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By Yelena Tylkina
At the end of February of 1989, all my relatives, who were known to Russian government authorities at that time, signed release forms for my mother and me to leave Mother Russia. Another Jew wanted to go home to Israel, leaving behind second degree frost bite, the awful stench of pickled herring, colic in the digestive tract from indigestion, and an asshole already burning with irritation from being wiped all too many times with newspapers brimming with propaganda.
�And don�t forget to send us Israeli goods at least every two months, or we will put a curse on you!�
All of our beloved relatives gave us the �green light� to be first pioneers in my family history that had the guts to escape into the jaws of �Capitalistic Semitism�. That is, everyone except my father, who was a mystery person, a secret, an enigma, a phantom - even to my mother.
I was called to the local precinct for interrogation in connection with the absence of my father�s signature on the release form granting permission to leave the country. I appeared at the local police precinct at a certain hour with my birth certificate listing only my mother�s last name, first name, nationality, etc. The father�s side of the birth certificate had just one, but very large, letter through whole page, resembling the twenty-sixth letter of the English alphabet: Z - which meant �non applicable information� - the person was unknown at the time. A bit like �missing in action�, perhaps alive, perhaps�who knows? And, of course, the second original birth certificate was held at the precinct.
You see, a fatherless child had to be reduced to a criminal status because that child was conceived in contravention to government regulations, Protocol such and such, Penal Code Section such and such, and so on.
I didn�t know my father, nor did I care about gaining the affection of a person who was just a sperm donor. Throughout my life, the government didn�t care enough to locate my father when I desperately needed financial support but now, one month before my departure, his presence and his opinion suddenly became important. �What a fucking mess!� I thought. After almost a year of painstaking preparation, everything could just collapse into disaster with one, single wrong word. To describe the nightmarish journey through the government bureaucratic machine which willingly sabotaged the immigration of my unwanted people required a novel the size of Tolstoy�s � War and Peace� along with a sequel.
From the small town of my birth, Orsha, I had to travel to the capital of my prefecture, Vitebsk (one hour by bus in each direction), then to the capital of my republic, Minsk (four hours by train), and then to the capital of the country, Moscow (up to eight hours by train), some times staying over night in Moscow at � Byelorussia Station� (Belorusky Vokzal). Merely to get a couple of hours of sleep in a chair without the police bothering me about my papers and the purpose behind my travel, and an occasional �hotdog� from the fast food stand was a real treat. We had to sell everything to afford the necessity of traveling to secure every scrap of bureaucratic paper. My house and possessions were gone. If the authorities forced us to stay, Mother and I would become homeless.
The government usually began its interrogation even before any words were exchanged. The protocol�s first step in breaking a �suspect� with minimum effort was to invite the person down to the local precinct for a �talk� without indicating the reason and then let the suspect wait for a lengthy time in a dark, depressing room, furnished with greenish-black, aluminum and plastic furniture, dingy from years of being touched by sweaty, oily fingers. And this was merely the suspect�s introduction, a glimpse, so to speak, into his, or her, gloomy future.
I sat in the waiting room, sweating, and boiling with anger over the fact that I didn�t have a clue why I was summoned to the precinct. The waiting room was an alcove in a long, windowless pipe of a corridor. The ugly, stupid, greenish- gray paint on walls in municipal buildings had a very depressing impact on my nervous system and my already fragile state of mind.
�What is this, the color of spoiled mustard, or vomit? � I asked myself.
My stomach became swollen from silent hysteria. I couldn�t decide whether to fart or to belch to release the insane pressure that was building rapidly inside of me. Fearfully, I looked around, but with the hope of some sign from above on what to do because, sometimes, an accident occurs during sudden and forceful farting.
I passed the slinkiest, most deceptive, silent fart in my personal farting history.
�A-a-ah! What an innocent and free pleasure of life��
I began to philosophize and immediately regretted it. The agony of enduring the fetid air was unbearable and no way to escape the torture. The sign �entrance� over the door of the �interrogation� room started blinking with an orange light, like the Fuhrer Bunker, I thought. Should I go in, or ready myself emotionally first? Was it my imagination, or did the orange entrance light start to nervously blink faster? But, I couldn�t take the stench any longer.
�I am going in!� I said to myself.
I stood up, pulled down my jacket, improved the shine of my boots by rubbing each of them against the back part of my jeans as if were dancing one of our local folk dances, while wagging my arms in a circular motion in the hope of moving the poisonous cloud of rotten air away from me. Then, with a tingling sensation in my spinal column, I opened the mystery door.
After the dark bunker-like waiting room, the bright morning light, amplified by the reflection of the sparkling snow, flooded into the room from the large window and slashed my skull in half. It was an assault on my senses and I felt my brain explode out of my head. In the desperate attempt to save some of its remains, I squeezed and patted my head with my hands, while tapping my boots on the floor.
� What is that, some kind of Jew dance?� I heard a woman�s voice ask.
Other voices behind the biting light were having a good time, giggling and babbling. Desperately, I tried to focus my vision, but could see only the silhouettes of three people. I put my hand over my eyebrows to break the intensity of the light.
�Good morning.� I greeted the faceless people and stretched my lips in to a longest smile I could give under the circumstances.
�How are you all today, citizens?� I asked.
After the usual greetings, coughing, sneezing and scratching, as the curtain came up on the theatrical production of the government�s play, I acclimated to the environment of the �interrogation� room. The office�s size was usual; about five by five square meters with an enormous window opposite the entrance door and the same bare, hideously colored walls as of the rest of the building. A jury of three civilians, two men and a woman sat at the front desk; which was placed in the middle of the room. Another desk was perpendicular to the front desk, but placed on pedestal a foot and a half high.
The Colonel, resplendent in his glorious uniform and gray camel hair overcoat, with gilded, shiny buttons, and square gray and red hat, was presiding from his cushy seat. Everyone in the office had overcoats and hats on because, I assumed, there was either not enough money to pay for heating fuel, or the final decision about my case had been made already and I was there merely to hear the verdict. No one offered me a seat (there were no other seats in the room to offer) and I decided not to complicate matters by asking for one. Nor did I really need one. After all, I was twenty-three years old with a strong bone structure that I inherited from my mother�s side of the family - countless generations of blacksmiths. Besides, standing gave me an imaginary power over the citizens at the front desk since I towered over them in my winter boots.
�You think maybe a tall Jew, a former captain of the local volleyball team is, perhaps, intimidating, eh?� I asked myself in amusement.
�Move away from the desk!� Barked the female citizen and waved her hand in the direction of the entrance door as she held a pen in her other hand and tapped it nervously on the top of the desk. I obeyed, took a step backward, and leaned against the door.
I could now clearly see the whole picture in minute detail. At the front desk, sat two purple-faced winos that were there solely for the bottle of vodka that awaited them as payment for their services to the state. In this theatrical production they were mere extras that, at that moment, could only think about the lovely burning sensation of the magic liquid that would transport them temporarily from their doomed reality. The Purple Faces were typical factory workers, wearing smelly and disheveled clothes, with food stains and dirty collars. Both of them had facial skin conditions that indicated severe destruction of their livers. The deformation process of their internal organs, in combination with awful working conditions at the factory, had constructed volcanic craters, empty riverbanks and oil wells on the surface of their skin: a map of the industrial progress of Soviet Union.
�Just lovely, two Soviet Worker Poster Boys� I thought.
The Purple Faces couldn�t care less, one way or another, about my case, or about anything at all. They were bored and had severe hangover headaches. For them, this meeting was as much of a torture as it was to me. In the middle, however, sitting between two winos, was a petite, middle-aged woman with a nose that seemed as if it had already been cut from her face, exposing the large, dark holes of her nostrils. From years of winter wind caresses (perhaps, the only caresses she ever got), all she had left was a lipless, wet scar of a mouth. That woman was the chosen junkyard dog, the mad bitch of the tribunal. She was there to bait this Jew.
� You don�t look like a Jew!� she noted. The unleashed dog had begun the chase.
I glanced at her for a second, and then stared at the Colonel. With a tall, massive body and face shinny from a fresh, morning shave, the Colonel grinned back at me with only the crow- feet wrinkles surrounding his bug eyes. His withered, bluish eyes had orange, hair- thin veins in the shape of a spider�s web over his pupils, giving the impression that one was talking to a human fly. I winced and answered,
�I am not in a position to respond to this question, citizen, because I don�t have any expertise in this particular area.�
I struggled for a moment against the desire to touch my round nose, but caught myself in time, and moved my hand from my nose to my forehead and scratched it.
The Colonel didn�t even blink, kept silent and immobile. The junkyard dog then ordered me to give her my birth certificate and my passport for inspection. Naturally, I obeyed. I took one step forward, put the requested item front of her, took one step back and leaned against the door. She looked at the certificate and the passport, and then whispered something to the Purple Faces. Finally, I saw some expression on their frozen mashed potato faces. The three of them had apparently agreed on something. Should I start to worry? The junkyard dog used her palm to scratch her exhausted, ugly face and barked out:
�Where is your father? What is his name? Where is his location? To leave the country you need his signature on the release. Did you talk to you father about it? What did he say? What did you answer? Did he communicate with your mother?� The rapid machine gun, execution style of questioning was an old technique. I waited for a break to say something. The junkyard dog pointed her arthritic finger with black line under her fingernail at the big letter �Z� in my birth certificate. �How are you going to explain this nonsense? What are you, a bastard or something?�
The jury focused its collective attention on me and I focused on the black line of dirt under the junkyard dog�s fingernails.
Today, she must have been digging for Jewish bones, or any other innocent person, buried in the backyard of the precinct, I thought myself.
It had become so quiet in the �interrogation� room that I could hear a pigeon tip-toeing on a cornice outside the window and from far away, somewhere on the street, I caught the sounds of a frustrated person cursing about his car getting stuck in the snow, then the squeaky, raspy noises of an agitated engine. Braw-w, bra-aw, bra-aw. Eh-e-e-e! Then quiet again. One of the Purple Faces took off his boots. Already, the stuffy air in the room became infused with the sour stench of perspiration and dirty socks. But, I inhaled slowly, dragging the time in order to think about my response.
Mentally, I took a walk through my little town Orsha, which was just a dot on the map of Soviet Union, as many thousands of other similar towns over all Russia, but with one significant difference: Orsha was an important crossroad for the railroad transportation from Baltic Republics, Ukraine and the Black Sea into mainland Russia itself and straight to the capital, Moscow. Napoleon and his army stayed in the town for three days before he launched his attack on Smolensk in 1812. During World War II, 98% of Belarus was destroyed, including my little town. Only one historical place remained intact: the Roman style bridge built in 10 67. The little bridge was build by nobleman named Orsha, who had only one daughter. His daughter fell in love with a commoner, a horseman, without any influential connections of family or fortune. She desperately wanted to marry him. Her father, however, locked her in a room with the condition that, when she changed her mind about the commoner, he would set her free. One-year, one month, one-week and a one-day later, the nobleman Orsha decided to check on his stubborn daughter. In the room of her captivity, he found only a skeleton near the window. The passionate young woman with principles had a torturous, sad ending.
I glanced at the jury again and then looked around the office. I could see, in the corner of the room, behind the Colonel�s desk, my skeleton, covered in layers of a spider webs with dead flies and insects that were hanging on it like chimes. It was clear to me why I was chosen for this �experiment�, instead of my mother. These idiots dared to imagine that I was going to lose my temper because of my age, assault a government appointed �official� and put my ass in jail for who knows how long and maybe never able to leave this country. But, they were out of luck that day.
So, I gazed at the junkyard dog�s dirty fingernail and a big Z under it for a while longer, surprising myself with the realization that the letter Z, even upside down, looks the same, never changing its shape. The answer was right there in front of me all the time and I began my narration:
�My father�s name is Zorro. He was a drifter, a hero with a black, mysterious mask and a ticklish, bushy moustache who passed this way on a dark, sweaty, summer, passionate night�Ah! My poor mother didn�t stand a chance. She was young and inexperienced, around foreish. Zorro, my father, disappeared in the morning mist, leaving behind only his signature, a big Z. Nobody ever heard his real name, nobody ever saw his face...Zorro could only be Zorro. And �Z� is always a Z.�
I smiled and bowed. I would stick to my story no matter what. Besides, who had a better version? The jury looked at me with frightened expressions on their faces, their energy draining rapidly from the intense thinking process. The interrogators froze their brows, looked at each other, and then at the Colonel. The Colonel blinked his bug eyes in return. The accumulation of frustration in all of us had visibly surfaced and the atmosphere in the office became incandescent. The eruption was unavoidable. One, two, three�Baboom�!
�Your mother is a whore! Did you hear me? A whore! A gutter slut, giving it away to everyone in the town for free, fre-e-e�at every corner, at the cemeteries, at the crossroads! Dragging her cunt through the street of our respectable town like it was nothing. Did you hear me? Nothing! Her rotten uterus fell out from venereal disease and she has brought AIDS upon us, the innocent citizens of ��
The mercury level of the junkyard dog�s insanity boiled to a very dangerous point and spun her into frenzy. Diabolically laughing without taking a break to inhale, she jumped on the top of her seat and using herself as a display model began to perform imaginary sexual acts, while tussling her clothes, pulling out her hair and scratching her face. Ha-Ha-Ha!! She was almost climaxing, when I interrupted:
�I agree, citizens! People like her should be kicked out of the country and I feel it is my duty to escort her on this journey, to make sure that she won�t return to our beloved Motherland. Let her spread her diseases elsewhere, upon the Israelis and such. I will keep you posted on all developments by mail.�
The junkyard dog stopped her barking and collapsed in her chair, totally deflated. Her yellowish face sunk into her skull and her two piss hole eyes blinked. The Purple Faces echoed my last words:
� By mail� developments� Israelis�diseases��
�Eno-ough of this ho-orse-radish!� � The Colonel had found his voice finally � a voice that was surprisingly high pitched and unstable like a soprano or a hysterical woman. The Colonel was practically singing: �You, citizen, such and such, surre-ender yo-our birth ce-ertificate and pa-assport. You can�t le-eave the co-ountry with the original do-ocument. Return, tomo-orrow, at 10 o�clock in the morning to exchange it for a co-opy. And remember you are stateless person now. The same principle applies to your mother. That�s it! Get o-out.�
I grabbed my documents from the disoriented junkyard dog and flew out of the interrogation room. Suddenly, the gloomy, dark corridor looked like the loveliest place in the world. I could just kiss those ugly walls painted in the color of gangrenous flesh!