A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


We were living in Moscow where my parents had rented a house. It was a short walk across the river to the Alexander Gardens and I used to go there each day. Usually the mornings, but sometimes at dusk. From where I entered the park you could see the Borovitskaya Tower with it's green roofed spire. Of course, the place was not the same in summer as it was covered with the winter snow. Honestly, I can't say which time of year I preferred the most, but the warmth of the sun lifted my spirit.

No one interfered with my freedom. I was preparing for university with the help of a private tutor. I didn't work much, neither did my tutor, a Frenchman. He'd arrived in Russia as a stop on a sort of world tour of the northern hemisphere. Much of his time was spent in bed, a fixed expression on his face. I had difficulty deciding if he was crazy or lazy, most probably he was intoxicated. My father treated me with kindness as was his gentle nature. My mother hardly noticed me, although I was her only child. She was ten years older than my father and occupied her own world.

I felt a sense of freedom that enveloped me at the same time as the summer sun climbed into the sky. My life was one of expectation, I dreamt of what might be and harboured fantasies which kept me company at night. As I walked through the greenery that lent an air of calm to the busy city, an oasis that both consoled and angered my being, I yearned for things to happen and yet I was at the same time comfortable doing nothing. It would be true to say I was struggling with my own self, but it was not an internal war, more the highs and lows of riding the waves of life.

When I felt the need to get further away, to dispel a moody contemplation, I cycled. I ignored everything except the sun on my face, and rode familiar routes through the city. The people I passed were like shadows, passing blurs, and I never stopped to think about them or their lives. Unlike on my walks, where all I thought about was crossing paths with some stranger, my knight in shining armour. It was a vision I had, which never had a defined shape or figure. Something hidden and half-conscious, an awareness that had yet to take form. Oddly I had a sense of a secret nature which might be shameful and yet it was not at all so for me.

One thought gained the foremost place amongst all my day dreaming. It was that I had a destiny, one which would soon reveal itself.

As summer properly took its place we left the city to take a long sojourn in the country. My father had us swop the city apartment for a wooden house which sat with a sort of weary grandeur asserting it's presence over several smaller buildings. Those other buildings were two lodges and a long single storey factory. I call it a factory, but it was mechanised in only the simplest of ways for the manufacturing of wallpaper. My father said the worth was in the work of the artisans who designed and produced the finished product for the rich and famous. What he really meant was that with very little he managed the production of something he sold at a large profit. Included in the very little were those artisans whose wages were just so small. I took to aimlessly wondering through the factory building surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the work, watching the young apprentices labouring over the wooden presses. Something about bodies at work provoked an admiration in me, rather like one might feel for athletes on the sports field. Of the two lodges, one was empty and available for rent. One day, not long after we had arrived, I noticed a family had moved in, parents, grandparents, and children. It was over supper that my mother posed the question as to who our new neighbours were. As it turned out, they were the Gabrelyanovs, apparently of noble origin. This news seemed to bring a light to my mother's eyes before she concluded, 'No doubt with no money.'

My father simply smiled. Although her observation was probably correct, stating the obvious was for him rather vulgar.

The lodge the family were occupying was hardly big enough for so many and somewhat dilapidated. It would not be the choice of people with any means or who were at least moderately well-off.

At the time all this simply passed me by, I never purposely chose to be drawn into conversations with my parents.

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