from Lenin’s Asylum by A. A. Weiss
published June 2018
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I backed away with my palm over my heart because I thought she might scream.
“You live here now,” she said in English. “Drink this tea.”
The father took the news rather well, I thought, for a man who had been a soldier in the Red Army.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Talia to me, and then, giggling to her husband in Russian, “That’s the only English I know.”
The look of serenity on my face was completely fake.
“Beg your pardon, Mr. Aaron. But in Moldova we don’t have fire alarms, just fires.”
“This isn’t a village,” said Katya. “Don’t say hello to people you don’t know.”
My first sight of the capital was a billowing smokestack next to a billboard that read, “Chisinau is a beautiful place!”
Headquarters was fortified like an embassy and the staff had contingency plans for repelling mob attacks.
“If the Russians are your friends, no one is left to make trouble.”
I don’t think there’s a word for gentleman in Russian, because Talia just said gentleman.
“The Army sent my dad to Germany also,” I said. “On the other side, of course.”
“Where I grew up it wasn’t a good thing to know English,” he said.
Everyone looked at me and my instincts told me I’d have to fight them all.
I was certain, even from a distance, that I saw blood on the ball.
According to the book in my medical kit, today my symptoms indicated scurvy.
“Solzhenitsyn?” Dima shook his head. “No. We never read him.”
Over half the men in this village had emigrated to Moscow.
The train paused at each station but never took on other passengers. Apparently, no one else was traveling to Moldova.
“I just blessed you,” said the priest. “You can’t bless me back.”
“Americans don’t learn to play correctly, I think,” said Andrei Vasilyavich. “They are not students of the game.”
“You don’t like wars,” said Dima, more as a statement than a question. “You’re in Moldova instead of in the army.”
The drunk man looked down to his foot and casually remarked, “Oh, I’m bleeding.” He turned to the guard and said, “May we use your telephone now?”
A waiter appeared to remind us that empty cups left on a tabletop brought bad luck.
Under normal circumstances I’d have been thrown in jail. But not here.
“In English class I’m the only one allowed to hit people!”
“Russian tradition,” she said. “You don’t have to understand everything.”
The only words I understood of what he said next were the ones that sounded the same in English and Russian, like communism and democracy.
I imagined one of the village policemen laughing at me, asking if I’d been frightened by the little boy with the gun.
“How many times have I told you?” I said. “Your belt isn’t a weapon.”