The Matrioshka Doll

by  Bogdan Mureşanu [Romania]

Translation from Romanian by Ioana Vîlcu, MTTLC student
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If his fists were as big as bricks, I would hit my head with them directly, without having to throw myself against walls, gates or anything else. But his fists are small and soft and God, how I hate them! What bothers me about myself is that, in fact, I can’t stand pain, I can’t even look at blood when it’s my own one, but thank God it is never my blood. It’s always his blood and his only. It is my suffering but the blood and this hulking body aren’t mine. The hand with razor cuts is not mine but, yes, I bought the razor from the shop on the corner. The skin with burn marks is not mine; I just find the cigarettes on the street. The black eyes, always swollen from all the blows, the thumbs that have been crushed with the hammer or the broken nails aren’t mine; they are his and I hate them deeply. This huge head, which looks like the head of an old horse, covered with a white and yellowish mane, greasy and messy, belongs to him but the thoughts are only mine. No matter how often I bang his head against the walls, I still have the thoughts and memories from before. For example, I remember being a kid and visiting my grandparents, who had a small house on the street with the church, in the countryside. Every evening the only hobo around walked down the street raising the dust in the air with his shuffling feet, heading towards the graveyard, where he slept in an empty tomb. He was called Gitano and he was a bearded hulk, who looked strikingly similar to Saint Peter, as he was pictured on the icon which hung above my grandma’s bed. During the day he roamed around barefoot and only during winter he wore a down-at-heel pair of shoes but without any socks. He always carried a bag with him where he kept the old bread ends that he got from the villagers and other scraps that he gathered God knows where. Full of fear, I used to watch him walking past our gate, while hitting his head with his small fists that didn’t fit his stature, as if they had grown at the end of his arms by accident. He was hitting himself so hard that it hurt just to look at him but there was something that made me keep staring. I thought I heard him talking in that quiet evening, when only the sound of the barking dogs pierced the silence, but in fact he wasn’t talking, he was only babbling all kinds of incomprehensible sounds. I always knew when he was going to appear because the dogs from the other end of the street barked at him and in their bark I could sense hatred and fear, a kind of fear that had first entered my soul and then entered my blood and my bones. I was so afraid of him that I was shaking like a leaf every time my grandma told me “I’ll have Gitano take you away if you don’t behave”. Before I went to bed I turned the Saint Peter icon with its face to wall and in the morning my grandma scolded me and told me that the icon would protect me against nightmares. My grandma knew that I stirred in my sleep because of the one and the same nightmare. In my dream there was a full moon which was slowly being overclouded by the dust that was going up in the sky and which was a sign that he was about to come. The dogs were barking menacingly and he appeared on our street and while he was on his way to the cemetery, he stopped suddenly in front of our gate. He was standing there stone-still, on the other side of the street, looking for me in the courtyard, no matter where I was hidden. After minutes of waiting he walked slowly through the translucent dust clouds to our gate and as he was approaching – sometimes this could last the whole nightmare – I felt that all sorts of unusual things were happening to my childish body. My hands were getting heavier and knottier, my face was being covered with a thick and dirty beard, my mind was getting heavier and my thinking was getting slower, my clothes were shabby and reeked of urine, and the soles of my feet were sore from the pebbles on the ground. Then, when the night was over, I screamed in my sleep, waking up my grandma. Still half-asleep, I rushed to the small mirror in the hall and examined my face with my eyes and my fingers for minutes. Only after I had assured myself that everything was exactly like before I calmed down a bit. My grandma gave me a glass of water and put me back to bed, making small crosses on my forehead until I managed to fall asleep. A couple of years later, after my grandma had died, my sleep was defenseless in front of the same nightmare. 

One night I dreamt that Gitano had approached the gate just like he did in the other dreams but that time, for the first time, he opened it and entered in the courtyard. He locked the gate afterwards and he threw the key far away, on the dusty street. I was hiding in the woodshed but in my dream the shed was made out of glass and Gitano could see where I was. He approached the pile of wood after which I was hiding and caught me in his embrace. Since that night on, whenever I look at myself in the mirror the only thing I see is the bearded face of which I’m so afraid. I want to rip his face from my face. I want to cut out his face from my real face. My real face is hidden behind this face of a dirty hobo in the same way my real body is caged in this other body which I hate from the bottom of my heart. I know I’m going to make it in the end: with every puncture I make in his skin I get closer to my real self and with every cut I make on his hands I get closer to my own hands. However, there is a thought that worries me. If I manage to dispose of this Gitano, in whose body I’m trapped, will there be someone deep inside me who will hate me and who will want to cut me out from his real face and from his real body?

The Matrioshka Doll

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