When I arrived in St. Petersburg, the square outside my apartment was littered with busted heaps of junk shops, shawarma joints and fat stalls filled with cigarettes and pie. A week later they tore it all down. A flat stale expanse of nothing replaced it.
I walk along it now, perfectly sober, phone in my pocket. The sun is out. It’s been kinder of late.
I am walking toward home, nothing particularly interesting on my mind, nothing distracting my gaze. Up Ahead, a man walks toward me; not old, not young, he doesn’t have a beard–one-hundred away feet, at most. Realizing we will most likely bump into each other, I start to alter my gait, slightly.
He notices me, he too alters his gait; as you do in a world full of strangers with shoulders.
On either side of us, an eternity of space exists, yet we don’t move much, relying on math and our instinctual aversion to strangers to keep us un-bumped.
As we get closer, I realize, we are, again, headed for the same point in the universe. The only point in all of existence where the two of us might slightly jostle the other. He notices it too. He smiles politely, me too.
Yet, somehow, wherever I turn, whatever small alteration I make, he makes the same, in complete, awkward, sync. We both notice this, unable to contain our grins, certain that, eventually, one of us will move in a unique way.
But then, despite all odds, moments later, our shoulders knock into each other.
We both stop.
He’s no longer smiling. Neither am I. We look into each other’s eyes. Everything that is wrong with the human condition passes between us.
I feel shame, a deep ineffable shame; the shame of God in an orphanage.
He opens his mouth, he looks like he might cry.
“Uh,” he says.
I purse my lips. I nod.
He does the same.
He turns and walks on.