(The following is an except from the novel-in-progress Scarlet Field):
Jim had arrived in Sochi’s Lazarevskoye Microdistrict the previous night. The train ride from Moscow took a day and a half. The proprietors of his guesthouse were a family of three generations (four counting the baby girl), and the matriarch’s daughter readily obliged to drive the mysterious young American back to the city center. Jim wanted to swim in the sea; he wanted to find hot mineral springs like the ones he’d bathed in outside of Kislovodsk a year before; and most of all he wanted to meet people. He strode into a doorless shawarma shack and asked for a beer, resting on a stool.
“What do you recommend eating?” he asked the cook, a wiry Central Asian about his age, after taking a swig of Baltika 9. The cafe’s walls were a garish sea-blue stucco. The heavy aroma of grease-soaked meat hung precariously in the open summer air of the shack. The hit of the summer, Natali’s “O bozhe, kakoi muzhchina,” wafted from a speaker in the ceiling corner, the singer squealing, “oh God, what a man, I want a son by you.” Jim chortled. He turned around on the stool and contemplated the boardwalk. Families with small children, a dying breed in Russia, strolled by in their beachwear. Blacks appeared to be common here – mostly young African men, presumably students, and pretty half-Slavic girls, presumably locals.
Taking the chef’s advice, Jim ordered a lamb sandwich. Most of the people in Lazarevskoye, Jim had noticed, were Russians and Armenians. The cook seemed out of place.
“Where are you from?” Jim asked.
“USA. California. Where is Andijan?”
“Oho! Amerikanets!” He shoved a greasy shawarma plate onto the counter. Jim started with the pickled vegetable garnishes. “Andijan is in Uzbekistan – Ferghana Valley. You know Babur, the conqueror of India? He came from Andijan.”
Jim nodded enthusiastically. “Quite a history! What’s your name? I’m Jim.”
“I’m Yusuf,” said the Uzbek. His Russian was accented but intelligible, much like Jim’s.