Friday, July 16, 2010
Just a Button
Sasha asked me instantly what I'd plucked from beside the curb on a busy street during lunch hour in a city where sidewalks are really only a guideline. Sasha was what our teachers called her; she was actually Alexandra, but Sasha suited her better, so that's what stuck.
"Looks like a button," I said, and ran to catch up. Riad was almost at the door of our second stop on our cathedral tour and was annoyed that he was again waiting on the girls. He threatened us with snowballs later but honestly, Kazan had been there for centuries and two minutes wasn't going to affect his day all that much...
The three of us, Canadian, Australian, and Lebanese, were part of a fluctuating gaggle of foreigners studying in St. Petersburg. It's funny how foreigners collect other foreigners in foreign countries and socialize more intensely with them than with the people of the country hosting, but our informal model of the United Nations gave us a unusual sense of camaraderie. Our group collected everyone; our nation was one of misfit explorers. We developed our own language, our own customs, our own sense of inclusive identity. We also supported our collective delusion that we were cool. Well, we weren't bad. :-)
The very next night, my roommate Fiona (who can be one of the funnest people on the planet) and I were in the metro when something came spinning into my peripheral vision, pinged against the wall and dropped at my feet. A button. I grabbed it immediately as clearly the universe was trying to tell me something. Fiona looked at me like I was crazy (I get that a lot) and scolded me about picking up random items off a public floor. She shook her head when I explained about the button from the day before and said, "Alright."
It was weeks later when the third button appeared. Our Swede, Fred, had found a shack/tent/restaurant/folk music bar up the beach and decided we needed to eat supper there. We took Jose, who was only with us for a brief two weeks - but like I said, we adopted everyone. He was from Panama and raved about how he adored Canada. I loved him immediately. (If my father had been Panamanian, I'm sure he would've been just like Jose...)
We weren't far from our student dorm when I looked down at my feet and saw a button in the sand. I shrieked and found myself needing to explain why such a thing was marvellous. Fred joined the camp that thought I was crazy but Jose listened intently and embraced my impulse. "You have three now. Three's definitely a collection!" he said with a smile. (Did I mention that I loved Jose?) From then on, we couldn't stop talking all the way down the beach and through supper about things much bigger than ourselves. Fred was bored, I'm sure, but he was politely bored.
The fourth appeared at my feet on my way home from buying groceries a few days later. I'd never noticed buttons just lying around before and now they were finding me with wild abandon. But into my pocket it went.
I made way too much food as usual, and with Fiona nowhere to be found, I called up to Fred and Mike's. Mike was presumably on a cracking adventure downtown with the absent Fiona but Fred was definitely hungry.
"Jose left today. And he left you a present."
"What?" I said. " I met him once."
"Oh, it gets weirder..."
When I buzzed Fred onto our floor, curiosity stuck my head out the door until he came around the corner. He walked toward me with his hand outstretched. On his palm rested a button.
"He found it on Nevskiy Prospekt today. I was with him. I would've kept walking but he insisted I bring it to you."
I smiled. I'm sure now that Jose had understood then what I was just beginning to grasp. There was something going on and I just had to believe.