Bone of My Bone of Contention

Bone of My Bone of Contention October 5, 2015

One evening toward the end of last year, two fellow teachers and I were walking down the hill from school and talking about what we missed most about home. I named my best friend and his wife, who would invite me over the days after holidays and feed me leftovers. I can’t remember what Rustom said – in fact, I can’t even remember where he called home. Born in New Delhi to a Tajik mother and a Turkmen father, he’d lit out for Afghanistan as soon as he started shaving and spent his young manhood translating GI speech for al-Jazeera film crews. Maybe he missed the smell of napalm in the morning.

Serafima, refugee from Ukraine, said, “I miss hugging people. You can’t do that around here.”

This wasn’t quite accurate. From a certain point of view, Turks are highly demonstrative, greeting friends of both sexes with a double air-kiss. (My own surprised cheeks had by then been scraped by a score of National Movement Party mustaches.) But Serafima was right that the bosom-to-bosom crush was not comme il faut.

Attempting to introduce it would have been socially risky, at least for her. In Turkey, Slavic women are heiresses to a rich, often specious sexual mythology. As Serafima’s roommate, the delightfully loopy Lara, summed it up: “Just because I am Russian and go-go dancer, they think I am prostitute.” Had Serafima been so rash as to fling herself on the neck of a Mehmet or an Emre, she would have confirmed the general suspicion that she was hot to trot.

A couple of evenings later, with this intelligence in mind, I opened my arms to her as we were saying goodnight at the end of a day’s work. She fell into them, and the two of us shared what must be considered a pretty tight embrace. Going forward, these parting squeezes became more or less habitual for us.

We undertook them in an innocent spirit. Neither of us was the other’s type. Newly on the rebound from Pertev, I would sooner have slammed my khui in an oaken door than begun a new international caper. And yet, and yet…when you hold a live human body so close to your own, even for a few seconds, you’re removing a barrier, creating intimacy. Though not specifically sexual, it’s undeniably sensual.

Doctors these days talk up the human touch as though it were a high-fiber diet or a stool softener. But sterilizing the act drains all the unspoken fun from it. Whatever purely salutary effects can be got from hugging your Aunt Gladys or your immediate supervisor in the mafia, being pressed tight against a nubile woman means copping a feel with your sternum.

I won’t say that these cuddles were the cause of it all, but the mood between us changed in subtle ways. Still decidedly in one another’s friend zones, we could chatter away for hours without tension or temptation creeping in. But once in a while I felt – and thought I detected in her – a wistful sense of “Well, maybe in another life, who knows…?” Though faint, it infused our friendship with a piquancy that marked it as different from my friendship with, for example, Rustom.

In due time, Serafima found herself a fella, a Brazilian I’ll call Mariano. Please believe me when I say I’d have liked Mariano had he been a different type of guy, and that I’d have disliked him – that is, the guy he was — even if we’d met standing before the Pearly Gates. Though pipe-cleaner scrawny, and favoring eyeglasses that would not have looked amiss on Woodrow Wilson’s nose, he was armed with a natural presumption that enabled him to claim every room he entered as surely as if he’d relieved himself in the corners. When visiting other people’s houses, he would greet the guests who arrived after him and tell them to make themselves at home.

But he was Serafima’s boyfriend, and I disliked him. If that coincidence of facts has no special meaning, it must be stated for the record. Perhaps the record should also reflect that the moment I saw him tracing patterns on her bare ankle with his index finger coincided with my wondering what would happen if I were to stand up and drive the roach-killer toe of one of my blue suede shoes straight into his temple.

Well, the party ended without incident, and within a couple of weeks, I returned to the States. Serafima and I parted on the friendliest of terms. (Now that I think about it, she took up with that nimrod right after I gave in my notice at the school – be a dear and reflect that coincidence, won’t you, record?) Speaking of Mariano, I happened to run into him on the school balcony the day I came to say my good-byes. He offered to introduce me to some of my former students.

Yesterday, we heard how God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” And maybe it’s not. But between being alone and not being alone is an awful lot of rocky ground, a lot of mist and fog. Sometimes I wish he’d made up his cotton-picking mind in the beginning, and either created a pair of conjoined twins or given Adam the run of the whole garden. Sitting around buck-ass naked, eating fruits and naming animals for all eternity – that sounds like the life for me, boy.

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