It was a poorly crowded arena that evening. Only around 1000 people were in attendance, perhaps less than that. The Vityaz Podolsk was playing one of their last games of a very underwhelming season. The plans were to get back in the upper division, but they had to settle for a solid mid-table finish.
Among the players taking the ice was an American veteran, around 35 years old. Many would detest the fact that he was playing for them. But as time has gone by, they grew to appreciate him.
That guy, said Vitaly to Sergei and his wife Anna, he has some fire, aggression, toughness. At times I can bearly believe he is an American. All three of them laughed. Vitaly was a burly man in his 70s, loud and proud of all his heritage. Next to him Sergei and Anna would sit. They were in their sixties. Sergei had receding hair, turning from black to gray in some places. The look in his eyes was kind, understanding with a subtle dose of anguish and pain. The look in the eyes of his wife was different, almost the opposite. She had a stern, piercing eye. When she looked at you, it made you think she was looking into the vast depth of your being, fully exposed to her judgment. They held the hands of each other, laughing at Vitaly and his poorly thought off jokes, looking at the American take hit after hit on the ice.
What you mean, not American, a blond slim woman sitting bellow them said in a broken Russian, giving away an obvious Southern American accent. She was holding a baby in pink, thick overalls.
The three of them looked at each other. Sergei replied, with a gentle tone, with the simplest Russian he could muster “We didn’t mean no insult. The guy is tough, fights. People here “– he said squeezing his wife’s hand –“mostly think of Americans and week, with no spine”. A slight clever smile escaped his lips.
“Well,” she replied, “He had a hard life, very hard life” Sergei looked at her with sorrowful eyes. His wife switching glances between the ice and the baby. And how do you know, he asked. I’m his wife, she replied with a smile. Oh, both he and Vitaly exclaimed. A pleasure to meet you said Vitaly and shook her hand, a pleasure to meet the wife of such a fine player and man. He shook her so hard that the baby woke up and started to cry. Mine pleasure she replied, I’m Monica, said she in a rushed voice, trying to calm her baby. I’m Vitaly, and these two, he pointed his finger to the couple sitting next to him, are Sergei and Anna. A pleasure said Sergei, Anna just nodded.
Finally, Anna said, is that your child. Yes, Replied Monica with a wide smile. Four years trying. Our little baby Riley, Riley Paige, 11 months old. The baby looked at them, she had green, piercing eyes and a bit of black, curly hair escaped under her thick white winter hat. She’s beautiful, the married couple said in almost in unison, and in English. Thank you, said the woman surprised by the English half-sentence that burst from the married couple’s lips.
The siren for the end of the game sounded, breaking the awkward moment. They said their goodbyes. The woman left with her child. Vitaly offered to drive them home, but the couple thanked him and said that they will enjoy a night’s walk, alone. Vitaly left them. The arena was almost empty. Only a few players were still on the ice, talking to family and friends who were on the edge of the stands and ice. The American and his wife were one of them.
He did good, Anna said to Sergei, Holding his hands firmly.
Yes Elizabeth, he replied. He did good… As did we … With the both of them.