The Life Of Adrian Zografi

excerpt Adrian was too honest and too weak in front of the woman he felt attracted to. While he accompanied Lucia along the alleys close to the main boulevard, he would keep his mouth shut and barely listen to her constant and tedious tittle-tattle about everything. He already knew everything that she might talk about. He was not in danger of getting caught by those means, but by those connected to her young, firm and hot body that would lean against his and dazzle his mind. He felt that all of his will-power, his thoughts, his entire being full of plans, dreams and an infinity of desires, were melting in the vicinity of that unique, tyrannical, irresistible heat that Lucia would send to him.And then he asked for the thousandth time the terrible question about the relationship that turns a man into the slave of the woman and family by killing everything else inside him, everything that could turn into a noble vagrancy through the catholicity of the dream.Adrian considered the idea of a family as the worst enemy for people who, just like him, had turned vagrancy into the goal of their lives. As for the dreams, rambling in the family was prohibited, even if the family was ideal and most united, and especially if one was related to "a dullard who would populate one's house with dullards", as an old saying goes.Adrian, who felt more and more defeated, thought to himself: "Look folks, see for what I have to give up on all my longings for the sublime. Listen to the stupid things that she keeps on talking about without getting tired. She has been talking for more than two hours already. Look, listen and tell me if it's worth turning your back to the universe in order to devote your existence to half a dozen of little worms that make your family.""Alas, if you only knew how beautiful life is in Bucharest! I'm talking about my life, of course. ("Well, that's different!" thought Adrian.) I get up late. I love to stay in bed so much! ("What the hell? Who wouldn't?") I ring and coffee is being brought to me. ("I see, so she's got a servant!") I have a girl, a young peasant, who does all the work in the house. She even does the laundry. And it doesn't cost me a dime. I just give her food, a shelter, some clothes, and that's all! I send Maritza to fetch me the newspaper Universul. ("And I know exactly what you are interested in reading there!") Then Coco wakes up. Mommy's darling! Then I spend about an hour taking care of him, dressing him up and fondling him."Don't you have any dog?""No way, all the hookers have one! ("Oh, how I like this!")And I finally dress up and go out. It's time for appetizers."You eat appetizers as well?""Very seldom, only when I'm invited. And when the invitation doesn't look suspect.""And how can you tell when an invitation is suspect?""Dearest, an independent woman like me, living in Bucharest, has 90 percent chances to run into the arms of a pimp who can turn her head just like that. And the guy doesn't only take advantage of your body, but also tries to speculate it. That's why I prefer solitude. I keep away from acquaintances made by chance. Sometimes I hardly meet anybody. Just that, you see, I like operetta. And the shows are quite expensive. So a woman needs a gentleman to accompany her… It's very boring! But is there a courteous man who is willing to escort you twice to Otetelesanu's without asking at midnight to accompany you 'to your door', as they all say, and then asking you to allow them 'to get in for a short while'? Believe me, I know the trick! But nobody fooled me so far. Nobody escorted me home."She stood wistful for a while and then she added:"You'll be the only man to see my place"."Why are you making this exception?" he asked without conviction, and almost feeling sorry because he would have embraced her on the spot, in spite of his fear of women who bind men."What on earth was that question?" she asked, looking at her watch. "It's because I invite you to eat with me. I hope you won't turn me down!"And before Adrian even got to show any resistance, she called a driver and jumped in the cab. Adrian followed her with his head bent. No dreams were in his head. But his body was burning with the desire of devouring the woman! Yes, it wanted to devour that young and stupid flesh. Stupid? How silly of him to think that! After all, one doesn't make love to intelligence! And in the end, love was also part of "the vagrancy through the catholicity of dreams". And didn't he feel surrounded by happiness right then? And there was another miracle. He would soon have that beautiful woman that so many men from Bucharest wanted to have! He, who wanted her with all his burning youth, no matter how stupid she might be! Besides, let's be honest, hadn't he felt so many a time the emptiness of his wasted existence, ever since he had been painting in Bucharest, for a month, without touching even the least wanted of all the women? Why would he whisk that body that trembled next to him away from his lips and eyes? Why would he? So he would go one evening to the brothel and gorge himself on love bought for a dime? He had of course his books, his dreams and his freedom. He would keep on having all those things and, what's more, he would also have what he was missing right now. She didn't set any terms and she didn't even mention marriage. She would just give in to him. That was all. Should he whisk her away? He would be a moron. But there was still that driver, who was crumpling his democracy."Well," he shouted, "so be it, with the driver and all!"She looked at him in a lovely way and asked:"Honey, what do you mean by 'the driver and all' and what should 'be it'?""I was just thinking about one of my convictions.""Yes, I forgot, you don't like drivers." Lucia had a small, yet clean apartment on Willow Street. That was in a rich neighborhood. Adrian liked the interior right away, with all the lack of good taste that dwelled in there. But it's true; he himself hardly had any good taste, so he didn't make any fuss about it. Yet he was astonished by all those postcards, bibelots and plaster statuettes that filled the tables and shelves and covered the walls. There were colorful erotic scenes, "nudes" and "beautiful faces". There were also dogs, cats, parrots and "Venuses", enameled or alabaster.He called her attention: "You said that all hookers had dogs. Well, you can also see these trinkets in all the hookers' places."He went to wash his hands in the kitchen. When he returned, that hotchpotch of postcards was gone. "Look!" she said and opened her arms. There is no trace of trinkets any more.""This is amazing," thought Adrian, "could this little goose be such a good girl after all?"He embraced her by the waist, bent her head on his shoulder, caressed her lovingly and said to himself: "It's such a pity that this good part of one's existence holds so many great dangers for a guy like me! If it weren't for this, who would be so crazy as to deprive himself from such happiness?"The apartment was on the first floor and had only two rooms that were very pretty. They led to a square yard, adorned with three elm trees. Adrian was delighted. He leaned melancholically on the window and thought about the mattress in his dark, hostile office that was screaming with filth. Here it was clean and warm, it was a home soaked in love, and tomorrow was secured. Here you could live the life of a man and not the one of a sad dog! "You could have all these at the twinkling of an eye! You could be the master!"Lucia, who was now dressed in a beautiful gown, approached him, took his head between her hands and kissed him for a long time."Don't you want to see my Titi?"They were in a room that was both morning-room and living-room. She showed him the way to the bedroom. Adrian saw there a chubby little boy of 2-3 years lying on the carpet and playing by himself with a lot of puppets and stuffed bear cubs. He didn't seem surprised at all by the appearance of the stranger. He looked at him for a second with his big and blue eyes that looked like his mother's, then he raised his hands towards Lucia, whom he called "Lola"! She took him in her arms and squeezed him at her breast. The child was absolutely clean. Adrian took his little hand and kissed it tightly. Just like that, in order to look well-behaved. He didn't like kids. She noticed:"You don't know how much happiness an angel like this brings to a mother who doesn't have anybody else in this world.""You're probably right… Especially when the mother has some kind of a small income.""Oh, I would even work for an employer, for him!""Yet you couldn't stand the indifference of a stepfather for his sake.""It's true. That's something I couldn't do.""Well I would be that kind of a stepfather for him. So it would be wise for you to stay away from me."He turned his back on her in a cold way and passed by pieces of furniture and from one room into the other, admiring the beautiful handicrafts that adorned Lucia's interior and were made by her skilful hands: lace, embroidery and open work. She watched him full of sadness. He hurt her in the heart. He was baffling her most beautiful hope of presenting Adrian, as a father, to her beloved Titi. And he was supposed to be a real father, not a stepfather and by far not an "indifferent" stepfather.Poor Lucia flung herself down on an armchair holding the child in her arms and cried silently. In the living room Adrian noticed a few thick books, most of them in installments, all arranged on a book shelf. He examined them one by one: The Three Musketeers, Catherine II of Russia, Captain Dreyfus on Devil's Island, Rocambole. "When a woman is beautiful, all she can read is what Madame Thuringer used to: Her Majesty The Money and Her Highness Love. It's a curse!"But then he noticed Graziella as well. He took the book with him and went back to Lucia, who was bent numb over her child."Come on, stop crying. I only told you what I had been feeling right then but… How could I know what the future will bring? People can change… Everything is possible, you know."She raised her forehead. Adrian felt sorry for having been cruel to her. He could clearly see that the poor woman was honestly crying. She put the child down, took Adrian's hand and brought it to her lips:"You cannot possibly know what is hidden behind the frivolousness of a mother. Yes, I am a slob. I like this lazy and independent life. But there is no happiness in this house. The man is missing. I feel his absence every time I go out and every time I come back in, every time I sit at the table and every time I wake up in the middle of the night. I believe that all single women feel the same way. And you know why? I see you grin although you shouldn't because you don't know. Yes, I know I'm a fool! Yet I have something to say: what a woman lacks most is not love or bread, and it's not even a father for her child, but protection. A real woman's first need in life, ever since she was born, is a protector or some kind of support."So that's the reason why hookers have pimps. Out of all women, they feel the most secure in life because they have plenty of men around them. But these men only take advantage of their beauty and youth. Of course, once beauty and youth are gone, the pimp is no better than the rest of them, but that's not his problem. He is just a companion in those sad times that are quite frequent in the life of a hooker. A hooker has to buy herself such a companion, that Heaven sends to every honest woman. She wants him even if he should beat her up, or exploit her cruelly. Because, for a lonely woman, more unmerciful than any rascal is her own loneliness.""I see," Adrian said, while skimming Graziella. "I'm sorry but I cannot be a companion, not even one of the most honorable ones, for any woman.""That's a very bad thing to say. You are one of the most selfish persons I have ever met."Adrian was upset:"You must be crazy! First of all, I haven't finished my military service. And second, I don't possess any fortune." "Nonsense! You will be exempt from military service because you are 'the only son of a widow without fortune'. And as about your own fortune, what do you hope for? Do you expect to become an attorney? Isn't it enough that you have some kind of an income? What do you want more?" "Well, I might need a woman like you, with a small rent! That would fit me just right because I don't like to work! I'm a lazy person. Will you take me as I am?""I will."Adrian looked at her for a long time."Lucia, you're crazy!"A trembling voice came through the door:"The lady is served.""What a joke!" said Adrian and burst into laughter. "The lady is served! Did you teach her this spinster rubbish? Poor Lucia! I pity you… But let us leave these things aside and start to eat. I smell great stuffed pepper."Lucia jumped into his arms and covered him with kisses. "Yes, yes, yes! You will be my companion, my man, my love, and even Titi's real father, because you are honest. Here's a real honest man!"He didn't have the strength to resist her embrace. His blood rose to his cheeks. His head was buzzing. His temples were tossing so hard, that he felt dizzy. She felt him and was encouraged to squeeze him even harder to her body that was burning with desire.Then he surrendered to his own volcanic impulse, lifted her up in the air and flung her on the bed."Maritza!" she shouted."Yes, madam.""Keep the peppers warm." In the preface to The Life of Adrian Zografi (1933), the vagrant genius Panait Istrati (1884-1935), who translated it from the original French into his mother tongue, Romanian, wrote that "Adrian lived in many parts of the world and mingled with all sorts of people, so the story of his life is a film series rather than a novel, especially as the famous 'psychology' is totally absent." After a brief comradeship with communism and subsequent disillusionment, the writer felt entitled to declare that his hero is not at all "the model of the contemporary 'idealist' fighter, as we see him represented by the extreme right and the extreme left wings."

by Panait Istrati (1884-1935)