Yesterday my friend Misha brought me a small, brown package, hand-carried from Moscow. It had my name on it in Russian, and my phone number. It contained an old green corduroy skirt I had left hanging in my dear friend Allechka's closet. Friends of friends had jammed it into their suitcases until it finally found me.
I tore open the nubby brown paper immediately, in front of Misha. There lay the skirt, folded into its familiar greenness, a small, thick square of material. When I creased back the rough brown paper, the earthy smell of Allechka's Moscow apartment wafted out. Suddenly, I saw her thick, graying hair, iris-blue eyes, funny little Soviet-era metal earrings, her solid peasant legs. I saw her red-fringed lamp, the painting her sister had made of Tolstoy, the little orange polka-dotted teapot from the 1960s that the Soviets had produced by the million, and the hard couch that doubled as her bed. Out her only window I saw the smoke rising from the dumpling factory nearby, the dim light of Moscow's late winter afternoon, the hint of snowflakes and the vastness that is Russia.
"God, I miss Allechka," I said to Misha. "Can you smell her?" I asked, holding the skirt up to his nose.
He leaned in and smelled the proffered green corduroy. "I never knew her," he said, shaking his head in regret.