I THANK V IKTOR K ALASHNIKOV for his time and bid him farewell. I can't stop thinking about
how Russia is chock-full of characters. I just think about the babushkas and their tragic but
inspiring stories, Marina in her over-the-top ski pants that fit her personality, Vasily serving
up horse sausage in his banya -soaked boxer shorts and this quiet, peaceful soul in a black
suit whose father invented the AK-47.
In the parking lot Sergei and I say a final good-bye to Marina. I realize, in all the chaos
and haste, I never asked about her story. I do, briefly, and she says very little other than
that she lives alone—no husband—raised two daughters alone, and now has three grand-
“I don't like to talk about myself much,” she says. “But maybe you can find me a hus-
band in America.”
I'm suddenly overcome by warmth and guilt. She's loud, bossy, and quirky. Actually,
I've never liked someone so much who annoyed me so much. I think about the babushkas,
and somehow Marina makes more sense. She's lonely, looking for connections, and proud
of the job she does. In her own way she saw it as her duty to go above and beyond for me
and Sergei—as our tour guide during our stay here. And for that I am grateful.
“Thank you again, Marina.”
“You're welcome.” And then she drives off.
We have a few hours to kill, so Sergei and I find a nice table in a hotel restaurant to grab
a bite and write some notes from the day.
And there they are. Our “friends.”
The same guys who followed us out of the train station when we arrived in the city walk
into the restaurant, pretend not to see us, but grab a table in our section. I am sure they'll
trail us to the train station in a few hours. I just hope they are local and let us go on our way
once we are off their turf.