Robert (Bob) Sampson was born in England in 1965. Since graduating
in Biochemistry from the University of Dundee in 1988 he has worked
for various chemical and pharmaceutical companies in north-east
England. He writes 'as little as possible' these days, preferring
to spend his spare time with his family. He lives in Guisborough,
Cleveland with his wife Nina and son Victor.
RENDEZVOUS IN MOSCOW
Natasha had written the address at which I was to meet her, and
beneath it the name of a nearby metro station, on a tiny and very
battered fragment of card. To one side she had also written the
figure 6, the hour of our rendezvous, and inscribed a circle around
it, as though to emphasise its importance.
I pulled the map out of my hip pocket. The name of the metro station
I had entered was one that I didn’t recognise and I needed to trace
the route I had taken since leaving my hotel earlier in the afternoon.
As I was fingering the avenues and boulevards I became aware of
a thin, bespectacled figure by my side.
‘Where are you going?’ asked the man in English. I pointed to
the station on my map, ‘BARRIKADNAYA’.
‘Barrikadnaya, Barrikadnaya,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘Yes, I know
that station. Follow me.’
So we joined the crowd of people cramming onto the escalator and
plunged deep beneath the city. I now had a chance to observe my
guide more closely. He was of average height and his hair was metallic
grey and sleek. The spectacles he was wearing were thick and heavy
and made of dark plastic, which made them look like some kind of
makeshift disguise. Also, he was carrying a walking stick, even
though he walked without a limp or any other outward sign of difficulty.
On the contrary, it was all I could do to keep up as he headed first
down one tunnel then another. But strangest of all was his long
grey raincoat. Now that we were underground it might have almost
passed unnoticed. But in the streets I had just left it was a warm
and sunny afternoon. On a day like today all but the lightest of
jackets would have been uncomfortable. That my guide should choose
to wear a foul weather coat seemed extraordinary. Just then he turned
to me with a mechanical movement and said, ‘Be careful. There are
all types of people down here, strange people. The metro is a dangerous
We jumped on a train. My guide held up his left hand with the
thumb and little finger bent over and said, ‘Three stops. Then we
change trains.’ There were more long passageways at our transfer
station. The rush hour was now in full swing and there were hordes
of Muscovites walking in both directions. Along the edges of the
passageway were the usual little stalls selling sweets, books and
lily of the valley, picked no doubt from the forests that surround
the city. I let myself slip a pace or two behind my bespectacled
guide. I realised that in this crowd it would be easy to lose him
altogether. All I had to do was turn around and walk the other way
- he would never find me again amongst so many commuters. But I
was lost. I had no idea which station I was in, which train I needed
to take, or even which district of Moscow was currently above my
I let myself slip further back. From the signs I had seen I deduced
that this station was located at the intersection of three lines.
So there were six possible directions of travel. But my knowledge
of the Moscow metro was vague, in addition to which I’d somehow
lost my map on the way. I quickly made up my mind to stay with my
guide. After all, I had no reason to doubt his sincerity. No concrete
evidence. But all the same . . .
I caught up with my guide again. He turned to me with his characteristic
mechanical movement and said, ‘There is an animal park near the
Barrikadnaya station. Perhaps you will go there.’
‘I should very much like to,’ I replied, ‘but I have arranged to
meet a girl-friend at six o’clock. If I am late she might not wait
for me.’ This was not entirely true because Natasha would wait for
me until I arrived. But I hoped that my expression of urgency might
in some way facilitate the termination of my journey, or at least
of my association with my guide.
We suddenly arrived at two escalators that were ascending from
platforms on a lower level. My guide exchanged a few words (in Russian,
of course) with a stout woman in uniform and then in English said,
‘There is a fault. The line is closed for one hour. We’ll have to
go by a different route. Now we need to take three trains.’ As we
wove through the surging crowd I said, ‘I have only forty minutes
until my rendezvous. Do you think I’ll be there in time?’
‘We must hurry. Keep close to me,’ he replied. ‘It’s busy here
because it’s the rush hour and one line is closed. So everyone is
trying to get on the other trains.’
When I arrived, Natasha was curled up on the sofa reading a thriller.
As I went through to the kitchen to put the kettle on she called
out, ‘It’s a beautiful evening. We should go for a walk in the animal
park by the Barrikadnaya metro station.’
Red Square After Dark
The strange quietude
of Red Square after dark.
and the high Kremlin walls.
The beautiful curves
of St. Basil’s Cathedral.
This, the heart of Russia,
is tonight a point of calm.
The eye of a tornado.
Christmas Day, St. Petersburg
In Primorsky Park, the sun is already low –
a red glow amongst the winter trees.
The lakes are frozen; a slight mist hangs
in the still air. A girl skips along the path
in her thick green coat and shapka.
She smiles and laughs and looks very Russian.
In a cabin by the lake, men are playing games of chess.
Train from St. Petersburg to Maksatikha
It is possible to deduce more about a people
by taking a single train journey
than by reading any number of travel books.
The ice creams bought at a row of stalls
just outside the station. The lethargic porters
waiting for business. The lines of curious passengers.
Then on board the train, the music
and the shared sandwiches, the conversations
and the farewells. The fear of a missed connection
in a place where only three trains run each week.
(This train, which terminates in Samara,
takes 42 hours to reach its final destination.)
In the afternoon it begins to snow:
the entire sky suddenly crowds
with a million flakes of light.
The sound of the wind
in the forest
is something like a river
flowing over rapids,
or the rumble
of distant thunder.
Every now and then
from the neighbour’s roof
with a whoosh and a thud.
Wood smoke rises cautiously
from warm chimneys.
The house is already silent.
Shadows dance on the pale bedroom wall
and on the huge stove, its tiles
still warm from the evening’s fire.
Beyond the window,
light reflected by snow
illuminates the Russian landscape.
Tuesday, July 11, 2000