Jordan is an alum of the 2019 Russian summer program. This story was submitted as an entry to the NSLI-Y 15th Anniversary Storytelling Competition.
Мое Время в Москве:
I took the metro everyday past южная (South) and тульская (Tula) from the farthest point within Moscow’s transport limits. It’s where the Germans stopped in 1942, and where the buses brought in people from the outskirts, and where the old grandmothers sold flowers when the weather felt nice. Forget-me-nots, like tiny blue khokhlomas sitting in boquets along the street.
I had two stops above ground. I always was first onto the last car, where I took to my corner watching the commuters make for the seats. It’s a skirmish. There’s a melee between a round city worker with coffee stains on his tie and an absent-minded babushka, but civility still exists. When they seem close to percussion the man gives way, grasping at the bars to stop his course and play the chevalier. He stands and gestures towards the empty chair. There is no exchange of words, there never is.
The Moscow metro line is a taciturn transit, that much I know. I think that’s because of the free WiFi. I wished I could read my books along the way home, but I’m pretty sure I caught anglophobia somewhere along the line. So, I took to standing for sixty-seven minutes and watching the Rossiyane. It’s terribly unproductive.
I’ve watched half of a Game of Thrones episode off someone’s phone. I knew there was a scene of dishabille coming up, because she paused, looked up, as if thinking upon her actions (I hope), and pressed play. I’ve seen cabbages roll down the car, chased by younglings. There has been the riding of scooters along the aisle and the drinking of champagne at the far end and the dancing of a household of three by the window.
Every Saturday, a man would enter the car trying to sell something. I didn’t know what it was, but it looked like coupons or lottery tickets or the stamps my sister would sell in seventh grade for her band trip. He had a handlebar mustache and a red cap and always counted his money when he got off.
Ksenia told me that people sometimes played music, though I had yet to hear any.
The last time I saw the metro station was at midnight. It was lit green and bright, beckoning forth lost wayfarers. Pedestrians still wandered the streets as the mechanical echoes of the rail reverberated through the trees. The sodium lamps ignited the neighborhood in patches of yellow light.
There was a park just beyond with a pond and there were always children. Tatianna complained that all the little ones had up and gone, but they seemed plentiful. They played on the dirt mound, and rode their scooters, and hid in the thrush. Masha was chasing the doves again and Volvo was talking about Stalin–at least that’s what I’m told.
That was the day in which we walked to the little cafe, Pekarnya. Croissants and americanos and lattes in footed Irish coffee mugs. Masha’s scooter had been carried across the road.
I walked once on a different path and was met with an elderly man beside the water. From what I can recall, he wore sunglasses and a white fedora, and played a quiet, fanciful tune on his keyboard.
On Fridays, I would sit on the docks that beetled out onto the reservoir, the planks would shake under my feet and bend to my weight. The bows in the lath created shadowy eyes of some marshy nether where the grass twisted and twirled and the ducklings played.
When it came twilight, the sun set just beyond the cluster of apartment buildings, and the birch tree leaves rustled in the Russian night to the couples by the shore, and they didn’t seem to mind.
Weeks before, a storm had made its way over the south of Moscow. I saw the edges of it at Biblioteka Imeni Lenina and saw its wake on the passengers along the metro. When the rail line finally emerged just above the treetops, I saw the somber haze that spoiled the welkin. The rain had already started, and the commuters had pooled into the metro station to watch and wait. I don’t know why I didn’t.
I’m convinced my path is the way of the drunkards. Everyday I always find myself trailing the tottering tracks of another carouser. It’s always morning and I’m heading to school and eyeing their brown paper bags and slumped posture and...track suits.
No hurry. The idea that all Russians are constantly rushing to and fro is highly inaccurate. There’s a joke in there somewhere.
Another time, I had gotten lost amongst the similar residences of my neighborhood. Each block apartment seemed to have the same tattered and faded swing set, pale variegated benches, and yellow brick school buildings. I was in search of a bronze fountain or the sight of three blue onions or church bells that would indicate the pathway home. I went through alleys and side streets, across roads and playgrounds as the eventide rolled in. I passed strollers with their bumbershoots (they had no use today) and a 1976 Lada, bright orange. I think I stopped a bit too long for that one
I always get anxious when opening my building door. It’s the only time in Moscow, in which social interaction might be a necessity. There’s a magnetic sensor that hung next to the skeleton key around my neck and I had to hold it up to the detector and wait for the green light. I’m always unsure of whether to hold the door behind me for oncoming tenement dwellers, or to say “hi” to the man feeding the cats, or wait to ride the elevator up by myself.
It’s a ghastly thing, the elevator. With one pale, sour colored fluorescent to illuminate the chard painted interior. There is a spray of some yellow fluid along the back wall and a mirror shattered into three near the door. The lights would occasionally flicker and the wayward confine would pause, and there was always a rumpus from below.
I needed another key to the hallway of my apartment, a small one, and I never saw my neighbors. They exist though, at least that’s what I’ve heard. They have their bicycles leaning against their shelves of shoes and playthings. There is always a perambulator at the end of the corridor and it always seems to be in a different place. I’ve heard muffled conversations from behind one of the doors at the end of the hall. It always sounds like yelling.
I once saw two girls, aged seven or so, through the judas. They stood waiting outside another’s residence, but I don’t think they lived within the occupancy. I could hear them from the kitchen. They stayed there for over an hour and were gone when I looked again.
And then there were the crows. I’ve heard they’re called hooded crows, but methinks they wear fur coats. Logan says their coloring resembles “the sleeveless hoodies often worn by members of the VES wrestling team.” I see them on my walk, roosted beneath the elevated railway, stealing breakfast crumbs from hurried suburbanites. Dima likes to follow them as they walk, careful not to get too close, less they fly off. Tatiana says they’re called серая ворона, she doesn’t like them very much.They seem to be Russia’s comforting mediocrity. Grey birds with some resemblance of home, yet never a favorite.
They’re everywhere, seemingly attracted to Moscow’s transportation system. I see them throughout my walk towards the center. I find them especially at охотный ряд (Hunter’s Row), the shopping center beneath the city. They also love Lenin’s mausoleum, and the fountains at МГУ, and the grouping of trees near Hotel Nikitskaya. I think a few of them even waited in line for the Третьяковская Галерея, perhaps they’re fans of Puskin, maybe Ivan Aivazovsky, or even the gift shop with the glimmering brooches and the “ladies in crinolines.” Perhaps, so.