The Russian Wife Ch. 02

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When our story began, the East-West relations were quite cold, although they had been even colder just before, during the years of Andropov and Chernenko. He knew the rules any “expat” in Russia had to know: never buy icons on the streets (either they are fake, or they are illegal…), don’t change money on the street, at least not too often (it was illegal too, although profitable), and most of all, take for granted that the enemy is listening.

There was not so much to worry, for him. He was a man of trade, working for an Italian firm, with no access to technological and let alone military secrets, and nobody seriously thought he was a “shpiòn”, a foreign agent. So he lived his life easy and tried to joke about the spy game. For all he said, it was all an “I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know”… A friend of his had wished “merry 7th November” (the anniversary of October revolution) to a totally empty room (it was his office, and he was leaving it for the holiday), and the following Xmas Eve, he had found on his desk a nice greeting card. Nobody knew by whom…

But the things could be more serious, and we knew about that. Every now and then, the American FBI arrested a supposed agent of ours, in the USA, and our “chekìsti”, our “services”, reciprocated, arresting some westerner in Russia. And if the westerner was not exactly a spy, so what, maybe not even our countryman in the USA was. Or maybe, in fact, both were spies. But they had NOT been arrested for that reason. Just politics…

This was what my man said. Most of the times, both “services”, our “chekisti” and the FBI, were perfectly conscious about who, among the foreigners, was a spy (normally under diplomatic cover) and who was a harmless businessman, or a honest diplomat, or simply a tourist. The normal policy was to let the spies struggle for to get information, not necessarily “genuine” (let them know what you want they know…), since if you arrest a spy, another will come, maybe even smarter, and it will start all over again. To arrest and to oust a spy (if that spy was doing too well his job) could be necessary, but to advertize it was kind of “bad manners”, politically motivated, and so the other “services” had the “right” to give tit for tat. At the cost to involve an innocent. You are not the only country with a “service” made of SOBs, he said. They all are so, or act as such. It’s the trade. “Rabòta takàya!”

THe real point was, sooner or later, the same thing could happen in Italy. And then, maybe, an Italian “expat” could be involved. It was a possibility, it could not happen, but it could happen too. We had joked about the idea that he could EVEN be a spy, or I could be. An agent in charge of controlling him, or framing him, or even converting him to the Socialist cause… Yes, I’m a spy. One secret, one kiss. What can you offer to me? And he started to give me “secret” information which he had read on Italian media, and our “services” surely knew since a long time… And I gave him a single, long French kiss. Why just one? You have invented it all, I hissed. No, I swear…

But what if the Italian involved had been him? They could ask me, as his acquaintance, to help them to frame him. In that case, I should have had not only to betray him, but even to lie shamelessly. He, a “shpion”? Sure… “Podùmai”, figure it out, not even if I would have seen him…

On the other hand, quoting don Vito Corleone, it would have been “an offer you could not refuse”. The “Chekisti” knew how to be convincing. Very convincing…

“If they ask me to do it, I won’t “, I saw him, ready to sacrify myself. The wife of a “Dekabrist”…

“No, you will do”, he said, without even looking at me.

We were walking along Gogolewsky Bulvar, in winter. Snow everywhere. He had a blue fisherman’s beret, a blue loden trench, blue trousers and blach heavy shoes: a sea wolf, ended up in Moscow by mistake. I was wearing a white “telogreika” (a winter coat), white trousers, white fur hat and white boots, and in all that white I seems even smaller han I was, compared to him. But I get mad all the same.

“If you wanted to offend me, you got it!”

“It’s not an offence: it’s an order.” He turned to look at me, serious, hard-faced, concentrated, like a real Russian. “If I can give you an order, THIS is an order. “Eto prikàs, ponimàesh”?”

“Tak tòchno,” aye-aye, sir, said a voice within me. If he wanted me to do it, I would have done it. But why?

“Why?” I asked. “If they want to frame you, they don’t need ME. And I DON’T want to do it!”

“You’re right!” He looked away from me and started walking again. “They could ask it to many persons. That lady who come and set up my flat three days a week, maybe…”

“That “bàbushka”? No, you said she is a good person…”

“She is. But if they tell her I am really a spy and they need a proof to get me, say, without uncovering their real source, she will believe it, and she will obey. Old generation. However, it would be regular, I don’t pay her, the State do it. Even canlı bahis to keep me under control, that’s sure. Nothing personal, I have nothing to hide, but they can’t trust in my gentleman’s word. If the State would need her help in order to get me in… She would do her duty…”

“And then, why should I do it?” I asked. He looked at me again with a smile. “Durachònka”, silly little girl…

“Because if they asked you to do it, and you do it, I am in trouble. If they ask you to do it, and you don’t, they ask another one to do it, I am in trouble all the same, and you too. Got it, now?”

However, nothing of that kind ever happened. At least, not to us.

That way to worry about me, to take care about me, even when we were only acquaintances, was one of his characteristics which my father liked. The responsibility, the dependability, the sense of duty. Something kind of military. All the other way, my man had never served in the army of his country, and my father knew that too. He was not a deserter of a dodger: simply he had been deferred for health reasons. And he said that he was sorry for that.

“Why?” joked my father. “Did you want to invade us?”

“And do you think we are so fool to invade you again, after what has happened the last time?” answered my man. “Never more!”

“You see,” he told me, once, “I was sure to go, I got used to the idea… I knew it was not a leisure trip, but… Like a rhite of passage… What does not kill you strenghtens you, something alike… And instead, nothing…”

“But what would have you gained from that? Just to feel you a man?”

“A change, it would have been a change,” he shrugged. “Do you know what the English lady said whan the Luftwaffe bombed her house? “Well, it makes a change”…”

I chuckle. English humor, but not so different from Russian one: how to laugh on your own disgraces…

“Why did they defer you? Hardly something physical…”

“”Insecure personality”. They were not sure I would have shot…”

“And would you have done? Would you do?”

“It depends on the target, I guess. Not you, for example…”

“Not me!” I laugh. Something like a strange compliment.

“Sure, I’m serious. Not even in case of war…”

“And what would you do to me, in case of war?”

“I would surrender,” he shrugged again. “And then I would ask you to marry me, before they send me to Siberia…”

I burst out laughing stronger. A good plan!

“And If I would not speak neither Italian nor English, how could you do?”

He shrugged again, opening his arms, put his hands on his nape:

“Khòchesh ty idtì zamush za minyà?”

I laughed even stronger, and pushed him forward with a finger between his shoulder blades.

“Davài, idtì, mòi plènnik!” I said. Come on, walk, my prisoner…

Of course I did not mistake that episode with a formal marriage proposal. I liked him, and clearly he liked me, and the fact he spoke Russians, quite well for a man who did not study it at school, make my ideas about him even better. I was graduated in philology, specialized in English and Italian, and a graduation in philology is not the kind of things you find under the tree for the New Year’s eve: I have earned it. So we could have spoken in both language. But I liked to speak Russian, with him.

So we get used to train our language skills with each other. When we were walking in the street, we usually were speaking Russian, even for not to draw too much attention. Neither of us had really anything to hide, but a girl who went with the foreigners had not such a good reputation, then. People could think she was exercising the world’s oldest profession. Or maybe the second one: the spy. Or both…

One day, we were practicing Russian in a restaurant. Not a “currency restaurant” for tourist and “expats”. Something like a big “zabegàlovka” (a “joint”, in American language, I guess: “down at Frankie’s Joint”, Springsteen, Independence day…), just with biggest table and something hot to eat. But we liked it. We call it “15 men”, because the furnitures, and even the service’s tone, recalled a pirates’ tavern. There was a waiter (let’s call him so) who looked like he was just arrived from Treasury Island (I mean, the Russian movie -yes, there is one- from the Stevensonian novel).

THat day, we got talking right about him. And then about the men in general, Russians and foreigners. Especially about foreigners who thoughts tha Russian girls were all…, well, say it “pushovers”. Especially for foreigners.

My man knew some of them. They thought it was logical, it was profitable for the girls, they could have fun for a while. More or less like the men (the foreigners, I mean). So he said.

“And what do you think about that?” I asked.

“Well, if you use these criteria, then all the men you see are pushers, including your humble servant.” he said. I smiled: he was including himself, and with style. “Your humble servant”, “tvòy pokòrny slùga”… Classical Russian…

“Pushers?”

“Of bahis siteleri course. It’s profitable, you get lots of money, and then you can have as good time as you like… right?”

“Right. But then, why are you not a pusher?”

“Oh, it’s not such a fine “milieu”… Bad guys, they all solve the problems shooting… I don’t like it…”

I laughed. Yes, it was a good reason to stay out of that business.

“But what do you think about men?”

“What sense?”

“They would like we all would be so. That’s why they talk so…”

“Yes, something like “magical thinking”… Childish…”

“Hm,” I nodded. “But, surely, they make a big stake on such weak points… They think that a gift can be enough to take us to bed… A record, a pair of jeans…”

“Yes, it’s possible… More, it’s likely… They think so.”

“You have given me some records, but I did not go to bed with you…”

“I knew that it was not enough, for you,” he smiled. “I wanted to make you a gift, that’s all.”

“And I have liked your gifts,” I smiled, “And the fact you didn’t want more.” I put my elbows on the table. “But then… Do you think all men want only “that”, from the girls?”

He sighed.

“Do you want a romantic lie, or the sad truth?”

“The truth.”

“Well, there are two kinds of men, from this point of view. Those who want just that, and those who want even that. But they ALL want THAT. And then there are the saints, but…” a vague move of the hand: “They are few…”

“And what kind of man are you?”

He too put his elbows on the table.

“If I wanted just “that”, I would look for a girl who has those weak points. But I like you. And I want “that” from you. And not just one time…”

Well, the cards were on the table. He liked me, sure. Even for that thing between my legs. And he wanted that thing. Too.

Should I have been scorned? Why? I was a woman, he was a man. A man, not a “galubòy”, thank God. Should he have put himself among the saints? For God’s sake, I would have never believed it, I liked him, but not to that extent…

“And not just one time…” Yes, that was the point. Every single girl has that thing between the legs. And Moscow was full of beautiful girls. So if he wanted me, it was not just a matter of sex, nor of beauty. There was something else…

Of course, he did not say it. For a man, it’s easier to swear than to say “I love you”. And not because men are unable to love. Not all of them. No: it’s because to swear is easy, “krùto”, strong, it allows you to discharge the tension. But to say “I love you” is to say… “I’m here, shot me!” “Aim at the heart and DON’T spare the face!” or as Billy Joel sang: “and you will have this heart to break…” Yes, he was defenseless, now. So defenseless I was smiling. I could really hurt him, either saying him “no, I don’t want you, get lost”, or, even worse, taking advantage of him, like a “scamer”… I shook my head: I had mercy on him.

“You’ll have to earn that from me. Either all, or nothing. And I will decide whether you can have it “all”. You have just to wait for my decision, without even asking. Got it?”

We look at each other in silence. He was not dressed like a Westerner, just like a Russian, a “soviètsky enginièr”: jacket, something like a scotish tartan blouse, and all the rest. Just “casual” for an Italian, and perfect for to make a good impression in the Moscow’s “mitrò”: a serious professional technicians, not a “bòmje”, a beggar, nothing to say. He nodded, slowly. He fully understood what “all” meant… Not records, not jeans, not money… All… his own life… Until death tears us apart…

The day after I thought I had been stupid. Now He would have looked for a “normal” girl with “weak points”, to be taken to bed with a gift or two…

I was wrong.

I met him saturday morning, close to my house, always dressed like an “enginièr”. He was talking with the old ladies on a bench. Those “babushki” knew me since I was a child, and they greeted me when I got off my block.

“”On karòshi pàren”!” one of them told me. That meant “nice guy”. “On shtò, gruzìn? Ili yevrèi?”

Me and my man laughed. The “babushki” were undecided, whether he was Jew or Georgian (from the south of Caucasus, not from the south of the U.S. of A.). Or maybe both…

“No ty shtò, kakòy yevrèi…” told the other “babushka”… We left them with their doubt, greeted them and walked away.

Since he wanted to be really engaged with me, that day I started testing him as a possible husband. I asked him if he ever had “had” a girl “with weak points”, and he did not deny it. No, it was not madness: he had just understood very well how I was. “Lùchshe gòrkaya pràvda cem slàdkaya lòsh”: better a bitter truth than a sweet lie. And on the other hand… he was a foreigner, he was a year already in Moscow, he was neither a priest nor a “galubòy”… and he was polite, nice, funny, when he wanted… Sure, not the kind of “foreigner” who thought that a pair of jeans was bahis şirketleri enough to make every girl’s panties fall down… Yes, the jeans could work, but if used “comme il faut”, if presented as a gift, with a smile, whit some tact… not if the male slammed it on the table, as if it was cash… “U vas tovàr, u nas kupièz”, you have the stuff, we have the buyer… Disgusting… Our girl knew, know, how to be icy, if the male is trivial, or stingy. But if he is handy, if they like him, they prove it to him, for conclusive facts. Jeans or not jeans.

So he HAD seen some girl’s panties fall, dead cert, no worry…

Then I asked him another serious question, the same the Orthodox Church demands in every marriage ceremony:

“Have you ever made a promise of marriage to another woman?”

“I am not married.” he said.

“I know. But you know what I mean.” I said. He smiled.

“No. I never promised a girl to marry her, in order to take her to bed…”

“Hm.” I nodded, smiling. Good. He had had a good time with some girl who liked the foreigners, “Bog s nièi”, may God be with her. But without kidding her, without deluding her. Some gift, some good nights, and that was all. No false oaths, no girl who could claim any right on him. Sure, he had slept with her (with “them”?), he was not a saint. But I did not want a saint. I wanted a man, “loyal and true with me”. And maybe I had found him. The truth, even when it was not so noble or graceful. I could trust him. Maybe.

So started our final coundown. And it lasted five month…

I had heard that Italians appreciated the maidenhead of their wives (they are not the only ones, of course, but it was an useful information). So, once I had put it clear that he could have me only if he would have married me, I thought it was proper and correct to inform him that I was not virgin anymore. It’s not the kind of things you can hide forever, and the later it comes up, the worse, for everybody. To be stuck to that thing could be the one major defect of an otherwise perfect husband, and you know, nobody is REALLY perfect…

He just nodded, without a word, and we did not deepen the issue. I told him I had had just one male (male: he had been NOT a “man”), and he did not doubt of it, and not even asked me his name.

And so we kept strolling together, and he kept making me laugh (WITH him, not OF him), making me feel well, and respecting me. When it was raining we walk under the same umbrella, and I felt his strong arm around my tail (never lower), and it was very fine. But I never relaxed completely: I knew, for a foreigner it was easy to have a woman, even two… And if I had had a wiff of him “going to the left” (as we say for “cheating”), I would have made him see what is a real, fine jealous scene, Russian style…

Because I was jealous already, he had got me inside. He was already in love with me too, likely, but his love was tranquil, it didn’t foresee the drama, the tragedy, maybe not even the passion… If it worked, well, if not, just friends, as before. And he sure would have been a real friend, liable, always. But I… “a love which burns and busts”, as Blok said (and he knew Blok too). And the jealousy, ready to explode. Stop with the “gift stories”, you stay with ME, now…

Yes, it was complicated, I was complicated. On one hand, I did not allow him to go to bed with me, on the other hand I would be furious if he would have gone to bed with another woman. As if we were married already. But I felt he was NOT doing it. He was so natural with me, as someone who has really nothing to hide. I had told him to wait for my decision, and he was waiting. As if he was sure, what this decision was going to be…

I was not even sure, whether I liked the fact that he did not want to know anything of my first male. It was a part of my life after all, a part of me as a person. Or maybe he was playing the role of the “modern” Westerner, to make a good impression, and fool me… Hm!

So I decided to talk about him, once we met in the famous “restaurant”. I told his name, family name and patronimic, and of course this meant nothing for him, but just to be precise. And I told him that he was a friend, that he hurted me a lot, and after the fact, I never saw him again. Pure gospel. The truth, all the truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God…

“And now, where he is? Do you know?” he asked. I shrugged.

“For all I know, he should be in Siberia.”

“Well.. Even if he hurted you, it seems to me a bit too much!” he said, impressed.

“Oh, no, not in that sense!” I laughed. It was a mix-up which happened between Russians too. Someone said that Ivan Ivanovich had gone to Magadan, in the Siberian far east, and everyone thought: “Oh! Jailhouse!”. And this was not true. Not always, at least.

“Is he there “po sòbsvennuyu jelànyu”?” he asked.

“Yes, by his own choice and desire,” I smiled. “He works in an oil patch, as an engineer. The pay is good, higher than here. Thought there is very less to buy, there. And that’s all said…”

“Did he… how to say… “

“No, he didn’t rape me.” I shook my head. “I was agreeable. Curiosity… But he was clumsy, hasty, I was a virgin… You know… Bad combination… “

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