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When You Least Expect It



 
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Aleksei Tarkovsky

Aleksei’s getting the hang of it.

Between the blinding white of countless foreign airports, the taste of overflowing possibilities and gloriously absent repercussions, Aleksei’s getting the hang of this kind of life: the running, the hiding, and the ironic freedom that seems to come with it and finally breathes some air into his lungs. And God, has he been suffocating for long.

The street he finds himself on is crowded, unfamiliar: obscured equally from the heat and the unwelcome attention, he makes his way through the shadows of tall and cold buildings, these megapolitan giants of steel and glass.

Admittedly, there’s still a hint of calculated caution in Aleksei’s trajectory wherever he goes.

He still looks over his shoulder a bit too often, something in his eyes a bit too weary: in lieu of a civilian assuming someone is going to bump into him on the sidewalk there’s an expectation of handcuffs closing shut around his wrists, of the barrel of a gun pressed discretely against the small of his back, and of the safety that never goes off. Death, you see, death would be fine.

Going back home? Not so much.

Seemingly at complete ease — save for the tense set of his jaw and the fine hairs on the back of his neck that all but stand at the unsettling feeling, the one that followed him to this street from the rented apartment and to this country from the outskirts of Moscow — Aleksei hides all his anguish well, meandering between a group of slow-walking people, the aimless mellowness of them a study in boredom. And how tempting it is, to halt his steps to a mindless drift just the same. Has he slept much last night, last few nights, last week? Is it still today or is it now tomorrow? And in hindsight, who actually gives a ****? Aleksei blinks himself out of reveries, feet carrying him to take a sharp turn by design, and the dark silhouette in his peripheral vision confirms all suspicions.

He wakes the hell up.

It’s all rather fast from here, instincts and training overriding whatever else there may be. Aleksei switches main streets for alleys, alleys for buildings he can swiftly pass through — and the food market he hastily wanders in, an explosion of scents and colours...Well, it’s a goddamn classic.

Aleksei decides he will put on a show because he can, because he wants to, and because if you’re not rubbing it into their face... There’s hardly a point in losing a tail at all.

It’s no medieval bazaar; he’s no boy turning tables to get away with stealing a fruit, even if that alternative does sound appealing. Yet still, after so many years this is easy: Aleksei’s vanishing between numerous rows only to give in to temptation and risk by appearing in sight again, taunting and tantalizing, drifting in and out from under the waves of cooked meals and bottled up flavours; ambers and spice, umber and ochre, fennel and shamrock.

Maybe this is playing with fire; maybe this shouldn’t enthrall him so. The only thing that ever mattered was that it does.

Instinct of self-preservation a distant thing, forlorn and forgotten as he rounds the corner, Aleksei turns on his heel and raises his hand in a mocking, fingers-only, self-satisfied smile accompanied wave. Someone pushes the cart full of goods between him and his little nuisance just in time...

And when it’s gone, so is he.

Minutes later, assured in his temporal safety; elated, invigorated, damn happy — adrenaline rushing through his veins — Aleksei’s too preoccupied with catching his breath when he all but walks himself into someone, hand wrapping around her shoulder instinctively to steady her lest she falls.

“Well,” with the glint in his eyes still too smug, he lets the corner of his lips curl up into a smile. “Shouldn’t you watch where you’re going?”
June 12, 2018 11:34 pm

Violet Adler

Violet had literally no idea where she was.

Well, maybe some idea. Los Angeles, California. United States. Planet Earth. But we’re not talking bigger picture, we’re talking small time. As in, lost since twelve blocks and probably eight wrong turns ago. However, that didn’t necessarily mean that she wasn’t having a good time. She wasn’t native to Los Angeles, and finding herself on a corner block that she’d never laid eyes on before was exciting.

Despite her terrible sense of direction, she walked like she knew where she was going, making snap decisions about which streets to turn down as if she’d lived in this city for her entire life. In all reality, this was because she’d caught a whiff of something surely delicious cooking in the breeze, and she was following her nose to the source. Perhaps the destination wasn’t where she’d intended to begin with, but the nose knows best.

Clad casually in a lazily draped golden boho dress that brushed her ankles (essential in this heat), she swept along the crowded sidewalk, undeterred by the burning in her calves from walking up and down hills until she finally spotted the source of the heavenly scents. It didn’t look much from the outside, but that didn’t stop her. It was essentially a three story cement block building, entirely rectangular in shape with no flash of color to speak of, unless you counted ‘cement’ as a color. However, there were huge crowds of people moving in and out of the open doors, so she took heart and moved her feet.

Upon entering the divey looking establishment, she found herself in the middle of what could only be described as Heaven. Seriously, she could hear the Hallelujah chorus.

The Grand Central Market. A food hall. A hall of food. The entire cavernous bottom floor of this building was entirely open, but carved into neat rows by dozens upon dozens of food stands. And the smell. Ugh. She could live here.

She wandered through the numerous rows of stands, gawking delighedly at the vast array of food options available to her growling stomach. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, desert. Chinese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Tex Mex, German… she couldn’t count them all.

Fully understanding that there was no way she would be able to make an informed decision, she decided that she would simply have to eat at the next shop she passed; else, she would simply be walking around this Mecca for the rest of the day.

So, brilliantly, she closed her eyes and walked a few more steps, entirely committed to dining at the next place she laid eyes upon.

It goes without saying that she slammed into somebody almost instantly.

Blue eyes flew open in surprise as she hit something - someone - solid, and she would have definitely hit the floor without the steadying arm that caught her around the shoulders.

She gasped, catching herself on the stranger’s arm. “Oh! I’m so sorry!”

“Well, shouldn’t you watch where you’re going?”

Her eyes raised to the stranger’s, realizing quickly that he didn’t seem to be upset that she’d smashed into him like an idiot. His unfamiliar accent caught her ear, and she quickly disengaged herself from him with no small amount of chagrin.

“I’m really, really sorry. I was trying to decide where I wanted to eat, but there are too many places that I want to try, so I figured I would just close my eyes and then when I opened them, the next place I would see is the place that I would, um..” She talked fast when she was embarrassed. Like now.

She took a breath, realizing how she sounded.

“Yeah, I was um… walking with my eyes closed.”

She really wasn’t helping her case.
June 14, 2018 01:17 pm
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