The Sure Signs of Spring

It’s not the official holiday of Nooruz or the vernal equinox that signals spring. It is little girls wearing sunglasses as they are dragged behind their mothers on the city sidewalks. It is the first ice cream stand. It is the clusters of bicycles built for two at the edge of Ala-Too Square. It is short sleeves and sandals. It is cafes that have dusted off their outdoor furniture and the people who sat in them today relishing the return to life outside. It is the folding tables that have sprouted with big containers of┬ájarma (a yeasty wheat drink) and maxim (a corn and wheat drink with a zest and a zing to it). It is birdsong and full park benches.

It is glorious. And it is welcomed.

The Flower Seller

flower seller

The weather forecast says abundant sunshine. Snow melt has made puddle jumping the urban sport. People walk with open coats.

And I spied my first sidewalk flower seller. She was near the intersection of Manas and Kievskaya, which is where I live. As I approached her, our eyes met, and I crossed sidewalk traffic to look at her offerings. Her flowers were bundled with torn strips of T-shirt, and she had named each of them. The purple and yellow flower bunch beside her head is the Ramon. It is Spanish, she said. The one below her chin is the Carmen. But they are not just flowers, she said, they are soul. All of this in Russian, and all of it I understood (or believe I’ve understood, which may be the same proposition). I asked her about each flower bunch just to keep standing there and being in that moment, and she said lots of things I didn’t get. I kept smiling at her and looking at her and listening to a tumble of words in the late afternoon light with long shadows and promises of spring and all that comes after that. I fell in love with her and went wiggly with gratitude for this chance to be here and for this maybe of being understood and for all that comes after that.

I bought the Ramon. It is in a simple vase on a pile of journalism books beside my TV.

The Electric Bill

Emil, my landlord, came over yesterday and told me I need to help with the electricity bill. My job is to read the black meter that looks like an antique diving mask implanted eye level into a wall in the foyer. I write the numbers on a piece of scrap paper and tape the paper to the front door by mid-month. Electricity people will come by, he says, read the numbers, write a bill and slide it under the door. Yes, I say. Gladly. Eagerly. Participating in the most minute tasks that are the machinery of daily life are what brings me closer to feeling as if I live here.

When he left, he pointed to the front door of the flat next door and said, “Here is example.” Taped onto the brown vinyl beneath a cluster of three peepholes was a piece of lined paper, the kind I used in three-ring binders when I went to grammar school. The numbers I could read; the words looked like smashed bugs or maybe Klingon?