Music theory class ends, and we shuffle out into the bright sun. The streets are full of dust. We make our way to the metro. Friday afternoon is the hour of crowds.
Our friends are waiting outside Rimskaya, outside the third ring at the far East edge of the city. On the top floor of a shopping mall, there are a still a few seats around the rink. We press through the crowd, and find four chairs together. E and another half-Russian, half-American girl are at their first hockey game.
So am I.
E is anxious. Music is blaring, spurts of hard rock favorites that end after thirty seconds, then silence, then another classic rock hit. Guns N' Roses. George Thorogood. Bon Jovi.
"Welcome to New Jersey." I tell E, cracking wise.
She rolls her eyes.
"When does it start?" She asks me again.
"Soon." I say.
The players do emerge, swooping around the ice. The FDNY team line up pucks in a perfect row, slapping them easily into the unguarded net. Cheerleaders climb onto platforms - a handful for each team, although they are all Russian girls, just twirling different flags. The theme from Rocky comes on. Something jumps inside my throat. E looks up at me, smiling, pointing things out to me. She asks for a pen.
I dig in my bag, producing one. I give her one of my moleskins to draw in. She draws everywhere. I don't knock it.
She waves the notebook away.
She draws on the back of her hand.
She has this habit of surprising me. This is what being a parent is all about. These odd surprises, when we realize what little people our children are, blotchy copies of ourselves and all their own at the same time.
"Which are our guys?" She shouts at me.
I point at the team in red, taking the pen back from her.
"They are from the Fire Department." I tell her.
She nods, then points at the blue team.
"They are Moscow Emergency Services guys." I tell her. She makes a face. "Like when there is an accident. They come first."
She nods again, suddenly so wise.
Our friend's daughter next to her waves a tiny American flag around.
E thrusts her hand in the air.
"New York! New York!" She shouts. "Can I have the pen?"
I give it back to her.
She writes some more.
The players stand in a row. Speeches are made, echoing in a garbled mess around the rink and into the great hollow shopping center. A marching band is tuning up. The Star Spangled Banner kicks in, and everyone lurches to their feet. I show E that she should put her right hand over her heart, but having drawn on her left, she twists it back on herself to place it against her chest. The singer is a woman, half-pronouncing the words. My throat jumps again. I can't remember the last time I heard the song in person. I look down at us, in some bizarre corner of the world but here, now. I am singing along with her. E's voice picks up. She has no idea what the words are, but she fakes it, singing "na-na-na-na-na-naaaaaah."
The song ends. The Russian anthem blares on, sung by a man at a deafening volume. The girls put their fingers in their ears.
The game begins.
The FDNY team has a player named Bravest and I cannot believe the irony. I watch Bravest make the first goal of the game. He seems to be everywhere. The Russian's have names like Ageev. After a few minutes I understand that every player for the FDNY team has Bravest on their jersey. I am laughing at myself. E copies me, not even knowing why.
"We are winning!" She shouts at me.
The game plods along. We take a one point lead, then it evens up. The cheerleaders are swiveling around. Drums are beaten. Horns are blaring. Old women jump up from their seats, their hands pointing towards the roof. E smiles up at me. Her arm remains in the air, even though she is getting tired of keeping it there.
When we miss a goal, I am shouting in the brief silence. We are the only people rooting for the US team. When we make a goal, New York, New York blurts on for a little while. Lights flash on the ice. E wiggles around.
We win by one point.
Hanging from the bleachers, E waves her flag at the players.
"I love New York!" She shouts at them and they break into nervous smiles.
She shows her hand to them and they grow silent.
They give her a game puck.
Later, we understand someone stole her hat. She cries for a good half an hour on the way back to the metro. I explain how I can buy her another one just like it, but she says no, there will never be another hat like that one.
At home, we eat a late dinner and she falls asleep at the kitchen table.
The next morning, I tell her we have to take a bath before she goes to her mother's for the day. I start the hot water, squeeze in the bubble soap. Her mother calls.
"I am taking you in half an hour." She says.
"No, in an hour." E says. "I am going to take a bath."
"I don't care about your bath." Her mother says.
E looks at me with that wounded face.
"We should at least wash your hand so she doesn't see the words." I say.
E shakes her head.
"I want her to see them." She says. "It says something I am scared to tell her."
I take a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
"Ok." I say.
"And I want to show her the flag they gave me too." She adds.
We put it all in a plastic bag, the game puck heavy in it.