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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 …

Partizanskaya (where everyone is smiling)

The metro is quiet. People are not shoving each other. No one is French-kissing on the long escalators. No one is telling us to move to the right over a broken loudspeaker. I feel that second cup of coffee pushing me forwards, no need to close my eyes on the train and listen for the right stop. No, I am awake.

And then out the doors and I stand on the corner with a folded map in my hands. I look towards the onion domes a few blocks away but that is the wrong direction I tell myself. I start off to the left, into god knows where and stop a few feet later. Everyone is crossing the street and going towards those domes. I pocket the map.

A few minutes later I am walking through the front gates. There is cheap luggage for sale, and dollar sunglasses. I keep going. 

And then, the stalls unfold. There are lines of matroshkas. There are knives and lighters, shawls and painted cups. I breath in. Yes, I found it. All by myself.



I have a list of props to buy - army blankets, a Soviet rotary phone, an old key, some toy soldiers, a metal tray. Some of the stalls are still being set up. A man calls out to me, in English.
"You like?" He says, his tan face poking from behind a collection of t-shirts.
I smile and wave my hand trying to say no thanks.
"Turkish?" He asks me, in English.
"No." I answer, the English feeling odd in my mouth all of a sudden. "American."
"I was in Michigan once!" He shouts, running out from behind the dolls to shake my hand.
"You come back, have a coffee with me, ok?" He says.
I nod, smile.
"It is my first time here." I tell him.
"Woho!" He says, flapping his hands around.
"Amir." He says, shaking my hand again.
"Marco." I reply, and then I keep walking.

People are smiling, laughing, strolling down the halls with gentle hands moving slowly in the air. No one is pushing me in the center of my back, no matter how narrow the way is. There are people with tables sitting in near-darkness. There are old shoes and records, radios, cups, cameras. A smell comes off of them, that antique musty dead roses and fly shit smell.

The sun has burned off the wet morning haze and I am sweating. I tie the jacket around my waist. The bags are thumping against me, two Soviet phones, some army bottles dancing against each other as I walk. A sense of calm rushes over me. I am going to find everything I need to make this film, to tell this odd little story. There are faces here that listen, nodding, agreeing on prices and after I slide things into the bags I tell them I am making a film and they seem ok with that. They are not excited, more that this is a logical reason for a foreigner to buy a broken old phone for 2,000 rubles.

I imagine N in bed, rolling over a little knowing I am here dressed and out the door for hours now. I think to call her, to find out if she woke up yet. And then, I find the last items, and am walking fast to go back to the metro.

Amir calls to me, as I pass him.
"Marco!" He shouts, giving me a thumbs up sign, motioning towards the collection of bags I carry now.






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