Present Day, Kiev, Ukraine Kiev is unusually warm for May as a noon crowd thickens with workers on their lunch break. Some carry lunches wrapped in newspaper as they weave in and out of tourists studying brochures and shoppers carrying parcels. The workers move quickly downhill on Khreshchatik Boulevard like rivulets of water eager to reach the cool river bottom of the ancient valley. They flood onto European Square like conquering Mongol hordes, taking tourists and shoppers with them into the park, where food vendors wait in the shade of chestnut trees.
Ignoring pedestrian underpasses, the crowd tightens a tourniquet on the flow of traffic. A person monitoring a spy satellite might conclude something in the city has resulted in panic, but it is simply hunger. Queues at food vendors extend into the hot sun on the square. Slavs with frowning broad faces lean sideways to study the length of queues. These workers from downtown hotels, museums, and shops wear faded cotton coveralls and dresses of nonprofessionals. Although tulips bloom in European Square, locals scowl as they curse the current Eurasian heat wave. On the other hand, thin-faced non-Slav tourists in casual dress wear grins.
It is as if the Carpathians ruled out smiling for anyone born east of its slopes. Perhaps it has to do with the Great War, the reign of Stalin, and other more recent terrors. Sordid headlines of war and global climate change all around them, yet Americans, British, and Hungarians with money to spend put on contemporary “happy faces,” while Ukrainians, Russians, Belarussians, Czechs, and Serbs insist on misery. The climate going to hell. Unchecked fundamentalism stretching its talons across the Black Sea to convert cathedrals into mosques. Who knows how many causes can be blamed for traditional Eastern European melancholy? But here is a contrast. At the wide entrance to the park, an older man sits alone on a bench. Even though his face is thin and he wears a baseball cap typical of a tourist, he does not smile. Most park benches face south into the sun, or west to provide a view of the tree-lined boulevard. The bench on which the older man sits seems the only one facing away from cheerfulness and into a four-foot wall put up to block side-street construction. The construction continues, machinery buzzing and clanking despite the noon hour. It is difficult to tell the age of the man facing the construction wall. He wears slacks and, despite the heat, a sports coat and a red, white, and green tie.
The white emblem above the beak of his black baseball cap reads, “Sox.” The man’s sharp nose is prominent, his narrow face deeply lined. A pair of frowning native Kievians, white uniformed young women carrying lunch sacks, comment on his age as they pass. One saying from behind he looked younger in his cap; the other commenting on his face. “A man who has lived a hard life,” she says. “You can always tell.” The older man turns to watch the young women depart, nods, then looks back to the construction wall. A younger man, who has been leaning against the wall observing construction on the other side, turns and stares at the older man. The younger man is in his thirties, tall, shaved bald, and wearing dark sunglasses.