Our Lives in Our Hands

An angry voice insists on squeezing its way through my window. He sounds drunk, but it could be the fury not the wine. Drying my hands on a tea-towel I wander idly across the kitchen and peer into the glistening street below. It takes me a little while to piece it all together, but finally I see her. A woman is lying on the road, partly concealed by the leaves of a tree beneath my apartment: only her arm and a foot are visible from my vantage point. As I watch, a team move towards her, lift her carefully, and wheel her into a waiting ambulance. Her limbs sway with the motion of the stretcher, but she is not moving.

There is time to notice details. I see that she is wearing a knee-length black skirt and dark tights. She has a light suit jacket over a cream blouse, but no coat. A pretty gold necklace glints in the afternoon sun. She is young. She had been lying less than two metres away from a pedestrian crossing: the one I use myself on a daily basis.

Angry Man is shouting into the open window of a police car. He has a lot to say. The police are here but are making no attempt to control traffic around the accident spot. Cars are driving up onto the pavements and creeping along the edges of the tragedy, some of them leaning on their horns in protest at the inconvenience. The traffic moves ahead, the rain begins again, life goes on. The nonchalant, passive apathy of the whole scene enrages me: me and Angry Man, who is still intermittently shouting.

The pedestrian crossing in Moscow may get you from one side of the street to the other (although you take your life into your hands every time), but it is also the site of intersection between cultures. Here you will immediately realise the difference between Russia and… other places. Never assume that a pedestrian crossing here is a safe place to cross the road. A driver may begin to slow down but change their minds at the last minute because, after all, it’s much easier to accelerate than to brake, especially if your free hand Is busy holding your mobile phone to your ear. The staggering indifference to the value of human life as demonstrated by many Moscow drivers is something I will never get over, however long I may live here.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), science-fiction, horror, mystery and fantasy writer, speaking half a century ago:

“I never learned to drive. As a kid, I saw too many fatal accidents and I grew up hating the idea. Automobiles slaughter 40,000 people a year, maim a hundred thousand more, and bring out the worst in men. Any society where a natural man — the pedestrian — becomes the intruder, and an unnatural men encased in a steel shell becomes his molester, is a science fiction nightmare.”

Sam Gerrans on being a pedestrian in Moscow – very funny and very true. Click here:- Inside Out: The Voice of Russia

Living in Culture Shock

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At the heart of the bilingual family flares the eternal flame of potential misunderstanding. Any group of people anywhere in the world has scope for miscommunication, but in the bilingual home this potential is magnified. On top of this there … Continue reading

An Invisible Woman in Moscow

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It all started when I first arrived in Moscow, some years ago, with two enormous suitcases, and no idea at all what living in Russia would be like. I could not imagine how my life would change and what surprises, … Continue reading

The Secret Life of an Invisible Woman

I arrived in this city a stranger to myself, and I perceive that I am also not visible to others in this new place. In these streets I am unseen, in this language I am unheard, in this landscape I emerge, formless, like a shadow or shade.

My first encounters with this city are dry and strange, full of colour and dust and a brittle sense of adventure. This, I say to myself, feels more like the me I know. I think I like it here, but living here will take some work. Suddenly I am back in touch with my own instincts again: now all I need is the courage to follow them. I can’t quite believe I’m in Russia.

The last time I had a shape, it was already shifting. Today this is where I need to be, right here. Dreaming, remembering, storing, learning and preparing. All will be different from this point, and I know it in my bones. All over again begins the process of finding my voice. This time the search is so much more conscious. Time to finish what is finished and begin again with what is real. I miss my family so much. I want to be with them, love them, be close to them, and yet… Regrets: now I realise how many I embrace. Now I can see the habit I have had of clutching them close, like a kind of holding of the breath.

I have become invisible. It is not uncomfortable, it doesn’t exactly hurt, it’s just a little strange to feel that the particles of my being have somehow dissolved and that I am no longer matter – I do not matter. I am a transparent haze of unformulated desire. Is this freedom, or is this exile? How will I know the difference?