Moscow. The summer of 1999. Meeting the love of my life.
I had just finished four years of boarding school in England. Loneliness. Insecurities. Homesickness.
But it didn’t matter. I was back at home in Moscow for the summer vacation. I had finished one chapter of my life and had a few months before I’d begin a new one. It was a reset. I had an offer from Cambridge but wasn’t sure I got in. My offer was conditional on getting straight As for my A-levels. The grades would be released in August. Actually, I was sure I got in. My exams went very well. I was prepared.
So it was an opportunity to reset, to take a break from being a nerd.
I was in Moscow. At home. I loved Moscow.
But I had no expectations for my summer vacation. I was lonely in Moscow. Initially, I had kept in touch with my school friends but over the years we drifted apart. My boarding school in England was too exotic a path for them.
But I stayed close with my childhood Andrei. We used to live in the same apartment building on the outskirts of Moscow. Whenever I was back in Moscow we’d meet. Andrei had finished school too and was pursuing the training and career of a policeman.
In the early days of that summer vacation, I spent many days at home on my own. I didn’t mind. I knew how to occupy myself with music or reading. One day, in the final week of July, I was expecting a quiet evening in my room when Andrei called me and offered to go out. I was feeling lazy and didn’t rush to accept my friend’s invitation. Certainly, I didn’t feel like traveling to Sokolniki, in the east of Moscow, where Andrei’s police station was and where we spent some of our evenings after he finished work.
“Come on, druzhishe (“friend”)! Don’t be lazy.”
“Okay. But come to me,” I told Andrei. “Let’s stroll on Poklonnaya.”
Poklonnaya Gora is a park close to Central Moscow. That’s where I was living at the time — on Kutuzovkyi avenue. Poklonnaya Gora or the Victory Park hosts a museum dedicated to Russia’s victory in World War Two.
An hour later, Andrei rang my doorbell, and we soon headed toward the park.
Poklonnaya Gora is a lovely place in the summer. Some of its elements, like the Great War Museum and the high-rising obelisk, look glorious in any season, but the fountains are only active in the summer; at dusk, they glow pale red.