Gazirovka

Can you describe happiness? I can.

Happiness is a glass of cold sweet bubbling water. It was heaven after a hot and sweaty bicycle ride. I was ten years old living in a small Siberian town. Summer was hot. The school was out. It was a bliss.

Three summer months between school were not just ninety days. Every day was like a month. The summer lasted forever. Time has different physical properties when you are a kid.

My bicycle had only one gear. I had to pedal really hard to ride uphill. There was a spot on my regular route where it was way too steep. I had to get off and push my bicycle. But cruising downhill was fun. It was like downhill skiing with obstacles.

When I was getting hot and thirsty a street water pump was a welcome sight. These were free communal water wells. Most houses didn’t have running water inside. When people were out water they grabbed a metal bucket and headed to the pump.

The pump had a handle you needed to push several times. You could hear the gurgling sound of water rushing up and it ran out of spigot for a few seconds. It was enough to have a drink and wash the face.

The town center with office and apartment buildings was too civilized to have these old street water pumps. By the main town square there were rows of grey metal boxes lined on the street. Soda fountains. We called them “gazirovka”.

You drop one kopeck copper coin into the machine slot, you push the button and with hissing and squirting it fills the glass below with carbonated water. Three kopecks will get you a shot of hard candy syrup first, followed by the same hissing and squirting of carbonated water.

On a hot summer day there was always a line of people to get a drink. Everybody used the same glass. You just rinse it a bit in a push-down washer and off we go to the heaven of cold sweet bubbling water.

Nobody got sick from using the same glass. And the glasses were never stolen. There was an unwritten code of honor even from drunkheads who used to borrow the glass so they can share a bottle of vodka. They always brought the glass back to the machine.

What’s the moral of this story? None.

Life flows leaving memories behind. They are like shards of colored glass found on the ground. I look at them and wonder why the glass got broken. I play with these shards. I piece together a multicolored mosaic. But it’s not the same. It’s just a fantasy I chose to believe that was real.