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“No, I haven't,” Rose says, smiling.
It is honestly not my imagination—the train experience with Rose on board, coincident-
ally or not, seems far worse than anything Sergei and I have experienced so far.
Our third-class car on this train is No. 19, the last car of the train and a solid ten-minute
walk down an icy platform. As we arrive at the steps of the car, a passenger is rushing out
carrying a mangy-looking dog in need of a potty break. We step into the car and its pas-
sengers are predominantly young men from Central Asia. In many ways Central Asia is
to Russia what Central America is to the United States—scores of young men pour across
the border looking for reliable construction work or other jobs to make money for families
back home.
I would say of the dozens of people on this car, all are men, except perhaps one or two.
“It's all going to be Okay” I tell Rose unconvincingly.
“You don't have a guy staring at your breasts.” I think she's overreacting until, indeed,
I see one man on his upper berth laughing and motioning to his seatmate as he cups his
hands over his chest.
Rose brings out a bag of jelly beans and offers it to the man who's sharing the four-berth
space with us. He declines, but Sergei takes a few—his first jelly bean experience. “Do I
“Yes—you'll like them,” Rose says. “Sergei, can you take a photo of me and David?
Because, if we get divorced, this is going in the file.” She's not done. She pulls out her
iPhone, clicks Record on the video function and points the thing at the two of us, with her
arm around me. “Hi, future children. If David remains married to me long enough for you
to be conceived, then this is for you. Your father made me ride third class on an overnight
train in the winter in Siberia. Who does that?”
We eventually settle in. Rose takes an upper berth to sleep, and I do feel guilty, noticing
a lot of eyes pointed at her—harmlessly, I believe, but probably annoying.
I wake up last—Rose and Sergei are up, looking out the window as we approach
Krasnoyarsk. The great Russian writer Anton Chekhov called this Siberia's most gorgeous
city, and you understand why. The city is tucked into a river valley, surrounded by gorges
and snowy mountains rising in all directions. We have only a day here, and we were told
the one thing not to miss is the Stolby Nature Reserve just outside the city.
And here I emphasize again—try not to ask why in this country. In this case, why would
it be so difficult to arrange a visit to the area's number-one tourist destination?
Rose and I are in the backseat of a taxi as Sergei negotiates with the driver.
“David, you said Stolby Nature Reserve?”
“Right—or maybe national park?”
Sergei and the driver discuss.
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