Beneath the runway, a million bones lay waiting to stir. At touch down, a bony rattle struck the entire airplane and the man beside Mizu almost jumped off his seat. “You heard the bones then?”, asked Mizu, making sure she wasn’t hallucinating as she had in the past. “I think seat belts were only made to land safely in this city”, he let out a hesitant laugh and tightened his seat belt. “You’ve been here before?”, asked Mizu. “I live here”, said he, shooting a vacant smile at her.
This was St. Petersburg, built along the river Neva in Russia. The bony rattle came from the skeletons of 1,00,000 slave labourers that had died building this city. They were buried under the ground in the 1700s, upon which St. Petersburg grew like a huge banyan tree in sterile soil. The whole place seemed to be haunted by their sonorous bones. Their piercing hum rang inside Mizu’s ears and she ventured into the city to find some mainstream urban noise to drown it down.
She took a cab to the Astra Marine berth to set assail along the Neva river. The waters of the river flowed through the many canals of St. Petersburg and at one point, Mizu thought that the city had more canals than it had roads.
On the boat, Mizu saw Russians wearing windcheaters and she regretted not getting one for herself to blend in. Her body composition was such that she neither felt hot, nor cold. She absorbed the temperature outside just like water did. When Mizu got on the boat, the Russians sympathized with her misfortune of not watching the weather forecast.
The waters of the Neva river were deliriously blue, like the European waters, the darkest of all blues. The river bubbled up and frothed all the way until Mizu got off near Koryushka, the chic riverside restaurant that was named after the popular seasonal fish of St. Pertersburg.
Mizu ordered the fried koryushka priced at 800 rubles which was cheaper than the sushi in Tokyo’s lavish restaurants. Unlike Tokyo that felt intimidatingly different everyday, St. Petersburg felt safe and predictable, like the safety of water grown shallow from being cut off from the deep European sea. Mizu felt quite at peace here, in the white modern restaurant that overlooked the blue Neva river.
The koryushka arrived sending off fumes of its fried cucumber skins into the air. It was freshly caught and prepared, and the taste of cucumber was surprisingly subtle. It was presented with creamed potatoes and tender vegetables as there was no better way to serve it.
Mizu was having her meal in solitude, when a man suddenly came by and sat on the white seat opposite her. She hadn’t noticed him until her meal was over. She looked up, startled to see the same man who had sat besides her in the flight.
“You never get enough of jump-scares here, do you?”, said he.
“Don’t tell me this is your restaurant”, said Mizu, still recovering from the effect of an acquaintance with a man she thought was enigmatic.
“Well, the whole city is mine. How did you know about the fish?”, asked he.
“I overheard the Russians on the boat”, said Mizu, hoping he wouldn’t ask her anything else.
“During the Nazi blockade, koryushka was the protein that saved St. Petersburg from starving. There’s a whole monument dedicated to the service of this fish, you should check it out”, he shot her a vacant smile again and got up and left.
Mizu paid for her meal and hurried out the door to find the man. He was way ahead of her. Mizu followed him in a trance, looking around the city for the koryushka monument, but she couldn’t find it. She had walked for an hour, until she saw him disappear into the Yusopov Palace.
Mizu entered the palace and heard the familiar bony rattling that grew louder as she walked into the basement. There she saw her acquaintance, siting at a table, with his vacant smile. He was now a wax figurine labeled as Rasputan.
Mizu’s mother had told her about Rasputan. He was a monk and the most influential man to the supreme rulers of Eastern Europe, the Tsar. In the basement of the Yusopov palace, Rasputan was poisoned, beaten with a club and also shot twice by Prince Yusopov. He was still breathing when, as a last resort, he was thrown into the Neva river.
As a child, Mizu always wondered why Rasputin didn’t die with poison or bullet shots. He only died in the river. Mizu thought of the Neva river and wondered if it was Rasputan who gave the river the darkest of all blues.
Mizu fled the palace and took the boat back to Astra Marine. It was dark and although Mizu had never felt cold before, she did feel the haunting coolness of the air above the Neva river. It was unusual. The monuments by the river were magnificently lit up and Mizu felt like she was quickly drifting past blinding constellations.
Mizu got off at Astra Marine and bought herself a can of salted koryushka before she took a cab to the airport.
After her time in St. Petersburg, she was sure to never call a city predictable again, especially the next one.
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