08 June, 2009

A kitten on a train

When I first visited Russia, I took a train to "the Russian Vatican", Sergiev Posad. It's about an hour from Moscow, and worth the trip, but that "ordinary" train ride in Russia is anything but ordinary. The recipe of being in a new place on my second day, the Spartan features of the train's accommodations, along with the Slavic faces and tongue contributed to a sense of alienation and aloneness of a kind that I'd never felt before, even though I was with my long time pen-pal and eventual wife.

Russian trains are loud and crowded. If I recall correctly, the walls of this train were green and the benches a white metal wicker design. Benches were hung perpendicular to the wall, so that small groups of four could face each other and talk. I don't remember most people talking, though. As the train traveled further and further from Moscow, the crowd thinned and quieted. We were able eventually to find a seat.

At one station, a group of four young soldiers came on, wearing or holding those tall caps that the Russian military fancies. They strode confidently through the train, taking a seat in the benches across the aisle from us. I nervously fingered the outline of my passport with its visa, hidden in my shirt pocket, memories of the film Firefox still in my mind. Twenty years aren't enough to erase the memory of secret police growling, Your papers, please.

Another couple of newcomers included a man, a boy I presume to be his son, and a puppy that the boy hold tightly in his arms and chatted with (and about) happily.

Then there was the kitten. Small, white, and long-haired, seemingly orphaned and stray, it wandered here and there in the shadows of the benches, looking for something—food, perhaps, or attention. It settled at one point under one of the benches where the loud soldiers were sitting.

Suddenly the train clunked loudly, startling both me and the kitten, which crouched and popped its eyes wide open in the direction of the clunk, ready at any moment to flee. No calamity ensued, and neither the soldiers nor my pen-pal seemed especially disturbed. I was amused at how the kitten showed on the outside some feelings I had on the inside.

Eventually, one of the soldiers noticed the kitten, and reached down to caress it. "T-t-t-t-t," he tsked, while it arched its back and enjoyed a moment of comfort during what was likely to have been only a temporary reprieve from the sounds and troubles of its journey to God.

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