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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Fairy Tale Of Moscow Street Life

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Once upon a time, there was a lion that never said anything. The lion stood waving on a pedestal on Leninsky Prospekt in downtown Moscow. It advertised for a leather-goods store that was open 24 hours a day.

It was a lonely lion in a red waterproof robe.

Cars drove by, coating the lion with deadly lead dust. Pedestrians rushed down the street, pointing fingers. The lion waved at anybody who happened to look at him, gingerly, in rain, in snow, in blistering sun, in the middle of the night.

Many years ago, the lion was a baby prince, but a wicked witch slapped a lion mask on his face and condemned him to advertising leather-goods in downtown Moscow.

A few meters away from the lion, women chattered. They had no waterproof coats to protect them from the weather. They had no masks to hide their faces. They smiled readily at any man who happened to drive by. Their skin-colored stockings were soaked with lead fumes. They stood there, in rain, in snow, in the middle of the night.

Sometimes, the women looked at the lion. Most of the time, however, their eyes were fixed on the road: their stinking, roaring source of income in motion. Nobody could see if the lion's eyes were fixed on anything. They were hidden too deeply inside the mask.

The women said that they were waiting for a man to take them into his car for a few minutes in exchange for $20.

But they were lying. In fact, the women were waiting for a beautiful prince who would take them away forever to a faraway land where they would be queens. They would never have to inhale the lead again. They would send some money back home.

One rainy evening, one of the women vanished. Her friend said she had gone away for a night with a stranger and never came back.

"Doing nights is dangerous," the friend of the disappeared woman reasoned.

"You never know what might happen, what kind of a freak might come along. Me, I never do nights."

The woman was most likely raped and beaten and tortured and then left to die on the side of some road — but I would never ruin my fairy tale with such a gruesome story. In my fairy-tale, it was the lion who took the woman with him.

One day the wicked witch's spell expired. The lion stepped out of his rubber coat and became a stately young prince on a beautiful white horse. He took the woman into his castle with floors of turquoise and silver. He soaked her in a bathtub for hours, rubbed a thick layer of lead dust off her legs with a soft sponge, and made her his queen. She has been sending money home ever since.

The wicked witch, of course, became furious when she found out about the prince.

But when she attempted to break into his castle, the prince killed her with a golden arrow that his queen had made for him.

You wish.

In fact, the lion-man is still inhaling exhaust smoke on a pedestal by the leather store as I write.

Maybe it's not a man at all, but a woman. You can never tell.

And I've never heard of a real-life prostitute who'd met a prince. I've heard of real-life prostitutes who were raped and murdered. But that's too terrible and sad to end up in my fairy tale.

Anna Badkhen is a reporter for The Boston Globe.