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The International Writers Magazine: Back in the USSR:

Shadows of Hope
K. Bond

Silently, the babushka adjusts the coffee-colored headscarf while gazing at the alluring bride glide across the cobblestone of the Red Square in Moscow. Tourists truffle after the museums, statues and brilliant architecture. Most of these people have reached their destination, but Moscow is simply where I catch my train for a ride to the edge of Europe, a city known as Perm.

Arising from my top bunk of the cramped cabin, I wander about the train avoiding the popular dining car and favoring an empty, seemingly meaningless car. The rural, Russian countryside flashes by. Acres of grass shimmer in the sunlight interrupted sporadically by wooden houses. The solitude is particularly peaceful, since I know I will be adopting a shadow, my translator, for the next two weeks in the metropolitan town of Perm.

Perm’s universities render an abundance of eager, young translators to skillfully interpret Russian and transform journeys into more meaningful missions. The young lady reports to work outside of my hotel each morning, and serves as my second skin until sundown. With confidence, we hop on the tram to navigate through town.

The waitress leisurely waltzes by in the dark café toting large cups of beer as my translator and I sit and converse. She says she met her husband as she was walking down the street with her friends. He was a chauffeur, and asked if she needed a ride. She explains gas and car prices are often too high for many of the university students to drive. The tulip-shaped, glass dish bearing the dreaded lettuce topped with a dollop of mayonnaise sits before me untouched and I probe her for more details about life in Perm. The main course comes and leaves in much the same manner, but then the agreeable, puffed pastry arrives. We catch the convenient tram back to my hotel, and I bid my goodbyes.


I wander into the tiny store and point to the coke and cigarettes. Everything in the store seems so novel with Russian labels and strange-looking snacks. I sit under the umbrella outside and listen to the rock music with Russian lyrics when a young lady strolls up and says something in Russian. She wears her blond hair short and a yellow dress with black polka dots. To my relief she attempts English this time and admits she’s never met an American. The young woman asks about the discos, convertibles, and Capri cigarettes in America. The cool, yet comfortable, evening comes to a close.

It has been a few days now and the dusty roads have taken their toll. I must take a bath. I gulp and plunge into the cold water. I am told the hotel does have hot water, but they fiddle around with the pipes in town this time of year. It has something to do with the cold winters. That does not explain, however, the lack of toilets in the bathrooms.
At the public park, my translator waits outside as I go into the restroom. I see stalls with no doors and holes in the floor of the stalls. After some time, the concerned translator comes to check on me. I address the possibility we may be in the men’s restroom by mistake. A little embarrassed, she admits this is the women’s restroom. It is a sharp contrast to her pride as she explained the history of the artistic statues earlier in the day.

On my final day, I meet with my shadow for a trip to the outdoor market. In the midst of abandoned buildings leftover from the fall of the U.S.S.R., people pedal carts of goods hauled from Moscow. As I look over some articles spread on a blanket, an able-bodied, middle-aged man miserably asks in Russian if Americans must sell their faucets to get by. I realize the faucets on his blanket were removed from his home, and I am saddened by his situation. The transition since the fall has been difficult on him. I assure him there is still much hope for his family and Perm in the years to come. I hope I am right.

© Kim Bond September 2008
<k.bondofstl at>

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