When I did receive the first indecent proposal, I was just seventeen. In Budapest I lived in a room in Vénusz utca, in one of those buildings all identical built during the years of socialism, and I shared it with my great friend Anikó, a girl just three years older than me, too she ran away from home. It was the fate that had put us on the same train and we had immediately tied, perhaps because we were so distant and different that, as always happens, opposites attract each other.
Anikó, apart from all the faults she had, including an incurable naivety that led her to get into the most incredible trouble, had an uncommon quality: she was of unlimited generosity. Probably, in reaction to what her life had been, in which everything had been denied her, even a scolastic education, seeing me lost and more unfortunate than her, for some strange reason she had taken me under her protective wing, like I was a younger sister.
So, since at that time I didn't have a penny, it was she who was in charge of paying the room and everything else. What she used to do to gain is superfluous that I reveal it; anyone can guess. In any case, she was almost always around, and often didn't even go back to sleep. And when the night she met with someone particularly generous, in the morning she always returned with gifts, clothes, food, books; in short, everything useful to get by.
The room, since it was practically available to me, I had filled it with fairytales books, the only ones besides those of school that I read, and I had plastered the walls of posters that depicted cities like Rome, Paris, London, New York, as if they were open windows on the world; the places where I wanted to be, far from where, instead, I was forced to live. However, there was no bathroom; that was in common with Madame Weiner, the owner, but there was a small stove that, when needed, could be used for cooking.
Of Madame Weiner I remember her severity. She maybe had been around forty years old or more, although she seemed older to me than she really was. Perhaps she was a widow or maybe she had never married; I never knew, and I wonder why I remember only these few and insignificant details of her. Another thing that I remember well is that she was very attached to money, perhaps to wanting to replace missed affections with what was probably solid material security. For that hovel she demanded five thousand forint every month.
Anikó thus provided for rent and food supplies, while I, in order to contribute in some way and not feel myself as a weight, had assigned myself the cleaning, both of the bedroom and of the bathroom, and all those tasks that usually affect any housewife. The sum paid included expenses for both gas and electricity, but as far as the latter was concerned, the mandatory rule of Madame Weiner was that the light in our room could not stay on past midnight. However, this did not cause any problems for us. As I said my friend almost never came back at night, and I usually slept at that hour, or three days a week I was at the disco where, again thanks to Anikó, I had found a job as an animating dancer.
The place was called "Az Állatkert", and I was paid to give the show moving my body. My place was a kind of cage. What I had to do was to dance as sinuous and sensual as possible, wrapped in a costume that depicted an animal. I was provided with several tight-fitting costumes that bandaged me fully, and that were showing the most attractive anatomical parts for men. I had one zebrine, one with feathers, and one that was like the skin of a snake. But my favorite was the feline one: brindle or leopard.
The show was the same every evening: dancing, dancing, and dancing, then break time to drink at the bar, a chat with someone, and then back in the cage until late at night. In front of me, in the other cage, was Anikó when she didn't have to be kind with someone who needed company. Work wasn't bad. I always liked both music and dance. What I earned instead was barely enough for me to have a lousy life. If I had wanted more money, I could have done like Anikó, but I still didn't feel like it. I was still shy, clumsy, insecure and with too many scruples.
At the back of the great hall was Rezsö, the disc jockey, with the unmistakable black spetnatz cap I had given him. I had bought it for a few forints in a flea market that sold used military stuff. Between the two of us there was something more than a simple sympathy. Almost always, during the break, I crouched beside him, and together we chose music. The lights and colors made everything look like a painting on which an immense circus had been painted: clowns, animals and tamers, acrobats and circles of fire to cross. And then there was the audience that admired ecstatically.
There were those who, believing themselves as hunters, made me explicit requests, offering me money and looking for a nod from me, but I never answered. Inside my costume I felt like a real tiger, and as such I could only roar. Because those weren't hunters; they were only spectators who paid the ticket to watch the animals locked up in the cages of a zoo. Their offers did not interest me; I saw them as they were children offering peanuts to monkeys, and they had the illusion of being in the jungle. But that wasn't the jungle. In the jungle there are real dangers, true predators, and true hunters. There, instead, there were only children with heads full of dreams.
Someone, however, managed to bring home some girls like Anikó; the souvenir of the evening. But it was like the goldfish packaged in the plastic bag that you buy at the carnival when you can't hit the jar with the ball. No, the jungle was another thing. Even though I hadn't been there yet, I knew that jungle life couldn't be that. It didn't have to be that or even my dreams would have been shattered in the banality of an existence that I absolutely didn't want was mine.
Of course in the zoo I had a life, I had someone who looked after me, and if I wanted I could also bite some weak prey, here and there, just to try the taste of blood. Anikó always told me: "Tündi, you have a body who seems made to do it". But I knew that living like that was not what I wanted, and I really felt like a tiger in a cage. What I was waiting for was just the right moment to escape, away, to go far, into the jungle where I would have seen the true colors, I would have felt the real perfumes and listened to the real noises. No more cages, no tamers, no babies, no goldfish. Only life; the real one, the one I deserved. And finally I would have met my fellows, other felines, like me, who would have been beside me, and would have helped me to live the adventure, to hunt prey that I could tear to pieces, sinking my teeth into their throats until my incisors superiors had touched the inferiors. And at that point I would have fed because a tiger can't give up its predator nature. At least not before trying to live in the jungle.
(To be continued...)