It is cold. It is dark. It is wet. My friend is late.
I light a cigarette and stand just inside the subway entrance. Three drags in, a Hippopotamus in a police uniform walks up to me. He has five o’clock shadow. He growls.
“I don’t speak Russian.” I say.
He growls again, holding out his hand.
“I don’t understand,” I tell him, this time in Russian. He glares at me, tilts his head up and lets his jaw drop. From the maw of his enormous mouth pops a little yellow bird. It perches on his fat purple lip.
“Give him your passport,” it chirps at me. I riffle through my pockets and produce my passport card. The Hippopotamus takes it and holds it up in front of the bird’s face.
“tsk, tsk,” the little birdie says, “you’ll have to come with us.”
The mouth closes on the birdie. The Hippopotamus motions for me to follow.
“Have I done something wrong?” I ask, staying in-step with him. He takes a deep breath and bellows, “NO SMOKING.”
“I am sorry,” I say, looking back at the crowd if smokers who’d been standing feet from where I’d been. The Hippo leads me to a police car. He motions to the back door. I open it and get in. He gets in the front passenger side. Another Hippo sits in the driver’s seat. They grumble at each other. They drive.
As we drive past the spot I am supposed to meet my friend I sigh. Something small and sharp digs into my knee. I look down. The little yellow birdie cocks it’s head up at me.
“Do you want to go to the police station?” it asks.
It nods, flutters onto the shoulder of the passenger-side Hippo and whispers into its ear. The Hippo nods. It shoves its large hand into the space between the driver and passenger seat.
The little birdie looks at me, then motions to the hand. I look at the hand, then at the birdie, and frown.
“Are you an idiot?” The Birdie says, wide eyed. I look back at the hand and it dawns on me. I reach into my pocket and pull out some money. I place it in the hand. The hand disappears.
“Good boy,” The Little Birdie says, in Russian.
I smile, feeling a confused sense of pride. The hand returns, this time, holding my passport. I take it. The car stops. I look out and then back at the birdie.
The Birdie gives me an incredulous look. I frown.
“Well, get the fuck out,” it says.
“Oh!” I open the door.
“Thank you,” I say. The Little Birdie shakes its head. As I close the door I hear The Hippo bellow,