(Continued from September 30, 2011.)
So, that day, when motha decided to bring home a coconut, I didn’t even wonder if she had to stand in line for it.
“Where did you find this thing?!” I asked instead, while clutching the coconut to my chest. It felt prickly.
I knew she must’ve gone to some fancy store in the capital. She had taken a bus and probably a couple of trolleys; and then another bus, packed with other mothers — in order to bring this thing home: A coconut!
In the midst of the last days of the Soviet Union, she had brought home — a coconut!
In response to my question, motha would start telling a story. But motha sucks at storytelling; and soon enough, long before delivering the punchline, she started laughing and flailing her arms around, completely unaware of her vanity (and considering motha always knew the effect of her beauty, such abandonment — was quite endearing).
She tilted her head back, as if in the midst of some private exorcism, and she hollered and yelped in between her words. Tears started glistening in the corners of her eyes. And she would smack me every once in a while, as if taunting me to participate in her hysteria; and even though she stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, motha could always pack a mighty punch.
Pretty soon, things in her vicinity started falling down to the floor. Motha crouched down to pick them up; but then, she just stayed there — laughing.
I don’t know what the gist of her story was, at first: I just kept clutching the coconut. I wasn’t really sure how breakable that thing was, and I didn’t want motha to knock it over by accident. Sure, I’ve seen those things before, most likely on some Mexican telenovela or in a film about rich American people, in a pretty town, on some pretty shore. Both genres would have been narrated in a monotone male voice of the translator, yet I still managed to get addicted to these latest imports on our television screens, full-heartedly.
Because in the last years of the Soviet Union, the world suddenly became much larger — and not as intimidating as it had been previously assumed. And despite the utter chaos, my own homeland began to seem much more human.
And despite the last days of my innocence — the last days of my childhood — it was impossible not to laugh along with my motha, in that moment.
I think she was trying to tell me about her asking for a tutorial from the cashier woman at the store.
“And why are you asking ME, lady citizen?” the bitter woman had responded. You’d think she would be happy to work in such a fancy establishment, with more access to deficit items the rest of us could only see on some Mexican telenovelas or in an American film. But apparently, Soviet cashiers were bitter regardless of their situation.
“Do I look like I’m married to an apparatchik, to you?!” — the disgruntled woman attacked my motha. (I have a feeling that interaction didn’t end well, for the cashier; because with motha — it’s better not to push it.)
Bitterness — was the worst consequence of those days. The flood of unexpected hardships was actually quite easy to understand, because poverty had always existed in my Motha’land. But while we were all poor together, it must’ve bugged the grown-ups less. It was when the distance between the new wealth and the old poverty became obvious that Russians began to express their discontentment. (And we aren’t really a happy bunch, to begin with.)
“So, it’s up to you and me, rabbit!” motha concluded and marched out into the living-room.
She wasn’t too keen on tender nicknames for me, so I just stayed in my place and waited: With motha — it’s better not to push it. Something heavy fell down in the living-room. I heard my motha swear. The thought of our neighbors below made me cringe: Daily, the poor bastards had to endure the heavy footsteps of this tiny woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground.
Motha reappeared in the doorway.
“How about it then?!”
Her face was still flushed from laughter, and her chest was heaving. In one of her manicured hands, motha was holding an ax (oh, dear Lenin!), and with the other, she was waving a hammer and a screwdriver above her head.
“Oy, no!” I said. And, “Bad idea!” — I thought to myself.
“Whoever doesn’t take risks — doesn’t drink champagne!” motha declared and proceeded to march into the kitchen. I, the coconut, and our offensively obese red cat followed her.
The operation that unfolded in the kitchen was less than graceful: Crouching down in her miniskirt, motha began pounding the screwdriver into the poor piece of fruit. But the problem was she was whacking it through the side, and the thing kept rolling out of her grip. And she: She kept laughing.
“Hey, rabbit! Come help!”
Motha’s orders were never up to a negotiation, so, I obeyed. The thought of the screwdriver being hammered into my palm with my motha’s clumsy maneuver was a lot less intimidating, than her wrath. Yeah: With motha — it’s better not to push it.
But first, I examined the fruit:
“Let’s trying breaking in through these three dimples,” I suggested.
The task would have been accomplished had motha stopped collapsing into fits of laughter. And I thought: If there was ever anything more dangerous than an unhappy Russian woman, it would be a woman in throws of hysteria, holding a hammer.
Motha reached for the ax.
“Oy, no!” I rebelled and leapt to my feet. This whole situation was starting to stage itself as some Greek tragedy. And most of the time, those don’t work out well, for the children.
Motha got up, while still holding the now scuffed up fruit. With tears and make-up running down her face, she reminded me of a young girl at a Beatles concert. (The images of such strange life elsewhere were beginning to flood our press, from all parts of the world. And somehow, that world seemed much larger, less intimidating — and quite wonderful!)
“Rabbit, catch!” she threw the coconut at me.
I ducked. The fruit bounced off the doorway behind me and hit the floor. Our offensively obese red cat dashed out of the kitchen.
Motha and I lost it entirely, and when the neighbors below knocked on their ceiling, we lost it again. The glimmer of joy, dimmed in my motha’s eyes in those difficult years, considered reigniting. No matter the chaos, this beautiful woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, refused to grovel. And even if it took hysteria to remember how to laugh, she wouldn’t give it up.