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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

a confrontation

It is late morning on a hot day and the train is half empty. I know this empty stare set in a round face. This surrender I have witnessed thousands of times here. 
She stands up slowly, gathers her bags and exits. 


In the new market, you must stand with your vegetables in a bag and have someone weigh them and paste a price on them before you check out.
I stand, two zucchini dangling in front of me. An old women is in front of us, not sure one of her tomatoes is worth buying. She allows it, after muttering for some time. Her bag stamped, a different women weasels her bag onto the scale - a few bananas she tosses in front of me. I make one of those sounds New Yorkers make - something between clearing my throat and a collection of half-spoken swearing.
She stares at me.
I shrug my shoulders, as if to say well?
The young man who weighs the vegetables says nothing.
"Ya stayut." I say (I am standing here).
She says nothing.
"Kak etta problem?" I ask (what's the problem).
The round faced women sighs and grabs at her two bananas, taking them off the scale.
The young man weighs mine, and I feel anger growing in me.
"Etta bolshoi mir." I say (it is a big world).
She gets her bananas weighed.
"Puchimu? I ask (why?). 
She sneers for a moment.
"Puchimi ludi ni mogut haroshi?" I call out as she stalks off. (Why can't people be friendly).
My blood racing, E's hand squeezed tight in mine, I look at our shopping list.
"Dad, there are cameras here." E whispers to me. "They can see us."
"We didn't do anything wrong." I tell her, full voice.
She looks up at me.
"Milk." I announce. "We need milk."
I see the woman, skittering around the shelves. She is in no rush, staring randomly at the bread aisle.
Music is warbling from speakers. I recognize the muzak version of the song - I Will Survive.


A few days later, I pass two policemen and a young man in the street. He has a nice bicycle, and they are detaining him, asking for his passport, his registration. He sweats in the morning sun, his round face framed by short black hair.

I think of the woman in the store, so desperate to feel more important than someone else. I think of the men that get stopped constantly here. I see them, heads forced down as they are shoved into police cars. I see them in messy groups by the train station. I see them with their children, on playgrounds pushing swings high in the air.

I think of the woman on the train, and the smell of defeat on her.




Comments

liv said…
Such a sad and difficult place to live.

And there you are, in the window, barely there...
Sarah said…
Marco, what is the evil that lurks there? Three of our kids are from Moscow and St Pete. The stories I can tell can curl hair. Why is there evil there that I have never felt in America or western Europe where we live most of the year. It is scary there. Why has it all gone so wrong for so long there that many are so evil? You hit the nail on the head with each entry you write. I pray you all can go back to New York at some point.
Marco North said…
Sarah - thanks for your comment. I would be careful to call this "evil", and think this only happens in the East. It happens in many ways in many countries to many people.

I would describe the situation this way - when people's basic rights and freedoms are devalued, when the government is corrupt and ignores the needs of the common man/woman -this leads to a sort of despair, a basic understanding that no one is looking out for you, and no one is protecting you from dangers both natural and man-made. Centuries of living this way cause people to employ survival mechanisms, and develop tight networks of trust in order to survive. I often say in Moscow I feel that surviving is an accomplishment. In the same breath I say succeeding is the accomplishment in NYC. That is a massive difference.

Being an outsider here, being confronted with the harshness of life and the hard truths of survival are an ongoing culture shock for me. The man that tries to run me over with my daughter in the street, the woman who sells me rotten fruit - they are all products of centuries of survival mechanisms. They are out for themselves and those close to them. Me, the stranger - no matter how kind - I am seen as an easy mark and nothing at all.
Suzette Sommer said…
I hear similar tales from Eastern Europe- Croatian friends, Poles, Serbs, mostly - but other countries, too.

How breaking the law and cheating in various way was the only way to survive- Many stories from WW 2 survivors from Europe - and from Vietnamese friends who were left behind by the Americans after the war....

Cruelty, harshness, lack, scrounging, hostility.

The civilizing veneer is more thin than we think.
Sarah said…
Marco, very well put and I agree with your assessment. Hang in there. Sarah

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