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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

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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