Punch Drunk
Copyright © by Hideo Asano

He was sitting at a table. He felt very strange drinking alone on a late night. The best vodka was required for him to avoid hangover. The kitchen table was small, placed against a barren wall. He saw her now. She hastily walked toward her room after getting out of the bathroom. Her naked body glitter in the dim light. She was still wearing the wig that concealed her shaven head. She had lost her chestnut hair to a bad blond dye job. Seveta now joined him. They drank a small portion of orange juice after each shot of the vodka. She had beautiful, large cat-green eyes. She was a student learning Chinese in Shanghai, hoping to become an interpreter. Her ex-boyfriend, a Swiss businessman, had given her a Rolex as a gift. “I hope she doesn’t get god out of it,” thought Wim Bonte who took over one of the two rooms of her spacious apartment, situated at the edge of Xhabarabsk. Hardbacks her father had read tightly packed a small bookcase. Wim wished he could read the beautifully bound Russian books. Her apartment used to belong to her parents before they moved out to a better apartment.
     That evening, she cooked great macaroni. The aroma of food welcomed Wim home. He always returned home for supper. It didn’t really matter about the cold nest. The slim figure of Seveta could be seen on the balcony on the fifth floor when he whistled to drop the key for the main iron door. The previous night he cooked two huge legs of chicken, one leg each. In three days, they had drunk as much wine as others usually had in two years. A poor working class family could barely afford a bottle of wine per year for the New Year’s celebration in Russia. Wim knew that, even if they could, it definitely wouldn’t be a Georgian wine. Wim wished he had the unspoiled, noble tongue of working class people. He loved to spend his money on Georgian wine. He could bring his lifestyle down, but not the quality of his wine. He heard that Stalin also loved Georgian wine being a Georgian. Probably he missed drinking real wine, Wim thought. He was getting drunk and strangely the more he drank the more he wanted to see her shaven head. He suffered from curiosity, obsessed about the shaven head looked so fashionable. But she stubbornly refused to show it.
     As the summer was nearing its end, Wim had to fly back to the States before it became cold or his money ran out. She, too, would have to return to China. But he wished to stay in Russia longer to see the well-cut sculptured faces of women framed in fur in the harsh Russian winter.
     The town had been very quiet with no students during the school holiday. It was hot and very humid. A lot of young men were drunk even during the daytime. “They are frustrated because they can’t do what they want to do. Our little income goes mostly to our food and nothing else,” said one woman. He hadn’t yet met anyone he knew and felt very lonely. The loneliness made him seek literary inspiration---reading and writing. But the frequent stops by the police for documents often made him considered to leave the country. Happy-drunks could easily meet owls. He often walked down to the marketplace to buy food. He loved the busy atmosphere of the market.
     He loved walking down along Lenin Street to see the great Amur River. From the end of the street, there was a long stairway, which gently graded down towards the river. The trees nicely shaded the stairway. On an afternoon, a confrontation between two small groups of youngsters had taken place on the middle of the stairway. The three lads in a group held sticks pitched upwards while two lads a bit drunk and a beautiful girl from another group held a pocketknife and jagged stones in wrathful hands, facing down. The girl begged her friends not to fight, but in vain. Then, all of a sudden, the girl put herself between the two angry groups to stop the fight. She stretched her arms to split them out. Her courageous act enhanced her beauty and, therefore, calmed their wild hearts. Probably they were drunk, Wim thought.
     On the riverside, he loved drinking beer. He loved watching the people coming home during the day from their dacha with a variety of vegetables, flowers and their dogs. Their faded clothes, worn by many washes contrasted with the brightness of a verity of flowers they carried. They were all well suntanned, wearing straw-hats, baseball caps and peasant caps. Small Russian cars pulled over to pick up their family members and to load their heavy sacks of potatoes and other things. Wim loved to look at the stream of people coming home; the procession was endless. But he felt sad, looking at their hardships. Isn’t history repeating itself? He recalled how poor Russian peasants were, even way before the revolution. A poor family didn’t even have salt for their foods, according to Family Happiness written by Leo Tolstoy.
     When the town became lively, filled with students from their summer holidays, Wim visited the Pedagogical University and talked to them. Some he had met the previous summer. Those were the most attractive girls in the world, he thought.
     At the end of September, the strong wind swayed the tops of the birch and tall poplars violently. The leaves of the trees had turned to yellow. The cold winter approached earlier that year. Wim usually went downtown by bus along the bumpy country road for his social life. Many young girls were painting old buildings, mostly built before the revolution. Beautiful girls in jumpsuits wore scarves over their heads. It was a pleasant sight to look at.
     Wim kept drinking with Seveta at the table. He felt happy and sad. He imagined Seveta’s gentle face framed with fur. The bottle of vodka became almost empty. Her wig was in his hand. Then, there followed a blow to his face. Strangely he felt happy, getting punched. He was shocked seeing her ghostly head with many shiny spots where no hair grew at all, reflecting in the light. He felt like he had kicked a hermit crab out of its palace. She squealed as she punched the air furiously. She chanted in her native tongue.