Frank Thoms


May 08, 2024 by Frank Thoms

Yes, swimming. I like to swim.”

“Good, Olya.” I turned to the board and drew four stick figures, one of them taller than the others, as if ready to start a race. I pointed to the tallest. “Who is this?”

“Olya, it’s Olya!” the class shouted.

“Yes, you’re right. Now to tell them apart, I will give each a number. Number 7 for the first, a 4 for the next, an 11 for the third, “and for Olya”––I paused for effect––“the number 13.”

“No! No! No!” Shouted Olya. “We do not use that number!” Others nodded in agreement.

“See, you are superstitious!” I said smugly. How clever of me, I thought. I’ve taught her something. But I did not anticipated her resolute resistance. I was having a Pyrrhic victory, the cleverness mine alone. Raisa remained quiet.

Sensing I’d misplayed my hand, my stomach churned. I was provoking a deeply held Soviet superstition. I walked over to her and put my hand on her shoulder to show empathy––and thinking I could assuage my guilt. Instead of being the clever teacher who thought he could help a student discover a truth about herself, I chose to be the arrogant foreigner who willingly trespassed on a cherished belief.

When we reminisced about that time in the North End last month at the restaurant Saraceno, we became immersed in our memories so much so we failed to look at the menu for nearly an hour. As we left to go to her car, she slid her arm into mine. So Soviet!