I walk my children to school. Every morning after I say goodbye to my kids, I cross paths with a Russian man who is walking his daughter to school. I don’t know that he’s Russian. I’ve never asked. But when he says good morning he sounds like all of the villains from the movies of my Cold War childhood. So. He’s the Russian guy.
This morning I saw him coming toward me along the sidewalk. His daughter, no taller than his hip, scurryied along beside him under the weight of her heavy backpack. She was talking and smiling and the Russian guy was listening. He’s usually listening to his daughter when I see him. I think he does it because he loves his daughter and is truly interested in what she’s telling him. But also it gives him somewhere to put his attention as we draw closer and closer to one another, walking toward each other on the narrow sidewalk. He knows I’m going to pin him with eye contact and say good morning. He knows I’m going to expect a response. I give off a vibe of expecting you to say good morning when I say it to you. I don’t think he speaks much English and our daily moment is, I think, a source of stress for him. I understand. If I lived in Russia and had to see him every morning walking along, confident in his own language, I’d sweat and fret too. I’d try to find something else to look at, some other thing to be engaged in so I wouldn’t have to say the words I wasn’t good at saying in a language I didn’t yet feel comfortable with.
The Russian guy was walking toward me. His daughter was jabbering. We made eye contact thirty yards apart. I loaded up a smile and a demanding good morning. I got ready to toss them to him when we passed and see what he would do with them. But just as we came together and the words were in my throat, a small Nissan station wagon buzzed down the street toward me and screeched to a halt against the curb. The passenger window was open. The pretty young woman in the driver’s seat leaned across the car toward the open window and as I looked she held out toward me a giant bouquet of pink flowers. This was the first time a woman had ever presented me with flowers while I was walking home from taking my kids to school. This was the first time a woman had ever presented me with flowers for any reason.
She wiggled the bouquet toward me.
I was dumbfounded. Speechless. My mouth fell open and I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
Then the flowers disappeared. Snapped back through the window like they were attached to a bungee cord. And the woman’s pretty face now bore a look of shock.
“Oh no!” She said. “Is for…” and she sounded like the wives of all the Russian villains from all the movies of my Cold War childhood. And she pointed at the little girl standing behind me now with her father, the Russian guy. And it occurred to me then that this morning was Teacher Appreciation Day at the school and all the kids had been asked to bring flowers for their teachers and of course this woman had not rushed down the street in her Nissan to deliver flowers to me.
I dropped my eyes, bent my face toward the pavement, got out of the way so the little girl and her father could get to the window and collect their flowers. I tried hard to avoid eye contact and hurried home. Tomorrow I’ll find a different route.