A friend of mine is a teacher and writer, born in Uzbekistan, recently moved to Kaliningrad. She writes on Facebook, and here is one of her pieces. It’s been a while since I did any translation, and this marks an intention to do it more regularly.

This year I found myself tutoring an 11yr old girl called Vika. Or Victory, as her mum called her. An only child;  her father was a quiet man while her mum was severe and business-like. A woman who worked long and hard for what she had. My conversations with her did not extend beyond her daughter’s progress in Russian.

Once, on my way to tutor Vika, she texted me:

“Alyona Igorevna, would you be able to come 15 minutes later than usual, our little scholar is running a little behind.”

“Of course” I replied, “I’ll pop into a couple of shops and be there in 30,  I’ll let her catch her breath.”

I easily forgave Vika’s mum’s single mindedness; once at the end of term she raised my pay without prompt or request.

Vika was both spoilt and hardworking.

She attended a Cadet school, went ballroom dancing and studied English. Following a poor result at a recent dance competition, she told me, bitterly, how it was her partner’s fault. “You see, it’s his job to count properly, my job is to keep my back straight and smile.” At that she pushed her shoulders backwards and a beaming smile appeared on her face. In the end they came second to last. “Well you weren’t last!” I try and console her. “Some 40yr old amateurs took last place” she grumbled, before breaking out into laughter.

Vika had a rabbit, two hamsters and a big parrot.

The parrot lived in a cage above the door. It had been brought over from Cuba more than 20 years ago. Vika was certain that its life was much better than before, it had a big cage after all. As Vika got to grips with prefixes, vowels in word stems, and commas I would often sit and watch that parrot. Sometimes he would chew on the bars of his cage, other times he would simply sit on his perch. Once he let out a shriek so strange that I sent Vika to fetch her dad. He calmed me down and assured me it was normal. Usually, as I sat watching, I would think about why that particular parrot, out of all his brethren, was fated to live for so long in a rainy city, indoors, forgetting how to fly. Why him?

Every lesson Vika did her best to distract me.

Once she suddenly declared: “The child lacks attention, no-one talks to it and no-one loves it.”

“What are you talking about?” I replied. “Your parents adore you, everything in this family revolves around you!”

“But no-one talks to me! They only ask what time I got home, what grades I got and what I’ve eaten.” Vika pursed her lips and looked up at the ceiling.

“What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t know, my friends or something!”

“Vika, you have to remember that us adults often forget that you need more attention. You have to remind us. Go and tell your mum that you want to tell her something important.”

“She’ll say ‘later’.”

“Alright, go later, say that you want to talk.”

“She’ll just ask if I’ve done my homework, or she’ll say ‘in the evening’.”

“Okay, go in the evening.”

“But she’s cooking then!”

“So? Sit next to her.”

At this Vika put on a ‘grown up’ face and shouted in her mum’s voice. “Volooooooood! She’s in my way!”

It was a good likeness and we both burst out laughing.

I liked working with Vika.

She was sharp, able to focus and she had a strong sense of (self) irony. Not to mention that she owned every possible toy or gadget you could imagine; a new one appeared every week. And I, for some reason, couldn’t help but investigate each new addition.


In July I was scrolling through my newsfeed when I saw that there had been a fire in Vika’s building. A 10th floor flat had been gutted by flames. My jaw dropped: “That’s right by Vika!”

Then I saw a photo from another angle and realised that smoke was pouring out of the very room that I taught Vika in. Out of the room the parrot lived in. I began looking for more information, reassuring myself that I was mistaken, but no…

‘Members of the fire brigade found a live rabbit in its cage on the balcony. Inside the flat they uncovered the remains of a Macaw Parrot.’

Vika’s mum was severe and business-like. The fire will probably make her even more so.

But what will it make of Vika?

Intoxicating masculinity


What is it about this video? Why am I thinking about it on the bus, watching it when I come home from work, and staring at it before bed? Why do these two men dancing in a room hold my attention so utterly?



First of all, because I am attracted to this type of man. I watch out of desire. I see a rough masculinity in the short haircuts, sportswear, and stubble. And I like it. Not just the aesthetic but the tough-guy demeanor that goes with it.



Secondly, this video makes me feel like my desire can be reciprocated. The men demonstrate an intimacy with each other that I don’t associate with that masculinity. An intimacy I read as more than friendship, closer to love. This gives me hope, because usually this type of man feels out of reach.


Usually I see this type of man as showing affection through smack talking and play fighting, by pretending to repulse the other. To show love by not loving. And if loving means behaving in an unloving way, then it becomes very hard for me to read this type of masculinity. A man’s distant and at times aggressive behaviour can be interpreted as anything from Hatred to Love.


Reading men like that becomes impossible. I imagine attraction where there is none. I am unable to gauge reciprocal desire, to know if I am wanted back. I desire but fear expressing it. I fear the gamble of reaching out.


And yet I watch this video on repeat because, perhaps, I can reach out after all. The men possess that gruff masculinity I desire, but they also seem to show an open tenderness towards each other which is intoxicating to watch. Sure, they play fight and can be rough with one another, but they also express themselves in hugs, ass slaps, laughter, a kiss on the forehead. As they dance, one beckons to the other and their lips come close, separated only by a joint. One blows smoke into the other’s mouth.


It feels like the video is telling me that I was wrong. Men like that can be openly tender towards each other. Men like that can be openly tender with me too…?




But in that moment of intimacy there is something missing.



They don’t kiss.



One cradles the other’s head in his hands, their eyes are closed, necks crooked, yet distance is preserved between them. The men’s tenderness with one another implies a final moment of connection, but it is absent.


And I realise that for me to believe that these men could openly love each other, that this type of man could openly want me back, I need their lips to touch.


But they don’t, and I see that my hope of a kiss is fantasy.

My hope of an open tenderness and connection is fantasy.

I desire a masculinity that can only exist out of reach.


Because distance is crucial to its survival. If that masculinity loves openly, it stops existing. An open tenderness, the touching of skin, contradicts a behaviour which actively disguises love and affection, which emotes in code. It can’t do both. If their lips had met, that masculinity would have disintegrated.



So if I am desiring something I can never have, then what am I to do with my desire? Knowing I desire the unobtainable doesn’t quench the desire itself. Should I try and unlearn it? Can I retrain my gut reaction?



Fantasy sounds easier.



I’d rather just press repeat.


I get a text from O telling me he has landed. They’ve lost his luggage and his phone is about to die. He says he is on his way and he’s still got his keys.

I’m throwing a party. Partly because it’s my birthday, partly because today is the day he said he’d be back.

I have spent the day in motion preparing. Moving around the house and getting ready to host.

The Wheedler got here early and offered to help. I’ve got him cutting cucumbers. He keeps touching my arm whenever we speak and trying to look into my eyes. I put the booze out on a table in the kitchen. I bring the snacks upstairs.

Guests arrive and they gather in the living room. Someone gives me flowers and I try to smile gratefully. Where I’m standing I can look out on the street and see who walks past.

The Lodger arrives. He knows that tonight is partly birthday partly not. Originally we had agreed he would move out when O came back. But he has ignored any mention of O since and speaks like a man with his feet under the table. He is with a group of people I don’t know.

The house fills up. The music gets louder. The Wheedler asks if I want anything to drink and I take what he offers. He starts to talk to me about how long we’ve known each other. I drink and nod.

I have to push my way up the stairs to get a mop. Some idiot dropped a bottle of wine in the hall. Two men I don’t know watch me silently as I clean up.

I’ve drunk too much. The room is slipping. I go to the toilet. Someone knocks at the door after I’m not sure how long. They ask if I am okay. I mumble something. They knock again. I tell them to fuck off. I take off my clothes and get in the shower. Cold. I dry myself and then redress. A glass of water is waiting for me outside the door.

I get to the foot of the stairs and there is the Lodger. He pulls me by the arm into the living room and explains that the alcohol is running out. He offers to go get some more, but he doesn’t have any cash. He’s still holding onto my wrist. Fifty. He guides me upstairs to get my wallet. He tries to follow me into my room but I manage to close the door. I press my body against it. I look round and see two people making out on my bed. I find my bag and get the cash.

I’m in the corridor and he is thanking me for the money. He leans forward for a kiss.

I’m downstairs talking to a man who works in the civil service. Something about tax. I’m having trouble speaking, I can just about keep my eyes focused on him. He keeps on talking.

My bedroom is empty now, and some fucker has spilt wine on the sheets. At least I think it’s wine. I gulp the glass of water beside my bed. I sit on the bed and look at my phone. There are no messages. The cat, who I haven’t seen since the morning, sits on my lap and licks my beard. We sit in silence for a while until someone falls over on the stairs and it jumps off. I remember I have a pack of cigarettes stashed in my cupboard.

I’m out the back door and I don’t have a fucking lighter. There’s some guy on the wall smoking. He has some matches and I light a cigarette. I slur thanks.

The Lodger is snorting coke in the kitchen.

The Wheedler is holding two drinks and offers me one. I thank him and turn around. He stops me and asks if I want to dance. I suppose so.

Someone’s drawn the curtains and I can’t see outside anymore.

I throw up in the bathroom. My hands grip the side of the toilet.

A knock at the door. FUCK OFF. I hear the door open and I realise it wasn’t locked. I turn to begin shouting and I see O standing there with the door closed behind his back.

He stands and watches me, smiling, a smirk really. Oh fuck off (quietly). He kneels down and puts his hand on my back.

Washing my face I see him in the mirror’s reflection. He strikes a match and holds it up to the ceiling, to the smoke detector. The alarm goes off throughout the house. He walks to the window and opens it. We watch as the guests stream into the street. I see the lodger with a bloody nose.

O smirks.


This is based on a little boy I knew when working in nursery last year.


He pretends he is a dinosaur

It’s the only word he knows

He bends his fingers into claws

And wrinkles up his nose


He bends his knees and stamps his feet

His head swivels left to right

He loves to bare his pointy teeth

And roar with all his might


He loves nothing more than stomping

Up and down the corridor

We ask him what he’s playing

His reply is: Dinosaur


We worry for his progress

We worry for his speech

We talk to mum and rack our brains

We do our best to teach


And soon enough he begins to talk

He starts playing different games

He begins to talk to other children

He becomes fascinated by trains


We soon forget our t-rex worries

Amidst the sand, blocks, and sticks

There’s always a child who’s dripping wet

Or another who spits and kicks


But one day I do a double take

It was him I’m pretty sure

Looking in the mirror

His mouth a silent roar