1998-08 War Veteran
1998-08 War Veteran

I never learned his name.  I think I felt too awkward with my very limited skills in the Russian language to introduce myself and try to make his acquaintance.  But nevertheless I had a lot of respect for him and I looked forward on returning to my apartment block to see him catching the sunshine while sitting on the slat bench close to our building.  He was a cheerful man, easily smiling (but not for my photo) and raising a hand of greeting to me, as I did to him, when I came home from work at day’s end or on weekends.

Some 12-year old girls who practiced their English with me informed me that he had been in the Great Patriotic War and suffered very bad frostbite.  His fingers were stubby and all of his toes were missing.

Surprisingly, he had his own car and, more surprisingly, he kept it in the only one-car garage I had seen in Almaty, close to our apartment building, just out of sight to the right in the photo.  It was heartening to see him walk over to the garage, open the doors and reverse the car out for what I imagined was a weekly trip around the block.

I gave him a print of the above photograph and he was effusively thankful.

He was such a constant and welcome feature of our neighborhood that it really did distress me when, in 2012, on a holiday visit to Almaty I learned that my nodding acquaintance friend had died. How I wished then, as now, that I had found the nerve to introduce myself and get to know him better, even with broken Russian.

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