The day is cold and already growing dark even though it’s not that late.
I’m wandering through Kyiv in the winter, and I’m alone. I keep my hands in my pockets and my breath is freezing in my beard.
I walk down Khreshchatyk. Snow on the ground has turned to ice and I tread lightly and carefully. Where am I going? I don’t know. I’ve walked here before but I feel lost and unsure where to go.
The Christmas lights are up and the sidewalks aren’t as full as in the summer and spring, but it’s still beautiful and I try to enjoy it. Another year over, a new one just begun, as Lennon, not Lenin, said.
What has changed? She’s gone, but the war is still there. It never left. Even though I’ve tried to leave it again and again. Now I’m broken in the places that may or may not get stronger, I don’t know yet.
I take a coffee and sit on a bench and watch the huddled bundled waddle by in that funny way one walks across the ice so not to slip. I change hands holding the cup when one gets too cold and hide the other in my coat pocket. The coffee is good and keeps me warm. The steam rising from the cup melts the ice in my beard between sips, and I wipe away the drops with the sleeve of my coat. When the coffee is through I get up and start walking again.
I take a right and climb up through the arched portal that leads to Liuteranskaya Street. The way is steep and my legs ache at first with the climbing, but they get used to the work. The gravity pulls me back making it hard to keep going, but I do anyway. My apartment is at the top of the hill. It’s worth the effort to get home. I have to.
The blue–purple sky clouds over and the cold air turns still and the world is silent. It starts to snow.
My boots crunch on the growing layer of snow on the sidewalk. I enjoy the sound and the way my boots grip the ground as I keep climbing. There’s no one else around me and I feel, just for a moment, like I have all of Kyiv to myself in this first minute of snowfall that is the best and I have always cherished the most.
I see her.
Up and ahead. A lady, who knows how old. She wears a long black coat and her long gray hair shows beneath her fur cap.
She walks to the edge of the road and stops. As I draw closer she starts to pirouette and spin to music only she can hear. Her hands are up, holding an invisible partner, a secret in her heart where I cannot see.
Her feet move light and she twirls, silently gliding, leaving lines in the snow like a compass needle. On her wrinkled face she wears a smile as warm as the rays of the hidden sun.
I walk past trying not to stare but she wouldn’t have noticed anyway.
A little farther on, a little higher up, and I stop and I look back through the falling snow and she’s still dancing. A memory leads her round and round. I wonder what music she hears and if I’ll ever know that tune, the one that never ends.
I watch her for a moment. And then the stillness breaks and a cold wind laps at my neck. I hear it moving through the leafless branches of the trees. I turn and keep climbing. The hard beat of my boots in the snow takes me home.