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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 …

imaginary places


It is an act only a New Yorker can be offended by. Anyone else would dismiss it as it happened. There are only so many hours in the day, and so much injustice a person can note, rehash, testify to and eventually absorb. There may just be a razor's edge that defines a normal person from an obsessive New Yorker, or that edge may be a mile wide. I don't know anymore. There are no tools to measure imaginary spaces. There is just the cold Moscow winter, the snow littered with shit and piss many feet deep, in long grey drifts that snake around cars and streets as far as the eye can see.

The life of an expat becomes a surrender measured out over time. You lose contact with acquaintances from back home. You become invisible to many people, transplanted in a land where no one sees you.  You become a ghost, a phantom shadow that does not recognize its face in the mirror. The past is so far away, it becomes someone else's past. A stranger's life two times over. But in this vacuum, this limbo  - there is a possibility to reinvent. You can shed a skin, and paint a new face in its place. You can laugh at the wind, or take up stamp collecting. You can walk in the street and take comfort in your anonymity.

There are bitter pills to swallow, those headlines from the place you come from. They go down easier from a distance. They become a bad movie on a dark screen. You can walk out into the lobby, buy some candies, suck on a fountain soda, and stare out at the street. It is raining, and the cars are sloshing their way through intersections while people share umbrellas and run into cafes to dry off, or fall in love, or argue, or make love or go to get their kids from school. It all happens in these imaginary places.



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