departure day

We woke up sharp at 6.00am. We carefully folded the rugs and the expandable one-sit coach that had been our respective beds for the previous two nights. There was no other bed in that multi-functional room, yet it was our host’s bedroom. In the meantime, he slept with his parents in their bed/living room in an expandable sofa. We were the guests and they offered the best they had to us. We, shamefully, were forced to accept it. There was no other choice; the language-barrier was thicker or thinner depending on our hosts’ will. Our complete ignorance of their cultural procedures prevented us from further action since we were concerned about doing anything that could be considered offensive.
Quietly, yet diligently, we packed our luggage because there was no time to spare. The train would not wait for us and our visa expired that same day.
When we open the bedroom door, a warm aroma of just-boiled sausages, rice porridge and non-pasteurised cow’s milk welcomed us. The mother was already up preparing our breakfast in the small, barely-furnished, kitchen.
On the shelf, next to the aged photo of the recently deceased grandmother, a dusted radio was playing. Wham’s Last Christmas finished and an unknown Christmas carol began. It was the 25th of December. But the train did not care about Cristmas. Neither did we.
We ate in affliction for having to leave the family combined with an eternal gratitude for their constant attentions; their exquisite and über-generous hosting.
Five minutes later we waved goodbye to the mother of the family whilst father and son took energetically our luggage and showed us the way to the screeching lift.
Outside, another cold day was about to break through amidst the blinding mist. It was still dark and the frozen puddles stood next to the mudrails made by the passers-by. Around us, the old skyscrappers, the rudimentary cars, the poorly paved walkways: the real life long ago forgotten.
We joined the anonymous multitude of workers heading towards the underground to begin another workable week. It was Monday. It was a normal working day. Regardless of the obsolete Christmas tree placed in the City centre to comfort the tourists, it was an ordinary Monday.
Black figures covering every inch of their bodies with furry overcoats, dense hats and thick gloves and scarves filled the peaceful street. And, amongst them, our host carrying one of our colorful bags. A familiar face within the faceless crowd. And us. The only two foreigners. The only two people on that street about to leave the country.
It was the rush hour on the underground and we had to push our way through helped by the strong arms of our hosts. There were no more carols, instead everybody was silent, quiet, unexpressive. They acted like a perfectly synchronised machinery; a homogenous mass of human beings.  
We departed from Ladozhsky Station at 7.57am. Five hours later the Repin train arrived at Helsingin rautatieasema (Helsinki Central railway Station); at the bright lights of the shop windows; at the loud christmassy-music accompanying dozens of people ice-skating on the open ice-rink on the Rautatientori, the central square.
We were back to reality from our Russian dream, yet nothing felt real anymore. Not after the reality witnessed on the suburbs of St. Petersburg.

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