Russian woman in America

One Day

By Olga Sapp

I can hear my husband's alarm clock ringing while I still asleep; I hear him getting up at once without luxuriating even for a moment. Then I hear water running in the shower, and light morning dreams plunge me again into restless rambling thoughts about coming day. Finally, my alarm clock wakes me up at six a.m. It's time to get up. But I give myself some time as always before I slowly and reluctantly get out of bed…

I take a shower, have a cup of coffee at my PC, and listen to the news. Generally I love mornings, except these ungodly hours and those scary news… 500 more Iraqis were killed as they tried to hold the approaches to the bridge against enemy attacks. No losses are reported among the coalition forces. This time English and American mothers may have a sigh of relief. It is Iraqi mothers who will shed bitter tears. How can you ever explain to them that their sons perished defending the tyrant, and they were killed by those who liberate the Iraqi people.

OK, enough of the news; it's time to get ready for the working day. Soon they must call me from my office and let me know what school I should go. They'll tell me the name of a teacher who got sick or decided to have an extra day off. I get a phone call at the last moment as always - classes are already about to start. And I need more time to call that school and ask them where they are located… There is nothing worse than driving along an unfamiliar road, staring at the street signs with a constant fear not to miss the right turn. Aha, here is a sign of a school zone, so the school must be somewhere nearby. An office worker ushers me in the classroom. Well… Kids are not that simple here. I'd describe their problem as a learning and behavior challenge. My employers did not alert me about the class type I was assigned to, otherwise I would simply refuse.

Well, it's good to have an assistant. In order to keep the situation under control, I assume a strict air and give abrupt commands: sit down, take out your copybooks, and start writing. But then the assistant goes out my kids go nuts as if on command: they spring from their desks, talk aloud, pester me, asking thousands of questions, and on the whole, get out of hand. I immediately take out my notebook and put down the names of major troublemakers. No, nothing can stop them. The entire class is turning into a yelling and running creature, which I cannot tame with my own strength. I press the button and get in touch with the office. Help is on the way. A teacher from the next-door class takes madcap number one away with her. The rest calm down. Waiting for my assistant, I keep an eye on everybody at one time like a stern warder. I do not even let anyone raise a hand to signal a question. Everybody is sitting quiet. The assistant comes in. Now I can have a respite and even help to solve a multiplication and division problem.

The long-awaited lunchtime comes at last. I go to the teachers' cafeteria, take out my sandwich and start chewing it slowly, listening to the teachers' talks. They fix their eyes on me. Forestalling their curiosity, I immediately confess that I am Russian. Then they start a dialogue quite common in my situation. "I've been to Russia; my husband and I have very close friends there", says one of the teachers, a nice elderly lady. The conversation revolves around Russia and my coming to America. "You know, 56 percent of Russians are against the war in Iraq", she switches to the burning issue. "Yes, the war is a rather controversial thing to receive a hundred percent support", I reply. "I do not stand for a war, but I support our forces there and the idea itself. Saddam is horrible. He is like Hitler who ought to have been neutralized before the Second World War broke out". "They are so preoccupied with this Hitler", I thought to myself. "How can a modern war be justified by a single historical parallel!" However I do not engage in a controversy. It's hard to challenge the statements you hear every day from the TV screen, especially since they are taken for granted by the majority of the population. "During the last Persian-Gulf campaign Bush the Senior urged the Iraqi soldiers to mutiny", a young teacher tries to turn the conversation to a different course. "And then he left them to the mercy of fate. I hope Bush the Junior won't be reelected for the second round".

But then the break is finished we drift apart. "It was very nice to meet you", the teachers say to me at parting. "It was my pleasure", I sincerely admit before getting back to my class. Time is hanging awfully heavy. I cannot wait till three o'clock strikes. The last bell is ringing at last. Before the last student had left the class I rush out of school without enjoying at least a momentary silence. I jump in my car and lean back on a soft seat. I am driving slowly with a peaceful music. It's so pleasant to stay in private in your own car smoothly gliding down the level freeways.

I come home and relax in the armchair. I love this rocking chair called "lazy boy". It is so comfortable! You may look through the window, admire the garden panorama and birds at their rack. But then comes my husband, turns the TV on and I see hateful tanks, soldiers and explosions again. I feel a terrible fatigue and disgust for reality. I get into a dreadful mood. The world seems being gone crazy. I feel physically miserable. "What's the matter with you?", my husband asks. "Why are you so serious?" I don't want to say or explain anything. I just want to go to the beach, which always cures me. And though we planned to go there the next day for blues festival, my husband is willing to go now. So we get into the car. Anyway, today is the opening ceremony. We get stuck in an endless line of cars heading for the beach. "You see", my husband says. "It's not so good to live on the beach and drive every day to downtown for work". "But I want to live on the beach and not have to work", I respond.

It is several degrees cooler on the coast, than in our part of the town. Though people still wear T-shirts. We dropped in on the ground where the festival is held. Music thunders, folks get together, drinking beer and eating. However my husband leads me to a Mexican restaurant across the street. We order Margarita. "We are going to celebrate", my husband says. "What exactly?" "Life". "I feel guilty", I confess. "People are starving and dying, and we are making fun here". "You should not be so upset, you are separated from them only by one dinner at the restaurant, and nobody knows what happens next".

Mexican food and drinks are somewhat heavy on my stomach. I lean back against the ottoman back and feel myself as a poisoned boa. I want to get out to the fresh air. I open the door and breathe in the tropical aroma of the spring ocean. And then we mingle with the crowd, listening to the music. Its rhythm winds me up, and I start dancing leaning against my husband's back. My husband starts dancing too. We stamp our feet and dance, catching the rhythm and time. It seems to me that the music is gathering a furious pace, and I find myself completely overpowered. I am stamping my feet as fast as I can and feel the vigorous body of my husband dancing with me. The music keeps driving us forward, and you feel it is impossible to stop, and if you do so, everything will come to the end. For some reason the Gogol's image of Russia occurs to me: three rushing horses in one harness. What's going on with us? Where are we rushing? The music ceases and turns into applaud. We clap our hands louder, than anybody else.

Then we go down to the beach. The black night ocean is roaring, rolling its foaming waves on us. A still fresh southern breeze is beating against our backs. I take off my light jacket, and my skin enjoys fresh ocean air. For some reason my husband asks: "What will happen, if the ocean suddenly stops?" "I think everything will then disappear: both our planet and us", I answer. "You've crossed this ocean three times already and will soon fly o-o-over there", he says, pointing to the Northeast. After being silent for a while, he continues: "And look, the Crescent is smiling to you!"

"You people seem to me so tiny from here", the Moon radiantly smiles, having turned up its horns. "I cannot understand you. Why do you need all this fuss? Why are you so cruelly unfair and so hopelessly stupid? Ah, I am so sorry for all of you! And yet try to be happy!"

Translated by Igor Pospekhin

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