| "Language Lessons" by Adhara Law
(c) 1998 Adhara Law. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced
without express written permission by the author.
He must have noticed me standing on the corner, a stranger in a strange
land, looking over the map in my chilly hands with panicked confusion. For
fifteen minutes I'd tried locating the street in front of me, but it simply
wasn't there. The map I had was a sort of haphazard creation done in the
limbo between communism and democracy, where all Russian street names were
being changed from communist to more palatable appellations. Tough break
for a traveler like me.
I blinked up into deep, dark brown eyes framed by a handsome and Russian face. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, not much younger than
me. I smiled, not at all understanding what he'd said to me. "Do you
speak English?" I implored while trying to sound as polite as possible.
He shook his head and creased his brow, but then gestured with a smile
to the map in my hands as if to say, may I?
I handed it over to him. Light snow was falling into the streets of St.
Petersburg, and even at four o'clock in the afternoon it was beginning to
get dark, the city being so far north. I pulled my long coat tighter
He pointed at the map and then down at our feet. Here is where we are,
I gathered. He gestured around us, apparently indicating that he wanted to
know where I was going.
"Karelia Hotel," I said. I scrunched my face up trying to remember the
word for hotel, but he opened his mouth in a smile of understanding, and
pointed to another street on the map, quite a ways away from where we were
I hadn't realized I'd walked so far. I'd been out and around the
expanse of the city since morning, exploring while I had the time. I'd
come to Russia on business, a last minute trip for my boss, even though I
didn't know the language. I'd crammed a few useful phrases into my head on
the plane, but had soon discovered that they wouldn't get me everywhere.
I nodded and smiled at him as I took back the map, adding a tentative
"spasiba" as thanks. He grinned and nodded back, and I began walking.
"Isvenitye," I heard behind me. I turned to see him take a few steps in
my direction and gesture. From what I could tell, he wanted to go with me.
I'd been warned that crime was rampant in St. Petersburg, and that it
wasn't safe for anyone, especially women, to travel the streets alone. But
there was something about him that was so innocent and clean. Maybe it was
the language barrier. Maybe it was the clean white snow sitting on his
shoulders like a mantle of purity. Either way, I found myself smiling and
nodding. So we walked.
"Andrei," he said to me, pointing at himself. Then he pointed to me.
"Katherine," I offered.
I laughed. The business associates we'd come here to meet had converted
my name into its Russian form, and it sounded exotic to my American ears.
The snow swirled and tangled in my short hair as we walked, Andrei on my
left, close. Russians had such a different sense of personal space, I'd
learned. I breathed in the smells of St. Petersburg, Window to the West,
and reveled in their exotic flavor, picking up the trace of a musky and
soapy scent that was Andrei. Even the snow felt different from the stuff
that fell back home.
"Katarina, vyi gavaritye parooski?" He asked.
I recognized the question. "No, sorry, I don't speak Russian," I
We continued down streets lined with onion-domed remnants of tsarist
Russia side-by-side with the hard concrete of fallen communism. I watched
as women with winter-worn faces shuffled past me on the sidewalk, bags
of groceries hanging at their sides. mothers nestled children into
their hips to keep them warm as they made their way to the heat of the
metro. I stole a quick glance at Andrei. His soft Russian features faded
into the blur of snowflakes, beautiful Slavic cheekbones framing a face
that was neither worn nor angelic.
As we turned a corner, I in a breath. In front of us was a grand
structure, a walled fortress with all the decadence of eighteenth century
Russian architecture. I stopped for a second.
Andrei pointed, snapping his fingers as if trying to recall something.
"Pyotr i Pavel," he said. "Peter and Paul." He announced the English names
with delight, seeming to be happy to have recalled what they were.
The Peter and Paul fortress. I'd read about it in a travel guide; it
had been designed to protect the city from the invading Swedes. I watched
as Andrei stepped in front of me and faced me, moving back to give himself
some room. I looked on in confusion. He began moving around, mimicking
something. I realized he was acting. He thrusted, parried -- he was
telling me the of the fortress. I threw my head back in a laugh,
letting the snow melt into my eyelashes. When I regained my composure, he
bowed before me with a flourish. "Vyi lyubitye, da?"
I clapped joyously as he laughed and walked close to me to lead me on to
We pushed on through the crowded streets, crossing an ornate bridge
spanning the frozen Bolshaya Neva river, as Andrei pointed out to me. For
some things, a common language is unnecessary. The darkening sky
transformed the city, making it appear more like the eighteenth century
jewel it was before the communists stripped it of its tsarist beauty.
Onion domes peeked out above the towers of concrete, reminders of its past.
I was beginning to recognize the terrain; we were getting close to the
Karelia hotel. But instead of continuing on where I thought we should be
going, Andrei gestured toward another direction with a smile. I followed.
Down another street we went. We turned into a huge square, a pillar at
its center. At the other end was a sight that took my breath away.
It was the Hermitage, the museum that served as the tsars' Winter
Palace. Three high and decorated profusely with statues and
pillars, the building dominated the otherwise plain square. I put a hand
to my chest, my mouth open, as I stared at Andrei. He smiled back.
"Ehrmitazh," he said simply, staring up at the building. "Krasivyi, da?"
I didn't need a dictionary. It was beautiful. I walked slowly through
the square toward the museum, taking in the incredible structure. The
falling snow hushed, just for a moment, the sound of cars and trucks
hurrying through the city.
I felt a warmth behind me and turned to see Andrei standing close, very
close. He looked straight into my eyes. "Krasivaya." His hand went to my
cheek, feeling soft as it slid down the chilled skin toward my chin.
So much was different around me that I no longer felt like myself. I
closed my eyes and felt Andrei's soft lips against mine and his insistence
as he pushed them open to feel my tongue. I threw aside my reservations
about such intimacy with a stranger and gave myself over to it. The wind
echoed through the square as it howled its way around the ancient building
we stood near, and in a moment the kiss was over.
Andrei's deep brown eyes held me in an intense stare. Without words, he
took my hand and began leading me out of the square in a direction away
from the Karelia Hotel. I knew where he was taking me, and I wasn't
After streets and corners disappeared behind us, we stood in front of an
ordinary apartment building, indistinguishable from all the other apartment
buildings that dotted St. Petersburg. I noticed the disrepair of the
stairs as we entered, and I breathed in the heady odor of onions and
mushrooms that filled the cramped hallway. Andrei led me up two flights of
stairs and opened a door at the end of a short hall.
His apartment was typically Russian -- small, crowded, only three rooms
to live in. But there was a warmth that emanated from it, making it cozy
and inviting. I glanced around. Bookshelves crammed to overflowing lined
the walls of the tiny living room, and where they left the walls uncovered
were prints of paintings. Clearly Andrei was a lover of the arts.
I stepped further into the room and heard Andrei close the door behind
me. Thin shadows played against the carpet and the walls as the lights of
the busy street outside crept in through the one window in the dark room.
The slight tremors of my nervousness that had started on the walk up the
stairs were beginning to subside as I relaxed into the room. And then
Andrei put his arms around me.
I felt his body slide up against my back, his hands moving around my
waist. The warm wetness of teeth and tongue tingled against my earlobe. I
sighed and closed my eyes as I leaned back against him. "Syooda," I heard
him whisper as he took my hand to lead me to the bedroom.
I followed blindly, letting him lead me to the bed, where he gently
pushed me down and began unbuttoning the I wore. My breathing was
heavy. When he had completely unbuttoned my shirt, I watched as he took my
hand and brought my fingers to his lips.
"Palits," he breathed, slipping my index finger into his mouth with
closed eyes. I couldn't help letting a constricted moan slip out of me as
I felt his warm tongue slide over my skin.
Sliding my finger out of his mouth slowly and putting my hand on his
chest, he leaned closer to me. I lay on my back looking up at him, his
beautiful Russian cheeks and deep eyes filling my vision, so beautiful I
closed my eyes in agony. I felt his cheek against my fluttering eyelashes
as his mouth barely grazed my eyelid. "Glaz," he whispered. He moved down
to my lips, lightly pressing his own against them. "Goobyi."
The pace of my breathing picked up, filling the room like a whispering
metronome. I could feel a thin sheen of sweat begin to cover me as the
warmth of the room and Andrei's body closed in. With a deep swallow, I
opened my eyes to watch Andrei move even further down. "Shyeah," he
breathed against the skin of my neck. I let my fingernails dig into his
back as he crept even further. The clasp of my bra popped open under his
fingers; I watched him smile up at me as I moaned in exquisite agony,
feeling the inside of my jeans get wetter the further he went.
I felt the softness of his lips tickling my nipple, making me arch my
back upward to meet him. "Sosok." I drew in a sharp breath as he began
sucking and nibbling. I wasn't sure how much more I could stand. He lay
slow, drawn out, tiny kisses along my stomach as he nipped his way to my
navel. Dipping his tongue into the small depression, he whispered,
My ability to keep from whimpering was quickly declining. His words
were doing more to me than any actions had ever done, and he wasn't
finished yet. He peeled the thin cotton of my down, pulling the
jeans with them, and paused. "Vskoosnyi," he whispered like a chef
inhaling the tantalizing odor of a rich dish as he covered my clit with his
I could take no more. Sliding my fingers into his short, dark hair, I
arched my hips to meet him. The smells of Russia surrounded us -- rich
cooking, the leaded gasoline from the cars outside, the dust of the tsars
and the communists -- and mixed with the odor of sex that we were creating.
I threw my head back as he licked, gripping the strands of his hair between
my fingers for dear life. Within moments, my cries resounded against the
thin apartment walls as I came.
I pulled Andrei up to me, sliding him into me as I held the back of his
neck. His eyes closed with a moan, his lips slipping open slightly as he
began moving against my hips. I traced his gorgeous cheekbones with my
hand, whispering to him. I knew he couldn't understand the words, but he
got the intent. We moved against each other in rhythm, our breathing
almost synchronized, until we both came together, Russian and American
That night, I stood under the falling Russian snow and breathed in the
smells of St. Petersburg, the chimes of a distant cathedral calling me
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