So there we are, the Russian lady and me,
alone near some unpronounceable river,
her on her knees, reciting a rosary.
Me just standing there feeling a bit let down.
If I were at home, I’d just play along, but
I only have an hour or so before
I must retrace my steps back to the station
if I want to be on the train when it leaves.
“When you said you wanted to pray with me I
naturally assumed you meant … well, you know,”
I say, hoping she doesn’t slug me. “Of course,”
she replies. “Everything is about sex, right?”
“No,” I retort. “But you asked me for money,
then you told me to follow you down to the…
“I know what I said,” she hisses, putting the
rosary in the right front pocket of the
holy, acid-washed jeans women in New York
wore way back in 1984. “I’m sorry,”
I say. “I didn’t mean to offend you. If
we were back home I’d ask you out for coffee.”
“And what would that mean?” she asks, furrowing her
brow, slightly. I shrug, because she’s confusing me.
“I don’t know,” I say. “It would mean coffee and
casual conversation, I suppose. You
know, like adults?” She chuckles. “But what if you
said coffee ‘or something’?” I frown. “I’m not sure.
Why?” “Well,” she begins. “There’s this guy in my life.
His name’s Sergei. He asked me out for coffee
‘or something’ last week and I told him to go
to hell.” “Well,” I say, rubbing my chin. “I don’t
know Sergei, but if he were me I’d wager
he wants to talk to you and coffee’s a good
way to meet up in a safe, public setting,
but if you want to do something else he’s fine
with that too.” The woman frowned and turned towards
the water. “Like what?” she asked. “Isn’t coffee
just code for sex?” I tilt my head to one side.
“No. What kind of things are people telling you?
Coffee might be code for sex when you’re sitting
in a car outside your house at two AM,”
I say. “At that point nothing is what it seems.
A nightcap ceases to be an amusing
hat to be worn while holding a candle and
hoping the ghost of Christmas past doesn’t show
up, but at 10 AM, coffee means coffee.
At least it does to me. And as for the ‘or
something’ issue, do you think this guy likes you?”
She nods, slowly, as if she’s a bit unsure.
I nod too. “I can’t speak for Sergei,” I say,
“but it sounds like he’d be willing to walk through
Hell just to talk to you for twenty minutes.
Then again, I could be wrong. I don’t know the
guy and these are just my opinions. Take them
or leave them. I’m just a dumb American.”
“Tell me something about you,” she says. “Ok,
I reply. “When I was in high school and our
football team would win, we’d do this chant thing on
the bus back from the stadium. It went, ‘Down
by the river, I took a little walk. I
ran into a Russian, we had a little
talk….’” I pause, remembering the rest of the
verse and knowing I can’t finish it without
making her angry. Still, she’s looking at me,
a hint of a smile on her face, no clue
the next line goes “I threw it in the river
and hung it out to dry,” and it only gets
worse from there. By this point the smile is gone
and we’re both just awkwardly standing there in…