Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing Walter Knowles

Walter Knowles left the Red Star building, pleased that he had finally finished his project watch. It had been just over a month since the factory had been renamed in honour of S.M. Kirov and Walter had taken the chance to furnish and cover the mechanism with one of the new faces. He stood patiently for the route taxicab in the dry cold. His hands appreciated the little warmth and protection afforded by the deep pockets in his coat, and the fingers of his left toyed with the crown winder whilst in the right hand he clutched at a packet of cigarettes. It was too cold to remove his hand, and too cold to pull down his scarf. Hence it was too cold to smoke, no matter how much his chest implored him. His ushanka kept his balding head and small ears away from the worst of the weather, but his eyes stung and cheeks were red.

Looking along the street in anticipation of the shared car, a new and welcome addition to the paved streets of Moscow, Walter took in the scene. Not much had changed, aside from the structure of the factory, since he arrived almost 6 years ago. He remained in the same apartment which was visible just 150 yards away in the direction he was looking, on the second floor above Andrei the cobbler’s shop, identifiable by its weathered blue awning. Andrei had at first taken exception to the “inostranets” that had been presented with the tidy three rooms above the shop on arrival. He had coveted the space for his own family, but once he had discovered that this couple had come to help with the construction of a watch factory further along Voronczovskaja, he appreciated them as artisans. And whilst repairing shoes was seen by many as an important, yet simple vocation, Andrei saw it as nothing less than craftsmanship and took great pride in work that was (in his mind) amongst the best in Moscow, if not the whole Soviet Union. It was only a few weeks after they had arrived in 1930 that Andrei had first spoken to them. His wife, Lana had insisted he take borscht and vodka to them. They could spare no more than a little of the red soup for them, and just enough vodka for the three to toast their arrival in Moscow. Andrei was immediately impressed by the few words that Walter was able to speak in Russian, with formal grammar; at home at the Kremlin perhaps but too correct for the streets outside of the centre.

Over the coming months and years, Walter and his wife Ruth got to grips with the everyday language, both in the factory and with the limited circle of friends they had made, which included Andrei and Lana. The decision to stay after so many of the other workers from Ohio had returned to the Buckeye State wasn’t easy, but in the summer of 1932 Ruth had finally conceived. Without family to speak of back in the States, and the terrible unemployment still cast a shadow over the country. There was job security in Moscow and Walter was respected and in the factory.

The taxi arrived. Walter took a look down the street as he ducked into the back seat with one other passenger. He let his mind wander, staring directly ahead. Moscow was a large, large city compared to Canton, but it was merely a magnified mirror. The poverty that they had left behind was here too, and even as they motored down Pushkinskaya towards the centre, old women and men scavenged. He hoped that by following his head, Russia was the right place in which to bring up little Peter. He had no idealistic leaning towards Communism, but he had a comfortable apartment, was able to provide for his family, and was able to indulge himself and his wife. She wanted the occasional dress, which he could easily afford, and he had been able to afford to build a small camera, now hanging from his neck under his coat. As well as being able to customise his own pocket watch over the years, Walter was satisfied with the small scale engineering that he could take part in. With both his projects he was now heading in to the centre of Moscow, to take photographs of the landmark buildings.

His scarf was still around his lower face and his hands still firmly in his pockets, still no warmer. His eyes had begun to thaw and the veins in his cheeks felt crystallised. He turned a cigarette tip around in his pocket, mistaking it for the crown of the watch. Beneath the scarf he grinned at his idiocy as the car halted near Red Square.

His hand came out of his pockets for the first time in half an hour before he disembarked, to rattle some roubles into the demanding mittened palm of the driver. He closed the door with his hips, and dug into coat to free the camera. As he did so, a young man, a boy really, walked towards him with pleading etched on his Slavic features.

“Izvini, droog?” he said.
“Da?” replied Walter, feeling for the cigarette he was certain he was about to be begged of.
“Do you have a cigarette, pozhaluista?”
“Da” and he reached into his pocket, pulling out his watch by mistake.

In an instant, Walter lost his watch and his camera. The camera was torn from his neck, the watch easily rested from his cold grasp. The boy ran and unencumbered by a great coat, easily made away from the strange American, screaming after him in his native tongue. It was enough to attract attention from the politsiya, and by the time he had explained his loss, in tear soaked Russian, the formal kind that he still had occasion to use, he understood that he would not see the items again.

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