I woke up at Rachel’s to the sounds of the airplanes I was hoping not to miss, threw on some clothes, and ran outside to watch the rest of the planes fly toward Red Square. They had been practicing for this, the big day, the 65th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis, all week, but there were still some planes I hadn’t seen yet.
After the excitement and adrenaline rush created by planes flying low overhead, I went home, and then went for a walk in the park I recently discovered near my metro stop. I am amazed by this park which feels like wilderness in the middle of a concrete jungle. As I walked I smiled to myself about boys racing their bicycles and girls with improvised roller shoes. I wondered at the grandfather talking to his grandson as he pushed him in his stroller. I noticed litter strewn about – bottles left on trees and juice boxes discarded near the path.
As I walked, I half thought about sitting to read but didn’t rush to find a place. I passed a group in their late teens, standing, talking, drinking, smoking. I wandered, taking in the changing breeze, wondering at how sometimes it smelt so fresh, crisp, and pure, but when I took a few steps further the air smelt stale and worn out - like beer and cigarette smoke. I walked toward the playground, where there was less cigarette smoke and more “nature.” As I wandered further away from the partying teens, I saw an open bench. I assessed the situation – making sure I wasn’t downwind of cigarettes and noticed a young man in uniform with an orange beret. What part of the military is he? Then I sat down to read.
Occasionally, I stopped reading and looked up to take in my surroundings – the children playing, the birds chirping, the beautiful variety of greens and trees around me. Then, I noticed the trash pouring out of the garbage can on my left. The beer bottle caps pressed into the dirt near the bench I was sitting on. I noticed the ants that had come to feast on whatever food particles were left around and the breeze that wafted the scent of early summer blossoms past my nose. As I was reading, I felt in tune and at peace with the juxtaposition of wild and civilized that encompassed me.
Suddenly, I noticed that the young man in the orange beret was walking toward me, in front of me, and then he stopped. I looked up, and he said something in Russian that I didn’t understand but somehow I knew he was saying something nice or sweet. I got a bit flustered and couldn’t think of what to say, my brain stopped, and I felt my cheeks grow warm. Finally, I forced out, “Вы говорите по-английский?” (Do you speak English?) He looked a bit shocked, and said no. I told him, in Russian that my Russian was very bad, and of course, being polite, he said, “No, no, it’s not. You know a lot.” I said, “No I only know a little, but thank you.” Then he asked where I was from and my name. He sat down next to me, and we had a brief conversation where I tried to ask him what branch of the military he worked for. He couldn’t explain in English, and I couldn't understand in Russian, but I figured out later he works for МЧС РОССИЙ (basically like the National Guard – they do civil defense and emergency response). After this struggle to communicate, he presented me with a red rose. Apparently it’s not a tradition that military men give women flowers on Victory Day, and of course, I felt like I should have been doing something for him. Yet, in my flustered state, I was unable to say even, “Happy Victory Day.” I just got out a “Thank you” before he walked off. Rattled, amazed, and of course flattered, I watched him go, disappearing through the park and toward the metro.