I stop, trying to understand what he asks for. Typically I do not stop if it is more than one person. Sometimes, there is safety in less numbers. Then I understand he has something in his small black bag he wants to sell to me. My head is shaking. My hand waves him off in disgust. It has to be something stolen he is trying to unload.
I walk away quickly and he is skipping across the pavement, desperate words tumbling out of him. A few meters later, another man is holding up a cracked tablet PC towards me, trying to sell it too.
I duck into the underpass and put them both behind me.
On the next day, I leave E at school kissing her once on the top of her head through her hat. She disappears behind the doors and I am walking back the same way. The hotel Ukraine is lit up orange and yellow against the bright blue edges of the early morning sky.
Two young men pass me, hands shoved into pockets. One turns back to look in a single motion. It is the young man from yesterday. His short black hair shines wet under the street light that is still on. The one next to him is shorter. They are in that sort of uniform - cheap jeans with faded patterns, tight leather jackets, low sneakers. The short one looks back over his shoulder, quickly. I look behind me, wondering if some militia are after them. People with black hair get profiled quite easily here, hassled for documents and passports at any given moment, ducked into police cars if they do not have them with them.
No, no one behind me but the old woman with a face like a potato with her hands out, waiting for loose change in the damp underpass.
Up the stairs, they both look back and the hair on my neck begins to prickle. They are too nervous.
I chew the inside of my cheeks, trying not to see two men with black hair and assume they are terrorists. I know this is paranoia, from living here too long. Yes, there are bombs that go off in the metro, in the airport, at a quiet random moment just like this. I try to tell myself I am mistaken.
A breeze whips past me.
It is a third young man, who trots up to the other two in front of me. They exchange a few words, hands shoved in pockets, elbows poking out into the wet air.
The third one looks back at me, but not in the eyes.
I wonder what their target could be, and imagine it must be the hotel Ukraine. The White House is across the river, they would have gone a different direction if that was it.
I pinch myself, stopping my imagination.
They walk fast, turning down Kutozovsky towards the Porsche dealership I have never seen anyone enter or exit.
This must be that moment, I tell myself.
Remember it. This silence, this calm.
But nothing happens, or nothing is reported.Just three nervous young men, an old woman asking for money and me, pressing out fear, pressing out the past, pressing out of the morning into the day.