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.
2 thoughts on “Minus 11”
Hi Stephen, I really do enjoy your updates and thru your texts and photos I have built up an idea of what it might be like over there. You seem to be taking things in your stride and appear to be enjoying the teaching. Correct? Please keep up the blogs. I think I find the day to day life skills entries the most fascinating. All the best. Stu.
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