There was a time when I wanted to learn Brommin. It was back when I was spending every day at Yuri Karamov's house.
It feels like a lifetime ago now that I sat and watched his family interact in that fast-paced lull of their language. I remember how attentively I would listen to them. How I would go home and practice in front of a mirror, pretending I belonged somewhere in their world.
Petra was the only one at home I could put it to use with. It was our little secret. When you're young, you're naive enough to believe that you can outsmart your parents. That was I wanted to do. I wanted them out of my business. I was so stifled at home. I wanted to tell Petra to sneak me more sweets, or to stop putting peas on my plate, without being understood by neither of my parents. That was the depth and scope of my ambition. I was young, and didn't know any better.
One day, I was downstairs trying to impress our cook by counting the words and phrases I had learned in Brommin on my fingers. She wasn't paying me much attention. She nodded to be considerate, but it was clear her mind was on the task at hand—preparing dinner. Neither of us heard my father step into the kitchen.
Petra had momentarily frozen in place. I hadn't caught on to what was wrong until I felt my father's hand on my shoulder. Nothing more than a light touch, but it was enough to make my heart plummet.
- Ru, why don't you head up upstairs to my office and wait for me there, I'm going to have a talk with Petra, okay? My father had said. He never asked. He had a talent for disguising his demands into benign requests that fooled you into believing you could talk back to him. I had learnt the hard way that there was no use in defying him.
I dared one last glance at Petra before I exited the kitchen. Her mouth had been pursed into a small line, her shoulders set defensively.
I had never attempted to speak Brommin since.
But there were moments like the one I was faced with when I stepped off the train from Rujga, that made me wish my father's discipline hadn't beaten the courage out of me. What greeted me at the platform in Dronesk was a group of Brommian guys, approximately six of them at first glance. I would, as I passed them, recognise their faces. Several went to my high school, but I couldn't tell what year. I only knew that they were upperclassmen.
They sported shaved heads and baggy jeans, reminiscent of 90s hip-hop. It was what the fashion had been like for the Flatlanders back then. They were loud and rowdy and drew the eyes of passers-by.
The train station in Dronesk was far removed from civilisation. It lay east of the flatlands, about an hour from downtown on foot. The ground was sprinkled with gravel, as were the two sets of opposing railway. The platform was raised on a block of concrete. Off to the perimeters were bushes that grew into sparse trees the further the eye travelled.
It was a barren area which had once held the ambitions of housing people in communal apartments. Slabs of concrete stacked on top each other like Jenga. A homage to a Soviet nobody wanted to remember. The idea that was still debated now and then in the town hall, but the budget, like so much else in Rujga Province, had been undercut by one corruption scandal after the other—the hope crushed under dwindling promises.
There was nothing for a group of idling young men to do, but to sit on the benches of the platform and dally away their time. They were engrossed in themselves, their Brommin banter a harsh contrast against the timid murmurs of the commuters.
One by one, the people who had gotten off the train with me disappeared from the platform. They either went on the connecting bus heading downtown or had drivers pick them up.
I had my flip-phone raised to my ear, waiting for the dial to go through to my driver when the last bus of the evening departed from the train station. The call went to voice-mail for the third time. I left a short message before I disconnected and put my phone back in my back pocket. Our driver knew when to pick me up, I wasn't worried. At least, that's what I tried to convince myself as I took a seat on one of the benches—in the long line of benches—at the platform.
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If We ExistGeneral Fiction
🏆A 2018 Wattys Winner🏆 Two boys, one ethnically segregated town. Two sides, one war. Yuri Karamov's existence is like Schrödinger's cat, simultaneously both dead and alive. In Ru Konstantin's mind, Yuri is still the same vibrant young man he was w...