St. Petersburg Express
end of springtime
a masked exterminator
sprays on and on
There wasn't a single long line, when I approached these regularly crowded ticket booths at the Leningrad Railway Station in Moscow. As a matter of fact, there were no lines at all. Instead, I was accosted by a woman, who was probably Kirghiz or Kazakh. Maybe she was even from Tuva or Khakassia, or, better yet, from Kalmykia. Well, who can really tell these days? For sure, she was a rather tall woman advising me to go straight to the St. Petersburg train, which is due to depart in half an hour anyway.
Slightly alarmed, I kept asking her: "Why would I talk to a carriage master when I can simply buy my tickets?"
"All the good tickets are long gone", she grunted every time. "Besides, only the expensive ones are available. And what that means ..." she stared at me.
When we finally engaged the masters guarding the entrances to their carriages, images of my recent trip on a Polish train crept up in my mind. At night, in my solitary compartment, I was gassed to utter unconsciousness, my suitcase was opened, my clothes were torn to pieces, all my money was taken, and — to add insult to injury — after all I had been through, a Polish carriage attendant was laughing right to my face.
This Kalmyk woman, or whatever she was, firmly demanded 3,000 rubles up front. I balked and retreated to one of the cashier booths.
She followed me swearing. "You are a fool. Why did I even bother? Your face shouts imbecile. Why did I waste my time on such an idiot?"
At the cashier's, they displayed exactly what I was told: inconvenient seats, late departure times, and the entire gamut for far more money, of course.
Of course, I re-turned to the woman. Of course, she led me back to the train. And again, I was pulling my immense luggage full of books, papers, and strange artifacts ...
"Our last names got the same endings", I grudgingly whispered to the blond carriage master and handed 1,000 rubles to the Kalmyk woman. Then I was shown into a perfect compartment with a fully functional window, a huge mirror, and fresh linen. It even smelled good. I was going to have this gem entirely to myself. The blonde grabbed her 2,000 rubles and I quickly locked the door.
In apprehension yet, I tried to calm myself. In the northwest, the white night was unfolding a futurist Moscow. The train took me to new horizons, too, where I seemed to be the beneficiary of corruption. No regrets, nor remorse. Rest assured, it felt good.