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Hey, Lyosha

There are prison tattoos on the backs of his hands. Faded, blotchy shapes and a finger that jabs at a phone. "Hey, Lyosha!" He shouts, as every face on the bus swings to him. There is no answer, no voice on the other side. "Lyosha." He says again, then stares angrily out the windows. I step on someone's foot by accident, apologizing quickly. The young man waves his hand as if to say I did not need to say anything. The man with the tattoos sips from a giant cup of soda from KFC that is balanced on the empty seat next to him.

We pass a hotel we used to live next to, where expensive escorts are ferried in and out like yachts in a harbor. There is a fresh line of flags snapping in a low wind, and an American one is curiously absent. Plenty of the businessmen behind those windows are from the states.

The man brandishes the phone and hands it to the young man in front of me. I did not see that one coming. The young man wipes invisible dust from it, a reserved frown …

the crow's anniversary

July 4th carries a personal significance for me now. This is the anniversary of "the beginning of the end". The only fireworks on this day last summer were the screaming and doors being slammed off of their hinges. Of dishes being thrown, of a child crying.

I had been feeding E and myself on the rice and potatoes in the cabinets for weeks. A bad business deal had left us freakishly exposed, and there was no cash in sight. In an act of desperation, I asked one of D's old friends if he could loan us $300 until a payment came in. It was quite strange for me to do the asking, but I had lost all self respect so many years before it was a simple conversation. He agreed, and said he would give D the cash later that day. She did not return for some hours, and when she did the cash was gone. When I asked her where it went, she replied that she really needed to ride a horse, and was depressed because we could not afford for her to ride for the last two months. So she went and paid for a month of riding and a few giant bags of apples and carrots she fed to her favorite horse.

E and I had eaten the last of the corn flakes and milk that day. Of course I lost it. How a horse could eat better than E and me, how the money could go for horse riding not her child was beyond me. She offered no explanation, just saying she owed both of us nothing. We did not even deserve an explanation according to her.

At one point one of the kittens jumped from the third floor balcony rather than spend another minute in that apartment. None of us noticed this for some time. This is the cat that lives with me now.

Gathering E in my arms I walked down to the river and sat on some stairs for a very long time. I watched young people coming and going, drinking beers and licking ice creams. The party boats motored past us, churning out generic music. I smelled the foul water, some odd garbage floating past us. E wrapped her sweaty fingers around my neck, breathing into my shirt. She was four then - a tiny four, before she started speaking English, before she completely understood what was going on. She was in her survival mode, holding on to the only person who was looking out for her. Something turned in me that long sunny Independence Day. I did not even know it was the fourth, just some hot day in July with no money and a madwoman on our hands. I knew that a new line had been crossed, and that the years of tolerance and understanding, the tens of thousands of dollars had all amounted to nothing. Nothing but more madness.

I stood up and put E on the ground.
"Let's walk a little." I said.
She rolled her giant eyes up to me, nodding once in agreement.

We wandered through the dusty streets, walking slowly, without purpose or direction. A horde of fat black crows sat on a dumpster, clawing and jabbing at the bags. Their ugly voices punctuated the afternoon silence. E stood watching them, and I looked down at the street. A 500 ruble bill was flipping around in the breeze. I chased it, and picked it up. E stared at me and broke into laughter, scaring the hell out of those crows. They flew away.

I bought her an ice cream.

We returned to the apartment after the sun had gone down. E's mother sat in the narrow kitchen, perched on one of the stools just like one of those crows. She was chain smoking those long, putrid cigarettes, staring into space. Her eyes glazed over, only her chin moved as she sucked on the smoke bringing it deep inside her.

I read books to E until she fell asleep and then made my bed on the floor. D was still in the kitchen, smoking. I fell asleep thinking she was a human version of those crows, waiting for something to die so she could pick it apart.


Annie said…

Again, it is more tempting to comment on your marvelous imagery than on your personal revelation...but I am glad things are somewhat better for you now.
The Expatresse said…
Happy Independence.

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