Moscow, Russia, a girl is waiting in line for some bellini when she meets Darya, a girl who does anything she wants whenever she wants. But the closer she gets to Darya, the more she realises that Darya is not who she thought she was.
I bounced slightly on my feet and pulled my coat closer to my body. The line was so long today!
A kid rushed past me, panting a quick ‘excuse me, miss’. The friends following him showed even less courtesy; they didn’t even bother to look at me.
I snarled at them and stepped back quickly to avoid being hit by one of them, almost slipping on the ice in the process.
Once I had regained my balance, I turned to the babushka* behind me and muttered an apology. She narrowed her eyes and curled her mouth into a scowl as if it was my fault the ice was there and as if those children were mine.
I didn't see how that could have possibly been my fault. We were outside Detsky Mir, a renowned toy shop. Naturally, the place was a magnet for children.
Over the heads of the long line of people waiting for bellini, I tried to see the sign showing the toppings you could have.
There was no real reason why I looked - I always had berries - but I felt the need to look like I was doing something rather than just standing there.
Once I had finished reading everything that there was to read on the sign, I let my eyes wander.
My eyes drifted down the long line of people that stretched from their little outdoor but covered shop, onto the pavement and almost touching the street.
I let my eyes follow the line back to the shop, where I caught a girl leaning up against the wall out of my peripheral vision. Her blonde hair was cropped short. The front reached her chin. She wore heavy eyeliner, but it didn't make her look like a racoon. Beneath her fur coat, she wore a baggy white shirt that hung so low I could only see the hem of her blue mini-skirt peeking out. Black tights and snow boots covered her long legs.
How could she not be freezing to death? I wondered as soon as I caught sight of her. But she looked fine. The only evidence of her being cold was that her leg that was propped up against the wall and bouncing. Maybe I wasn't the only person who did that to keep warm.
Her eyes floated up to mine.
I looked away quickly, and then, as if it was planned, the line moved forward. Perfect. The one time I didn’t want the line to move forward, it did. And, of course, I stopped just next to her.
For about half a minute, I didn’t glance her way. But... you know when it feels like someone is watching you? Yeah. It felt like that. So I dared to peek out of the corner of my eyes. When she saw me looking, she smiled at me, which was incredibly unusual for girls her age in Moscow. If we didn’t know the person, we aren’t usually friendly toward them.
“You have a light?” she asked me, raising a thin eyebrow.
I nodded quickly and pulled out my lighter, handing it over.
“Thanks,” she mumbled around the cigarette in her mouth. She lit it and returned my lighter to me. She inhaled smoke before pulling out the cigarette and attempting to blow a smoke ring. She smiled at the pathetic try. “So how come you’re not in school?” she asked as the feeble smoke disappeared into the air.
“Ah.” I laughed and glanced back at the babushka to make sure she wasn’t listening, she watching me intently and leaning slightly forward as if to hear us better. “Ah.” I repeated, before deciding that I didn’t care if she heard us. “I’m skipping,” I answered, ignoring the disapproving tut that came from the old lady’s mouth.
The girl laughed and fluffed up her hair.
“Me, too,” she admitted and then gestured to the small bellini shop. “Why would you go to school when you could be eating this?”
I laughed nervously; worried that I would say the wrong thing. “I love the bellini here. I always get berries on it.”
She shook her head. “Chocolate! It’s the best.” She smiled at me. “I’m Darya.”
I smiled back at her. “Nataliya.”
“Nataliya, do you mind if I stand with you in the line? It’s way too long.” She dragged out the word ‘way’ and stepped into the line. She took another drag of her cigarette. “So do your parents know you’re not in school?”
I suppressed a frown at her patronising tone. “I’m not speaking with them at the moment.” I admitted, and moved up into the empty space in the line.
“Really?” Darya exclaimed. I turned back to her, she hadn’t moved up with me.
“Yeah,” I frowned, confused at her reaction. Maybe she was the sort of person who would never dream that a child would not talk with their parents. The babushka gave another annoyed tut and pushed Darya forward.
Darya’s look of surprise quickly turned to a scowl. She span quickly to face the old lady. “Would you shut up?” She snapped, and turned back to me. “What happened?” She asked, and tilted her head.
“Um,” I stammered, glancing behind Darya to the babushka whose eyes looked like they were about to pop out of her head. “Ah,” I looked back to Darya, who had a little smirk playing on her lips.
Then, I realised how different she was to me. I would never do anything like that. I could never wear those clothes. “My parents didn’t approve of my boyfriend. They hated us together,” I told her. “You know.” I shrugged.
This was a lie. I had never had a boyfriend that my parents didn’t approve of. In fact, I have never had a boyfriend to speak of. I just lied to Darya. But the part where I was not speaking with my parents was true. I wasn’t speaking with them. But it wasn’t because of anything that they had done, it was just because we don’t have very much in common, there is no reason to talk to them.
Darya nodded and narrowed her eyes at me. My heart started to beat faster. “I do know.”
There was a short uncomfortable silence after that. “So what about your parents?” I asked quickly. “Do they know you’re not in school?”
She grinned and walked forward to fill the next empty space in the line. “I don’t live with my parents.” This time, it was my turn to not move in shock.
“Then where do you live?” I whispered. She walked forward and grabbed my arm forcing me forward.
“Do you want to see?” She smiled and raised her eyebrows.
My jaw dropped, literally. “Um,”
She smirked. “Come on, once you have your bellini, what else is there to do?” She tilted her head toward me, holding in a grin.
I shrugged, “Sure, like you said, there’s nothing better to do.”
She clapped her hands and jumped. “Yay!” Her excitement was contagious, I grinned back at her.
She linked her arm with mine. “Do you live with anyone else?” I asked her, still smiling.
She nodded quickly. “Three others. But don’t worry, they’re really cool.” She assured me.
The line moved up. What the hell was wrong with me? Why was I going to a complete stranger’s house? But I couldn’t say that I couldn’t go now. It was too late for that.
We were the next in line. For a moment, I almost forgot what I wanted. Just before I stepped up to the counter with Darya, I took a deep breath to clear my head.
“What can I get you?” The middle-aged man who owned the shop asked. Before I could give my order, Darya was already listing what she wanted, and included my bellini in her order. I just stared at her.