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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 …

talking to the trees


Most experiences cannot be discussed. No one wants to hear the ugly truth, and chances are you will be attacked for sharing it. To be able to speak freely means that you need a willing listener, otherwise you are just talking to the trees. Time and again I have come to understand that there is no difference between New York and Moscow, no difference between East and West. They are just cults of personality, built on violence and money and moral quicksand.

The life of an expat evolves from those early, awkward victories to one of assimilation or in cases like mine - eventually understanding that you have no country you can (or want to) call home. I am left with just these four walls and my family. This apartment is the only place I actually belong. This is the only place I do not need to soft-pedal my thoughts, where I do not need to apologize for what I have unearthed. The river of betrayal runs deep whether I look outside, or across the ocean. Willful ignorance, willful indifference, hate, fear, echo chambers, blind patriotism, blind faith, outright hostility - there is nothing new about them, but that does not remove their sting as you stumble across a fresh version of an old story.

The months march along, with identical waves of muddied half-truths that are gobbled up, spit out, reposted, shared and lionized by strangers. Shared next to diet tips, and promises for new ways to get rid of ear wax, next to targeted ads based your search history. It is very hard to say what actually changes, except for the price of milk, or oil. There is alway a war. There is always a dragon to slay. There is always a dumbed-down hero's welcome, a watered-down parade, a ship of fools, an army of reporters rushing to bless them or demonize them or forget how to pronounce their names - and then it is time for a commercial, it is time to shout about dandruff or a weekend getaway, or a celebrity wedding or maybe a divorce or what tragedy might be on the nightly news.

Or, you can talk to the trees on a day like today.


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