The foreigner on the bus, a stranger in a very strange land, is separated from the lady on the trolley by more than just a pane of glass and the few feet between them. They're whole worlds apart, literally -- East and West. They're divided by different political, social and economic systems, by mutual suspicions and bristling ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. They speak different languages, and each is the product of different histories. They gaze at each other for a moment over a gulf that can never be bridged ... except by one, beatific smile.
Then everything is changed. Her smile still lights up that long-ago, weary day, and makes the noisy traffic sound like Gershwin. The dust and rust drops off the classical ochre buildings in the background, and their original Georgian lines return. The elegant old city that Peter the Great had dreamed, then built to give his empire a warm-water port on the Baltic, had long ago become but a faint shadow covered by decades of neglect, courtesy of the usual Sov-management. But in the reflection of her smile, old St. Petersburg would come to life again, newborn. The dream city lived again.
Thank you, the American on the bus thinks, then mouths the Russian for thank you: Spa-si-bo.
And he thinks: Leningrad, I love you. Or rather the St. Petersburg it once was. The stranger on the bus has this impossible thought: that one day this might be St. Petersburg again. If only time were kind and the light did not fail. ... Then the streetcar has passed. And the lady is gone, and with her the light.
But the sight of her stays, imprinted on his eyes, and in his mind. Her image is still there after all these years, rising of its own accord. She hasn't changed a bit. I hope she's all right.
Love is fleeting, they say. And yet it tarries.