We were not here when the trains derailed last week. Insulated from the dull, nerve-crunching dread of riding the metro after a catastrophe I was half-excused from that familiar heart-skipping moment, when I acknowledge that we ride that same line, that this was just a few stops from our home, that by some bizarre reason I might have been on that train with E. No, this must all be forced out, fears whisked off of my arms like a wet dog shaking itself. These thoughts are inevitable and lead to nothing. I have learned to embrace them quickly as a first step to dismissing them.
We were not here when the plane crashed in Ukraine a few days later. We were working, making a film, making sure the right lights were delivered, that the sound engineer knew what person needed the wireless mic, what camera would be in the front, which one on the side, what frame rate we would shoot at, if the talent wanted their water in a glass or a bottle next to the stage, if it was safe to keep some bags in a back office. We were distracted, squinting in the bright sun in the morning. We knew there was a terrible explanation in store.
The stories did unfold, the best answers unsurprising.
I checked the flight route for our return home, staring at arcs that connected cities, imagining the thousands of people that travelled along these slim lines today, all holding their breath in some way, believing they are the lucky ones, the ones that will be passed over, the ones that will land and jab at cel phones and check emails and look for the last wobbly cart for their luggage, the ones that will stand in the hot sun looking for their taxi. I am one of these people, yanking luggage into the trunk, calling E saying we will pick her up in maybe 30 minutes if there is no traffic.
The driver asks us if he can stop for a moment, that he has needed a bathroom for three hours now. Kanyeshna (of course) we tell him and he pulls into a gas station, trotting towards the back of the place. I stare at the clouds in the sky. N squeezes my hand once.
The next day we have tickets to a concert.
E is wearing the black, Converse hi-tops we got her. She paces back and forth in front of the mirror, seeing how they look coming and going. We drive into the late afternoon, finding cars parked illegally on lawns, half-hanging off of curbs. We circle the neighborhood for half an hour until we find a lot. N begs the woman at the window to let us in. For some reason we are not allowed, even if there are spaces. The woman finally says space 58 and we park. N has to give her name, her license plate number. The woman tells her it will be 150 rubles, N gives her a 500 and tells her to keep the change but the woman waves her hands, refusing, almost angry. She does not want a bribe.
"I think there are cameras on her." I whisper when we are a few steps away.
"Maybe." N offers.
The sun is low in the sky. There are tents with vegan food, gummy churros, bland pizza, long lines of people waiting for burgers, smoke billowing around grills smelling of burning fat and kerosene. I suddenly am not hungry.
We make our way to the main stage, finding an empty spot of grass for our blanket. E sits cross-legged. N leans back against me. Jamiroquai will be on in about twenty minutes. I close my eyes, taking a deep breath. When I open them, I see a collection of orange balloons floating off into the sky. E points at them, and I nod.
The grass around us fills with people smoking from hookas. There are no security guards, just the random no smoking sign. The giant lawn is choked with people. There is a path that is now full of them so people weave their way through the crowd, all forcing towards the front of the stage. They step on my hands as they pass, on E's feet. The sun is dipping behind the trees. A woman in a yellow dress and heels with a young boy plants a towel on the ground in front of us. Another woman is with them. The boy flops onto his back, turning a frisbee slowly in his hands. The woman are all laughs and sunglasses perched on their hairdos. We wait for the music to start, as the sound check ambles along.
And then, all at once the crowd surges around us, more and more people pushing in all directions. I crane my neck. We will need to stand at this point to see anything, even the giant screens on the sides of the stage. There are no security guards here, I tell myself again. The music starts, the band sounding fine but I notice there are no horns, that the solos are all played by a guy on a keyboard. E frowns, takes one of her deep sighs and lets it out. Maybe this will all settle down, I tell myself. Maybe things just need to bump around until everything finds its place.
The woman in the yellow dress is whooping and clapping, wiggling around with her arms in the air. I see she does not have a wedding ring. The boy is completely bored, his toes wiggling in his sandals in the shadows of the grass.
N looks back at me, her chin sinking into my arm.
"It really isn't safe here." I tell her quietly.
"I know." She answers.
"This could get nutty in a minute." I add.
We all stand, as people tromp past us, as they snap pictures and clap, as they smoke and smile, as they wave at friends to find them. I wonder why we are so different, why we are so acutely aware of the chaos. The boy with the frisbee is getting stepped on. The woman in the yellow dress leans down, offering her phone to him to play with. I start to feel contempt for her, with her forced smile in the pictures her friend snaps of the two of them, of her heels digging into the dirt, of the sunglasses perched on her head. Then I just tell myself she is a desperate divorcee, that I have no idea how much she dreamt of this messy evening with Jamiroquai on stage a few hundred feet from her, how maybe this is the highlight of her summer, a day she will cherish.
"Let's go after this song." N says to me.
The music chugs along. He is good. He works the crowd, he has his moves.
Threading back out, the air starts to clear. We wander the park trying to remember what exit we used to come in. As we find it, there are hordes of men in uniforms, some with dogs. They stand in circles smoking cigarettes, in an empty field close to the exit.