Americana

Articol publicat in:EnglishProza | Aparut in:Nr. 5 ( octombrie, 2010 )
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He didn’t want to come here, she did. She was the one with the initiative, she was the one who couldn’t take it anymore and had to leave. Leave the country she was born in, the country which she said she loved but which didn’t love her back. ”We’re wasting ourselves here”, she used to say. “There’s nothing for us here, don’t you see? No opportunities, no new horizons, only obstacles. It’s like she wants us dead”. “Who, who wants us dead?”, he said. They were already talking in English. It was hard for him to concentrate. “The country. It’s killing me, killing us, slowly but surely. One day you’ll wake up dead.” “I’d like to see that”, he said. “But nobody appreciates you here, how long till you see that? Stop pretending that you’re happy.” “I’m not pretending anything”, he said. “And I didn’t say I was happy. But I’m not miserable, either. Maybe things will change”. “When, in fifty years? I don’t have the metabolism of a giant tortoise!” They were arguing, testing each other, each other’s commitment. “America’s not just honey and milk”, he said. “Milk and honey”, she corrected him. “They say milk and honey”. “Milk and honey, honey and milk, what’s the difference? You have a nineteenth century mentality, you know that?”, he said. “Things have changed. What about the terrorism? What about the intolerance? What about the violence, the insanity, all those guns they own. Don’t you fear any of these?” “Do you see Americans leaving their country in search of a better place elsewhere?” she said. “No, you don’t. People don’t leave America, they go to America. Despite everything, they still go there. In their millions. And if they’re not afraid, why should I be?” She was right. If you were willing to embrace her perspective. “Those people are desperate”, he said, unwilling to admit defeat. “They would do anything to leave their countries. We’re not”. “No, we’re not”, she said. “We’re just isolated. Marginal. Nobody takes us seriously. It’s like we don’t even exist. I don’t want to live like this anymore. In a box. A small, tall box, good only for suffocation.” “We could go to Canada”, he said. “They too speak English, but they’re not that violent. And there’s no terrorism, not so many blacks, either. You know I don’t like Blacks.” “And you know I don’t like winter”, she said. “And besides, who do we know in Canada? All your relatives are in New York, my friends are in Chicago, we know nobody in Canada”.

They were young, they were childless, and they didn’t have any responsibilities other than to improve the quality of their lives. It was almost like an obligation. The only one they had. “What if we don’t find work?”, he tried, for the last time, unconvincingly. “Oh, we’ll find work. We won’t even be there and already we’ll have work.” Always the optimistic one. Always the undeterred one. So lovely. So American.

So they sold the apartment, sold the car, sold everything else. “What’s it like to own nothing?” she said, happily, when they did. “I’m already feeling so free, and we haven’t even left.” “America is not just freedom”, he said. “I told you, you thought like they were in the nineteenth century. “

He didn’t want to come here so he wasn’t to blame. If it had been for him, he would still be in his marginal country, unnoticed, underpaid, wasting himself away. Incapable of seeing the ugly truth, but happy in his obliviousness. Whereas now, no matter how oblivious he forced himself to be, he couldn’t pretend not to feel the pain, not to notice the circumstances. Dire. Bleak. Adverse. But he didn’t have anyone to complain to. She was unconscious. Hopefully, just unconscious. Bruised, most likely. Hard to see in the fading light.

“Let’s go see places”, she said. “Let’s see America. All of it”. They were already there for three years. Chicago. Difficult years. Years of adaptation, of taking the culture in. Absorbing it. No, more like gulping it down. Gulping it down because everybody was always in a hurry, you didn’t have time to sit and contemplate. Gulping it down and then throwing it up. And starting all over. Funny thing though, he had adapted more rapidly. He who didn’t know English as well as she did, he who didn’t want to come here in the first place. Already he was earning more than she was, he was more successful. Americans, he noticed, liked success. Were obsessed by it. Of course he wasn’t as successful as they were, not even as the Blacks, or African-American as they called themselves here, whom he was working now with and didn’t find repugnant at all. But definitely on the right track. Already making himself “visible”, as she once put it. As she once wanted herself to be. Yes, once. “Once” as in “not now”, “not anymore”. “I like it here too much to be able to focus.” That’s how she explained it. Her inability to keep a job for more than a couple of months, her restlessness, her unrelenting energy. Because she was energetic. Always out there, doing something she thought was interesting. Like shopping. Like going out at night when she was advised not to. Warned, actually. Bad neighborhood. Unsafe. Dangerous. “How dangerous?”, she had wanted to know. “Murderly dangerous”. She liked that. Liked the language. All that lack of constraints. Not like in the old country. Or like making friends with the people in the neighborhood. American people. Well, almost. Latinos. Like themselves. Only they came from Europe. The “real” Americans were more reserved, polite but less exuberant. Not so friendly. “But it will pass, sweetheart, it’ll pass”, she told him when she saw him puzzled, tired, disappointed. “It’s just that now I want to have fun. You can’t be mad at me just because I want to have fun.” But he wasn’t mad, just worried. ”Don’t you want us to have a child?”, he said. “You know, the United States is the only country in the world that automatically gives all the new born here American citizenship. I mean, even when the parents don’t have it.” “Yeah, maybe next year”, she said. “Or when winter comes and we’ll have to spend more time indoors.” But the winter came and passed. And the idea of a child melted away with the snow.

“Let’s take a trip, see America from head to toe.” ”What’s that supposed to mean?” “From coast to coast. Wouldn’t that be great?” “When?” “In the summer.” He didn’t want to see America. He was happy just to stay in Chicago. Having a little bit of time to relax. Possibly trying to write. That was something he used to do back home but nobody seemed to take an interest in his work. “Nobody appreciates you here, don‘t you see?” Her words. The bait she threw him. But to write in English and find someone who would take an interest in his writings seemed even less likely to happen. So, in the end, she won. She was the more persistent one. The more resilient one. Had always been so. Stubborn, difficult to persuade when her mind was already made up, rigid almost, like her whole body when she was angry with him and wouldn’t turn around to face him.

And so they went. Took their 2000 Corolla for a spin. He would have gone for the bus but travelling by bus was not adventurous enough. ”We’ll get to know all sorts of people. Not just city people. Will get to know America. Body and soul.” She was so excited, jubilant. At first everything went fine. The people seemed friendly, talkative, willing to behave like good old Americans. Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln. They stayed in cheap motels, taking them one by one, but sometimes not stopping at all, sometimes travelling by night to avoid the heat which was too oppressive. Then all of a sudden she would take hitch-hikers. ”Hitch-hikers could be dangerous. You want to help them out and next thing you know you’re sitting next to Ted Bundy.” “Yeah, but so can we. Be dangerous. How do they know we’re the good guys?”

She didn’t threaten the first couple, whose car broke down just that morning and had a funeral to attend and nor did she the second, a young woman and her husband who was well in his fifties but wanted to appear younger, and who knows, maybe she wouldn’t have done it at all if the third couple hadn’t fought since the moment they stepped into the car, throwing heavy words into each other like they were paid to do it.

So when she took out a gun, which he thought was a toy, and, pointing it to their faces, yelled at them to stop shouting at each other, it didn’t take him much by surprise. He knew she couldn’t stand quarrels. They reminded her of her parents’. What took him by surprise was when she pulled the trigger, as if the warning had been just for show. What took him by surprise was when she told him they deserved it. When she told him she actually did them a favor, when she kept laughing hysterically, whether from the fine white powder she kept inhaling or not, it was hard for him to decide. ”Now we have to get rid of the bodies”, she said, afterwards, altogether composed as if she had planned this all along. But she couldn’t have. And yet, the whole thing looked like a very well-acted scene played in front of a (hidden) camera. He wondered when the bodies would rise from the backseat, laughing and very much alive. So he didn’t panic right on the spot, only later when he was digging their grave and she was watching him from a distance. For a second it crossed his mind that she might kill him too after he was finished. But she didn’t. So he buried the bodies and then, suddenly, as if someone else had taken command of his body, he hit her, hit her hard in the head, maybe a little too hard, with a stone, when she was paying attention to that white powder of hers. He didn’t know what else to do. Didn’t want to become an accomplice, though probably he already was one. Didn’t come to America just to spend the rest of his life in prison. However, if she’s dead, that’s what he’ll probably do. So ironic after all. Going to prison for trying to avoid going to prison in the first place. “Anything can happen here”, he hears her voice, but this time it’s only in his mind. “The possibilities are just limitless.”

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