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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 …

Moscow at night


I was on a back street, behind Lubyanka. The name meant nothing to me when I first came to Moscow, just that it sounded a lot like люблю (lyublyu) which means "love". My naive ears did not understand that this place was a prison, and the headquarters of the KGB. It is also the name of a metro station, and I imagined lovers kissing here in old photographs, maybe a bridge with cascades of rusting locks attached to it like Ponte Milvio in Rome. Sometimes our imagination seems so logical, so possible that we simply accept it. For years I did not know the truth, not that anyone really knows what happens behind the dark concrete and the high windows of this place.

It looks empty, deserted. A lone guard approaches, asks a few questions and tells us to keep going.

On Tverskaya, there are museums and statues. Chekhov wrote about this street, Tolstoy, Pushkin and Bulgakov too. There is a great statue of Marx, his body half-submerged in a great block of stone, as if the work was left unfinished but somehow ended up on display. On this night he gazes into the percolating traffic, the people milling around. There is history upon history here. Churches that were ripped down to nothing, mansions built, invasions, triumphs. But the streets tell no story, they simply crumble over time. I look at the faces, and they are empty or lost in the tiny screens of their phones. I used to make fun of people that looked up in New York, marveling at the architecture. "Tourists" we would say, with an all-knowing sneer. New Yorker's look forwards and walk fast, that is what we all believed.

Turning the corner onto Mosfilm where we live, the wind blows softly through the trees. An old woman walks a tiny dog. A vegetable stand is closed, surrounded by empty boxes that hang open, a collection of giant cardboard mouths waiting to be fed. There are puddles in the streets, reflecting the lights on in homes, warm and yellow.  I imagine I can tell which one is ours, high above the trees with wet laundry drying on a rack in the living room.




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