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Hey, Lyosha

There are prison tattoos on the backs of his hands. Faded, blotchy shapes and a finger that jabs at a phone. "Hey, Lyosha!" He shouts, as every face on the bus swings to him. There is no answer, no voice on the other side. "Lyosha." He says again, then stares angrily out the windows. I step on someone's foot by accident, apologizing quickly. The young man waves his hand as if to say I did not need to say anything. The man with the tattoos sips from a giant cup of soda from KFC that is balanced on the empty seat next to him.

We pass a hotel we used to live next to, where expensive escorts are ferried in and out like yachts in a harbor. There is a fresh line of flags snapping in a low wind, and an American one is curiously absent. Plenty of the businessmen behind those windows are from the states.

The man brandishes the phone and hands it to the young man in front of me. I did not see that one coming. The young man wipes invisible dust from it, a reserved frown …

no change


The city exhales, and hangs at that empty moment without air. There are still Christmas songs playing from brittle speakers, blaring English words to people that do not speak it. At the shopping centers, there are crowds of people sucking on cigarettes in the cold air. They will shuffle back inside, wandering the halls, taking pictures of each other in stiff poses in front of miniature waterfalls. Colored lights are blinking through the water, an endless loop of music and spray.

It all feels completely forced, the stale music, the expressionless faces, the slow glide of the wet mop, the hushed rustle of the broom. I wonder if the cleaning people know that the birds are chirping outside, that the sun is coming out and the last patches of dirty snow are turning into mud puddles.

I buy what we need and leave.

Outside, the sun has pressed though the clouds even more. The streets gleam, wet and blue in the afternoon. The buildings seem smaller and farther away at the same time, as if they have all shrunk twenty feet. But I have not changed at all.



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