(By Nadia Cherkashina)
I looked out of my hotel window with a charming view on Lake Baikal. It was a fresh May morning with a frosty breeze yet warm sun was reflecting in the water of the Lake. I looked at a few workers putting together a new gazebo. Spotted this man again, he was now planting bushes for the coming summer. There was strange aura around him. I haven’t managed to meet his eyes yet, he always looks at his feet when passing by, no greeting, no farewell, no sadness nor joy in his eyes. The dark grey colour of his ragged clothes made him virtually non-existent. The invisible gardener. This time he was accompanied by a few other hotel employees with his planting job. I thought I had to go for a chat. A few jokes and laughs later friendly Siberian people took me as one of their own. I kept observing Nikolay whose work I didn’t manage to interrupt as easily as it worked with others. Deep wrinkles marked his emotionless face. Was surprised to find out later he was only 28. The straight back, strong shoulders, low arms of a heavy weight lifter with bulging veins and scars.
I turned back to others who didn’t fail to notice my interest. “We’re very interested in people’s lives around here, how things are, what their thoughts are, are they happy, what they think about their past and present, what are the plans for the future? We’d so much love to become your friends and visit your homes.”
A beautiful loud-voiced woman turned to Nikolay. “You’re the neatest, Kolia. Why don’t you take them to your village?”
That’s how we got to know a different Nikolay. It took him time to open up though, but time and effort were worth it. Now I was getting to know Nikolay with soft smile and warm words. Nikolay who looks up to his father, adoring and respecting his mother, a loving father to two toddlers himself. Having three jobs to make his ends meet, Nikolay found time for us. We were welcomed into a freshly painted neat house, a feast was prepared for us on a kitchen table, home grown delicious boiled potatoes, spring onions, boiled eggs, pickled fish from the river behind their house, second to none home baked bread, and of course, shots of home made vodka. We found out how harsh life can be, how you can still take it as a challenge and don’t give up, how you can hope for a better future and work hard for it. In one word, we have a friend now. Someone we can return to any time and his doors will be always opened for us.