Her face is puffy and red. Her cheeks painted in tears, she sits in the dark, empty room waiting for me to take her. Time to put on jeans and a coat. Time to go to guitar class. The teacher breezes into the room as we are leaving.
"Sontsei maya." She says. My sun.
She smooths a hand over E's hair and makes a face to me, that I should not worry.
I wonder if I should ask. It could make things worse.
I make some jokes, pretend I forgot to bring a hairband for her, pretend my hat is her hat and her hat is my hat.
We tromp down the stairs and outside.
She squeezes my hand extra tight.
"So, what happened?" I ask in the alleyway.
"Some water spilled." She says, her lower lip flapping around, jutting into the air.
"And?" I ask.
"That's all." She says.
"So, you spilled some water." I say. "Like a cup of water?"
She nods yes.
"All over the floor?" I ask.
She nods yes.
"And what - somebody pushed you, or it was just an accident?" I ask.
A silent moment passes.
"An accident." She says, under her breath.
I adjust her hat. I zip her coat all the way to her chin. We walk for a few minutes without talking.
"Hey, do you want to make fried chicken again for dinner?" I ask her.
She nods yes.
I shout jokes and distractions as we walk down the noisy avenue. I get her to crack a smile, snot dancing from her nose as she laughs once. I even have a stray napkin in my pocket to wipe it all away.
Inside, the old man at the front desk tells me that Roman, the guitar teacher cancelled his classes today. I eyeball him.
"He did not tell me that." I say, waving my phone around in the air.
The old man shrugs his shoulders.
A mother and her child approach us, she is talking fast and I can't understand her. Normally I ask E to help translate, but she is lost in her thoughts. The woman has a pickle face. She is saying something about Roman.
I repeat what I told the guard. She shrugs her shoulders.
I send Roman an SMS in my crude Russian.
The front door opens, and he is already here.
The old man at the front desk makes a pathetic face, and stares off at the wall behind me.
E is distracted, staring at her feet as Roman has her warm up, adjusting the positions of her feet, her hands. She has a concert in a week. Roman asks me to put my chair next to his, so we look like a real audience. He has E enter the room, bow slightly and sit. She fumbles across the three songs, making mistakes she has never made before. He is disappointed. He gives her tough advice. He has her repeat one measure ten times, until she gets it right.
I think to tell him that she had a difficult morning. I think to protect her, to play interference. A part of me wants to step in, to yank her down the hall, buy her an ice cream or a raspberry eclair and bring her home until she feels better. But I don't. She is seven now. She needs to start to handle things herself. I take a step back. I watch it play out. She is struggling, suffering. Roman does not know what happened this morning. He knows her. He knows she can do much better. His hands are clapping out time. She sets her jaw. She is playing so quietly today. My skin itches. I am thinking to take her early, to tell Roman we have an appointment and we should cut class a little bit short today.
Then, she plays the song better than she ever did. The Waltz of the Dolls. Or maybe My Favorite Doll. Something about a kukla (doll). She plays the new song quietly but in rhythm, without any mistakes. Roman relaxes a little. E breathes a bit. The smell of that terrible paint they use here comes into the room. Roman says we are done. He gives some instructions about how to prepare for the concert. He makes sure we have black pants and a white long sleeved shirt for her.
Later, E takes a nap at home. The afternoon sun is filling the room. I have a tiny window open. One of the shiny balloons N bought for E's birthday drifts around the room, still floating around somehow weeks after the party. It slides past my wrist. It suddenly drifts up to the tiny window and in a one motion shoulders its way outside. It rises into the clouds, and out of sight in a few seconds.