Rule No. 1: If I’m not perfect for my man — he is not my man.
Rule No. 2: If my man is not happy with me — it’s time to look for another man.
That’s a rough translation, sort of: from my gypsy grandmother’s mouth and directly into your modern ears, my comrades. Still rings true though, nyet? The wisdom — lives on!
That woman was a badass! She strutted around her port city, lithe and decisive in her hips, as if she ran that motherfucker. She was one them proud broads, asking no man for help (other than her father); and it was just her luck that by the time she entered the workforce, her country was on that whole socialist equality shtick. So, the broad held jobs that not many women were interested in; and she flourished, climbing whatever level ladders her Communist Party chapter advertised.
She had been a construction worker and a collective farmer in the country. But by the time I met her, she worked as manager at a fish cannery. Oh, I’ve seen that broad at work! From a rustic desk some moron once thought up to paint the color of a stewing swamp, she gave out her packing orders like some women give out their expectations. She refused to be away from her people, so she moved that swampy thing out onto the factory floor, by the conveyor belt; and considering no Soviet machinery ran low on sound, anyone who needed to talk to her would have to holler out their lungs. Nope, that job was not for the dainty-hearted!
But she did have a little corner getaway upstairs, which is where she would sit me down, underneath a black-and-white shot of one drunken righteous leader after the next. For a while there, these leaders would die on us like flies, so she’d leave their portraits leaning against the wall: What’s the point of worshiping a man if he ain’t planning to last long?
And to keep me entertained, while she strutted on the factory floor — lithe and decisive in her hips — grandmother would equip me with a can of black caviar, a spoon; an old world atlas and a pair of scissors. There I’d spend my days, cutting up the world and acquiring the beginnings of my sick misconception that there was no distant corner I couldn’t cut through; no country I couldn’t slice across.
“Thirsty, little rabbit?” grandmother would reappear at intervals with a glass of foaming sparkling water from the dispenser machine outside; or better yet, with a bottle of Pinocchio soda that tasted like a liquid, lemon-flavored Jolly Rancher.
Of course, I’d be fucking thirsty: Gobbling up that caviar was like drinking sea water or licking the lower back of a tanning Brazilian goddess! (Plus, all that cutting of corners! All that wanderlust!) As if to finish training my stomach to handle anything — in case I ever swallowed anything bitter or toxic (a cowardly lover, for instance) — she would rummage in her pockets and whip out a plastic bag of dried calamari rings: My favorite! Like some children with raspberries, I would top each finger with those rings; then, I continue to trace unfamiliar shores and continents, before cutting them to shreds.
What man could possibly keep up with a broad like that?
The one that knew that taming a descendant of a gypsy was a moot point. The one with balls enough to wait for all the unworthy, drooling endless admirers and ex-lovers to flake away: because none of them could handle that hot number in the first place, bare-handedly. The one with a freedom of his own, addicted to circumvent the globe’s ocean as if each round were a growth ring on a tree trunk of his life. The one who’d seen enough, who’d lost enough to know that a good woman is a lucky find; and even if it chills you down to your bones with paralyzing fear or with the breath of your own mortality, you better give it a goddamn worthy try — to not keep her, to not conquer her — but to have a daily hand at trying to be worthy of her staying.
To that man — my grandfather — this woman was meant to be followed. And so he would: on our every Sunday walk to and from the bazaar, if he happened to return home from his circumventing.
She rarely kept company with other women (but then again, could outdrink every man she’d call “a friend”). So, when walking, she’d always go at it alone, just a few meters ahead; perfectly content with the pace of my little feet, yet with a strut of someone running that motherfucker. Sometimes, I’d look back to find my grandfather’s muscular arms with his fisherman’s tan; and from underneath the tattered hat, with a cig dangling on his lips, he’d smile and wink, as if he had just been caught at a naughty secret.
One day, I chose to walk with him, letting my grandmother lead the way, just a few meters ahead. He lifted me onto his shoulders and told me to hold onto his ears:
“Otherwise, you’ll fly away!”
Every once in a while, he would reach above his head and make a crocodile mouth with his hand; at which point, I would pucker up my lips and let the crocodile devour my sloppy kiss.
And from up there, from the first pair of a man’s capable shoulders, I fell in love — in my youthful lust — with a woman. That day, she strutted just a few meters ahead of us, lithe and decisive in her hips; and with each step, her tight wrap-around dress rode up higher and higher, bunching up at her tailbone and revealing the naked back of her knees. A long, shiny, jet black braid ran down from her top vertebra down to the lower back; and the unbraided tip of it would tap each ass cheek as the hips continued to sway and sway, lithely and decisively, making me slightly dizzy with adoration and bliss.
That day, I knew: It was not a bad deal to follow a woman’s lead. (It was delectable, to the contrary.) But it would take some esteem to be worthy of her staying.