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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 …

more than winter (the fool)


I was forwarded a mass email warning last Monday, in Russian of course. I asked N to translate it after we had dinner. It said there was a concrete threat of terrorist activities over the next weekend - starting from Friday and ending on Sunday, to stay away from train stations, concert halls and shopping centers, away from government buildings and monuments. I had hoped it was just some junk mail inviting me to join a gym. The Russian news was full of stories about an increased police presence, security sweeps, random searches, trained dogs sniffing packages. 

The next day I decided it was high time to bring some film to the lab, taking E from school and maneuvering the metro chock full of people even at three in the afternoon. She held my hand as tight as ever. People were running like football players through airports in old commercials, knocking people over, no apologies, no head turning briefly just linebacker moves left and right. It was Tuesday. We took the less popular trains and stations, avoiding Red Square entirely. What did we all learn in NYC so many years ago? Not to live in fear. Not to change our lives, not to hide like frightened rabbits in tiny apartments. The greatest example to set was a life well-lived. 

After dropping the film off, I took her for a cupcake and some lemonade at the Magnolia Bakery outpost that opened in Moscow last summer. The frosting and the sprinkles looked so magical to her behind the glass and she declared the lemonade to be top notch. We bought an extra one for N, knowing she would probably just nibble a corner of it. 

On the way home, an old woman in a droopy uniform stopped me before we went through the turnstiles. She wanted to inspect E's schoolbag which had ended up on my shoulder as it often does. I thought of my unshaved face, the baseball hat on my head but could not imagine why we were stopped, as E was holding my hand. Who could we be besides an innocent father and his daughter? I gave the bag without argument, just annoyed and they checked it. No nod, no "now you can go," just a blank stare. E looked up at me, confused. I told her to shake it off, that maybe they stop every fifteenth person no matter who they are. A part of me just wanted to roll my eyes at the old woman being part of some comprehensive anti-terrorism force. It felt like another charade, another chapter of the Emperor's New Clothes which describes most days here.

I went back to pick up my film two days later, in the middle of the day by myself. I sent N a text at each stage of the route, letting her know I was ok. The metro was quieter today, as handfuls of militia with Kalashnikovs swinging from their necks walked the platforms, yes one or two dogs sniffing at people's heels. I thought to buy cupcakes for them but then just wanted to be back home, quiet and warm, maybe with V taking a nap or nursing or banging on her new toy piano. 

In the same station as Tuesday the old woman was stopping a young man, a giant beard hanging from his chin, a goofy homemade hat cocked on his head  - a sort of 21st century Russian hippie. She was checking his bags. I felt a strange sense of relief at the randomness of her actions, and at the same time the same doubt that any of this was effective. 

At home, I began scanning the negatives. It is like Christmas every time I see the pictures for the first time, strange epiphanies, reminders of the things I shot and forgot about, the roll in the drawer for weeks before I made it to the lab. I took E from school, made dinner, curled up and slept heavily with the windows open a crack letting in the cool air. 

Two days later I began to see the reports coming in out of the corner of my eye, assuming it was something small, news being shared to beat the silence, to fill the void. I got up to pee in the middle of the night and saw the pictures of Paris. I wobbled on my feet, sat down, reading half-awake and then suddenly wide awake. A wave of shame ran along my arms and up the back of my neck. Maybe there were attacks planned for Moscow too and that mass email I got on Monday was real. I felt like a fool. Paris had been attacked and no one saw it coming. Maybe Moscow was next, maybe New York. No one knows until afterwards. I walked through the house, looking at E asleep, her legs twisted around the blankets, the red heart that glowed on her wall with the tiny lamp inside it. I looked at N and V, caught in frozen moments of grace. I looked out the windows, knowing soon it would snow again, soon the grass would be hidden, the ice, the grinding wheels, the grit and muck, soon more warnings being sent, more police in the streets, more headlines, that more than winter was just beginning.







Comments

liv said…
All I can do is hope for your safety with all my heart - and it doesn't seem like enough.

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