I love the unanticipated pleasures delivered by Serendipity. For the first time since I left New York several decades ago, I’ve decided to live without a car. Conveniently, a bus that runs hourly to the downtown transit center is a three-minute walk from my house. With an occasional care hire, the situation is working out fine. I’m even getting more outdoor exercise and reading more books. Usually, I’m the only one who gets off at my stop in a mostly retiree neighborhood of semi-detached homes where most inhabitants own one or more cars. But occasionally, a Russian man has also debarked. He chats with what I presume is a colleague and his thick accent is unmistakable.
On the basis of our mutual support of public transportation, I figured we should meet. So, the other day, I hailed him.
“Sir? Excuse me,” I called as I strode to catch up with him in the darkness. He turned.
“We must be the only ones in our neighborhood who take the bus,” I opened.
“Yays. Zee public transportation in zees town iz faary goot. Zair iz no reason do drive zee car. I live mine in zee gerage.”
“What department are you in?” I inquired. In this small midwestern town there could be little doubt that he worked at the university. I figured it was either math or physics, the two fields from which Russians inundated U.S. academia in the 1990s.
“Mat,” he revealed as we walked.
When we got to my house, I announced “this is my place.” We stopped and introduced ourselves.
“Yoo shoult come end meed Nadja,” he suggested, once I told him I played the piano. He confided that Nadja played viola and couldn’t find anyone to play music with, which surprised me, since the university has a renowned music conservatory.
‘Why not?’ I thought. “I’d love to,” and we walked the half block down to his house. I thought regretfully about my beautiful Steinway upright that I rarely play and wondered if I could play well enough to accompany. It’d been a long time.
I’d been the recipient (sometimes it can feel more like victim) of Slavic hospitality many times before, so what happened next felt both familiar and also special because I don’t expect it here in Purgatory. Nadja, welcomed me like an expected guest. When a drink was offered, I requested water, knowing ‘nothing, thank you’ wouldn’t be an appreciated response. She introduced me to their two sons, one living in Wisconsin, the other in Germany, and showed me her collectibles. I noticed a piano, a guitar, and several cases for violins and violas. She told me that musicians here were either too professional or too young, and she wanted a relaxed relationship of friendship and musical enjoyment.
“Do you know borscht?” Nadja asked.
“Of course,” I replied. And, next thing I knew, Sergei had set the table and we were sitting down to bowls of delicious, steaming hot borscht and talking about Nordic forests in summer and winter. They have a dacha in one and I used to live beside one. More common ground.
I left with the piano score to a J.C. Bach violin concerto and a promise to practice, reflecting contentedly as I trapsed home, on the pleasures of carlessness and serendipity.