I recognized somebody on a bus today. He’s an old man that I first saw in a bookstore called “Derigible.” David, James, Kaye, and I were there looking at books, huddled around the manga section of the bookstore discussing Doctor Who, Full Metal Alchemist, and general nerdom. (I ended up buying the first Fruits Basket book and The Hunger Games, which, as far as I can tell, translates to The Hungry Games in Russian.) After I bought the books on the second floor, I went up to the third floor to buy notebooks and folders for my classes. (Almost all the notebooks here are filled with graph paper, which seemed strange at first but is quickly growing on me. The covers are all sorts of decorative, and I found myself drawn to the ones decorated in a Japanese style, but it just felt wrong to buy Japanesly-decorated things since I was in Russia studying Russian.) I got in the immensely long line to pay for things, which is where the man from the bus shows up (actually, he’s really the man from the bookstore, since that’s where I saw him first, but whatever). He cut to the front of the line, three people ahead of me, to ask the cashier a long, drawling question about some sort of paper. He leaned his right forearm on the counter, angled toward the rest of the line. He dangled a cane from his hands that matched his tan suit jacket. He talked so slowly to the cashier, I found my interested. If I could ever work up the gall to cut eight people in line, I would try and make that moment as short as possible by speaking quickly and clearly. But he leaned so casually, spoke so slowly. I was curious, especially about his periodically jerking left arm. It was only a twitch, really, but every few seconds or so, his bent elbow would fly out a little; he was like a bird who couldn’t quite settle his wings. I immediately imagined all sorts of glorious explanations for the twitch. An old war wound most likely. Maybe a piece of shrapnel in just the wrong nerve cluster, and now the war follows him around constantly, ruffling his feathers. Then I decided I was being frivolous and that it was probably from a car crash or something else as equally mundane and mortal, and the man stepped out of line to find his paper.
But he was back five minutes later, just as I was stepping up to the register, with a stack of printer paper and more questions. He wanted to know something about the paper he had, maybe if it was the only option or maybe if there was another stack in better condition. The he wanted a drawing compass, and those are kept behind the cashier’s desk with all the pens. The cashier found one in a plastic sleeve for him, and he examined it, speaking slow Russian the whole time. She eventually brought out another one in a plastic case, being sure to tell him that they didn’t come with graphite. He decided on the second one, and then the cashier checked him out right then. He didn’t even have to wait in line! I kept looking at the long line behind me, but no one even look slightly disgruntled (well, any more disgruntled than your average Russian pedestrian). I wonder if Dedushkas are allowed to cut to the front of lines here. Or maybe his war wound gave him special privileges. And then I remembered that it probably wasn’t a war wound and wondered what it would be like to have people assume upon meeting you that you were a hero. What if you really weren’t? Then I decided that I was some day going to write a piercing, psychological short story about a man who has a wound that everyone believes is from the war but really isn’t, so he harbors some sort of guilt over the whole thing. The characters you can meet on the Russian streets.
And I met this same man on the bus just the other day. He sat down, and I suddenly, immediately certain it was him, wearing a brown suit jacket with matching pants this time, a black turtleneck and shoes, and a black umbrella instead of a cane. The same peppery white hair, the same twitching left arm. And I wondered at the probability of meeting the same, random person in two very different places in a very large city within a few days. At the probability of even recognizing them the second time. And then the man stood up and said something to me, me, in his slow Russian and I just gaped at him. He said it again, and Rebecca leaned over and said, “He wants to know if this is your stop.” I shook my head as the bus doors clanged open. I stepped out of the way as he stepped into the streets. Isn’t that just something?