Summer of 1957
On a warm sunny day, the young American woman walked along the Neva embankment
pausing occasionally to close her eyes and lift her face toward the cool breeze coming
from the Gulf of Finland. Two men walking past looked at her with interest. "
Interesnaya baba," one of them said; the other "Da, no ne Russkaya."
The woman suppressed a smile. What would their reaction be if she turned around and
thanked them for the compliment in flawless Russian and told them that she too was
Russian? They would probably stop and want to know who she was and where she came from.
She didn't want to talk. Not now. She hurried past her admirers, then stopped for a moment.
Another three blocks and she would reach his street.
Near the railing of the Dvortzovy Bridge that connected the main part of Leningrad with
Vassilievsky Island, she paused to look down at the river. A hydrofoil flew by, skimming
the surface of the Neva; the plaintive horn of a steamer hooted in the distance. A rush
of wind picked up a stray leaf, veined and dry, and carried it over the railing to settle
on the rippling waves. It floated, reminding her of the toy sailboats on the pond in
Shanghai's Jessfield Park, where she had walked arm-in-arm with him, talking about their
lives, and planning their future.
She leaned over, watching the leaf as it bobbed up and down, aimless and helpless, a toy
for the breeze. Then she straightened and gripped the cold iron railing with both hands
until her knuckles turned white.
Across the river, she could see the famous landmark of this beautiful city: Peter and Paul
Fortress, a place harboring centuries of pain and tears. On this side, there rose the
stately needle of the Admiralty Building, the golden dome of the St. Isaac's Cathedral, and
the somber palaces of St. Petersburg's past that stood like pastel sentinels along the blue
Neva. Leningrad. She shuddered. How incongruous to have this graceful Venice of the North
renamed after that hard-fisted, balding man responsible for the death of millions.
Pedestrians hurried past her, busy with their thoughts. She could stand here as long as she
wished or she could go on. But what was to be gained except more pain and opening of old wounds?
His sister had begged her to see him: You can tell me how he is, how he lives.
And she had agreed. After all, no one else would know about it. She would visit the Hermitage
to see its western art, and the Government Museum to enjoy the Russian paintings. She would
tour the Pavlovsk, the Pushkin, the Summer Palaces, and she would slip in a visit to him ...
But now that she was here, and had done all those things, a heavy weight filled her limbs.
Her thoughts were only about him.
Was he well?
How did he live? What did he look like now? Was he happy here? Had he made peace with himself?