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The driver is blasting techno music, with English lyrics that in no way align with my
mood. “I like sexy, sexy. I like to roll in king-sized beds.” Neither Sergei nor I are speak-
ing. I am in the backseat, watching Rybinsk pass by. There is the jet engine factory where
Nikita's dad works, a sprawling, dirty complex that probably hasn't changed much since
Soviet times. We continue through the center of town, past a snow statue of Russia's Santa
Claus—Ded Moroz. Weeks after Orthodox Christmas, it's probably time for Santa to be
relieved of his duties—the red paint from his hat is bleeding into the muddy snow—but
no one has taken him down yet. And just outside town we pull over, and our driver points
across a field to what appears to be nothing more than a clump of snow. Sergei and I tromp
about fifty yards, and as we approach, we see that the mound of snow is actually covering
a rock. There is a plaque on the front of the rock that Sergei translates for me.
“This is the beginning of remembering victims of the Volga camps.”
“It says 'beginning,'” Sergei points out. I can see his breath in the frigid cold. “Because,
David, we could not talk about this for many, many years. We could not see monuments
like this. We could not see anything.”
In other words, in this country some tragedies happened long ago. But there is a reality
that outsiders may struggle to understand. Since public displays of emotion were frowned
upon for years, many Russians are just now coming to terms with their history, and the
pain. They are only now beginning to mourn what was lost. In the snow, beside the rock,
just below and to the left of the plaque, there is a bunch of flowers. They're red roses, fresh,
as if put here within the past day or so. And I can't help but count the number.
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