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Breathing the right air

Nothing brings more comfort than a bag of good things to cook, swinging under your arm as you make your way home. Somehow it blots out the rest of the world. In these moments, the entire universe consists of a late afternoon sun, a stray dog and a clump of flowers growing strange and wild in a yard. A hit of basil jumps from my elbows with each swing of the bag, a gift from one of the ladies I buy from the most. I visit markets without intention, just eyes open ready to discover fresh peas, or the first corn. Knowing that these products will disappear as quickly as they present themselves creates a certain form of excitement. Each season offers up this rhythm and without it I might become completely lost.

I think of when we were in Tuscany a month ago, feeling like such a tourist until I wandered out along the highway and found the local vegetable stand. I shoved squash blossoms and tiny tomatoes into a bag, rushing back to our room like I had robbed a bank. I made pasta with them th…

a town with no cheer


8AM Victory Day. 

The streets are empty except for handfuls of drunkards slurping from plastic liters of malt liquor. For once, no old ladies selling roses or daffodils. Plenty of police and military standing in slumped groups with old semi-automatics slung across their backs, cigarettes dangling from limp hands. 

Birds are chirping furiously. Crows descend on piles of trash in splashes of noise. In this stillness, I see my reflection in store windows. I look tired, angry. My chin is up, hands lost in pockets, chest thrust forwards, legs chewing up the sidewalk. 

It is time to get E back.


This is a day when victory is celebrated. Cheap flags are being screwed to the walls. People are wearing white suits.

My mind wanders in the cool air.

There is no victory, I think. There is just an end to conflict. There is always loss. Unmeasurable loss. Waste of time, of life, of money. I think of the war over E, and how she is the actual battleground. Her tiny limbs are pulled in opposite directions every week. On the one side, mind games, manipulation, starvation, neglect, abuse. On the other - love, attention, nourishment, music, laughter, jokes, sandboxes and swings, countless toys, arms that never tire.

I know she is both fragile and strong. I know she has developed survival skills, but I ask why she has to. I ask why she cannot visit her homeland until she is 18, why she cannot chose anything in her life, why she has no voice, no opinion.

There is no answer.

There is only rage and deaf hostility. There is only anger to fill up the void. There is a blind swirl of madness, and the wreckage of lives in its path. This is our life, every day here, in a land with no rules.

There is no victory. But someday, this will end.


E's face jumps as she appears from behind the door. She has made a tiny paper basket for Aurora, a little girl we play with sometimes. 

We will walk in the grass, and pick some dandelions to put in it. We will stop at a fountain and throw some pennies in the fast running water. We will hold hands in the bright sun as the president's cars scream past us. 


I see a few potatoes and onions strewn across the sidewalk in front of a war monument. The soldiers are huge, much larger than life with their thick limbs and round faces. I imagine the food is some kind of remembrance, a strange offering.

We see an old woman in front of us, a shopping bag half-ripped on her elbow. There are potatoes and onions tumbling to the ground behind her and she does not know. E looks at me, then bursts into laughter.

We put the onions and potatoes in our pockets and present them to the old woman. She stops, surprised and confused. E babbles to her, as we place the potatoes in her hands, as she examines the broken plastic for some time. She feels betrayed, that it should last forever.

Embarrassed, she thanks us briskly. Her face a twist of sadness, she has not laughed once.

We go on our way, to buy milk and chocolate, maybe an ice cream on the way home.

I really don't understand people here.

Comments

Part of me understands them, the other part doesn't, but both don't want to at times.
Annie said…
All I can think of with the words "Victory Day" is the year I was in Moscow on Victory Day and how indescribably happy I was....everything shone and sparkled just as it was meant to. My beloved Sergei would soon be mine! And, as a result, I suppose, it was the happy people who were crisp in my vision, like the birds in your photo.
Like your beloved E., perhaps, too much like E., they are survivors, Marco. And so are you. Which means you understand them more than you think you do. A beautiful post, as ever.
I wish one day you could explain the custody that the courts decided and how that came to be..I just don't understand how E is not always with you knowing how the "other half" lives...
invisible woman said…
Your writing is beautiful and also sad. I wish you a victory of your very own! Thank you for your insight into this city, and the lovely photographs as well.
Sarah
Robin said…
Beautifuly written post. I feel terrible for you and your custody issues.

I have been in Moscow for only 9 months now, but I don't think I will ever understand the people here.

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