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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

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A woman sits on a scrap of cardboard on the cold, wet floor. Her head is wrapped in a scarf. A boy, not older than two teeters on short legs, hands stretching out as people pass. His tiny palms are filthy from the dirt and wet grime in this tunnel. I pass them, as I have countless times. She has new shoes. They have Chanel logos on them, and are crusted with rhinestones. The pink of the slippers is barely visible past the tiny sparkles.

She could be in her thirties or she could be barely twenty and I would not know the difference. She appears with different children on random days. It is entirely possible that none of them are hers. There are stories upon stories about gypsies renting children to panhandle with, and there is nothing to suggest they are untrue.

Her shoes are clean under the flickering fluorescent lights. The boy has toys spread across the wobbly stones, a tricycle, a pail, a shovel. It feels more like a messy living room than the way to cross beneath a six-lane street.




When I was a boy, about the same age as E my parents told me about my middle name. I did not know it before then. They also told me I should stop picking my nose. They told me I did not need to carry a dictionary to school every day. Then, they told me I was part gypsy. In truth, this was a fabrication. Maybe it was a bit of creative parenting that backfired. I began climbing on top of my school desk the next day, dancing in circles, spinning wildly as the other children looked on in fear and shock, and then bland encouragement.

I liked the idea of being part gypsy. It felt like a wild vein ran through me, a reckless one, a fierce and mysterious one. If I had some gypsy blood, then I could probably put a curse on someone. I remember thinking that, being the smallest kid in the class. I learned about the evil eye and how you had to be careful. If you used it on someone that was innocent, the eye reflected back on you. Whatever ills you wished on them would actually happen to you instead. I felt great power, and that I needed to use it wisely.

Later in life, I understood it was all fantasy, a joke on a gullible child with an active imagination. I felt less interesting after that, less special.

When I came to Moscow that very first time, there were gypsies on Red Square. Boys ran with no shoes on in the warm sun, blurting a few words of English to me, hands always outstretched. They never walked, always ran. No one was giving them money. The policemen ignored them.


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