Far, far away
It was one of those stretches of days in the village that I began feeling claustrophobic and a little homesick without much to keep my mind or body active. I'd just finished reading my seventh book in less than two months and was running very low on my collection of English reading material; in need of rationing the rest of the books I owned, I sought to find other ways of keeping busy, preferably something physical. I'd failed a few times to get any sort of good run in, and had ultimately given up all hope of jogging in this country; the intensely hot, dusty air wreaked havoc on my lungs and the rounded river stones used to grade the dirt roads all but guaranteed a snapped ankle ligament. However, I had just finished speaking with goofy Chris and the conversation had left me inspired and optimistic about finding an activity in the lonely village.
"If I'm bored, I just go for walks in my village and something usually happens." He said, as if to antagonize me. "Somebody always stops me to talk or hang out for a while." He continued on, giving a short, unintentional lecture on being pleasant and approachable. He must know me better than I thought.
"Alright, why not? It can't be any worse than sitting in the sun reading all day," I replied.
The weather was cooler, though still quite hot, but at least now it was infused with a breeze which hadn't existed when I first arrived in the village. I dressed for a run and brought a small amount of money for emergency purposes.
"Sporti!" The word rang through the air, as always, from my host-dad whenever I exited the gates and he saw me wearing running shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. I gave a wave and set off with the iPod on the gravel road, walking briskly, dodging a smörgåsbord of poops. After a few kilometers I witnessed nothing but stupid, aimless livestock screaming at the fences of their houses until I arrived at my familiar school.
They paved! A real road leading from Abasha was now decently close to me, extending the twenty or so kilometers to the edge of the school property. No more excuses, lazy ass, I thought to myself, in an effort to provide a pep talk. I cycled between slow paced jogs, shorter bursts of speed and fast-paced walking. I knew I wasn't going to burn off the eight weeks of khatchapuri or come even close to burning off my pre-breakfast snack, but I was convinced this run was much more for my mind than my body. I was just excited to be active again beyond playing disorganized sports at school, smashing volleyballs in kids faces like a hero.
My feet pounded against the ground, song after song, as I followed a set of embossed horseshoe prints in the asphalt. I wondered if the new road would even exist in the spring due to poor quality or if the softness is because it's hotter than I originally thought. My iPod kept spitting out songs and I adjusted my pace to the rhythm of each one until Outkast came on with an oldie, 'Bombs Over Baghdad'. I was barely able to finish the song running at such a pace, trying to keep up with the track at its ridiculous tempo. I was walking now as the song changed to something much slower, with sweat gushing from my pours, my arms extended above my head to allow as much air into my lungs as possible. I saw a person in tall grass waving at me excitedly. I popped the earphones out, wrapping them around the iPod and placed the unit back into my pocket as my normal hearing came back with the distinct sound of someone chopping wood.
He rambled quickly as I walked toward him giving a wave but I couldn't seem to pick up on a single word of Kartuli. He was chubby, not surprising in this country, with thick eyebrows, also a common trait, but failed to look typically Georgian. Something about his eyes and nose betrayed him from being Georgian and looked more middle eastern, and he lacked the classic cranium shape of a Georgian man; as if all heads were bound at birth in a cardboard box. A hairy bellybutton poked out from under a tight, faded purple t-shirt as if a horrifying cyclops was playing peekaboo with me. It was enough to make a grown man uncomfortable; I thought about how terrified a child must be of such a site; as he waved me over, the eye poked out with each stroke of his hand through the air. I really didn't want to see any more of that man's flesh.
I entered a rickety gate and pushed through the tall grass latching it behind me with a twisted strand of wire over one of the pickets. He was still waving me over even though I stood before him, the cyclops - well versed at staring contests - was unwavering in its gaze, as he flipped the lower half of his shirt up exposing the rest of the belly in all its splendor. It was truly magnificent.
I was hesitant, but my thoughts went back to the conversation with ever-bubbly Chris. If he can be social with strangers - locals - then so could I.
"Gamarjoba!" I said, extending a hand. "Bodishi, dzalian tsot'a kartuli vitsi." I continued with my standard warning of limited Kartuli in anticipation of a larger conversation.
He yammered something incoherent to me, pausing, then began again. I looked at him with a completely blank face. I could not understand what he was saying. His real eyes were beady and shared one eyebrow that extended right across his face like someone glued a furry lego block to his face that never came off. When he went to speak, and with great effort, he opened his mouth several times until the words finally vacated from his lips like a muted stutter. He finally finished delicately shaking my hand and motioned for me to grab the tether he held in his hands. I followed it along with my eyes until I saw where the chopping sound was coming from, and saw the tether tied to a wide-based tree - though not especially tall it was large for Georgian standards. Two men, one chopping while the other supervised, were yelling at each other and didn't have any clue I was called in to assist from Cyclops. They were barely a third through the tree, at most, and were already anxiously anticipating its impressive fall, though it was obvious to me they had a long way to go. I motioned to ask, why the rope? He motioned back, telling me it's to avoid the tree falling on the house, pointing at it. Perplexed, I walked over to the two men who were arguing still. I noticed they were chopping at the tree in an odd spot. Despite the tether, the tree was going to fall where they chopped at it, especially given the natural lean of the tree, I concluded. I am an expert in these matters. Being Canadian makes me so.
After short introductions I explained my hypothesis; that holding the tree with a tether by one hairy-bellied man is not going to save the house if they continued chopping at this spot. After twenty minutes of exhausting every way I could think of to explain what I meant, and with no progress made whatsoever, I slipped the short handled axe from the one mans grip and chopped out a large chunk in the spot I recommended. The chopper and the supervisor protested until the third man spoke up.
"Saidan khart?" Cyclops asked me, trying to carry on the conversation from earlier. Something in his body language was screaming at me that he was socially awkward, yet the most outgoing of the three.
"Canada." I answered.
As if this is all the credentials they needed, they let me take a fair haul out from the tree before I slowed from fatigue and handed the axe over to one of the others. The Supervisor was very gaunt which made him look taller than he actually was. He had some homemade tattoos; on his ring finger of the left hand was a simple cross with the crossed portion of the 't' limped downward in a depression (I've noticed such crosses at cemeteries); he had a few others on his forearm and shoulders which I didn't recognize. I noted the tattoos because they were not well done, and tattoos in Georgia are not at all common. I walked back to the chubby one, Cyclops, still holding the tether and tested the tree with a few good pulls; I knew it would hold firm, but wanted to show the excited Cyclops he could relax. He never did. He was insecure with his job as tether holder, but again, his body language let slip that he was more useless wielding an axe, so there he was with the rope. The other two switched out whenever they got tired until the tree warned us with groans and crackles. The Supervisor ran back to us, to help pull on the tether, as the other continued chopping and eventually released the tree. Trampling feet and screams mixed with nervous laughter made for unseen hysteria behind me.
We pulled until the tree gave its telltale CRACK as the pith snapped and it began to noticeably fall toward us leading away from the house. I backpedaled, easily sidestepping the mossy tree while the other two tried to outrun the entire length of its fall. Supervisor, with his long strides sprinted clean away in tattered plastic sandals covering his head with his arms, passing Cyclops, and barely getting clear of the tree. With time to watch after easily removing myself from danger, I saw Cyclops bumble his way through the grass as if he was equally afraid of stepping on a harmless bug as he was getting crushed by a falling tree. His legs carried his body casually but his arms showed pure panic, as if they were solely responsible for his getaway. His belly jumbled vigorously and unfortunately for him, his shirt stayed in the flipped up position. This alone was funny enough to witness but adding to the dram-edy I saw Cyclops as he wore the excess of a thousand lashes across his back when the thinner switches extending away from the thicker branches whipped him all at once, over his entire body. He had completely disappeared under the thick web of sticks. His two friends collapsed from laughter in the tall grass he was now, very slowly appearing from. It was evident the dead, scaly sticks had cut him all over as he pulled himself from the destruction. I was in disbelief in what I had just witnessed, but couldn't help from bursting into laughter at the site of a sliced up Cyclops. Eventually, they wrapped him in their arms, still laughing, which at first he welcomed but then, grimacing, thought better of it.
They motioned for me to come with them, through another rickety gate into the vicinity of the house that had escaped being crushed. We entered the building that I thought was a small house but realized was a modest kitchen and sitting/dining room. They pulled a chair from the table and the Supervisor pressed my shoulders and pushed me into the seat. Two women came out of the kitchen smiling; the younger one assessed the damages of the swollen, bleeding Cyclops while the other walked immediately over to me and greeted me with the standard, sweat riddled kiss on the cheek. After idle chit chat, they reverted to the kitchen area and after some banging around, came back bearing plates heaping with food and a large bottle of ice-cold water, telling me to eat. In the meantime, the four of us chatted as best we could and we determined names (though I now forget), ages, and that they were originally from Turkey, though the tattooed one was Georgian and the two women were Russian, wives to one or another I assumed.
Absolutely parched, I grasped the water glass in my hand they divvied to me. I waited for the smallest break in chatter to drink, then realizing my desire, the men raised their glasses. What I assumed to be a cheeky fake-toast for a job well done, I clinked my glass to theirs and slammed the entire cup back before the burning in the back of my throat trickled down to my stomach. My esophagus was on fire! I just consumed a massive glass of straight vodka, freezing the men with disbelief. I scooped as much food down my throat as I could to wash the taste away then leaned back after my plate was cleared, breathing it out moment by moment barely holding on. As if they had been challenged, the three others without a spoken word agreed to follow my lead and downed their glasses as fast as they could, wrinkling their brow and exhaling a lung full of air through their clenched teeth upon completion.
I was trying to do my best with the vodka and food sloshing around in my stomach. They eagerly motioned to share more vodka with me, but I declined, and so they filled up my glass anyway. They toasted to something else then raised their glasses in my direction hinting at me to raise mine. I politely refused. The Supervisor, who I hadn't looked at for a few minutes, somehow already looked completely sauced; feeling like he was looking through me, not at me. He tried once more to get me to drink, this time with a raised eyebrow and a fake smile, showing his unkempt teeth. Cyclops pointed at him while looking at me and said softly, 'mafia' as if to scare me into drinking. My polite decline for a second time sent him into a fit not unlike a small child. He ranted and bemoaned the boring Canadian, then punched me a few times in the chest; somewhere between serious and joking. I sat back in my chair in anger, distancing myself from the wreck, then gave him the most contemptuous stare I could drudge up from the deepest, coldest region of myself in the hopes he would get the idea. He held my stare for a moment then looked away, breaking into a smile. The two others laughed it off but the older woman didn't think it was so funny. She sprang across the room and with surprising ferocity, landed a booming, disorienting blow to the ear of the Supervisor and with as much velocity as the hand, he was swept off his chair and disappeared somewhere under the table. The conversation continued without a hitch and at some point the Supervisor peeled himself off the floor and sat back down. The conversation slowed to a painful crawl when they became upset that I didn't smoke and when I repeatedly denied them of their offer for marijuana and cocaine. This was never done in the presence of the older woman.
We talked a little more, mostly about cocaine, until I found an opportunity to thank my hosts for the food and excused myself from the table. The older woman, who it was discovered to be the Supervisors mother, kissed me on the cheek and made me call her deda, Mother. The boys followed me outside, clinging onto me, undoubtedly drunk, where they expressed to me that we were not friends, but brothers. They carried the conversation as we walked around the yard with the three of them draped over me, one was brushing my face with his hands, another held me uncomfortably, tenderly on my hip, and the third stroked my shoulder with his fingertips. They stopped under a large tree in the shade and talked amongst themselves for a minute while I rubbed the belly of a timid puppy, then Cyclops yelled to get my attention. Three faces glowed like the light bulb from their idea actually shone above their heads. They spoke to me for a few more minutes, and from what I could gather, they wanted the four of us, brothers, to go into Abasha and fight people. I started to joke that I only fought old people, preferably bed ridden, but then thought better of my words when I became afraid they might accept.
Interesting day, I thought, but then things got really weird. Tipsy before I ever showed up, the three were now belligerently drunk after finishing the rest of the ice cold bottle. I drank water from the well, still trying to get the taste out of my mouth from earlier; confident that that amount of vodka would kill the bacteria of the well. They continually asked me to take a seat with them on an old rusty bed frame in the yard with its exposed metal bedsprings woven together like an iron hammock, then pulled me into them and draped their hands all around me in an indescribably creepy manner. I hadn't given her any thought, but noticed the young Russian girl watching us, throwing equally perverted glances in my direction as she teased the half-starved puppy with food. Brushing them off as politely as I could without potentially instigating three drunkards, I stood up and took my distance. Cyclops then chirped up with some English he'd been holding back this entire time to ask me if I liked girls instead.
Instead? I pondered if his English was as good as it seemed, or if 'instead' was just slipped in unintentionally. It was a weekly occurrence in my experience of Georgia to be asked if I liked girls, or if I wanted girls; like they were just going to pluck one from a tree for me. So with this being such a routine question being proposed to me, I assumed the 'instead' was not meant as it seemed. Besides, the answer was the same nonetheless. Yes, I told them. I liked girls. I even married one.
"You like her?" Said Cyclops.
Oh come on, I thought. I really hated being put on the spot with this line of questioning. Do you like Georgian girls? Do you want Georgian girl? Hello Cor, a teacher has said, this is my friend / niece / daughter, do you like her?
She seems nice. / Please stop. / No.
I've got my shoes on, should I just bolt for it and haul ass out of here? I seriously pondered this but didn't want to cause an unnecessary scene after they just hosted and fed me.
Maybe there was something lost in translation, or maybe he wanted me to rip his stocking. Perhaps this was explained by cultural differences; from a mixed bag of Russian, Georgian, Turkish which clashed with my Western ways. Maybe I was being an ethnocentric prick.
"You want? You have."
"Oooookay, shit. Now what?" I said under my breath.
I made the mistake of looking over at the Russian on the porch of the kitchen house and she burned every shred of testosterone in my body with a look so vulgar it would have been less forward if she knocked me unconscious and upon my waking, realized she super glued my face to her breasts. I could feel my face burn up as it turned red; the worst part was the look had been subtle, knowing she had more in the tank to make it worse.
Forget cultural differences, call me ethnocentric if you wish, but I was out of there.
I stepped outside the gate that led out to the road and waived goodbye only to see the three coming towards me. I hoped for a taxi to appear right away but it didn't. I told the guys I had to go, I had no time to talk, and I was expected in Abasha. They wrapped their arms around me once again and clamped me to a bench near the street. They motioned for me to relax, but always hovered close to me and one was always present beside me on the bench, pinning me in place. They talked, but I was finished talking. They circled around, said hello to passersby and teased each other, all the while reassuring me a taxi would come. The teasing escalated, full wrestling matches took place on the dusty shoulder of the street while Cyclops threw rocks at their crotches. I heard a car far down the road, the unmistakable and wonderful sound of tires sloshing through cow-pies as the two wrestlers, having been hit in the wiener with rocks, chased after Cyclops and tore his bottoms off, leaving him naked from the waste down. He ran around frantically and without coverage, trying to chase down his shorts. I backed up the road, and seeing it had the yellow box of a TAXI sign on top, started waving it down. Hopeless that he could never catch the Supervisor of his shorts, Cyclops - remembering I was there - started running down the road toward me with a strange sense of satisfaction at my being horrified. The taxi swerved away from the fat, hairy, half naked Turkish man on passing him and reluctantly stopped near me. I nearly dove into the car, yelling for Abasha. I didn't negotiate my price before hand, I didn't have time for it, and so the taxi driver left me with just enough to buy a large water and use a computer at the internet cafe.
I went into the internet cafe in Abasha for a few hours, relaxed and looked at pictures of an attractive girl on her facebook page in a failed attempt to get the image of Cyclop's penis out of my brain. Defeated, I realized those are an unfortunate series of events I cannot simply undo or erase from my mind. I finished with the internet and emptied my pockets to pay the three lari. At 4:30, unwilling to pay the inflated prices for a taxi back, and with not much sun left in the day, I began to run the twenty or more kilometers back to the village, thinking along the way of how I could sneak by the Cyclops gang unscathed.