Yura is not an empathetic person.
Seventeen now, he is less self-centred than he used to be when he first skated Agape, but still not much interested in what makes other people tick. If he wishes to know something, however, he asks.
He has not yet learnt to temper his curiosity with tact; perhaps he never will. But he takes what he is told at face value, he does not question people’s intentions and he never jumps to conclusions (an admirable approach, Nikiforov, thoroughly to be recommended).
Also, he may be annoying, but hell, the man is a treasure. The amount of help he has given us with packing! Thanks to Yuri’s patient coaxing and Yura's ruthless scorn I actually got rid of many articles of clothing, and even a few books, that should have been done away with years ago.
The flat is going to stand empty for a while. Lilya stated in no uncertain terms that Yura will not be allowed to move in before he finishes secondary school. Yakov supported her fully and a decree from Nikolai Petrovich sealed the matter.
‘I’m not even angry,’ said Yura. ‘To sleep on the bed where you and Katsu… I’d have nightmares.’
‘You’re going to sleep on it in two years’ time,’ I reminded him.
‘I’m hoping the pheromones will evaporate ‘til then.’
I chuckled. The echo of Yuri’s cries will take a while to die down in these walls. Also, the flat will occasionally serve as a pied-à-terre for visiting skaters, and that includes us. There is a box of our things that actually stays here. So we will keep leaving a new batch of pheromones here from time to time.
By the way, the flat will also allow Nikolai Petrovich to spend longer periods in Sankt Petersburg without having to impose on Lilya’s hospitality, which I think is very good for all concerned.
It was while packing my books into boxes, and seeing how many of them were on fine arts, that Yura asks me, ‘Why did you decide on Canada, of all the places? It seems not very, I don’t know, you. I thought you’d go for somewhere more cultural. Italy.’
‘I don’t know the language. Ditto Spain.’
‘Nice, but politically problematic.’
‘Norway. It’s closer to here.’
‘Am I an oligarch? Too expensive.’
‘I like cheese and the Rijksmuseum is a recommendation. The climate, though. No frosts.’
‘My, you’re a primadonna. Great Britain!’
‘Brexit. Scotland seemed tempting until I remembered it’s not independent. Besides, I’ve been there. Lovely country, stunningly beautiful, but the accent! I had to ask “Could you repeat?” all the time. I’d go crazy.’
‘Bullshit. He just doesn’t like whisky,’ comes from the general direction of Yuri, but so quietly I can pretend not to have heard. All this conversation is in Russian, by the way.
‘Germany? Lively gay scene, I hear.’
‘Shared history. Plus, the language.’
‘Plus, you’re too old for the gay scene.’
I throw a slipper at him; miss. My aim is notoriously bad. Maccachin goes and politely brings it back to me.
‘Good boy. See, he wants me to have another go at you.’
‘Try. So did you just write down all the countries that have gay marriage, crossed out the ones you didn’t like and were left with Canada?’
Blunt, Yura, blunt. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Yuri being amused.
When I decided to emigrate, I asked him if he had a preference as to where. To my tremendous surprise, he didn’t. ‘I’m happy to go wherever you choose,’ he said. Then he asked quietly, ‘Please, don’t make it Detroit’.
I could promise.
It is only now, having known him for two years, that I’m beginning to piece together the picture of his life in the States; the terrible loneliness, the sense of failure, the boundless self-blame. The horror of those years was brought to me most eloquently when I found out, to my shock, that Phichit, a genuinely okay guy and the only person there Yuri could call friend, had never heard him sing. Just imagine; for five long years, this voice, this stunning, sweet, ringing voice had been silent.
No way would I take him back to the States. Even if I wanted to go there myself; which I don’t.
‘No,’ I answer. ‘It’s just… They seem nice people, kind of… reserved, preferring to stay up north, minding their own business. They don’t meddle in other people’s affairs much, you know.’
He gives me a long look.
‘Yeah, I understand.’
Even Yura is aware of history, and abreast with politics, enough to get my meaning. And he has his own issues with the USA, the country that swallowed his mother.
He leaves off.
I told him the truth. To move from one meddlesome state to another didn’t seem a good bargain. Besides, I’m Russian, for fuck’s sake, don’t ask too much. I want to genuinely respect my new country and they have just chosen that orange-skinned jerk for president. But all this sounds terribly negative, doesn’t it? As if I chose Canada because I had found it the least objectionable.
This is not true. Apart from its law, there are many positive things about Canada. It is famously gay-friendly. It is slightly… out of the way, so to speak, standing a little to the side of world’s affairs, which I like. People speak English and French there, in accents that I can manage. The climate seems nice.
And there is one more thing about it, which I don’t think I will share with Yura, because he will not understand.
Yuri told me once I have a fine sense of the symbolic. I am not entirely sure he meant it as a compliment, his expression was a little odd when he said it, but I’m going to take a leaf from Yura’s book and accept it at face value.
So: I think Canada is symbolically pleasant. Think Vancouver. Positioned at the edge of the world with a vast land behind my back, I think it is a place where I will feel sort of… geographically safe. This is what I am used to having, a sea before me and a huge landmass behind me. I am going to have an even larger sea there, the ocean. So I will feel at home. And Japan, Yuri’s Japan, which I’m going to make my second homeland, will be almost next door. Isn’t this great?
And, of course, there is one more reason why the thought of Canada was so appealing, but it is an ignoble one and I don’t want to admit it, even though it gives me much satisfaction.
It turns out I don’t have to.
As it has been said, Yura is not an empathetic person. He takes things at face value. So he famously does not grasp the corollaries of what people tell him.
That’s why it takes him a while to grasp it in my case.
I’m glad he was with us when he did. The memory of this moment enriches me.
It is our one-before-last evening in Russia. The last one we will spend together, Yuri and I, just the two of us, but today Yura is staying with us overnight.
Yura is lying on that bed, obviously not bothered by any pheromones. He is wearing a bedraggled T-shirt and skinny jeans, his hair messy, loose strands escaping from a carelessly tied elastic band, generally looking not at all compatible with the scene that is about to occur.
Because this scene has something biblical about it.
‘Oh fuck…’ says he suddenly, sitting up, than moving into a kneel. ‘Oh fuck…’
We look at him, surprised not at the word, Yura swears a lot and almost always in English, but at the tone. The man is in ecstasy.
‘Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.’ He seems stuck on the expletive. His green eyes are wide, staring, his arms spread, palms loose, he has a ‘young prophet having a revelation’ look, honestly, I can see a halo around his head, all that is missing is the sound of trumpets.
‘Can you just, can you just…’
Yuri guesses what he wants to say, gives a croak, curls up with his face to his knees, and begins rocking up and down like a transported worshipper, laughing helplessly.
Yura takes a deep breath and finishes, ‘Can you just – imagine – JJ’s face???’