Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Lamentable Tale of the Tight-fisted Tenant

Sad-eyed Khatuna carries a heavy sack of woe. Upon our first meeting, when I rented the apartment from her, she held her hand in the air mournfully. There was a car accident. The hand hurts so much, it gives her such pain. Her eyes look at me, almost accusingly, as if I have done this to her, as if it is for me to fix it, somehow. There are such problems, so many expenses, and so I agree to pay her several months advance rent. This will help matters.

It is not long before Khatuna with her reproachful eyes is at my door again. The washing machine that she promised, she doesn’t have enough money for it. Just one more month of advance rent, that should do the trick. I simply don't have it, I tell her, honestly. My next stipend won’t come until November, and I have already paid rent through December. I will give you some small bit, but that is all I can do. Khatuna watches me with sunken eyes; that resentful look. Her head, it is killing her. Everything is almost too much to bear. I offer her aspirin, but aspirin is not so good as money and she is not happy with this compromise.

Now today, I sat in my apartment with my language teacher, a beautiful and energetic woman who once was a concert pianist but now, she confesses, her fingers seem impotent to her. They were so strong then; even now, she tells me, they are stronger than most people’s and could stretch so far, for such small hands. But she doesn't dwell on her sadnesses and I love the way she speaks about her young family, and we get along very well.

When the door buzzes, it is a surprise. Khatuna is there, unusually bright and cheerful. She loves to see me she says, she will help clean my apartment. I am so good and perfect she says. She settles herself at the table and my teacher and I stare at her blankly, our lessons spread in front of us, interrupted. Khatuna explains to my teacher, who explains to me. She has been very sick, you see, and she will need to go into the hospital. More money is needed, from me, another month’s rent. She has come to collect; it is in the contract.

Now I am angry and embarrassed, and I worry that my teacher will think I am a stingy foreigner who will not help out a woman in need. I simply cannot, I say. I have not received any more money since the last time you came asking. I have no obligation to pay further and I cannot make the money appear. My teacher explains to Khatuna and then it is back and forth and back and forth for a long time. Khatuna’s kind words for me have died on her tongue and the resentful scowl has settled back on her features. She sits for a moment in silence, waiting for her sorrow to sink through my skin, for me to change my mind. But I don’t, and so she rises to leave and when I show her out, this Khatuna who once clapped her hands to my cheeks and begged me to marry her son barely turns to look at me.

I shrink back to the table. I feel terrible, I say. My teacher is furious. I do not like this at all, she says. Do not give her a thing. You have already given her too much. You must be strict. She has problems, who does not? Every second Georgian has her same problems. I support both my brother’s families but do I bother other people about it? It is not your fault she is in debt, it is her fault. It is not your fault she spent the rent money already, it is hers. This is shameful, I will find you a new apartment. You must call me if she comes again; she will continue like this, I know it. My teacher sniffs. You know, I grew up in this neighborhood and they did not give these houses to just anybody, and I am surprised a person such as her has this place.

So I am validated, but not comforted. Something feels tainted now and I wonder if Khatuna is now my adversary. I have visions of her brothers and sons using the apartment keys for plunder when I'm out. I put my money stash in the place men will never look: the box of tampons.

Thus ends the honeymoon phase of my time here; that is, the vision of a nation populated only with kind-hearted locals with twinkles in their eyes who want nothing more than to embrace you into the bosom of their motherland. Enter suspicion, skepticism, doubt. Welcome back, my old friends!


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