I finish my lessons. They were good lessons. I am getting better at timing. I ask the managers about one of my students – I have had another cancellation, maybe this student would like to come in for the earlier slot on Wednesday? Good idea, they will ask.
I put my books in my bag, wrap my scarf around my neck, put on my coat, sling my bag over my shoulder and I head out. My home is 15 minutes walk south. I turn north. It is cold. Ale told me earlier today it was -7C. It didn’t feel like -7, until the wind blew in your face, and then it felt like -20. On the bus into the centre this morning I saw the Volga steaming. The warm river was meeting ice-cold air and clouds of steam were rising off the surface. It looked wild and dangerous.
I am going to the shopping centre. I finished my curry last night, so it is time to cook again. I have thought ahead, and some of the chicken breast in my freezer is defrosting. It is actually being warmed up by my fridge. If I left it outside, on the balcony, it would just stay frozen.
I realise my hat is still in my pocket. My ears are covered by my headphones, and the music is warming my soul. I wonder if I should put it on, that would mean taking my hands out of my pockets. I shrug and carry on walking.
I arrive at the shopping centre. It is comfortingly warm inside. I head for the Okey supermarket. I find a short children’s book for the story Snow White. I think I can use this for translation/reading practice. They have moved the marmalade. I find it. They have lots of shiny, healthy looking peppers. I splash out on a red and a green. They have some Mars Ice Cream in stock. I decide to treat myself. It feels a little soft when I squeeze the tub, but I figure it will freeze up nicely on the walk home.
I buy a new pan. I use my big pan for everything, and have to keep washing it, it seems wasteful when I am just heating up small quantities of food. I buy a small milk-pan sized pan. Maybe it is a milk pan.
I head for the checkout. I am no longer embarrassed at being unable to speak fluent Russian, the checkout assistants take us foreigners in their stride. Just as I am nearing the front of the queue a man steps in front of me and makes an appeal. I’ve no idea what he is saying but from the context, I assume it is “may I just quickly conduct this short transaction for some cigarettes before you begin your lengthy transaction for all those groceries?” and I nod assent.
I know the sequence. Something something something sumka… would you like a bag? Nyet – I show her my empty shopping bag. She swipes my groceries through. Something something something karta… do I have a store card? Nyet – I show her my bank card. I just want to pay by card. She runs up the transaction and I insert my card. I suddenly realise I have forgotten one of the products I specifically came here for. Most of the other stuff I can get at the shops near me – Radezh or Magnet. But they do not sell marmalade, they do not sell margarine and they do not sell baked beans. I bought a new saucepan to heat up beans, and forgot the beans!
I don’t have the words. I can’t take my shopping back through so I indicate to the checkout lady I’d like to leave it with her. She is fine with it. I head back into the store and find my beans. I return to find my checkout is now the most popular one. No worries, I am not in a rush, and I can see my bag of shopping. The queue progresses. An Asian looking couple have some communication difficulties with the checkout lady. I smile, partly from empathy and partly from the pleasure of realising there are many non-Russian speakers in this city sharing my challenges on a day to day basis.
Another man steps in front of me with a chocolate bar, he is clearly in a hurry and again he makes a heartfelt plea to my better nature. One more won’t make any difference, so I let him buy his chocolate bar. I’ve been in Russia nearly 3 months, no-one has ever queue-jumped me before and now it happens twice in one supermarket visit!
Finally I purchase my beans and head home. My plan was to get a trolleybus but it’s a long way across the road to the bus stop and I don’t fancy a long wait standing in the cold. Best to keep moving. I start heading south, towards home. My path is blocked by a cherry-picker lorry installing a tall Christmas tree with cascading lights. It is still a long time until Christmas, and an even longer time until Russian Christmas (on the 7th January). I stop and watch the lights for a while, oblivious to the cold.
I walk back. I think again whether I should put my hat on, whether I should pull my scarf over my face. It’s cold, but it’s not biting cold or painful cold, it is just refreshing. I just stay as I am. It’s only 5 or 6 blocks home. I listen to my music, I maybe sing a bit when there are no people around. When I see other people they all have hats on. It was minus 7 this morning, when the sun was shining, it must be minus 10 or 11 now. I’ll check the internet live weather update when I get in (it will confirm -11C).
The cold, it’s not so bad, really.