The Russian Who Doesn’t Talk

Musings / Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Last week, I came to class, then backed out immediately at seeing an unknown face. Did I enter the right class, I mutter to myself, trying to see the classroom number. Meanwhile, the strange person in pink sitting inside the class, also gets up. “Is it 208?” she asks. I nod, rather flustered, still backing out only to bump into Birdy. Then I spot Fu Julie in the corner, and realize that it’s the right class. “What’s up?” asks a surprised Birdy. “Nothing,” I mutter, and make my way to my usual spot. Except that this time, I am next to the woman in pink. She is the Russian who stays on the same floor as us. I had just seen her go past occasionally, and one day when Yoke and we were talking in front of the room, she had swirled past us, a whirl of perfume. “She reminds me of a whore,” Yoke had said, almost to her face. “Shut up, she can hear you,” I say. “I don’t care,” he had retorted. And now, here she is sitting in our class!

The perfume almost clogs my heart. I swear I think my heart thought a little before it decided to resume beating. She has a different textbook open in front of her – a Russian-Chinese one. Nana is her name we learn, but not from her. She just sits in class, and doesn’t say hi to anyone. If she is not looking at her textbook, she is looking at her phone. The teacher tries to talk to her, asking her why she didn’t come to class this long. I hear something about her working. The rest of the class, which was a speaking class, she doesn’t speak. Usually, during the speaking class, we pair up and practice dialogues. For this class, there are 3 of us – and the 4th should have been her. We look at her, but she doesn’t even look up, and mutters that she is just “one person.” The teacher leaves her alone. In the middle, during the break, she receives a long phone call. The break is over, and we are ready to resume the class, except that Nana isn’t ready. She continues to talk and we all gaze surprised. Birdy is irritated and mutters that she can go outside and talk. Finally, the message hits her and goes out of the classroom.

Class ends, she leaves without a word. She comes to class around twice a week, and the same pattern repeats itself. She doesn’t talk to anyone, will not participate in the class, just sits with her phone. The teachers also don’t ask her anything. Perhaps, they are also unsure how to handle her. How do you handle a person who comes to a Chinese class, and doesn’t want to learn Chinese? Yesterday, she was in class. And she disappeared after the second break. The teacher, Miss Tang, asks us about her. “Did she come to the class in the morning?” she asks. No, we reply. It’s a strange situation. Fu Julie and we talk about her while having lunch. None of us can figure her out. I think that maybe she is just here working, and using the student visa. And the university must have got wind of that, and is now forcing her to attend classes. What I don’t understand is her refusal to talk to anyone in class. Not even the teacher! Is she shy? we think. But no. One day, we spot her outside talking to an Englishman. So, it’s not lack of English. Then, what is it? What makes Nana silent? So rude? So utterly indifferent and well, obnoxious? People…aren’t they just like watching movies? You find some predictable ones, some unpredictable ones, some engrossing ones, some laughable ones – but unlike movies, you know this is for real.

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