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no gold (things will have to wait)

There is an old Russian expression for the inevitable moment when your neighbors begin renovating. "Searching for gold in the walls." They say, to describe the epic sounds of drills in ancient concrete. You might appreciate this odd humor, this dark joke, this survival tactic. I am not so graceful a man to wrap my thoughts around it. Those drills and grinders, they shake the very walls of our apartment. Early on Sunday mornings and often long into the evenings they go.

This has been going on for the last four months, maybe more. I stopped counting.

I cannot imagine there are any walls left, that there is an entire open floor below us, the wind whipping through the naked beams and nothing else. That is the only explanation. Or that they break down walls, build new ones, find a flaw, some grand mistake and then break all of the walls down again. Not swiftly with sledgehammers, but with one crappy old drill with a dull bit, mashing away, so that children hundreds of miles away…

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 on his face. The tattooed man does not even say thank you to him. He rattles his hands against the windows instead, as we lurch through Sunday traffic not far from the White House. All at once he is standing, banging his hands on the door, his army fatigues sagging off of him.

Faces turn down. No one is looking at him any more, except out of the corner of their eye. We are all together in this, the raw nerve shouting, the tamed herd with hands folded in laps, money carefully tucked into pockets, shopping lists and sunglasses all in their places.

The bus does not stop, and the doors do not open as we are in the middle of an intersection. The tattooed man moans and sways. I think he is about to throw up, and I am convinced there is very little soda in that KFC cup. That familiar smell of vodka and cigarettes, of sweat and mud are drifting around him. And then all at once we idle into a station, the doors heave open and he stumbles out. I watch him, as he gazes up at a shopping center as if he has never seen one before. His knees buckle, he begins to lean towards people passing him. I go inside.

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