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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ESSAY: Half Dead in a Pool of Blood, But So What?




The tires of the No. 84 bus roll away heavily mere centimeters from two brown leather sandals pointed at the sky. Pale feet without socks are loose in the footwear. Squat legs are stretched straight. Only the torso is twisted, the left arm thrown unnaturally over the jaw as if wriggling free from a straight jacket.


The body is still.


Ladas and Volgas with characteristic play in their front ends slalom by at high speeds. A woman strays from the bus stop cupola to look. "It's simply horrible!" says one elderly woman, pulling her cardigan taught to her chest with one hand. "He fell," says another. "The doors closed on him and he fell." Seconds pass. Two men shouldering cheap, overstuffed duffel bags emerge from the sparse crowd. They grasp the prostrate man under the armpits and drag him several meters over faded black asphalt, up over the curb and onto the pavement. A sheen of blood lags. They let fall his arms, which cross each other at the hands like a corpse.


He is not moving. His eyelids are closed. Blood is on the collar of his yellowdress shirt, along the right sleeve. The skin on his face is a reddish tan, bloated. It is unclear if he fell while he was getting on or getting off. It is unclear if he is drunk. It is unclear if he is dead or alive.


The large ornate clock with black and gold cast iron hands on the outer wall of the Savyolovsky Train Station shows 7:09 p.m.


The No. 5 trolleybus arrives and passengers step over and around the man. A handful of people linger. "He's bad. Someone should get the police," says a bespectacled old woman watching, with me, from the shadow of a nearby hot dog stand.


I walk quickly to the closest of the two subway entrances, looking for any one of the 32,000 police officers the city dispatched last month to remove the homeless and tirelessly check the documents of dark-skinned peoples as part of the buildup to the World Youth Games. There are none.


I am half walking, half jogging toward the back of the station when a bystander hails a passing GAI patrol car. It wheels to the curb, stops.


The driver gets out, his uniform coat drawn tightly by a belt and flaring above the waist like the exaggerated musculature of an acrobat. He walks slowly, deliberately to the immobile figure. He looks down at the man, then kneels low -- grasping each side of the neck with thumb and forefinger, feeling for a pulse. A halo of blood is under the head. The officer looks up, tilts his head, shrugs a shoulder in uncertainty. He returns to the car, gets in, shuts the door, faces forward and reaches toward the center console.


The car windows are open, and the squelch of the exchange over the radio can be overheard. "What? Wha... Blood?"


"Yes," he says. "Blood. Blood is here."


The clock on the wall shows 7:17 p.m.


A nurse with light blue sandals and a thin white cotton laboratory coat approaches with a gray tool box, one side of which is painted red with a cross. She is escorted by a uniformed transit officer. He holds a cigarette butt between his right forefinger and thumb, which is bandaged.


The nurse lifts the man's head and places it on a blue and white fake leather duffel bag containing the man's possessions. The zipper does not close. The blood on the pavement where his head had been is scarlet, mucous-like. It is caked, a paste through his hair. She turns the man onto his side, feels for a pulse, takes his blood pressure. She nods once to the bandaged officer.


The man is alive, she is saying.


The nurse wads up gauze into a sort of pad and places it against the back of the head. She reaches into the metal box and takes out a big spool of gauze. She unravels it over and around the man's head -- a parody of a cartoon character with a toothache. She lifts up the head, spills a liquid medicine into the hair and places the head gently onto the duffel bag.


The GAI officer returns carrying a pair of small, thin white cardboard boxes containing frikadelki he bought at the hot dog stand. Two slim cans of coffee drink are balanced on top. The cost of the meal: 36 rubles.


I move to the low flung black fence in front of the station to wait for the arrival of the ambulance. I stand there, a rolled copy of the day's July 7 edition of Moskovsky Komsomolets in my right hand and a five-ruble bouquet of wildflowers in the other.


A pack of stray dogs, mangy and cowed, play listlessly in the grass behind me. One is defecating.


Minutes pass. Buses and trolleybuses come, go. The No. 72, again the No. 84. The No. 82. An ambulance, tan with the number 03 painted in red on its front and sides, passes. The man tries to rise. He rolls over to his left, prone, eyes looking down at the blood on the pavement. He reaches for it as if trying to retrieve something he had lost.


The nurse grabs his hand, shakes her head. She sits the man up.


An advertisement for a telephone directory on one side of the bus stop says, "Do you know where to find...?" I think: Do you know where to find an ambulance? The ad on the adjacent stop is for Exotic Vacations to Tunisia and pictures two young Russian girls in bikinis, smiling and leaning against a railing on a patio overlooking a beach and surf.


"Sun. Beach. Relaxation."


Another ambulance passes, the driver looking out the passenger's side window at the scene. A third ambulance passes, then a fourth. The clock high on the station wall shows 7:56 p.m.


More minutes pass. A tan ambulance finally approaches and stops at the curb. A fat man with olive-toned scrubs and a white lab coat gets out of the passenger's seat, walks up to the man. He looks down, says nothing. He looks at the nurse.


He gestures for the man to get up.


The man tries but falls back, almost striking his head.


The officer with the bandaged thumb grasps the left shoulder of the man's tan jacket and lifts him, at a sharp angle, from the ground. He steers the man forward by the shoulder to the side door of the ambulance. An attendant in the van slides open the door, and the officer tilts down the man's head with his free hand and shoves him brusquely inside as if making an arrest.


I look at the clock. The hands show 8:11 p.m.


The blue lights of the ambulance start to swirl. The vehicle pulls into traffic. The nurse walks off with purpose, head down. The transit officer is finishing another cigarette, pinching it tightly, looking at the passing cars.


Two regular police officers, one cocksure and eager, approach me.


"Dokumenty," says the older man, palm out and looking away.


It is me, I realize.


I am what's wrong with this picture.


Bryon MacWilliams is a freelance writer living in Moscow.