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October 2009 Cover
October 2009 Cover

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Across the dark Russian steppes

By Matthew Link

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I boarded the night train in St Petersburg with my backpack wrapped around me like a shield. It was right after Soviet communism had expelled its last breath and puttered out into the hazy rear view mirror of history.
There was a tangible darkness to the place, like chaos was in charge and nobody else. Gypsy kids roamed the streets in packs and grabbed at me, and I saw an elderly man screaming as he was violently mugged. The Russian mafia, ostentatious in their dark limos and Italian suits, seemed to be the only ones enjoying themselves and offering any kind of structure to reality.
I held a train ticket in my hand, unsure if I had even bought the correct one. I boarded and quickly snuggled into a sleeper berth. There were three other men in my compartment. Just before the train was set to depart, a businessman entered and said to me, "I believe you are in my berth."
"I am?"
We compared tickets, and he pointed out that my ticket's date was wrong. The train began to pull out of the station. How would they throw me off? Just chuck my bag on to the dark steppes with me after it?
The businessman had a suggestion.
"If you give the conductor five dollars," he said, "I'm sure he can find a place for you."
I spotted the back of a conductor's jacket and he walked down the narrow hall. I tapped the shoulder, and he turned around. Standing in front of me was a tall, twenty- something man with gleaming eyes, a gorgeous smile, and a muscular frame bursting out of his tight uniform. Sand-colored hair tousled out from under his quasi-military cap. It was like a bad porno, complete with odd accents. I was in love.
I fished five dollars out of my pocket and followed him down the dark hallway like a stray puppy. He smiled and slid open a rickety door. He gestured with his arm that this was where I would be sleeping. It was a Spartan compartment with four bunk-bed berths lit by flickering fluorescent bulbs.
Two of the beds had other train workers sprawled out on them. Without skipping a beat, a bottle of vodka magically appeared, as well as a small table covered with shot glasses. Before I knew it, I was downing generic-label vodka with my new train buddies.
I found out that the sandy-haired conductor was named Sasha. He didn't speak a lick of English. Was I getting wasted, or was each vodka shot inching him closer to me on the tiny bed? He leaned back on to my leg and held his firm body there. I began to carefully stroke the muscles in his back through his starched uniform.
After the others began to pass out like flies, Sasha stood up and put his jacket and hat back on. He bent down, kissed me right on the lips, and gestured with his hunky hands that he had to make the rounds of the train and would be right back.
I must have passed out too, since I was suddenly awoken by a shirtless Sasha unbuttoning my pants. I glanced up to the berth across from us, but all I could see was a comatose arm dangling from above, bouncing along with the movement of the train like it was dribbling a basketball.
Sasha judo-flipped me over so that I was on top of his burly frame. He seemed to have some experience in moving around these tight spaces. His two hard globes of juicy golden buttock jumped up at me, calling me. I fumbled for a condom in my bag. The train chugged and heaved, the dark landscape of Russia whishing by us like an X-rated Sergei Eisenstein cinematic montage.
The next morning, the other train workers stirred in their hung-over stupor, and Sasha escorted me out to the platform, where he wrote down his address for me. I searched and searched for over a week, but never found his home. Trains pass in the night and reach their destinations, and you never get back on them again and they vaporize over the horizon. Moving quickly in the darkness, fantasies and memories are soul mates, after all.



Author Profile:  Matthew Link

Matthew Link has written for numerous magazines and has appeared on many television and radio shows. His documentaries have aired on PBS stations and in international film festivals.


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