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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 …

the in-between moment



E's new snow pants make whisking sounds in the darkness as we walk the few blocks to the marshrutka stop. These little buses weave through the lesser known parts of the city on marshrut (routes), connecting old women and men without cars to metro stations. They do not charge me for E most of the time. Some drivers look eternally angry, miserable. One smiles at us, even says "dobrei utram" (good morning) and the more familiar goodbye "shastliva" (happiness).

Today she slumps against me once we are inside, cheek against my arm. Often the lights are bright, like an arena inside the little bus but today they are dimmed. I do not have to pull my hat down over my eyes to drift halfway back asleep for the fifteen minutes it takes.

Outside, Kievskaya stands cold and grey. The shopping center is buzzing with colored neon and giant blinking commercials on screens, all shouting for attention with the sound turned off. The ground is crisp from last night's frost. It crunches quietly under our boots. People are smoking cigarettes everywhere, sucking hard before going inside to work.

The streetlights are blinking off just as the sky is just starting to move towards dawn. This is the in-between moment, not here not there, not asleep not awake, not at school not at home. There are no pickle jars full of cigarette butts falling from balconies. There are no people pulling cars fast around corners to jump away from. The streetlights are working. The fountains are off, their empty bottoms littered with dry leaves.

Winter is here, but not here.

The news channels scream stories that are meant to sow fear, each headline more convincing than the next. There are wars going on. Soldiers are coming home in body bags. Somehow, life seems exactly the same. Old women shove at each other at a farmer's market on a Sunday afternoon. One says she was next in line to buy a cheap pumpkin. Another says, "No I am next". The first says "You c*nt! I am next." Then there is a swatting of hands, even some kicking. All over who is next on a warm Sunday afternoon, safe and quiet under tall trees.

I will never understand what motivates people here to get angry at one moment, and what brings them to swallow their feelings at another. Wrong is wrong.

I head home, alone on the marshrutka not closing my eyes, watching the river and the bridges swish past the windows. The sky is brighter now, a dull flat nothing.








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