When I wake up, I find him lying on the floor, a black fur ushanka on his face. He’s sleeping right under my bed bunk, cuddled up to a vodka bottle, like a child to his teddy bear.
And just a few hours ago he was insisting I knock back a few drinks with him and some other individuals.
There’s this box at the end of the carriage, its walls completely iced-over which serves as the smoking area in the train. The men in vests feign indifference, drawing on their cigarettes as from every single pore of their skin a vapour is released wrapping them in a male, vaguely mystical scenario.
Further away, a group of soldiers are drinking, red-cheeked youths with innocent, bored indifferent faces. They play at cards, slap at each other, and slice salami with these enormous knifes.
I gaze beyond my windowpane: snow, pines, snow, pines.. nostalgia dictates the tempo, as the scenary repeats itself over and over again…just like the same old thoughts that insist on populating my mind.
Repeated till the Baikal suddenly appears and silent, partially icy, kindly swallows up into its depths all of my mono-tone considerations on the state of things over here, socialism, and other things I don’t intend to bore you with.
My efforts to start any kind of conversation with the few women that are travelling on the train with me, are for te most part smashed to the ground. But this plump, slightly cockeyed man, who grandly overestimates my Russian language skills, embarks on an absurd tale of this impossible love story, intertwined with Gorbacev who did goodness knows what, as he squinted his way over the Urals with the rest of his regiment and twelve kilos of sugar in his back pack, for some reason.
There is a forced intimacy, a slightly drunken one, that sets in between the fifty strangers sleeping, eating, drinking and often stinking a bit inside a single carriage of a train possibly dating back to the October Revolution, but in perfect condition.
The rail tracks roll-out into the snow, over the river, amidst the steppe, into the taiga, all the way to Vladivostock and back, consistently reaffirming the importance of philology: because, you see, in Russian the words “train” and “poetry” share the same root.
No coincidence. This 9288- kilometre steel track has been a back-bone to Russia. It used to be czarist, then soviet, and now it’s “just” a railway, entrusted with the formation of the Russian national identity: forever patriotic, at times pathetic, stubbornly self-sufficient, but hardly ever self-critical. The Russian Railway supports the sense of unity in the country that is otherwise alien to itself broken up as it is in its frigid Republics.
I’ve been longing for that power that only winter has to white-out any form of superficiality, bring out the hollowness of things and ice-over all the rest. It reduces everything and simplifies it to larch, ice, steel, and a few vodkas.
I’m flooded with questions: ‘You travelling alone, ‘got any children, aren’t you afraid, what do you think about this or that war, the President, the embargo ‘you an americanskij ‘a spy ‘Maldini still playing, is he?
I offer out some chocolate. The hands that reach for it are engraved with tattoo ink memories, maybe from time spent in jail. They reciprocate with yet another toast.
They laugh, drink, sometimes sing or just blankly stare out at the glaucous, quickly darkening, scenario.
It’s Decembre in Platzark, third class of the trans-Siberian train line.
Text translated by Giulia Bosatra.