Noivy God

Posted on Jan 13, 2011 in Blog
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It is millennium eve, and Robert has forgotten his mobile at the apartment.  By the time he remembers, he is already at the bar and it is too cold to go back outside.  The streets are empty, which would seem incredible in any other city but here, just practical, a flowering of common sense amidst the blanket of Russian snow.
            In Moscow, people use the metro.  They jostle beneath winking gaslight candelabra and instead of adverts, like those of Robert’s Underground, the walls of the metro are lined with pictures of the New Year trees on Tverskaya Ploschad and the statue of Dolgorusky, resplendent in his blue hat.  Grandfather Frost in the flesh, or the bronze, the only man around who can handle the snow.
            Robert, without his phone, edges his way to the bar.  He orders vodka, straight.  The barman nods at his voice, the smoothness of his accent just another flag:  not from around here, no.
            “S novim godom,” the barman says.  He pours Robert his drink and takes the money, then counts Robert’s change back into the palm of his hand, at pains to show:  This is New Year, and on New Year, I don’t cheat.
            “Happy New Year,” Robert says.  He raises the glass to the man and turns, looks for a seat in the corner.  There aren’t any, which of course is no surprise.  Instead he spots a seat by the back wall, one stool sandwiched between a man in a bearskin coat and a girl in khaki shorts and a red halter top.  The girl is trying to stand on top of her chair and when Robert arrives she topples backwards into the wall.  Her friends – more halters, more shorts, and one of them might be a student, the fat girl with the short brown hair – screech with laughter and pull her straight.  “Da, da!” they shout. 
            Robert takes the stool and straddles it, then sips the vodka and stares at the floor.  Millennium Eve, and he has forgotten his phone.  He won’t be able to ring the boys back in Brixton now, to report on 2000 from three hours ahead in the world.  They will be drinking Crown Royal at the apartment, a gift from Craig’s Canadian ex.  Not vodka.  He smiles.  Never vodka. 
            The blurred television over the bar announces the countdown.  Robert finishes his vodka and stands.  Tree … dva … ODEEN!!!!  A new year.  A new millennium.
            He steps towards the bar but a hand on his shoulder holds him back.  When he turns, expecting to see the fat student, he finds the man in the bearskin coat.
            “S novim godom,” the man says.  Then blearily, like a man underwater, “Tselyu?  Tselyu?” 
            It is not a word that Robert knows.  But then the man grasps Robert’s other shoulder and grips him, too hard, and when he licks his lips Robert can smell the fear, like vinegar left too long in the cold.