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Not me, her

In 1987, I found myself trying to write about a high school girlfriend that had been molested by her father when she was a child. I was 19 years old, struggling to find my way through a screenwriting assignment about delivering character. The idea was to describe messy young love between two Sid and Nancy want-to-be's. But that failed, as I could not stomach oversimplifying her complicated past, events that shaped her life as a 16 year old with a mohawk, a smart mouth, a lingering stare. I understood that I had to start at the very beginning.

No one wanted to hear the story. When it was my turn to read in class, it even came to be that some of the other students asked to stand in the hallway before they heard another description of what happened in that lonely little house in the middle of nowhere. I was trying, and failing, and trying again to get things right, to explain how this happened, how it could happen to this girl, how this man found his way to acts of selfishness and d…

brother, brother

The mashrutka is full, just one spot left in the very back. E drags her feet down the narrow aisle. I ask the man in the last double seat to move a little so she can sit down. She slides past him into the empty window seat, and I rest her mammoth school bag on the floor. The man flicks his head back and forth, inspecting us. I nod once to E, a reassuring look as I stand in the aisle and get ready to balance myself for the bumpy ride. She does not like to sit next to strangers. I shrug my shoulders. She forces a little smile, as if we are saying "what to do?". Nothing, just go home.

The man decides to give me the seat and I tell him it is not necessary. He flashes a mouth full of lumpy gold teeth, his eyes bloodshot. He is standing next to me in the tiny aisle and there is no space for both of us so I sit down. E makes a little sigh, and nudges her knee next to mine.

The man asks me where I am from. I decide to tell him the truth. Sometimes I say Canada to make things easier. 

He breathes right into my face, his breath a terrifying combination of raw onion, and liver and vodka. Words are tumbling from his mouth. I ask E is she understands him and she says, "that's not Russian" to me.

I try to guess what he says out of context. I think he is telling me about how his friends work in Germany for a few months without a visa and then come back to Moscow and wants to know if that is possible in America. I tell him things are very correct there, that visas are hard to get. He nods, and suddenly he is slapping his hands on my shoulder like my jacket is a little snare drum.

"Brat, Brat." He says. (brother, brother).

People on the little bus are craning their necks around. He is Uzbek, an immigrant, quite possibly an illegal one. These men with black hair, they sweep the streets, they dream of driving taxis, living 10 or 15 to one room, sending money home for their families. 

His face looms inches from mine as the bus jolts around on potholes and speed bumps. He is trying to tell me something about his home now, about how it has mountains and beautiful nature. He asks me again how he can go to America and how it must be so great there. I try to tell him no place is perfect, but he does not understand me. I try to tell him his home must be wonderful. 

He drums against my jacket again, running out of things to say just repeating "brat, brat" over and over. I finally begin to feel uncomfortable, long after the people around us are shrugging their shoulders and whispering to each other. Saying I am his brother is too far a stretch, a fabrication, a lie. It could be true, but it is not. 










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