Far Away from the Chickens

Written on March 3, 2014 for ENGW 213

“Anna, remember it is your turn to feed the chickens tomorrow,” my mama told me.

Da,” I lied. “Of course.” And in my mind, I caught the image and cradled it —Mama standing there in the kitchen, holding the white porcelain dish in one hand and a blue drying cloth in the other, the light from the window highlighting the contours of her body. I knew full well that I wouldn’t be feeding the chickens.

Instead I am here, waiting nervously at the train station in Yaroslavl, clutching my green and yellow carpetbag. I set it down with one hand and pick it up with the other a moment later. I tuck a strand of wayward black hair back into my headscarf and turn my back to the icy wind.

Around me, the crowd pulses, their boots stamping dirty patterns in the snow. Someone ask me. I’ve choked down this secret for too long. Someone, anyone ask me! They won’t though. No one notices a colorfully clad, nineteen-year-old girl, clutching her carpetbag as she waits for the train. They cannot tell how my heart pounds in my chest like a young sluga beating out the carpets.

The early sun glints on the train’s steely roof as it pulls in, all clanking and hissing. Bodies clamber in around me, cattle-like, when the doors open.

I press forward through the aisle of the first car and on through the second. No seats. The crowd thins as I make my way into the third car. Aha! I squeeze into a seat between an old man and a young one. I tuck the folds of my yellow skirt in close to my body and carefully slide my bag beneath my seat.

The bearded gentleman is not disposed to be social. He slouches against his seat, cap pulled low, close to his eyes. Soon, he pulls out a cigarette. He turns it over in his fingers, breathing it with his eyes before carefully tucking it back in the front pocket of his shirt.

No matter. I am not disposed to mind him either. I twist my fingers into fantastic contortions and bounce my knees up and down occasionally, straining to suppress the excitement that threatens spill over into a scream or a barynya dance. I want to share my secret.

I reach into my bag and my fingers close around the novel I bought for myself in anticipation of the trip. Perhaps I can distract myself by reading. But instead, I stare at first page, imagining the jolt as the train stops in Vladivostok, the pulsing of the crowd as they scramble to disembark. I see myself on the platform, searching for a face. I am shaking again—whether from fear or happiness I do not know.

The young man on my left watches my reflection in the dust-stained window. An amused smile hovers somewhere just beyond the lips.

After my fourth bouncing episode, he speaks.

“Peder.” He holds out his hand.

“Anna.” I shake it.

The bearded man shifts slightly away from us.

“And where are you going, Anna?” He asks the question.

“I’m on my way to Vladivostok,” I whisper confidentially, as if I have not been dying to tell, “I’m planning to elope.”

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