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there is always something (why I shoot film)

There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to …

brother, brother

The mashrutka is full, just one spot left in the very back. E drags her feet down the narrow aisle. I ask the man in the last double seat to move a little so she can sit down. She slides past him into the empty window seat, and I rest her mammoth school bag on the floor. The man flicks his head back and forth, inspecting us. I nod once to E, a reassuring look as I stand in the aisle and get ready to balance myself for the bumpy ride. She does not like to sit next to strangers. I shrug my shoulders. She forces a little smile, as if we are saying "what to do?". Nothing, just go home.

The man decides to give me the seat and I tell him it is not necessary. He flashes a mouth full of lumpy gold teeth, his eyes bloodshot. He is standing next to me in the tiny aisle and there is no space for both of us so I sit down. E makes a little sigh, and nudges her knee next to mine.

The man asks me where I am from. I decide to tell him the truth. Sometimes I say Canada to make things easier. 

He breathes right into my face, his breath a terrifying combination of raw onion, and liver and vodka. Words are tumbling from his mouth. I ask E is she understands him and she says, "that's not Russian" to me.

I try to guess what he says out of context. I think he is telling me about how his friends work in Germany for a few months without a visa and then come back to Moscow and wants to know if that is possible in America. I tell him things are very correct there, that visas are hard to get. He nods, and suddenly he is slapping his hands on my shoulder like my jacket is a little snare drum.

"Brat, Brat." He says. (brother, brother).

People on the little bus are craning their necks around. He is Uzbek, an immigrant, quite possibly an illegal one. These men with black hair, they sweep the streets, they dream of driving taxis, living 10 or 15 to one room, sending money home for their families. 

His face looms inches from mine as the bus jolts around on potholes and speed bumps. He is trying to tell me something about his home now, about how it has mountains and beautiful nature. He asks me again how he can go to America and how it must be so great there. I try to tell him no place is perfect, but he does not understand me. I try to tell him his home must be wonderful. 

He drums against my jacket again, running out of things to say just repeating "brat, brat" over and over. I finally begin to feel uncomfortable, long after the people around us are shrugging their shoulders and whispering to each other. Saying I am his brother is too far a stretch, a fabrication, a lie. It could be true, but it is not. 










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