Friday, August 4, 2006

the old man's promise (russia, and memories of)

Time yawned, stretching its weary arms from the comfort of a hammock strung between the crinkles in an old man's aged eyes. We had met the old man, the inn's proprietor, in the inn's tavern on that first wintry night in Moscow. The tavern empty but for DB and I, the greyish old man invited us to sit with him at an elderly table in a forgotten corner of the bar. Being guests to his country, we could find no easy way to decline; so, the old man set down a bottle before us, along with four smudged glasses.

"I promise," he said, sitting down, staring at us intently across the table from behind his grizzled beard. He roughly opened the bottle of vodka to make his point. "I am a man of my word."

DB and I looked at each other sceptically.

The old man went on. "SK, my granddaughter, she has a way of knowing," he said, carelessly tossing the bottle cap across the room. "She has a way of knowing the future."

DB smirked, and snorted, "Impossible," while the old man set up our drinks.

"Oh, quite the opposite," the old man rejoined, his dark eyes stealing through the lamplight. "Very possible, in fact. My grandfather, her great-great, was chased out of Hungary by a fearful lot after he was found to be in possession of divining paraphernalia. His son, my father, SK's great-grandfather, bought his life and freedom from the concentration camps by secretly reading the futures of his Nazi captors. After the war, he fled to Russia where he met my mother, the daughter of a cobbler."

"And you?" DB asked. "Are you in cahoots with the future, as well?"

"Me? Not so much, no," the old man said with a dismissive wave of his wrinkled, liver-spotted hand. "Weak blood, you know how it is."

I fidgeted in my chair, made suddenly uncomfortable by all that talk of prognostication. The freezing wind pushed against the small, rattling windowpanes beside us, sending flurries of oversized snowflakes whipping chaotically at the glass.

"And where might one find Savka?" I asked, taking a nervous sip of strong vodka.

"There are some things you wish to know, yes?" The old man asked, smiling.

"Who doesn't wish to know what the future has in store for them?" I snipped, defensive.

"Not me," DB replied. "I'm more than happy to wait out the storm."

"Your friend here is not a very good liar," the old man joked, thumbing towards DB. "Anyway, to answer your question, my friend – SK and her good-for-nothing husband keep a penthouse in the Sadovoye Koltso. She's done quite well for herself, you know."

"Well, how can you not do well for yourself when you can see the future?" I said. "Talk about your safe bets."

"I suppose, hey?" the old man shrugged, gulping back half his glass. "So, where's the third?"

I looked confusedly to DB and then back to the old man. "The third what?" I asked, perplexed.

"My daughter told me I would be visited by a group of three foreigners on this night," he said, clinking his glass to the extra one he had earlier set on the table, "yet I see only two sitting before me."

DB laughed. "I'm telling you—"

At that moment, the front door opened, and SA tramped in with a blast of cold air and a whirl of snow.

"Right miserable out there!" he exclaimed, stomping towards us across the worn floorboards.

The old man smiled, and set up another drink. "Welcome to Russia!" he cried out, genially.

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