Admittedly, when I first moved into Number 3 Petrovksy Lane, I was a bit unnerved by the columns of uniformed boys marching up and down the street all the time, cadets at the Military Space Academy. With time, however, I’ve grown to appreciate the constant presence of the cadets. For one, I always feel pretty safe walking down Krasny Kursant Street, the main road I walk on to get to the metro, to the gym, and home from my internship. I feel fairly confident that if I needed help, I could turn to a cadet, and he’d help me out – or at least not make the situation worse. And then there’s the always amusing situations that arise when a cadet decides to talk to me (okay, so there’s only been one such situation so far, but who knows what the future holds?). Today I discovered another reason I like living amongst the cadets: the Military Space Academy campus takes up several long blocks of Krasny Kursant Street, and the sidewalks along all those blocks were swept immaculately clean of the snow that’s been falling for the past few days. It was nice to take a break for a couple blocks from skidding over and trudging through the slippery, slushy, half-packed, half-loose snowy mush that covers all the rest of the sidewalks in this city.
On Saturday the streets were still clean; it didn’t start snowing heavily till early Sunday morning. Saturday evening much of our American group and several Russian friends gathered in a club downtown to celebrate the birthdays of Kennon and Andrew (a few pictures here). After a beer, some hearty laughter over Mark’s gift to Andrew (a pair of “stud undies” with a 4-foot long tube for his… well, you know), and a couple dances to the live rockabilly-blues band Forrest Gump, I headed home, arriving at Chkalovskaya metro station around 11:30 or 11:45 PM. Not that late, right? Usually I feel fine on the 10-15 minute walk home from the metro, but for some reason, I felt really uneasy walking home Saturday night. First I had to walk through a group of four guys that eyed me in a disconcerting way, then I walked past another group of them clustered around a beer kiosk. That was all on Chkalovsky Prospekt, and I thought that once I got to Krasny Kursant Street, I’d feel better. But the fun didn’t stop there.
A middle-aged muzhik (i.e. lower-class working fellow, not very educated, reeking of beer, and swearing every other word) approaches me, saying “Devushka, devushka,” to get my attention. He’s right in the middle of my path; I stop about six feet away. He’s been in a fight.
“What?” I say.
“Devushka, do you know how to get to [names some street, but I don’t catch which one]?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “You can get to the metro if you go to the corner and turn left.”
“Don’t you see, they ^%#*@ beat me up, look at my #*!@# eye @#!^&$.”
“So what?” I say, with intonation that says What do you expect me to do about it?
“Can’t you take me there?” he pleads, stepping closer. I can smell stale domestic beer on his breath. His eye does look kind of bad. I back away, into the street. My path to home is now clear, if I need to run. I curse inwardly; there isn’t a damned cadet in sight – I bet they have a curfew or something. I’m wondering if the two guys I passed near the corner were still there, and if they’d come running if I screamed.
“No,” I say.
“Are you afraid?” he asks.
“Yes, I am. Please don’t come any nearer.”
“Can’t you just take me there yourself? Look at my eye &#!@%.” I back away further. “You’re afraid.”
“Of course I’m afraid! I’m sorry, I can’t take you. The metro is right around the corner. I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t,” I say, and turn towards home. I walk quickly and don’t look back, finally feeling safe again when the heavy steel door to my stairwell locks behind me.
I tell this story not to freak anyone out at home – overall I still feel safe in my neighborhood – but because this encounter got me thinking about the rather horrible position that muzhik was in. It’s possible the whole request for help was a sham intended to get me into a position where he could take advantage of me in some way. But it’s much more likely that he was actually in need of help. He’d clearly been drinking –every muzhik drinks, often starting early in the morning. He’d clearly gotten into a scuffle with someone, and whether it was something he’d started or if he’d gotten mugged or whatever, I have no way of knowing. But there he was, with no one to turn to. To approach another man could get him into a situation worse than the one he’d just gotten out of – you never know what a man here might do if he thinks he can turn a situation to his advantage (I realize that sounds like gross overgeneralization, and perhaps it is, but in Petersburg, at night, I feel like it’s a case of “better safe than sorry,” and I avoid men like the plague). So the muzhik’s alternative is to turn to a woman for help, who, like me, is more likely than not to be afraid of him. It’s entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that he intended me no harm; that he really just needed some help getting to a medical facility or his brother’s house or something like that. But I just couldn’t risk it – just as almost any woman here wouldn’t risk it. And my reaction to his request has got me thinking about how no one trusts anyone anymore – if you’re not свой, “one’s own,” then you’re чужой, “other” – and I’m not going to risk anything to help you. It’s one of the unfortunate realities of living in a large urban area. I hope that muzhik got the help he needed, even without my assistance.
3 days ago