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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

the rose seller's screams

The oldest woman is screaming, her bent cart toppled to one side as roses splay across the dirty parking lot. She is huge. In her long thick coat she is as grey and monstrous as a battleship. One of the younger rose sellers is her daughter, but I do not see her. I walk quickly, not turning or lingering to find out what the fight is about. I hear her voice, loud, fierce, fingering into the quiet, wet morning. It swells to that pitch that touches on pain and desperation and anger and gives me goosebumps. I know that sound all too well.

My eyes are wet, and I am wiping my face as I pass E's teacher who says a quick good morning without slowing down. I must look like I burst into tears after I drop her off, and I want to laugh once at myself. I blame it on the wind whipping up from the river.

Downstairs in the produkte I am waiting to buy milk, in an early morning line behind a collection of men that smell of vodka and cigarettes. They dig into their pockets for loose change, counting out rubles on the glass countertop to buy tiny packets of mayonnaise, and cheap sausages, short vodka bottles and miniature loaves of black bread. It is quiet in here, the women in blue aprons behind the counters, faces blank then ducking in back to smoke cigarettes and make everyone wait. I guess these men are security guards, men at front desks who ask for documents and write passport numbers down in notebooks and then wave you inside.

The nice lady who sells potatoes and frozen cherries is not here, but even her alternate recognizes me. She nods once as I leave, her round face bobbing behind the counter.

There is something about the lives they are leading, I tell myself as I enter the elevator. My face stares back at me, cheeks red and wet. It is like bone grinding against bone.


Comments

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