How I got my first camera - Grazer Sputnik

How I got my first camera

Galina Toktali

They say the moments when airplane takes off and lands are most fascinating. There I was again – in the big belly of steel bird landing this time in Stockholm airport. High speed, vibration and awareness of certain risk- make perception especially sharp. In proximity of a few seconds you evaluate all your life. I was invited to Sweden by one of my pen-friends with whom I corresponded for 5 last years of my stay in Moscow. Nils often wrote me about his life. Swedish veterinarian of 50 years old – he would send me packs of stockings and roses in frosty Moscow. My life in Russia was not that easy. Only those of mixed race and nationality origin can possibly understand discriminative nuances of existence in post-soviet reconstructive environment. Chechnya war was going on; now and then I was stopped in the street by police officers who checked documents of all suspicious personswith non-Slavic appearances. By other words, like every other real nomad I was ready to fly and all my property could be packed in a single bag. Sweden- from emigration point of view could be good choice. But I had peculiar premonitions about it. Emigration means complete financial dependency on partner- so you must be sure you can stand it or dig out your own grave.

After landing I felt edgy and could not overcome tremor and limpness of extremities.
Certainly Nils was already waiting for me at the meeting point.
The first moments of extreme anxiousness I could not see anybody around and sensed only that he kissed me and took my bag.
I got bunch of flowers and concentrating gaze at fresh lily petals restored my sight.
Certainly I would recognize Nils- tall slim man with blue eyes. But here it was something exceptionally new- The wig! It was tall man with the wig on! And- The skirt! Tall, man in the skirt! And ear-rings! It was man in short skirt with curly wig and ear-rings!
I was struck numb. Life gave me shock. But there was no way back, and a few next months I spend living in the house of Swedish transvestite.
Swedes are very practical creatures. All summer we were busy repairing Nils house.
Never in my life I used to do such hard physical work. Normally we were busy with repair of roof, and all nearest neighbors with interest observed our maneuvers- me in males overalls and top boots and Nils – in short skirt sitting legs apart at rib of roof with blue-and-yellow Swedish flag behind him.
He had enormous collection of bras, used lipstick, mascara and Tampax, supply of which was always restored in the bathroom. My curious question where he used to apply small round menstrual tampons stayed unanswered.
At last the day of my departure came. The repair works were finished. Nils looked sad.
He even forgot to apply make up after crying secretly in his room. He was bizarre, but kind and loved me in his own way. His exaggerated wish to look as female drew the circle of isolation around him even in tolerant Swedish society.
When my things were already packed, he told:
Thanks for being with me! This is money you earned by helping me with the house,- he passed me envelope, – And also there is something little for you in bedroom!
I opened the door and -O!-saw black body of big photo camera placed in the center of white pillow. Elegantly curved mysterious Cyclopes creature was looking back at me with hypnotic gaze of its lens.
My heart stopped beating. For the first time since leaving home I felt happy.

Galina Toktalieva

Kyrgyzstan-born author residing in Graz, Austria

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