Bus number 7 was taking its time. I stood on a bus stop on Shkiperskii Protok, watching the sky for signs of rain, on my way to the Hermitage for a BBC World Service recording. An elderly lady in a purple beret stopped nearby, counting change in her hand.
“I should just get a card,” she said, referring to the electronic payment cards many people use here to pay for public transport. “Maybe it’s worth the 200-300 rubles.”
“I got mine for 55,” I told her. “Then you just add any amount to it.”
“Really? But I need to get the one with benefits. I’m a Siege of Leningrad child.” (Дитя Блокады — one of the subsidized social groups.)
Number 7 was nowhere to be seen. We stood around a while longer.
“You remember the Siege?” I asked. Her faced changed beneath her purple beret — it softened, in a strange way.
“I was only four. [Born in] 1937… We were evacuated to Omsk. Then we came back. I stayed in this room here, and everyone else moved to a khrushchyovka we’d been given. Mamochka (she used this tender word for “mother”) was under-educated [малограмотная]…”
She talked for some time, the way older people sometimes do: mentioning many names, all diminutive, without explaining who the people are. I was lost among the Lionichkas and Lenochkas within minutes. Then she asked whether I was local. From Kharkiv, actually, I explained.
“Ah, Kharkiv! We often visited Tanechka there… And now, a war,” she shook her head desolately. “They’re just can’t stop killing, can they? It’s so terrible. And people are upset that Putin won’t intervene and do something, but what he can do?”
We looked at each other for a long time.
“You have her there, the one with the braid… You don’t support her, do you?” she asked with some concern.
“It’s complicated,” I said carefully. “But, you know… You’re a woman. (she nodded) I’m a woman. (she nodded) And she’s a woman. Making her way through a very masculine-oriented environment. You know how these things are. It can’t be easy for her.”
The lady thought about that.
“Yes,” she agreed finally. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. It can’t be easy for her.”
Number 7 had finally arrived.