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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 …

black like them


I see one of them, in stiff orange coveralls in front of our new place each morning when I return from taking E to school. As I approach he dips his head, sweeping a path with a bunch of twigs wrapped into a makeshift broom. I say dobrei, to him, a casual version of morning. He mumbles something back. He was surprised the first time I did this. These people with black hair and gold teeth, the garbage collectors, the painters of fences are invisible to most here. He could be from Uzbekistan, or Tajikstan, maybe even Azerbaijan. They leave family behind, traveling to Moscow to make money that is sent back, sleeping 10 or 15 to a single room apartment.

Black caps pulled down over ears, rarely a clean shave, hands shoved into pockets wearing thin coats I see them around the train station. As they arrive from far off places, the militia is poised to ask for documents, proof of an address in Moscow, registration papers. All too often I see them standing for some time, without bribe money in their pocket. That look on their face, the arrival and the quick dousing of hope as they are shoved into police cars, or even long buses that cart them all of to a holding facility.

Yes, people are bringing opium and narcotics on these trains. Yes, the laws are the laws here. But they are enforced randomly. Racial profiling is a runaway problem in Moscow.

I think of the protests back home, about Ferguson, about what happens in Florida. It feels all too familiar. At the same time, I want to call people up and say "but you can protest, you can walk in the street and shout whatever you want, without scheduling things, without asking permission." It sounds like I am saying a half-bruised apple is better than a whole bruised apple, so I let this thought dissolve into nothing. In Moscow, every six months or so one of these "blacks" is killed or beaten severely by the militia. There is a messy call for gathering, a reaction to blatant, unmotivated violence. The embassy issues warnings to me to stay away from this square, or that shopping center. I pass these places the next day, seeing the lines of prison buses parked in the cold air. There are rings of militia, standing in groups smoking cigarettes, machine guns slack at their sides. My hand jumps to my chin, unshaved, the black hat pulled down over my ears. I do not breathe as I pass them, and remind myself to come back a different way, even though my documents are always in my pockets even when I go downstairs to buy milk.

In Moscow these protests never happen, or are shut down in minutes, with a few hundred new detainees in those buses. Here, the right to say "this is wrong" is rare. It is for white people, with iPhones and a job in a bank.

All the same, I say good morning to this man. I want him to know I that I see him.




Comments

David said…
What you and I know, have witnessed and seen, the average American does not know. The news they get is mainstream. It is always converse to what you and I have witnessed.

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