He’d gone out with this girl back in Ukraine when he was still young; she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen back then and even now, after fifteen years of voluntary exile all over Europe, he hadn’t seen anything that could be objectively said to be as pretty as she was. She was so perfect that she had one imperfection to make her human; God thus willed it when sending her from the heavens that she would have an external defect so she could better mingle with the faulty human race: She was born with an atrophied finger which was eventually cut off for aesthetic and practical reasons. Sasha didn’t believe in God, but he believed in Tchernobyl, so he attributed this malformation to the long-term effects of radiation. He said that if he was to believe in a god, he wouldn’t believe in one that allowed Tchernobyl and Holodomor to happen to his country. This was a widespread feeling where he came from, and even the staunchest Ukrainian Christians agreed that negligence had lost God some fans in their country.
Their relationship didn’t work out, not because of the banal reasons relationships in other countries don’t work out but because of the unavoidable reality. He had no job prospects and he wanted the best for her; he didn’t want to make her marry into misery, and it hurt him the most to know that she would give up to every chance of a better life for him. He just didn’t have the heart to rob her of the possibility of a better future. So they parted among quiet tears, in the Ukrainian stoic fashion, and he left to Western Europe, hoping to come back soon to claim his bride.
But years passed and he couldn’t get a permanent job that would ensure the stability he needed to bring someone to live with him. He struggled permanently with visa and money issues and he lived in fare worse conditions than in hi country, exchanging the possibility of a better present for the dream of a better future for him and his bride. Much as he wanted to come back to the comfort and warmth of his country, to be wrapped in the love of a perfect woman, his shame from not being able to deserve this worldly heaven was still greater. But he also knew what Ukrainian female hearts are made from, so he was grieved at the fact that she would wait for him unconditionally. This was something his nerves couldn’t stand, so after two years of hopeless struggle in France and Germany, with sporadic visits to his beloved back in Ukraine, he came to her and lied to her face. She was very sensitive, but she was also too happy for him to believe it wasn’t true, so she hugged him and congratulated him when he said he was going to marry a Polish woman whom he’d met in Germany. She was too focused on her own feelings, trying not to make any single gesture that might lead him to believe that she was unhappy or that she recriminated him for something. It was the perfect crime and he knew it. He knew what her reaction would be because predictability and reliability is something he’d learned to expect from Ukrainian women. He knew all the procedure of a loving woman and he also knew that this was the only way to give her back her freedom. “If there is a god,” he said to himself, “he sent me to the world just to make fun of me, teasing me with a heaven that my hands can never reach.” He left the day after without meeting her ever again, and this became for him the hardest but the best decision he ever took in his life. A year later he heard she’d married an Ukrainian lawyer from Kiev and that she was already expecting her first child. “If there was a god,” he said to himself “it wouldn’t allow angels and human beings to mingle.” And he wasn’t the kind of person who are selflessly happy for someone they love; he was full of jealousy and anger at the fact that he’d lost the only thing that mattered in his life: The love of an Ukrainian woman.
He detested Western women, their materialistic concern about beauty and perfection. He’d known perfection in a woman and he scorned women that sought material ways to make up for their numerous imperfections. He was a mirror in which they looked at themselves, and they only saw faults in him, because they were full of faults. They saw his lack of a prospects for the future, his broken language and the place and condition of his apartment. Also his rough Ukrainian look and his unsociable manners weren’t particularly inviting for French or German women, who were used to soft manners and political correctness in men. The fact that he despised Western women didn’t help either, and he went on with his life without ever allowing himself the chance of getting to know better any woman he happened to cross in his path.
But once, when he was hailing a taxi in Paris, he stumbled upon a woman who had raised her hand and shouted taxi at the same exact moment than him. Of course the driver didn’t hesitate for a second and drove by him just to pull over beside the woman, whose legs were enough allure to commit worse crimes. Sasha couldn’t restrain himself and managed to utter one of the French insults that came to his mind at the moment: “Putain de connard.” It must be admitted that Ukrainians have an ability to learn insults and swearwords to perfection, so at that moment Sasha sounded like a French man born and raised in the première arrondissement. The woman waiting for her taxi was startled by this very French elocution coming out of a tall, handsome Slavic man. She wanted to show some French hospitality to make up for the proverbial unkindness of her fellow citizens, so she shouted at this fascinating man: “Please take the taxi. It is yours; you hailed it first.”
Sasha was ashamed by this act of kindness from a beautiful woman. He couldn’t reconcile his mixed feelings, the outrage of her being so pretty and nice to him just after he’d been humiliated by a taxi driver and he’d showed himself so vulgar. He shouted, as if commenting to himself but loud and clear: “Stupid feminist!” and was about to leave when he glimpsed at her right hand, which was holding the door car open; a finger was missing. He was frozen on his place for an embarrassing amount of time. To his further shame, he realized that the woman was still holding the door open to him, although she was glancing at the pavement at the moment, to try not to provoke any further insult from him. He was magnetized towards her and he couldn’t see any other way out than taking the fucking taxi and thanking the odious woman for her magnanimity in front of his misery. He swallowed the last remnant of the pride he’d brought with him from Ukraine and he took possession of the car door in a last hopeless attempt to try to fix this grotesque situation. His previous utterance: “Stupid feminist”had actually summarized a whole emotion that, if he had had the time to put gather his thoughts at that time, would have sounded like this: “Why the fuck she doesn’t simply enter the bloody car as a woman should do and stops holding doors open like a man.”
He had meant to pass her by without even glancing at her, enter the car and shout the address to the taxi driver, but when he was in front of her, he couldn’t help blurting out:
“I guess I must thank you for despoiling me of the last vestige of masculinity I had by forcing me to take the taxi of a woman while she waits in the street! Who do you think you are?! So thank you on behalf of all men for being a self-reliant woman who doesn’t need men even to open doors to her! And thank you for being smartly dressed and so desirable that I can only dream of reaching the same level as you to be able to talk to you as an equal! Thank you for being so fucking pretty!” he exclaimed, not as a compliment but as a sad fact that he needed to get out of his chest.
“Will you hate me for that too?” she said. “ Will you hate me for being attractive to you? It flatters me and I thank you for telling me; it really raises my spirits; and this smart dress is nothing more than my work uniform.”
Astounded, he just looked at her for a period that’s impossible to define with any units of time. She held his look in a defiant way that didn’t express any disdain but rather courage in front of an immense fear. He realized that she was afraid of the effect her words might have on him; she really cared about the impression she might make on him. He saw this in the fact that she kept quiet, not daring to utter any single unnecessary word, and waiting for him to get out of the aggressive mode he was in and to switch on his amiable mode so they could part as friends. But he couldn’t find a way out of his baseness: he’d been infinitely humbled by her and, as a buffoon from whom only buffoonery is expected, he stared at her right hand and said:
She was abashed for a moment, and she stared at the ground, trying to delete what he’d just said from their conversation so as to spare him some future embarrassment or guilt at having said what he obviously didn’t mean to say. But then she found a remedy, and she put on a well contrived smile and answered:
“Yes, I lost it in a domestic accident.”
“I mean to say” he went on, without even paying attention to what she’d just said “I mean that you’re perfect.”
“You mean except for my finger? I’m very flattered, thank you.”
“No, no!” he shouted this time, as if he were giving a lesson to a five-year old. “You’re prefect because of your finger.”
She welcomed this new topic and, even though she didn’t understand completely what he meant, she tried to be a good interlocutor, so she answered:
“Well, it depends… perfect for what?”
“Perfect for me,” he said, at last conciliating his thoughts with his speech. At last he’d found what he wanted to say from the moment he saw her and he’d said it. He was satisfied with himself. At the same moment, as if recovering control of his life and everything in it, he closed the taxi door and made signs to the taxi driver to leave. Then he walked up to the woman and, in a gallant way, as if finally redeeming his Ukrainian manliness, he offered her his arm and started leading their walk. He didn’t know where he was going, but he felt so virile leading a woman by the arm that he paid no attention to this insignificant detail. She followed his tacit commands as naturally as she could to try to appease his delicate mood; at that moment she felt that everything he did and became in his life from that moment on would be only her fault.
“I’m Alexander,” he said, “but please call me Sasha.”
“I’m Julianne,” she said. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Sasha.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” he said.
“That’s still to be seen,” she answered lightheartedly, because at last she’d seen a change of mood in him and his real face, full of a childish glow and manly assertiveness, had finally emerged from the sullenness in which it had been immersed.
He smiled at her and at life that had shown him that even if we don’t deserve it or make any effort, good things still will happen to us.