Writing Lies in a Travel Diary
Lost in Moscow, pages 41-42
Chip, Rhonda and I lay in our beds, talking about our first day. We probably were exhausted but we could not sleep. It was two in the morning. I had never stayed up so late in my life. I had been up til 1:30 once at a sleepover. 2:00 was a new record.
“Everyone we have met seems to live so differently from us,” Rhonda said. She was lucky to be on the top bunk.
“Can you imagine living in a grass hut with a dirt floor?You’d never have to vacuum.” I hardly ever had to do housework so I didn’t know why I said that. My friend Patty Gluck, from next door, had to do chores every day. She dusted and vacuumed and cleaned and cut grass and did tons of stuff. Once, I told my parents that I thought that I should do chores too. I did for a couple of days. I found I wasn’t the chore-doing type. I had thought it would be neat to do chores for an allowance. My way was better, though. Do nothing and ask for money when you need it.
“I hope it stops raining tomorrow for sightseeing.” Chip’s voice was getting scratchy. Yup, we were tired.
“I didn’t write in my travel diary yet!” I leaped out of bed and grabbed it from the top of my carry-on bag.“I’ll do it in the bathroom so the light won’t bug you.” I loved being considerate.
“Thank you.” Rhonda was starting to mumble.
I hoped nobody snored. I could not sleep with snoring. My grandma snored. You could hear her two rooms away. I hated sleeping in the same room with her. I bit her arm once when I was in grade three. We were sleeping in the same bed at my Auntie Pie’s, in the Queen’s gardens, near Windsor Castle, in England. My grandma had dozed off reading. She was snoring and it bugged me. I looked at the meat on her arm and just got the urge to chomp. Her glasses flew right off her face. I left a ring of teeth marks on her arm. The biting part felt good. I’d never forget it, the feeling of the flesh. The shock and pain my grandma went through did not feel so good. She asked me why I did it. I didn’t really know. It might not have been the snoring. It might just have been because of the look of the meat on her arm. Like a big chicken drumstick. Human was supposed to taste like pork. It was probably better than the fish we had had at dinner. If I was really starving, I wondered, could I eat it? Could I eat a human?
I was sitting on the toilet now with my diary out. I’d try to poo again. I’d poo and write at the same time. Reading always helped so writing might too. At home I read the dictionary on the toilet, so I’d get better at Scrabble and be able to beat Gram. The rim was still cold, maybe colder than before. I could probably eat a person if it was a life and death situation. It would just depend how they were cooked. Boiled was definitely out of the question. I started to write. I wrote, Russia is a very nice place. When we got off the plane it began to pour with rain. The trip on the bus to the hotel was a very nice one. Right now I am in bed hearing the gentle breathing of my friend and the friendly gossip of two Russian men outside our room. There, that was enough. That was pretty good. Especially the gentle breathing and the friendly gossip bit. It wasn’t all true, but I couldn’t very well write that I was sitting on a toilet without a seat. My parents would want to read this when I got home.
A Soviet Pop Machine
Lost in Moscow, by Kirsten Koza
“That is a pop machine across the street.We can go there.” Nadia was neat. I liked her one thousand times better than Sonya. I wondered if you could get something without fizz from the pop machine. Everyone was pushing and shoving to get off the bus. Everyone was thirsty.
“Watch out!” Chip screamed at Sam.
Man, Soviet drivers were crazy. They drove a hundred miles an hour all the time. Their funny little cars were all over the road, swerving and beeping, brakes screeching, tires squealing. It was a nightmare crossing a road. Looking both ways wasn’t enough. Nadia took Rhonda’s and my hand and we ran like the Road Runner to get across.
“What’s the glass for?” Jay was at the machine, pointing to a small drinking glass on its ledge.“Did someone leave it?”
“The glass is for the pop.” Sonya had a kopek in her hand. She put it in the machine. Pop went into the glass.
“You mean everyone has to drink out of that glass?” Dee Dee’s nose crinkled.
“How can you take your pop with you? Can’t you get a can or bottle?” Alexi inquired while helping Oksana with her change. Oksana didn’t feel well. Her throat hurt and she had a headache. I wished I had a big brother.
“No. You drink your pop here out of the glass.” Sonya had finished her pop and put the glass back under the dispenser.
“This is very good.” Adrian was impressed. “Think of the waste and litter this cuts down on.”
“Yeah, but you are sharing a glass with all of Moscow and with no soap to clean it!” Dee Dee was not impressed. Sharing a glass didn’t bother me at all.
“This is going to take forever for the whole group to drink a pop.” I was eighth in line. I was worried too. I couldn’t drink pop fast. But I was so thirsty I didn’t want to wait until the end.
“What would you do if someone stole the glass?” Iggy asked.
“No one would steal the glass,”Adrian replied.“The citizens here have a great sense of honour. People do not steal here.”
“What would happen if someone did, though?” Iggy continued.
“It wouldn’t happen.”Adrian was solemn and definite. “Yeah but what if, just say if?” Iggy had his pop now.
“The Soviet people do not steal, Iggy.” Adrian was getting irritated. I wanted Iggy to stop.
“Okay, but say one did. What would happen to them? Would they have to go to jail?”
“No!” Adrian was mad now.“No one would steal the glass here! There are hardly any criminals in Soviet jails.” I wondered if Adrian knew what he was talking about. “There is very little crime here.”
“Then why are there prisons at all? Who is in the prisons if it isn’t criminals?” Iggy had finished his pop.
“We are very proud of how little crime there is here. It is not like Canada or the United States.” Sonya smiled for the first time. I didn’t think she should have lumped us with the US. Nadia was looking at the ground. Nadia was not smiling.
“But someone is in the prisons.Who?” Iggy was pressing his luck. I didn’t know why someone just didn’t answer his question, though.
“Give your glass to the next person,” Adrian bellowed. Chip said something to Adrian in a hushed voice and Adrian started on Chip again.
“I want two pops.” Iggy had more change out. “I’m still thirsty.The glass is too small.”
“NO!”Adrian was going all shades again.
“Just wait until the end then, Iggy.” Chip was smart.“Wait until everyone has had some and then you can get more.”
“NO!”Adrian snapped.“We don’t have all day to spend over pop!”
There was one of those uncomfortable silences. No one said anything. We didn’t even look at each other. It was crazy having to line up and wait for each person to have drunk their pop before the next could go. My turn finally came. I watched the glass slowly fill. I took the glass and sipped. The pop tasted quite nice for pop. I wasn’t sure what the flavour was. It was the colour of ginger ale but it didn’t taste like ginger ale. It was nice and sweet. It wasn’t quite as bubbly as our pop, which helped me drink it but I still couldn’t go fast.
“Hurry up!” Little Karl was behind Rhonda.
“Gee, Karl, you are being as impatient as, um, as a, oh my, as a capitalist.” Rhonda dug that one in. It was great.
“No, I’m not.”You couldn’t see Little Karl’s eyes because of his stupid mirror sunglasses. It was cloudy. Good grief, he didn’t even need to wear them.“The selfish capitalist is the one hogging the glass!”
The Moscow Squat-Toilet
Lost in Moscow, by Kirsten Koza
“Does anyone need to go to the toilet?” Sonya inquired. “There is a public toilet just over there.”
I needed to go. Most of us needed to.We headed over to the john, which was in a brick building.
“Rhon!” I was in utter disbelief.
“Oh my God!” She was too.
“Oh my.” Even Chip was shocked.
“I’ll see you later.” Dee Dee left the bathroom altogether.
The door of one of the toilet cubicles had swung open. There was no toilet at all. There was a hole in the ground with two orange metal foot-pads with a turd on one of them. People were lined up in front of the cubicles. The doors on the cubicles were unbelievable too. They only covered the person’s body, not their face. So the lady going to the bathroom was staring right into the eyes of the people in the lineup. We got into line.
“Do you think the men’s is like this?”
“Ki-ersten, I think there is a good chance that it’s worse.” Chip hooked her purse strap over her neck to her opposite shoulder. She was obviously preparing for the worst. It was not like you could put your purse on the floor in this can. Gross. And you sure wouldn’t want to drop anything. There was a fat, old woman just finishing up in the one I was lined up in front of. She looked nasty. She swung open the door. Damn! There was a huge lump on the foot place of mine too. The woman next in line went in. Rhonda had entered hers. Rhonda looked at me over the door. I laughed at her.
“Shut up,” she laughed back.
I tried not to make eye contact with the woman who was going in front of me. It was too bizarre to look in the eyes of someone who was having a poop. When my cat Muzik went poo his eyes went out of focus. I noticed it was kind of like that for people too. It was my turn. I went in and closed the orange door. I tried to straddle the hole, not using the footpad that Mt. Kilimanjaro was residing on. I pulled down my jeans and looked ahead. I was so short that although I could still see over the top of the door, the bottom didn’t cover my bottom half. Everyone would be able to see me below the door with my pants down. What was with these stupid two-foot doors? They weren’t doors, they were gates.Why bother? There was no privacy. I wasn’t sure I could do this. I had to pee badly, though. I went. Now I knew why there were turds everywhere but the hole. It was so hard to aim this way, standing. My pee splashed on the cement floor, splashed up my jeans. I even felt it spray my hands and arms. There was no toilet paper! It didn’t matter. I’d already peed on my jeans. My GWGs were no longer Scrubbies. They were grubbies. An old woman was watching me with angry eyes. I dripped for one more second then pulled up my pants. I barely got out before she was pushing in the door. Her legs were bowed under the weight of her large body. She flattened me against the door frame on her way in. There was nowhere to wash your hands. I ran out into the open air.
“Gomme, gomme?” He was so close to me I could smell him. He was probably Rhonda’s age but had a man’s voice and whiskers. He did it again. His lips touched my ear. “Chewing gomme?” There was alcohol and cigarettes on his breath. He wore black leather shoes like a grown-up man would wear to work, but they were scuffed and wrinkled and he wore no socks. “I buy gomme?”
“No gum,” I whispered or maybe gasped. It was frightening. He made me think of the gypsies I had seen in England. There were more of them now. They all said gum funny, like the way it was spelled on the French side of the package.
“No gum.” I repeated it more loudly. “I have no gum.”
“You have gomme!”The first one was smiling. Kind of smiling. Maybe not nice smiling. His eyes had a light. They were blue but his hair was very black.“You have gomme,” he repeated.
“No, no gum.” I shook my head. I patted my pockets and shook my head. Suddenly Nadia was there. She spoke quickly and angrily to the boys. They scattered but stayed close. As our Canadian group moved off, the boys who were like men continued to call out “gomme” and “You sell jeans?” They followed us for a few seconds but then went back to their fountain where they hung out. I saw the first one light a cigarette. He struck the match on the bottom of his shoe. I’d never seen anyone do that before. I could still smell him. I didn’t normally like smelly people but for some reason I sort of liked his smell. It was an exciting smell. The smell of adventure.
TheSoviet Rectal Thermometer
Lost in Moscow, by Kirsten Koza
The doctor said something in Russian and the translator translated. “I am told you did not eat your breakfast. Are you feeling sick to your stomach?”
“No. I feel fine. I feel great. I just don’t like kasha.”
The doctor came over to me and said, “Otkroitye rot, vysuntye yazyk.” I stuck out my tongue to show her how great my throat was now. She made a hmmm noise and wrote on her chart. The nurse produced a thermometer. I opened my mouth.
“Roll over,” the translator translated.
“No.” Oh my God, they weren’t going to give me a thermometer in my mouth—they wanted to stick it up my bum like a baby.
“The doctor needs to take your temperature.”
“Then she can do it under my tongue.” There was a three-way discussion in Russian.”
“We do not give children a thermometer to put under their tongue in case they bite glass.”
“I won’t bite the thermometer.” This was outrageous!
“If you want to join rest of your group, the doctor needs to take your temperature this way, otherwise we cannot let you leave the hospital.”
They had me trapped. I hated them all. I rolled over. My frilly bloomers were pulled down. The thermometer was freezing. I lay there in full view with a thermometer sticking out of my bum. The Russian girl was looking at me. I heard people in the hall. People came in and out of the room. I hated the girl staring at me. I put my face down in the pillow. Maybe I’d suffocate and die. Normally I did not want to die; right now, though, it would have been better that way, better to die. Several minutes went by. It was quiet now. When was the nurse going to come back and read my temperature, which was going to be normal after all this, anyway? I was fine. I waited. This was going on too long. I waited. They must have forgotten about me. Jeepers creepers! They forgot they were taking my temperature. I peeked at the Russian girl. She was reading now, not looking at me any more. I wondered if I should try to get her to find someone. I didn’t want to talk to her, though, not with something sticking out of my bare bum. Maybe I should yell. I’d yell. I couldn’t yell. I didn’t want all those people to come running in and see me. How could they have forgotten me like this? How could they have left me like this? I heard the sound of a teenage boy. He was saying something to the Russian girl. Why weren’t there curtains around these beds? I sunk my face deeper into the pillow. God, was this boy standing there look- ing at my bum? He said “bye” in Russian. She said “bye” back. I could hear my heart in my ears, the sound of my blood. My bum was burning. Burning with embarrassment. I bet it was red. Hot and red.
“How are you doing, Kirsten?” It was the voice of the translator. How could she ask that?
“Ummmm. I think they could take my temperature now.”
“Oh yes. You have been like this for long time!” She left. Good. She was going to get a nurse. I waited. I wondered if I could push the thermometer out with my bum hole muscles; I could say it just fell out finally because they had left me so long. There were footsteps again. I didn’t want to look in case it was that teenage boy. The thermometer was yanked out without warning. I pulled up my bloomers. No one even apologized. I must have been like that for fifteen minutes and no one even apologized. The nurse left the room. I rolled over onto my back and pulled up the sheet. Maybe they would let me go now. I’d get dressed. I looked for my suitcase. I looked under the bed. Weird. I looked all over the room. My bags were gone!
Lost in Moscow, by Kirsten Koza
I was being let go! I couldn’t believe it. I could join the others. A nurse with big calves had taken me from the hospital to another building. It was kind of an office building. There was a round table where I was to eat breakfast with three other kids, in this room that looked a bit like a classroom. A whole dead fish on a white plate was set down in front of me. The fish was definitely watching me. It was like one of those paintings you’d see in a gallery, where the eyes followed you wherever you went in the room.
A bowl of kasha was set down beside the dead fish. If I didn’t eat something, they would send me back to the hospital. If only there was somewhere to hide it, like behind the stove at home. Maybe I could hide the fish in my kasha so that at least it looked like I ate half my breakfast. I looked at the other three to make sure no one was watching me. I slid the fish off my plate and into my bowl of kasha. I tried to bury the dead fish. Its tail was too long—I couldn’t get it all in the bowl.
A teenage girl looked up at me. She made me think of Mary from Halifax. I put my arms around my bowl to hide what I had been up to. She was frowning at my empty fish plate.Why was she frowning? Of course! There should have been scraps on my plate. I wouldn’t eat the whole fish. There should have been bones and the head and the tail. She went back to eating. I slid the fish back out of the porridge bowl and onto the plate. Kasha had stuck to the outside of the fish. It looked even grosser now. I dropped my fork.
The girl looked again. She was looking at my plate. She frowned harder. I hoped she wouldn’t say something. I picked up my fork from under the table. As I sat up I bumped my head on a ledge under the table. A ledge! I sat all the way up. I looked around. I took my fork and knife and inserted them into the neck of the fish. I closed my eyes. This was awful. I cut. I could feel the knife sink through the fish. I opened my eyes. There was the head, eye still looking at me. Now the tail. Poor fishy. I cut off its tail. Good enough. I looked around to make sure no one was watching again. I took the fish body and slipped it onto the ledge that ran around the underside of the table top.
YES! Now for some kasha. I stuck my hand in my porridge bowl. The girl looked up again and saw me sitting there with my hand in my kasha bowl. She was looking at me like she could throw up. I laughed nervously. She turned away. I quickly took the handful of slop and loaded it onto the ledge. It was not so easy. I scraped it off my hand. I wiped the rest of the kasha off my hand and onto the underside of the table. Voila! Finito. Pretty damn good. It actually looked like I had eaten most of my breakfast. A woman was coming out to take my dishes. She told me what a good girl I was. I didn’t know the Russian words for it, but I could tell what she was saying anyway. I used that same voice when talking to Coolit.