Dima was born in 1991, not the good old days. No, he was born into the Yeltsin generation, a generation of drunks, drug-addicts, and democratic dropouts. Dima was born in St. Petersburg on Novy God, though his birth certificate would not reflect it. His identification would forever carry his incorrect, but official, birthdate of January 6th, the day when his father found his mother lying on the kitchenette floor, in a pool of her blood, cradling an infant son who had miraculously survived the freezing temperatures of their small, unheated, unpowered apartment unit. The discovery sobered his father up enough to pull the boy from his mother’s icy clutch.
His father wrapped the boy in a ragged curtain that doubled for a crib-sheet and rushed him to the hospital. The man wasn’t a complete asshole. He’d never really loved Kalinka, but he couldn’t stand to have her child’s death on his head. The hungover man stumbled into the hospital with the baby boy tucked under his arm like a common delivery package and stopped a nurse as she made her rounds in the waiting room. He pulled the curtain away to reveal a pale-blue, baby boy whose pursed, purple lips had never felt the press of his mother’s breast.
The nurse screamed, pulled the boy away from his father, and ran frantically through the emergency room’s admission door into the main hospital. It was probably too late for the boy. His father paused for a moment before he stumbled in the direction of the exit. An orderly emerged from the admissions section and yelled out to him.
“Sir, excuse me, Sir.” His father turned slowly and grunted at the orderly as a thick gas burbled up through his esophagus. “The boy that you brought in what is his name?”
His father avoided eye contact with the young orderly as he tried to recall what Kalinka had decided to call the boy. His face reddened to a brighter hue than what the vodka had already managed, as all eyes in the emergency room rested on him. Sweat began to bead on his balding scalp, which was mercifully hidden under his furry ushanka.
“Dmitry,” he blurted out at last.
“Dmitry?” the orderly was unsure.
“Da Dmitry. Dmitry, like his papa!” Of that he was mostly sure. Dmitry, Sr. nodded sharply and shoved his way through a couple of octogenarians who were slowly making their way into the hospital. Senior, burst into the cold, winter air with a sigh of relief. Dmitry was a strong name, which is why his father had named him Dmitry, and why he’d named his first son Dmitry, ten years ago. There was no rule against having two juniors and so Senior, disappeared into St. Petersburg and out of Dmitry, Jr., number 2’s, existence.
The orderly had not had time to ask him for a surname. Not knowing what to do, the orderly wrote “Dmitry Dmitrovich” on the boy’s chart and threw it into the pile of unprocessed intake forms. It was January 6, and the hospital staff was still being overwhelmed by the flow of drunkards and revelers who habitually occupied the emergency room at this time of year.
The Dmitrovich boy would survive and recover. He’d be taken by a hospital administrator to the local orphanage, as was customary. He was about a month old at the time, he was handed over to the orphanage, give or take a few days. The boy stayed in and out, though mostly out, of the same orphanage, until he was twelve. He’d often look across the street at the hospital searching for someone, no one in particular, just someone that looked like maybe they were missing a kid. By twelve, the boy took to calling himself Dima, as readily as he took to smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka, serving as an errand boy for small-time pimps, and as a lookout slash messenger for St. Petersburg’s local Troika organization. His hopes were looking up. At thirteen, Dima decided to leave sleepy, St. Petersburg for Moscow, and he stole the weekly pimps’ takes to facilitate his travels.
Dima arrived in Moscow, by bus, on the day of his thirteenth birthday. He had planned it so. He walked to the nearest bar, fortuitously situated across the street from the rundown bus station, which bellowed thick, low-hanging clouds of diesel fumes. Dima took a seat at the bar and ceremoniously slapped down a hundred rubles. The bartender grabbed the note with equal pomp and slapped a shot-glass in front of the pubescent boy. With deft precision, the bartender poured his finest, industrial grade vodka to the top of the glass then produced another shot-glass which he slapped in front of himself. He poured that glass as well, and raised it in toast to the boy.
“Davay!” he exclaimed then threw the fiery contents back, the boy followed his lead.
Dima rimmed the glass with his index finger and motioned to the bartender to pour another.
“Tak,” came the reply. “Welcome to Moscow.”
Dima’s first day in Moscow came to a close under a metro station arch that offered him just enough shielding from the furious wind to give him a better than decent chance at surviving the night. Dima had a hearty constitution and a higher cold tolerance than most so he did not worry about his odds. He’d endured these kinds of nights frequently in his short existence, too many to remember. He found a spot that was as suitable as any, just inside the opening of the stonework arch, and leaned back against its sturdy base. He pulled apart the pages of a discarded newspaper he’d found in a nearby dumpster and balled them up. Unzipping his tattered track-jacket quickly, he stuffed the crumpled pages against his body, creating himself a hasty and efficient insulating layer. Satisfied with his accommodations, he leaned his uncovered head against the cold stones, closed his eyes and fell asleep, ignoring the whispers from the inhabitants of the inner section of the arch.
Dima awoke a few hours later. It was four in the morning. He never slept past four because this was the time that the delivery trucks made their stops at the shops in St. Petersburg. It was also right around the very same time that several deliveries would lose their way in transit. Of these unfortunate coincidences, he was well aware. Dima had been gainfully employed as a delivery-boy of sorts for the Kharmazov Syndicate, a smallish, local, organized crime gang with delusions of grandeur, consisting mostly of the aforementioned pimps, small-time thugs, thieves, and merchants. The syndicate was headed by Victor and Svetlana Kharmazov. The Kharmazovs operated several discount and liquor stores throughout St. Petersburg’s forgotten neighborhoods and they plied their clientele with affordable goods and every now and then, special services: bone-breaking mostly.
The six hours or so of sleep had worked their usual magic. Dima rose quietly, ensuring that he did not disturb the other inhabitants of the arch. He rubbed his eyes and his frost-bitten face and peered up through the metro entrance which ramped slowly toward the street surface above. There on the lip of the ramp lay a drunk who hadn’t quite made it down to the relative safety of the arch. He walked wearily upon the man, drunks were always the easiest to pickpocket. He tapped the unconscious man’s boots, lightly at first, then more assertively. His legs were rigid and unresponsive, even an unconscious drunk’s legs responded with some elasticity. The man was dead. Dima got to work quickly, stripping him of his boots, jacket, hat, belt, watch, and wallet. He fumbled around the man’s body looking for his phone, not that he had anyone to call, but phones were fungible commodities. Dima examined the body quickly for any signs of overlooked value then peeked swiftly back towards the arch. Its occupants were still fast asleep.
He combed the body one final time then darted across the street towards the cover of an adjacent park. He scampered behind a waist-high hedge that rimmed the park entrance and kneeled down under the soft-glow of a light pole to inspect his take. The watch was cheap, probably not worth more than a few hundred rubles. The phone was a Chinese-made knockoff that would garner little more. The wallet contained five thousand rubles, enough to house him in a hostel for a week, possibly more. He rummaged through the wallet and found the identification of one Vasili Stepnov, disappointingly there were no credit cards.
Suddenly, he was overcome by the sensation that he was being watched. Dima looked over his shoulder and directly into two yellow eyes. He lost his balance and fell back into the hedge, scraping himself against the icicled branches. A snout moved into the light of the street lamp and lingered for a moment before disappearing back into the darkness of the park. Dima laughed nervously for a moment and once he’d gathered the courage to leave the safety of the hedge, he followed the creature’s trail back into the darkness.
He found her about a hundred meters away, huddled under the base of an old barren tree, inside a makeshift den. There beneath her, lay a dead pup. She ignored his hesitant approach. Dima reached into his pocket for a piece of bread that he had found in a dumpster the night before, and offered it to her. Seeing no sign of aggression, Dima approached her slowly and lay down next to her. She turned from her pup and placed her heavy, canid head on his chest. The three lay motionless until sunrise. He named her Katyusha.
© J. Manuel Writes