If a stranger knocks (In Georgia)
Nobody knocks on the door after 9 o’clock. The neighbours have just left home after some wine and chat, the witch from down the road never knocks but bangs and would just push the door shouting “Mananaaa” – my grandma’s name. The cat is inside, and there are no mice here. So who knocks on the door on Sunday after 9 o’clock?
Grandpa, staring at the tv, rejects the idea of movement and simply shouts “come in!!!” from his comfortable sofa. But the handle does not move,the door does not open, and the knock repeats in a timid manner. Slightly annoyed by the unexpected interruption of the evening show, grandpa moves his weight towards the door and blinks a few times searching for the switch of a light that does not work. We never admitted that We broke the bulb last friday, playing football in the front yard. He stares in the dark at a figure with a funny hair-do that seems pretty loaded to be one of our neighbours – unless he was Nino and his wife kicked him out of home again. Another shadow appears from behind him, a bit smaller but equally loaded – it is definitely not Nino with a friend.
(the dialogue that follows attempted to be in Russian)
– Gamarjoba (Hello), Travellers we are and Zugdidi go.
– Gamarjoba (Hello) – grandpa replies
– Mmmm…Travelling, hitchhiking, you know, autostop. But dark dark, no cars, no possible. Maybe, tent in garden, possible? Corner, there? Possible? Wind – fuuuuu.
– Ahh – Grandpa murmurs understandingly as he reaches for my fathers door – Irakliii, the guests have arrived!
– Guests? I was not expecting anybody – thinks my father with surprise.
– They have a tent and ask something about the garden! – clarifies my grandpa, still confused.
– Tent? Nonsense! Come in! Manananaaaa! Tea for the guests! – he calls, as my grandma appears from the kitchen.
And this is how two strangers made their way to our living room on a Sunday evening, unloaded their bulky bags, took off their dirty shoes, and after staring with open eyes at the TV for about ten minutes, and trying hard to mumble some Russian for some other five, started bringing out a bunch of funny objects from their multiple pockets – mini sized games, maps, cameras, juggling balls and colorful books. And this is how We spent the evening picking stories from their broken words, and playing non-verbal games, while helping them chose well their next travel destinations. It’s a pitty that we had to go to school next morning – they slept longer than us and were not there when we came back. Just a flower left as a passing memory, I wish they had left the game set or that funny balls.
The moment when the traveller discovers what kind of sleeping place have the capricious “wandering deities” prepared for him that night is the best and worst of winter travelling captured in one single second. Walking down the empty and dimly lit road passing through Samtredia, a little town in Western Georgia, equally far from both the sea and the mountain, we silently wonder if staying in the comfortable truck of Murad and getting a bit out of our way to Zugdidi was not a better option than waiting stranded under the thin rain and strong wind that blows tonight. Our Turkish vocabulary, consisting of just above 20 words, has proven numerous times sufficient to keep the flame of conversation burning for hours thanks to the fact that in Turkey the action of talking is sacred and in some cases might hold more importance than the topic of the chat or even the ability to construct meaningful sentences, so spending a night in a TIR would anyway not have been boring.
Anyway, a missed opportunity luckily gives birth to another chance. We have unconsciously stopped next to the only house in the area that bears signs of life at 9:30 in the evening. We hesitate for about a second, but just to make sure we agree whose is the lucky hand that will knock on the door, and shyly cross the front gate to the garden. Then, as if moved by the invisible strings of a skillful puppeteer, we act by inertia as the whole scene unfolds naturally in front of our eyes. We knock twice or trice, and wait patiently, uncertain of what the voice from inside prompts us to do, since we understand it as much as we can read the sign with the street name. We knock again, and the voice comes nearer, opens the door, and stares at us with curiosity. We explain in detail our travel purpose and current situation, kindly asking to be hosted in a corner of the garden away from the wind – we mention we have a tent, and that we will not disturb. But the voices simply multiply and, disregarding our explanations, push us inside into a warm room and invite us for tea.
The TV is on and hipnotizes the family members gathered around it, not by the merit of its interesting content, but simply by the habit of having its sound as company; it’s as much part of everyday life as the felt dog that sits on the sofa, the school books carefully organized on the coffe table or the unmissable icons on the walls. We are in the common room of a common family, and sit comfortably on the table, sipping water from their well and wondering why or how everything looks so familiar and so different at the same time. We feel really well in their cozy place, we feel at home without having one, we rest and chat, play with the kids and get tips for the way from the elders. And in the morning, as we wave goodbye, thank them in all languages and walk away, we send a telepathic question to our families and friends: if a stranger knocks on your door on Sunday after 9 p.m., what would you do?