The moon is still there, lost in the morning sky. E shouts at it, as we make our way to school on the busy street. She is singing at the top of her lungs.
wicky wicky whirl,
wicky wicked worrrruld.
She stops, hiking up her new jeans. Her face falls to the side. She smiles at me. She asks me when Halloween is. She asks me why the moon is still out. She asks me when she can go to New York. I try to explain to her when Halloween will be.
Inside, I help her dress for gym class, fold her clothes carefully and place them on a shelf in her yellow cubby. She has not been in school for four days, between the weekend and her mother keeping her at home for some unknown reason. Two days sitting alone in darkness, with just the tv on until I took her friday night. She is being greeted with bad English hellos by the other children. She is standing in front of me so I can make her ponytail. Just one today. And she does not cry, she goes inside to wash her hands with that funny careful walk she has, like a cat in a new house.
And outside, I breathe in the sunny autumn air. Balancing attentiveness against my paranoid imagination I believe she will be OK today. Imagine she is eating a wide bowl of oatmeal in the front desk with the sun painting little squares across the walls.
I walk towards Kievskaya, people thronging the streets. Crossing an intersection, one of the lenses pops out of my sunglasses. Cars are bearing down on me, and I can only grab the plastic and run. All at once I see there is some pin or screw that broke off. I cross back across the street and cannot find it, cars bearing down once again like some kind of video game, not a real Moscow morning. They were a gift from N, not too long ago, and I know they were expensive. I feel lost, disappointed. A woman wearing a billboard stands in front of me, handing out leaflets no one will take. The crowd surges around her. She is small, one eye is stray and looks sideways as if she is a fish. Her lips are split apart, a giant scar drawing down her face. I cannot imagine why she has this job, why she is standing on this busy corner with leaflets about shoe repair.
I take one from her and she jumps back a little.
Crossing the bridge I realize I may have forgotten something. Rifling through my bag I see the portable drive on my desk at home, where I left it. Back across the bridge, up Taras Shevchenko, past the courthouse from last week. Tajiks are sweeping the courtyards, wiry men from Tajikstan with thick black hair and orange jumpsuits. The Russians call them blacks and pay them a few dollars a month to sweep, handle garbage, to slather layers of paint on fences and playgrounds. They travel in groups of three or more, rarely alone. I see the police stopping them everywhere, asking for documents, often pushing them into their cars and whisking them away.
At home, the moon-faced concierge leans from a door to see who has entered. She is also from Tajikstan, her mouth a collection of gold teeth. I shuttle upstairs in the elevator, leaving the keys in my door. I run in to take the drive and then back down in the elevator there is a sudden flicker of lights. Everything stops and the doors do not open. I press the button for the first floor, then all of them. I press the call button. The lights are on. My reflection is there in the small space looking fairly calm. I press the call button again. A voice crackles on and with adrenaline and fear surging in me, I still understand she has asked me what buttons I tried to press. I tell her none of them work in some crude Russian, "Syo knopki ni roboteyot." She says some short phrase I do not understand. I bang on the doors, hoping someone downstairs will hear me. The daughter of the concierge calls up, tells me to press the button for the first floor. I repeat, "Syo knopki ni roboteyot."
She laughs. She laughs and walks away.
I stand and wait, my phone doesn't work very well here. I send a text to N, she writes back confused. I press each button methodically, in sequence. I write more, typing random letters half of my words some kind of mess. She writes back and understands, somehow. She believes someone is coming, I should wait fifteen minutes. I am relieved to be alone, better this happens now than with E an hour earlier. I stare at my hands, thinking of how I had to photograph them earlier in the week as part of an animation. I think about how I have never been stuck in an elevator before. At one point a man arrives, asks me if I pressed the down button. His voice a single long slurred word, I say "Syo knopki ni roboteyot.". He sounds completely drunk. Then he is gone.
Another twenty minutes pass. I can hear the girl laughing still.
The sound of cables being pulled slowly rumble under the floor. A few pulls and I am on the first floor and the doors open easily. I am furious. The girl eyes me and I walk out in silence, straight out the door and down the stairs and across the street and to work. I send N a text, tell her I am ok now. She is relieved.
I am churning down the sunny sidewalk, convinced this lost 45 minutes has destroyed my day. I will eat lunch at my desk, I will have to make it all happen so much faster, I think. My mind is reeling. I shove my hand in my pocket, fingering the broken sunglasses. I cannot tell N now, maybe later. She will be upset. The leaflet from the shoe repair place is there. I stop, trying to read the crude message on it. I think of the disfigured woman, wondering where she lives, if she ever got stuck in an elevator. I think of the Tajiks in the street, polishing the streetlamps, mud plastered across their tall boots.
In the office I leave the lights off and flop on the couch, suddenly exhausted. I close my eyes, imagining E is OK. I imagine N on the way to work, maybe listening to a CD I made for her - tapping her fingers on the steering wheel as she makes her way through the morning traffic. I sleep for at least thirty minutes and dream I order a chicken sandwich at a restaurant for lunch, only they serve me a boiled human hand. It looks like mine. The skin is yellow, like an uncooked chicken. I can see how they sliced it in half, lengthwise.