, I suppose. I haven’t lived here very long.”
“About a year and a half I think…”
“Do you get along with them?”
“I don’t know? With who? I don’t really interact with people around here…”
“I can’t take it anymore. I have some problems” she says making me stop and suddenly evaluate my possibilities. “How long can I still go on? What do you think I should do?” she asks staring into my eyes. “These people, they expect me to have sex with the boss of the neighborhood. Would you have sex with someone whose hands look like sausages? Would you be able to? With someone with loose skin, hanging about them like this?” she asks painting the image around her with her hands. “With someone who smells of garlic or who knows what else? With a seventy-five year old? I’m sixty-three. I am clean, I take care of myself, I can’t have sex with anyone like that.” she continues. “Why do you think they torment me like this?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.” At this point she’s got all my attention and my heart feels warm and a part of me reaches out to her over the counter, hugging her and wiping the tears running down her powdered, wrinkled cheeks.
“I had a family. They took it from me. I want my son. I want Cristi to come. Why isn’t he coming? You tell me.”
“I’m sorry… I don’t know…”
“I had a husband. My husband had a mistress. He would go and fuck her and then come back home to me and our son. You know, home is a state, an atmosphere. He couldn’t leave us… He came home every time. I see him sitting on a chair in the kitchen, his tears falling on the tiled floor. It’s you that I love, he used to say to me. And I believed him. Still, he kept fucking her. Now he is dead. But our family was destroyed before he died. They ran into it with a bulldozer. Why would anyone do that to someone?” she pauses again for me to answer.
“I don’t know…” and my own tears start blurring my vision as she’s giving me a glimpse into a possible future and I’m emptied of myself like a bath tub of which you suddenly remove the drain stop.
“At least if someone came to me and said: Mrs Doina, I have this against you…. I don’t like this about you… That is why I am tormenting you… But nobody says anything… You have to explain to me! Tell me!” her tears prevent her from continuing here and she takes a short break.
“I am sorry… I don’t know why this is happening to you…”
“And they torment me every day. They say nasty words, they steal my things, they took my boy, they took my family, my life, everything… Tell me why… Would you do that to anyone?”
“I don’t know why… I wouldn’t do that. I hope I’ll never be able to do that to anyone.”
“What can I do? Tell me?”
“Perhaps you should pray. Ask for guidance… Try to find some inner peace…”
“I can’t. I have tried. I can’t do that anymore. It’s too difficult. I can’t even go to church. It’s too much. You know?”
“Is it because I have these eyes?” she asks taking off her glasses to reveal her beautiful big eyes under her heavily made up eye lids. “Is it because I have these lips? Is it? Because I see when men come into the shop, they look at my lips. Perhaps they imagine their organ between my lips, you know… Perhaps that’s what they imagine…”
Her lips are beautiful – so soft and innocent and still so feminine and elegant, nothing vulgar or withered about them. And at this point I imagine kissing them. Just because I feel so much love for this woman right now and I imagine my touch would make her fly a little, help her forget about her life and take off with me in a dream. We could both disappear. I imagine leaning over the counter between us, my lips searching for hers and at the first soft touch, we both take off like two sister rockets and shoot up through the roof of the shop, making all the light bulbs and the cables and the fuses and everything burn in short, strong explosions like fireworks all around us. And we just disappear together. A well deserved break from life.
I’m standing still, back straight, arms straight, chin raised to meet hers, my eyes holding hers. What is it about me that puts me in situations like this? I am the silent dervish again (references here and here). Holding it all together so that the other one can express the pain. I am there for her. I love her with all my heart. I don’t judge, I just listen.
“Why is this happening to me?” she insists. “Why do people do this to other people? Why? What do you think?”
Since she insists, I make my confession, too. Just because for a moment there I think she needs to know she’s not the only one in pain, she’s not the only one asking herself and the others questions about life and the meaning of things. I confess everything.
“Oh, but that’s a totally different thing”, she says without the faintest sign of compassion.
“I should pay for the light bulbs”, I add deciding to get out of there.
“It’s 3 lei. And take care of yourself.” she replies.
“Thank you” I say in the end. “I wish you all the best, a light heart and peace.” and I truly feel blessed with a precious gift as I’m walking out of the shop.
Before getting home to write her story, a poem for a friend and a thank you card marking an end and a beginning, I make another short stop in the market across the road for some cheese. Just as I step out of the cheese shop and head for the exit, I am met by Annie Lennox’s convincing voice coming from a radio in a shop:
How many sorrows
Do you try to hide
In a world of illusion
That’s covering your mind?
I’ll show you something good
Oh I’ll show you something good.
When you open your mind
You’ll discover the sign
That there’s something
You’re longing to find
I have absolutely no doubt about it.
PS Coming up on the blog: the story of my week in Sweden this winter.