Simon Green’s Moscow

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The proclamation of ‘Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men,’ synonymous with Christmas and the New Year, was brutally shattered on the evening of January 6th earlier this year, the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas.

I had been invited to the home of a close Russian friend to join her and a group of like-minded people to wine and dine with them- the latter of which I was asked to display my new found ‘metier’ by way of an exotic Indian dish. I was the first to leave the vivacious proceedings at around 10.30pm as I had a long metro ride home to the north of Moscow. I reflected upon the bonhomie of said evening during my final four-minute walk from the metro to my apartment, savouring the camaraderie enjoyed and how fortunate I was to have such lovely Russian and expat friends.

I had my hat pulled well down over my face given that it was -21 with a bitter wind to boot, and my head bent down fighting the elements, when suddenly out of nowhere on the final pathway to my apartment block, two men were in front of me, and before I even had a chance to think, one of the rather large men had hit me so hard on the side of my head, that I was unconscious before I hit the snow ridden ground.

When I came to, I remember feeling cold as I had been lying for what I assumed was a good few minutes in these potentially treacherous conditions. I then tried to stand up but struggled badly, so I wiped the blood from my face and began crawling the last thirty meters on my hands and knees, without my glasses as they had been smashed in the melee.

I eventually got inside and at that point realized I was minus my wallet with all its credit cards as well as my mobile and watch. As I was in no fit state to go home alone, I knocked on my neighbour’s door and they were wonderfully helpful, sympathetic and insisted on calling the police who turned up promptly. They insisted on carting me off to the local station for a statement; which began with the word any foreigner here is used to hearing: “documenta!”

One of the ladies from next door accompanied me but as her English was somewhat limited, they called for a translator to assist. I have to say there was a marked difference between the men who first took me in and were rather indifferent to my plight, compared to the lady lieutenant and her side-kick who were the eventual interviewers and exuded far more kindness than their male counterparts. This afforded me a brief smile, that despite being at my most nadir and still groggy from the attack, I was still able to turn on a little charm to positive effect!

They arranged to take me home as I was still visibly shaken up, and having thanked my neighbours profusely, went to my own apartment and had a first proper look in my bathroom mirror: ‘Oh my God, who is this guy? Hammer House of Horror will hire me immediately!’ The next morning it seemed my face had made a big impact on Facebook, and messages of support came flooding in from all around the world coupled with the oft-repeated: “get to hospital and get yourself checked out.” I eventually capitulated, and with the assistance of a couple of close friends, went to one of the top private clinics in central Moscow, got xrays done and was subsequently cleared apart from a fractured rib and severe facial bruising.

I’ve been asked by people: “is there an anti foreigner sentiment creeping in here?” My feeling is that there isn’t and that this was just a question of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a couple of thugs took advantage of the relatively empty streets due to the extreme cold that night.

That said, there’s no doubt that we’re in tough times at present, and the majority of people here are decent and accept the fact that they must tighten their belts for a while. However, there’s always a group of ‘n’er do wells’ in any society who’ll do anything to make a buck by fair means or foul as I found out to my detriment.

This horrific experience hasn’t put me off staying here, though I will re-evaluate my travel plans at night; and as people have pointed out to me in no uncertain terms, this could have had a far worse outcome. I was greatly encouraged by the hundreds of well-wishers everywhere with their prayers of support, which contributed enormously to my recovery and propagated my desire to carry on teaching here.