One day Igor and I headed to the nature reserve office, 20 miles from our village of Chukhrai, and decided to stop off in the next village – Smelizh – to buy some bread in the store. Other than soap, bread is pretty much all there is on offer. Walking out with an armload of bread, I stop in front of the jeep to watch a scene unfolding before my eyes.
On the other side of the road, three men are building an addition to a log cabin. Its shiny golden front stands out against the rotted cabin it is meant to complement, like a new baby’s skin next to its suntanned mother. Three furry kittens sit with their mother on a bench near the door of the house. The large double gates to the yard are held open by two stumps and I can see children playing with sticks near the barn and chickens wandering around.
My gaze is fixed on the center of the yard, where three men are yelling and shouting. They stand around a young brown horse with a golden mane, which is harnessed to a wooden wagon. Evidently, it is the animal’s first day on the job and it is to perform the simple task a pulling the wagon a few feet, in order to show the observers that it understands its future goal in life. The men are shouting because the horse is standing at an angle entirely askew from the wagon. A small man sits on the long, low wagon holding the reins. He is holding them loosely rather than using them for their purpose, which is to guide the horse. Igor honks at me to get in the car, but I put my hand up, asking him to wait.
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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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