Devil May Care

May 15, 2010

I walked past the strip of money exchange outlets, head hanging low against Astana’s biting wind. I slid my glasses back up my nose and peered quickly at the curb on the other side of the street. Lying on the dust razed streets, ravaged by the merciless wind, was a crumbling and solitary comic. The wind drowned the sound of the rustling pages. But for the howling wind, all else became mute. Surreal. I stopped, shaking with the cold and the weight of my own solitude, lost in thought.

It was almost 11 p.m.

Several nights ago, I made a decision. In an effort to break the monotone of office-home-home-office, I decided I would go for evening walks.  The fact that I decided they would be evening walks in itself tells the whole story.

I was scared of the dark my first week here. I would sit in my apartment and as soon as the sun ta-ta-ed I would start hearing every creek, thump and scratch.  I would apprehensively eye the apartment door literally all night long for even when I went to bed I would repeatedly wake up in the middle of the night and compulsively glance at the door. The Old Time Radio Drama that I went to bed listening to back home were suddenly too scary to listen to in my solitary apartment. It was so bad I wouldn’t even go to the bathroom at night and would, wuss that I am, hold it till morning.

I never would have considered walking out at night that first week.

But time passes and things change and before long the apartment felt like my apartment. My home. And Astana felt a little less Astana-ish.

Rewind a couple of nights before that platitudes-defying night and we get to the Turning Point.  I was taking a shortcut home from the movie theatre after watching The Back-Up Plan, a Russian-dubbed American Movie. It was 2 am and after saying my bubyes, I went through a deserted street situated between two rather gloomy-looking construction sites. The wind was doubly harsh that night, pounding on the tin railings screening the sites. My heels went clickedy-click and the echo made it sound like someone was following me and I walked a little faster. It was so cold.

A car was parked at the far end and I saw people inside. Two guys. As I pass by the door opens and one of the guys, clearly drunk, offers me a ride. I blurted out a spaseeba! (thank you) and scurried on. A series of Yoshka! Yoshka! (the equivalent of hey there) ensued. I don’t speak Russian, spaseeba! I yelled over my shoulder. Yoshka I love you! was the last I heard as I turned a corner on to a main street.

I felt like that nerdy owl dude from Watchmen. The incident itself was insignificant and the risks infinitesimal and yet it so incredibly emboldened me. I went from being pusillanimously house-bound after sunset to roaming forlorn streets alone at two in the morning.

A resuscitated sense of gutsiness along with the promise of an adventure inspired the idea of an evening walk.  I’ve kept it up for two nights so far. First time I headed out to see the Victory Day fireworks. Second time I headed out just to head out. Every time I get a little gutsier. A little more rash. Venturing confidently, too confidently, into darker corners. Shadier streets. I feel safer now in Astana. More comfortable. And it’s funny how a higher sense of security tends to spur the more reckless side in people. A precarious false sense of security.

A rush of cool crisp air whisked through my Westby hoody. Eerie and sobering. The comic was still there. Still solitary, still being ravaged. I pulled my  hoody to my ears, dug my hands deeper in its pockets and walked away. Astana is growing on me and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.


2 Responses to “Devil May Care”

  1. ben a said

    Oh I can think of so many aphorisms but they all come down to; be careful!!Having said that I so can relate to the fear, not of injury, but of everything, being an obvious agnabi, xawaaga, foreigner; being told how suspicious people would be of me being in siada zainib,in the end I hid out. except for your wonderful family I missed so much. In the last weeks my fear left and I discovered a wonderful neighborhood and Egypt. I wish I could have done that months earlier…so Dina get out there but please dont push your luck. Be safe,be safe, Ben

  2. Yehia said

    Nice story but you really scared me. You have to weigh worthy adventure and dangerous ones. You have to be careful drunk people have no rAtionale please be careful and don’t hurt yourself dear

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