ISSUE #3 FICTION: CONTEMPORARY ARABIC AND RUSSIAN PURSUITS, AUTUMN 2013
CREATIVE WRITING
Exit
Only the old razor, it was immediately evident, was from Soviet times.

1

As they set out, these were the thoughts running through his head: the usual excursion, three countries, three nights, twenty people, no kids (he checked the list). “No kids,” he thought again. You couldn’t have kids in this weather: it was early March, there would be rain in Copenhagen and snow still on the ground in Helsinki. The wind would blow the whole way, and the sky would be overcast. But they knew nothing about that. “Twenty people, and I’m in my fifteenth year of doing this.”

That’s what he was thinking as the bus glided out of illuminated St. Petersburg into the pitch black of the road to Vyborg. The inside of the bus behind him was still teeming with people as it settled into its small, cramped, temporary domesticity. He checked his papers, picked up the microphone, and described the trip they were about to make, the border and customs. He didn’t listen to himself, just took note that the microphone was working and that his voice was confident, loud, and calm, just as it should be.

“All’s fine. Just as it should be.” That’s what he thought as they set out.

Now he didn’t know what to think.

When Alla Demidovna (the boisterous old B4 lady) asked if he ever got into trouble for forgetting and leaving someone behind, he naturally laughed.

“You can’t imagine how many I’ve left behind in my fifteen years!”

Now he recalled and thought: Yes, but had he actually gone and forgotten someone?

He noticed those girls immediately. Eighteen to twenty. One plump, the other not. One sassy, the other not. One knew English better, the other worse. That’s how he sometimes distinguished among his tourists. He rarely remembered names. For him, they were all an assortment of attributes and the seat they occupied.

The letter designated the row lengthwise (counting back from the driver). The number designated the crosswise row (counting from the window). He had a passenger list. Checking it, he perused each individual the way one peruses a murky bottle to figure out how the wine will taste.

A1 was a mother: not young, not old, not thin, not fat. Not stupid. Would buy clothes for her husband and teenage son, but at one point would purchase a knickknack that she’d show everyone for awhile, but wouldn’t pull it out right away when she got home because she was ashamed of it. With her was her family: A2, her lanky, hunched-over son, and A3, her husband, much older than she, smoothly bald, which made his head too big and seem as if it were screwed onto his body.

B4 was a sassy old broad resembling a rotten peach with a wrinkled little face and rosy rouge on her cheeks.

“Last summer, I toured Europe by bus. Sixteen days, eight countries. It was fabulous! What did you say your name was?” She was talking to her neighbor.

“Raya. You sat by the window. Aren’t you afraid of the draft?” Did I grab a scarf? Yes. I only hope she doesn’t forget to look in on Lyusya. What if she does? There’s chicken in the fridge and no candy. I told her, “No candy.” What if she forgets? She promised she’d walk her in the evening, what about morning? Can she hold out all day long? She’s getting old …

“If there’s a draft, I’ll move. Don’t worry. There are lots of empty seats, not many people I’ll tell you. You know, when I went to Prague … ”

So strange. We could have gone any time earlier. Why now and not earlier? Why specifically now? What do you think, Savva? That’s C1, a woman with big eyes. Over thirty, getting plump although she still hasn’t lost the fine, youthful features of her melancholy face. No smile. Looks at her husband, C2. He’s husky, fair-haired and severe. The guide would remember his Old Testament name forever.

C2: …

The guide was surprised. He looked into the murky glass again and saw nothing, shrugged his shoulders and headed further on back the bus.

“What are you doing? Can’t you put that up top?” Jesus, why did I come with her? It’s going to be like this the whole way! That was D4, a grown daughter, tall and fat, with a strong voice and hands. D3, her mother, was getting on in years. They looked just like each other.

“It’s not bothering anybody. Let it be!”

He looked at C2 again. All was quiet there.

And then there were those girls.

E4: I’ll write Mom later, like two weeks after. There won’t be anything she can do about it then. It’s easy, as long as Sveta doesn’t chicken out at the last minute. She tossed a quick glance at her friend … Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed. She said, “No problem, nobody’s going to …” Nobody? What if he already knows? Look at him looking, what’s he looking at? He could send us back at the border. He could. But we haven’t done anything yet! Jesus, they’ll stamp something in our passports, and we’ll never be able to travel again. It’s awful!

He made note of them. Simply made note, differentiating them from the rest. He saw right through them and was pleased with himself. He wouldn’t do anything though. Let the free be free. He just liked knowing in advance what to expect of whom.

C2 again. Emptiness. The glass wasn’t just murky it was impenetrably dense. A light disturbance quivered in the bottom of his belly. But let the free be free.

He counted them all. Nineteen. Who else?

There. Over by the far window lay a skinny, shabby man. His hat was under his head, and he hugged an empty bag. Usually, no one sat in those seats, which is why he called them “Z,” because it was as though they came last.

Z was Mr. Kornev. He’d remember that name too. It would become an entertainment of sorts, observing how he lugged around that ragged bag, on the bottom of which (as he now knew) jostled an old Soviet electric razor and a packet with a toothbrush and toothpaste. He would always be the last one on the bus, would forget all the place names and have to ask again, and would get lost in every hotel (even though he would go out every night for evening walks). He would lose the key to his stateroom on the ferry (finding it later in his bag), and in Elsinore he would walk so far down the beach that someone would have to go after him to bring him back.

Tourists are just like sheep. Even if the boldest among them strikes out on his own, he’ll still keep glancing back at the others. They have discretion about them. Not this man, though. Every time he got on the bus, he would take a different seat – many were free – so no one letter ever became associated with him. He was just Kornev. Initials: V. A.

2

A ferry is an enormous structure. You can appreciate its size only from the shore. But it’s still bigger than it seems – part of it is under water. It’s an iceberg-like building.

Caught up in the crush of tourists, they mounted the opulent main deck by way of tight gangways. They were greeted by red carpets, a sparkling registration desk, a glass-doored restaurant, and a fountain. They all came together there, the Russian-speaking island, and the guide handed out key cards before they descended to their assigned deck. Their baggage on wheels clattered behind them on the narrow metal stair as they went further and further down.

“Is this it? No? Further?”

“Mom, look. We’re going to be below the engine!”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because here’s the auto storage!”

The guide peered down the stairwell and listened as if it were a well. They already know, he thought – must be their second time. He wouldn’t need to explain anything; not how to insert the key or where to go for dinner. Today I rest. All’s ending well. That’s what he thought before going to his own berth.

Their deck consisted of a confusing system of corridors so narrow you couldn’t walk them hand-in-hand. With their identical berth doors, they all looked the same. The Russians quickly scattered to their own berths and lost contact with one another.

Savva opened the berth door, and they found themselves inside a white cubicle with metallic, painted walls. Immediately by the door was a cramped cubbyhole – that was the shower and toilet. Two bunks stood opposite each other. They were so close two people could not pass between them. Above them were two more, folded up and pinned to the walls. A tiny table and a large mirror in a heavy, lacquered frame provided a semblance of comfort. There was no porthole.

“I don’t like this,” Mila said tentatively and sat on the edge of the bunk.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a disembodied voice said in English over the radio, “our ferry is departing. We wish you a pleasant journey.”

The walls shook and groaned. Then something close by and quite metallic loudly kicked into motion. The entire structure lurched, softly but perceptibly. Mila dug her fingers into the edge of her bed and stared at Savva. He was listening. A short while later the rumbling and banging died down and all that remained was the steady creaking of the entire cubicle.

“You hear that?” she whispered.

Water splashed. Not lightly as it would against a boat hull, but with a deeply sacral, uterine sensation. Water enveloped the structure, squeezing their white cubicle, chunked ice rubbing against the skin of the ferry, which dove into the waves. The water foamed. It bubbled. It was black, wintry, and icy. Nocturnal water on the opposite side of the wall.

“I’m going to shower,” Savva said and disappeared into the cubbyhole.

It would be so simple and horrible. And there would be no way out. She looked at her cell phone, it had no connection. Young people cavorted in the corridor. Finns, judging by their voices. A door slammed. Then it opened and loud music was heard. Another slammed. Somewhere one group of drunken kids met another. Their voices thundered in the labyrinthine corridors.

“You can hear everything!” a voice said in Russian as a door opened. That was Mother Varlamov taking a look-see.

“It’s the same mayhem here, I see.” Alla Demidovna spoke as she walked down the corridor.

Raya scurried along behind her. “You think you have it bad? You should see where we are! We are right next to them! I’ve never seen anything like it. But what can you say to them? I wouldn’t know where to start. They wouldn’t understand anyway. I’m going to tell the guide.”

They shuffled off to the elevator. Before the neighboring berth door shut, Mila heard: “Mom, are we going to go eat?” The water in a shower flowed smoothly.

At least I’ll be with Mom, but what about him? All alone?

3

Three countries, three nights, 600 kilometers, two ferries (there and back). In Finland, a general excursion, a museum, and a cathedral; in Sweden, a general excursion, a museum, and free time; in Denmark, a general excursion, the mermaid, and Elsinore. And, oh yes, must not forget to say that Copenhagen sounds completely different in Danish.

He knew everything that lay ahead. And what to expect from everyone. Any aspect of personal curiosity was utterly excluded. That was any busload’s common lot (twenty people, no children). They are timid or, on the contrary, grow brazen as soon as they cross the border. For him, it was all a trip to a museum. Addresses and names were merely an impulse to speak into the microphone. Cyclists, young couples with twin baby carriages, retired people with skis out for a brisk, cross-country jaunt and the old hippies from Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiana – these were all things his tourists would give a lively response, and they would arise in the same places as always. He knew perfectly well that they would freeze like wax figures as soon as the bus turned onto another street. Nothing about this museum would change unless it was the weather. But even this he had learned to anticipate.

Everything outside the bus was stage scenery. For him, the only reality was inside the bus. Twenty people with their own interests and needs, spiritual, consumer and physiological. For them, he was the creator of that which awaited them. Each had to receive exactly what was desired. He liked the fact that each of the twenty behind him was different, although he knew every one of them in advance.

“In advance?” he now thought on the way back, fingering someone else’s toothbrush in his pocket.

It was a kind of entertainment. He watched how each time they would lag behind, purposefully walking slowly and chatting. He never called out to them but always made sure that they saw that he saw. Never did he make them uncomfortable about it. The fatter woman might speak forever with store clerks as she chose clothes, souvenirs, or just killed time. The skinnier one would stand off to the side and carry the shopping bags.

The plump one asked once how to make a local call from the hotel (this was in Stockholm). He told her and asked no questions.

They had free time in Copenhagen. A lot of free time, almost a whole evening. The last time he saw them was in one of the stores on Andersen Boulevard, and they didn’t show up for the bus back to the hotel on the outskirts of town, almost in the suburbs.

He registered them anyway and got them keys. They showed up at 12:30 a.m. Got there themselves, by way of city transport, the plump one said. She thanked him for warning them that Copenhagen sounded totally different in Danish.

It was then, the very next morning, that Alla Demidovna, B4, asked if people often miss the bus.

“All the time!” the guide said optimistically into the microphone. “Sometimes, they catch up with it. I had this lady once who trailed us all the way through Sweden. Sometimes people call and I tell them where to find us. But there are those who want to miss it, you know?” and here he paused. “I’m all for it. The Soviet Union is long gone, and I’m not your nursemaid. The only thing is, I would prefer it if you’d come to me beforehand and let me know what’s up. Don’t think I’m going to hold anybody by the hand. But I guess people are afraid of me.”

He laughed into the microphone as if to say, “What’s to fear in us?”

Right. What’s to fear, he thought now as he fiddled in his pocket with that toothbrush. It was a faded kind of red with all the writing worn off.

4

Off the bow of the ferry, through the huge semicircular windows, a series of gargantuan, towering islands appeared as if from an unreal fantasy. They seemed to swim alongside, surfacing and diving out of sight again. They were covered in fir trees, patches of snow, wet sand and large, almost round, rocks. Black birds soared, severe, above the mast-like pines. The water was black in a white brew of chunked ice. Another ferry approached and passed them; it, too, was heading for an island and left an ebony streak in its wake.

The Russians lost their bearings in the large restaurant. The place was packed, it was the weekend. Families, kids, the elderly, and young people. All were polite and talkative. They lacked national distinctions. They were just people with plates wandering among tables with the food they had been served.

But when the Russians sat down, it was evident that they sat in a single row at the biggest table in order to face the window although they at least didn’t keep the order of their seating on the bus. Only the guide and the driver were absent. And there was no seat for Kornev. He ended up at a small, round table with eight others. He had taken every herring dish there was, a piece of the blackest bread, and he kept getting up to pour himself more red wine.

Eh,” the older Varlamov thought as he watched him and sipped the white wine his wife had poured him. She shook her head.

Why is he always silent? Hasn’t said a word the whole trip. You live with someone like that and think you know him, but in fact you don’t. Isn’t that right, Savva? Mila raised her gaze from her plate to her husband. He was eyeing the islands as they floated by.

“People, we’d better go tell the guide or there will be an international scandal,” said Alla Demidovna. “Look at him knocking them back!”

She rose.

“Oh, leave him alone,” said the usually timid Raya, quietly.

“What did you say?” Alla Demidovna asked in amazement.

“Leave him alone. Maybe he’s drowning his sorrows. You don’t know him.”

“Well, I’ll be,” the offended Alla Demidovna huffed. But she sat back down.

He says nothing. I don’t understand him. If we’re getting divorced, why this trip? Dusk is falling, I can hardly see a thing. Why this trip if we’re getting divorced? We are the strangest couple here.

Kornev got up again, came back, sat down, and tossed a gloomy glance at his neighbors.

“Russia?” a fat man asked as he grabbed his elbow for some reason. He smiled so widely that his cheeks fairly shone.

“Russia,” Kornev nodded, not taking offense. He didn’t even free his elbow. “What of it?”

“All right, all right,” the man cocked his head in a friendly manner and patted Kornev on the arm.

“Suomi?” Kornev asked.

“No,” all eight of the smiling, nodding people at the table said in unison.

“No matter,” Kornev said. “I hope you don’t mind me here,” he asked and gestured at his wine glasses and plate full of herring.

“All right, all right,” they all nodded and smiled again.

“I wonder what you really think about me,” Kornev said thoughtfully and stared at the fat man. “No answer? All right. I’ll just say this. Think” – he burped – “about it. Why would a Russian go abroad? Huh? You think for this?” – he nodded at his glass and everyone again nodded in return. “Hell no.” His expression melted into a warm smile as he put his face right into that of the fat man and said, “We come here to feel heartache. Heartache.” The eight people around him amenably nodded and lifted their glasses as if Kornev had raised a toast. He clinked glasses with every one of them, drank up, pulled his sack out from under the table and left.

“Have you had enough?” Savva asked Mila. “Let’s go and sleep.”

The radio announced that there would be a discotheque on the upper deck. Alongside the registration desk Kornev sat on the edge of the fountain and splashed the water with his flattened hand. Further along, beyond the elevator shaft, there was a corridor and a glass door leading to the deck outside. It was a small one, for employees only. It wasn’t locked and the teenagers poured out the door to smoke. They were cold and cheerful.

“Exit” was printed in English in green letters above the door along with the image of a running man.

“Exit,” Kornev and Savva both read simultaneously in Russian. Each to themselves. But they each heard each other and turned around to acknowledge it.

5

The weather in Elsinore that day was … But what’s to say about it other than there was weather? In his memory, it was always like this – cloudy, muggy, and with high winds off the sea. Cold. Women wore hats, men pulled up their collars.

Elsinore is a castle with thick, defensive walls. Cannons on the side facing the shore are habitually aimed at Sweden. Right there, you can see it, just three kilometers across. He’d already told them about that. The sand was wet. Along the water’s edge stood huge gray-green boulders. He saw how one of the women in his group climbed over to the water and disappeared from sight.

They were admitted into the castle although they had no appointment. A large female caretaker in a dark blue uniform with a heavy gaze, a heavy jaw, and a keychain that weighed a half a kilo smiled at them with the amiability of a horse.

In Danish, he said, “These are tourists from Russia. You would be so kind to allow us to see the castle on the inside.”

The horse was so kind. The guide took note that the Russians were as disarmed by her smile as they were by the local ambiance.

They got their history, Shakespeare, and fifteen minutes of free time to walk and photograph.

“You know where the bus is,” he told them and slowly proceeded down the rampart toward the wall. He wanted to touch its stones. The stones were damp, the earth was covered in moss. In places, the wall had been restored with fresh brick. Huge sea gulls shrieked in the sky.

He saw that almost everyone was heading for the bus, hurried along by gusts of wind from the Baltic Sea hitting them in the back.

He saw Savva returning to the castle grounds. Later he saw him on the wall. Savva looked out to sea over one of the cannons lowered in the direction of Sweden. His wife stood below and shouted something at him. She laughed and wiped a wind-induced tear from her eye with the back of her hand.

He saw Kornev head off to the right along the shore. Later he would send the teenager, A2, in that direction to tell Kornev it was time to leave.

He didn’t see the girls the entire time of the excursion. Inside his mind, he had already written them off. He was somewhat surprised when he discovered them smoking and huddled from the cold by the bus.

6

If these walls could jump, they would jump. Mila listened to the thump of the discotheque as if it were her heart. She lay in the dark with her eyes closed. It was so dark it didn’t matter if her eyes were open or closed. The music from the disco seeped down the walls into their cubicle from the top deck. She herself had become the walls.

But he’s not sleeping either.

“Do you mind if I read?” Savva asked.

“Go ahead.”

He turned on the bedside light. A white ceiling appeared above Mila. Teenagers ran up and down the corridor shrieking and stomping. Three doors slammed in a row. Somebody next door slipped and fell. Young girls squealed behind the door. Boys in the corridor laughed and shouted something. Mila thought it must be warm in the jungle.

“Are you cold? I’ll turn on the heater.”

He got up and turned the dial on the air conditioner to plus. He lay down. A few moments later, it grew warmer. Mila relaxed and removed her hand from beneath the blanket.

I remember – was it a graduation ball? Or just a regular dance? In the study hall for … Russian … yes. Music was playing, and it was pitch black in the corridor. No one was in the school but our class. There was an echo, and our steps in the corridor were louder than the music. Swish, swish. By the mirror. There were flowers there, too – I had stripped all the leaves off. Kostya, who has two children with Natasha now, he said, “Let’s go, there’s more room in there.” We waltzed. God, how funny that sounds! Sveta later said, “Were you guys kissing?” But we were just waltzing …

The music suddenly went distant and you could hear the sea gurgling, hissing, and splashing on the other side of the wall. She listened to it as she sailed forward. It was soft and quiet. Foamy. For a long time. Suddenly she realized Savva was gone because the door appeared to slam shut, and she opened her eyes.

7

“What would I tell them if I return to the bus with the bag?” the guide thought. Nobody stays behind without their things. It was always the first sign that someone had flown the coop. On their own. If their things were gone.

But they knew nothing about that. And he didn’t know what to do now.

He was calm in the first moment after counting heads, when the passengers said not everyone was there. Hadn’t he expected this?

He walked down the aisle counting heads feeling as though he was observing a formality. He wouldn’t even hunt for them. He’d go behind a building, have a smoke, catch his breath, come back to the bus, and say that no one on the ferry knew anything. And that would be true. What could they know? The fugitives were young, they’d be fine. Let the free be free.

But he reached the back of the bus, spoke the word “nineteen” aloud, and stopped, staring at the girls.

It was an optical illusion. They were stage props. Wax figures.

They looked at him quizzically.

“Who are we missing?” he asked the busload.

“Kornev,” he heard in answer.

He became alarmed. He thought: No problem that it’s Kornev. Kornev will show up. But the girls are in place. He realized that he now did not know what to expect. What could you expect from these people? And he thought he had pegged everyone immediately.

He went back to the driver, bent over, and said, “You look around here. I’ll go check the ferry.” To the passengers he said, “Please stay close by. We won’t be delayed long.”

8

Savva left dressed as he was, in his robe. He didn’t change so as not to wake her. He wouldn’t have left if she wasn’t sleeping. He knew that. He just wouldn’t have wanted to. He took the elevator to the upper deck. The hall by the registration desk was empty. The discotheque thundered above. Savva went around the fountain and turned left into a narrow corridor where he had seen the word “Exit.”

Kornev stood by the glass door, probing the frame and picking at the rubber lining-strip. He turned and was not surprised to see Savva.

“You see this? They locked it,” he said and wrenched the door handle as proof. “Nighttime,” he said. “They lock it to keep the drunks in.”

Savva approached Kornev, and together they pushed their foreheads against the glass and looked. Out there, they saw a metallic, grayish, wet deck, and, beyond it, utter nocturnal gloom.

“You can’t see a thing, look at that,” Kornev said. “Even if there’s something there, you can’t see it.”

Light from the ferry cut through about a half meter of air beyond the hull, wet, toxic white chunks glistening in the pitch black as they flew from left to right. That’s how they determined it was windy on the other side of the glass. They only sensed that the ferry was moving because of the vibrations.

“You know what I think of every day here?” Kornev asked abruptly, holding his gaze on the yawning darkness. “How my grandfather taught me to use a scythe. He would take me with him, and we would work from morning until the midday meal. I remember that, moving forward with the scythe in hand, not a thought in my head, making sure not to lose sight of my grandfather ahead of me and to the right out of the corner of my eye. All the while focusing on the scythe.”

“You’ve got to move smooth, straight and rhythmically. Whish. Whish. Whish. Gently, like cutting butter. Keeping the blade just above the ground,” Savva continued the tale.

They turned towards each other. Kornev was sober. Savva made a note of that.

“Then we’d go into the shade,” Kornev said. “And drink kvass. He would lie in the burdock beneath a birch.”

“We ate sandwiches and green onions.”

“Fried chicken and boiled potatoes. Cold and slick.”

“Salted.”

“Then we’d lie down. We wouldn’t talk, just stare at the sky.”

“My body ached. I dreamed about the river.”

“That’s very seductive, what you’re talking about,” they heard a woman’s voice say in English by the fountain. Two young men came out of the elevator with the two girls from the bus. “But I’m afraid we’ll be in a different country tomorrow. But we’ll think about it, won’t we, Sveta?”

“Yes, definitely,” Sveta said, and they both laughed. They went up the stairs and disappeared beyond the door into the discotheque.

Savva absentmindedly slapped at the pockets in his robe. Kornev touched him on the shoulder and held out a pack of cigarettes. They smoked silently, not looking at each other.

“It really is locked, Savva. Or maybe it’s not the exit we were looking for.”

“It is, though.”

“Then it’s not right for us,” Kornev snickered for some reason. He flicked his cigarette butt into the ashcan five steps away. And hit it. “Go back to your wife. Everything will work out.”

Getting into the elevator, Savva had the thought that things still might work out differently.

9

He was told if someone has disappeared it was best to go to the police. If those were his things. The guide looked at the electric razor, the pale, reddish toothbrush, and the toothpaste. There wasn’t a word in Russian on either the toothbrush or the toothpaste. Only the old razor, it was immediately evident, was from Soviet times. But how could they know that?

“I am not certain these are his things,” he said.

“All right, then keep in mind that they’ll be here in the Lost and Found in the event that he shows up, and you confirm that these are his.”

He said “All right” in Finnish and left feeling absolutely certain he would never see Kornev again. He had a suspicion that he had not merely been late for the bus. That he had disappeared on the ferry. That it was premeditated. Only why, and why such complexity? The human heart is a mystery, the guide thought. At least he could have taken his things with him. To keep things clean. Although why would a man need his razor in the next life?

It was when he was disembarking from the ferry that he put his hand in his pocket and discovered the toothbrush there.

The one with no Russian words on it. The one with no writing on it at all.

10

“Did you go out? I must have dozed off,” Mila said. Savva was silent. He was sitting on his bunk in his canary-colored robe. They had bought it last year, it came down just over his knees. Very funny-looking.

The music kept playing. Only it was quieter and slower now. We called this a slow-burner. You’d embrace and dance ever so slowly. If somebody asked you. Most of them were too shy to ask. The sounds of the sea mixed in, too. Music and sea. With the crunching ice and foam against the hull. Music in the depths of the gloom.

Let’s dance.

Maybe he actually said that aloud, but she was falling asleep and heard it differently as if inside her own head. She came to. He was extending his hand to her.

They stood together, her palm on his shoulder, his on her waist. They rocked back and forth, from foot to foot, and began turning in the tight space between the bunks. He was in his slippers and his canary-colored robe that hung below the knees. She was barefoot on the coarse, scratchy, gray carpet, and her white body shone through her long nightshirt. Her face was buried in the nook over his shoulder.

How long, how long it’s been … I can’t remember when.

“Are you crying?”

“Me? No. That’s water on your robe. Where is that from?”

The cold sea heaved nearby, unseen, but in rhythm with their movements.

11

The tourists approached him one by one to say goodbye. The guide responded and smiled at each of them. They arrived in St. Petersburg right on time, at 4:30 a.m., despite the hour-and-a-half delay after the ferry. Pale and exhausted after the night’s trip, they gathered their belongings and slowly disappeared into the darkness, the swampy yellow light of streetlamps, amidst the taxi drivers swarming around. Others crossed the street to the Moskovsky train station. He saw how they made their way there one after the other the same as they had done while abroad. It was habitual. It would pass.

“Goodbye,” Mila approached him and said. “Thank you.”

“Good luck,” Savva shook his hand. “It was a great trip. It was everything we wanted.”

Fine, empty words. A complete formality. The guide smiled, said thank you and thought, Naturally, it was all arranged just for you.

Precisely what I thought, Savva answered with his eyes alone.

 

Translated from the Russian by John Freedman

ABOUT AUTHOR
Irina Bogatyreva was born in Kazan in Tatarstan, Russia, and she is an award-winning writer, a Debut Prize finalist, and the author of two books, AutoSTOP and Comrade Anna.
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The Russian Kerouacs: Irina Bogatyreva’s Guide to Hitchhiking
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