Hearing him describe this friendship was powerful. Sure, I have a “first friend.” Her
name is Marissa Goldstein. We grew up together, our parents were best friends, and we re-
main close to this day. We sign off e-mails to each other, “ff.”
But something here was different. Boris and Gia and their families were forced into a
tiny urban space. Their friendship was built on mutual survival, on sharing a hiding place
away from the uncertainty outside. To me, this makes the intimacy deeper. And then it
was taken away, not because Gia's family decided to move of their own will. Few fam-
ilies moved from one Soviet republic to another of their own will. They were forced to
move. And then the next chapter of history intervened—Russia and Georgia became two
different countries, making it even harder for two friends to remain close. Theirs was not
a unique friendship, strained by distance and circumstance. But somehow, I understood
why Boris looks back on his boyhood as a simpler time. After years of upheaval that split
the two friends apart—not to mention disrupted Russian families' lives in so many other
ways—Boris, as Western-leaning and cosmopolitan as he may be today, looks back nostal-
gically on his Soviet childhood as the happiest time of his life.
. . .
T HINKING BACK TO Boris' story, I feel a mix of curiosity and anticipation as Sergei and I
wait for the strangers who will share our cramped space on the train tonight.
For now, it's just the two of us sitting in the four-bed compartment. Our provodnik
ducks in from the hallway to deliver glasses for tea. They are icons of a Russian rail jour-
ney—simple glasses that fit neatly into decorated silver holders that are emblazoned with
PZD. Our provodnik , now that we are all warm inside the train, is becoming warmer her-
self. She asks if we would like her to bring us some tea bags. Tea is free. Packets of sugar
cost three rubles (ten cents). Sergei and I say yes to both. The train lurches forward and
backward a few times, acting like an aging person revving up the momentum to crawl out
of bed. And finally, train No. 240 settles on to her path out of Moscow, picking up speed.
It seems like Sergei and I will be alone in the compartment tonight. Sure, it means more
space and more privacy. And yet I'm disappointed.