S. and I were born in the same year; a mere 42 days apart. Statistically, as a Chilean male, he will live to 73 years old. As an American woman, I am expected to live to 79. During our first week in Kazakhstan, Seba may have leveled the playing field; he may have taken 6 years off my life expectancy. Reason: fear!
To tell you this story, I need to give you a little background data. We have a SIM card for S; we do not have a phone. We went to TSUM, a large soviet style shopping center—also home to several chandelier shops—to buy a cell phone. But, we found them to be quite expensive. Combined with the overwhelming masses and our weak cell-phone-buying Russian, we gave up. Perhaps we would buy a cell phone online. In the end, we have not bought one online or one at TSUM. But, this is my goal for the weekend. I digress. The point is: S has no cell phone.
Our first week here, we liked to play a little game. It was called “Where the heck do I live?” Together, we would try and recall the pronunciation of our street. Let us just say that for the American/Chilean tongue and mind, it was challenging. We struggled. Also, technically, our address is on a pedestrian street. To get anyone to understand where it is, you need to give the cross street 1/2 a block away. We generally failed at this task. We can walk to work though and the market… so all is not lost!
Another key piece of information. S often comes to lunch with me at the office. In fact, he is usually here anyway for paperwork, Russian class or the gym. When he arrives home, he sends me a little email: “home” or “here”. I have already mentioned the traffic, so I won’t return to that.
So, the first Wednesday we were here—exactly one week after having left the US, S came to lunch with me. We made plans to meet another colleague for dinner, but I hadn’t settled on the time. Also, and very exciting, this was the day our first shipment of stuff came. Important things like books and pots and pans and plates and sheets and a garbage can. While not all of our stuff, it was a lot. S hates a mess and loves to get everything put away.
I settled with the colleague on dinner at Mad Murphy’s, an Irish bar and expat hangout. We would meet at 7. I called home around 4:30 to tell S the plan, but he didn’t answer. I figured he must be out with the dog or showering. I called at 4:45 and he didn’t answer. By 5pm, multiple phone calls later, I was starting to worry. Where was he? I noticed he never emailed after lunch that he had returned home. I broke into his email account—does it count as breaking in if I know the password? He had not sent anything to anyone or read any of the emails I had sent him during the day.
I asked to go home. I left. As I walked home, I kept calling. Nothing. I tried to tell myself that he must be asleep and not hear the phone. I tried to tell myself there were logical reasons. I tried not to listen to voices that told me about people getting hit by cars or foreigners being kidnapped. Admittedly, the latter does not happen much here. The former does. He has a Chilean passport. If he were hit, who would the ER call? Probably not the American embassy. How would I know? How would he tell them who he was? Who I was? Where he lived? Where I worked? How would I tell his mother that I lost her son in Kazakhstan?
I ran a good portion of the way home. For those of you who don’t know me in the real world, let me emphasize: I do NOT run. I am not a runner. At all. Ever.
When I got home, I realized that I didn’t have a key. He did. I also realized there was no way he was not hearing the phone—the dog was barking when I made it ring. I rand the doorbell too. Over and over. Harley, the dog, did not like that at all. She was clearly locked in the bedroom, the place we keep her when no one is home.
I went downstairs to the doorman (more like a young guy who sits at the entrance) to practice my Russian. I asked if he had seen my husband leave. He confirmed that he had. When? Before lunch? After lunch? Did he come home? Was he out? The kid had no idea. Maybe he saw him before lunch or maybe after. Clearly, this gave me no peace of mind. I had no idea if he had returned home after lunch.
It dawned on me that the husband of someone in my office, a guy who works in security, had mentioned earlier in the week meeting up with S for beers or coffee. That was Monday, this was Wednesday. I decided to call. After all, if he wasn’t with my husband perhaps, from a security perspective, he could tell me if I should report S missing. Can you report someone missing when you saw them 5 hours earlier?
I had to make several phone calls to get this guy’s number. I am sure that I sounded less then calm. I got it. Did I have a pen to write it down? No. I did have lipstick in my purse. Soon, I had the man’s number written in lipstick on my forearm.
I called. It rang. He answered. I spoke with S.
They had had a lot of beers and S had forgotten to write a note. He had forgotten my cell number. He had assumed I had a key. He had called home. He had forgotten the dinner plans. He felt bad. I sat down and cried. I am not sure if that was pure relief or simply the knowledge that he was safe allowed me to finally feel all the fear that had built up.