The Russian Tongue

Submitted into Contest #237 in response to: Write a story about a first or last kiss.... view prompt

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Creative Nonfiction LGBTQ+ Lesbian

What if she didn’t like me in person? 

I kept pacing up and down the apartment, too nervous to sit still. Several hours remained; perhaps I ought to go for a walk? It should help to calm my nerves. 

“Can I please get a photo?)))” she messaged me. Russian-speakers tended to use brackets to indicate emotion via text — the more brackets, the more the person was smiling.

She asked me to send her pictures multiple times a day, so I guess she must have liked how I looked well enough, and we certainly enjoyed each other’s company, electronically at least. But everything’s different in person, right? Anyway, I was busy shaving, so wasn’t in a position to send her a photo right away. “Yeah, I’ll send it now,” I texted.

What I actually had in mind though was the untranslatable Afrikaans word, nou-nou, which could mean anything from immediately to never.

In 15 minutes, she messaged again, impatient. “Now?!?! It’s been 15 minutes!”

“Sorry, I’ve got things to do.”

“What kind of things?”

“Just things 😉”

I finally finished with my shaving, so could send her the long-awaited photo, which was gratefully received. “I’m going to the shop a bit later.” I messaged. “Do you need anything?”

“You’re going where?!?” 

Quite a dramatic response to a mundane statement, I thought. 

“Uh, to the shop… to get milk and coffee and so on.”

“You’ll get lost! How will I ever find you again?”

“Don’t worry, I have a map. I’ll be fine!”

“Alright, if you must. But please be very careful and don’t go too far away from the apartment, okay? You’ll freeze in your sneakers! If something happens, just get a taxi and go home, okay?”

“Haha, okay, I will. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“You never know! Good luck, babe. And write to me immediately when you get back, okay?”

And so, off I went to explore St. Petersburg on my own. It was March, so I had expected it to be Spring, but apparently the Russian weather didn’t get the memo. The Neva River was still frozen and everything was covered in snow. I walked along one of the canals, taking loads of pictures along the way; I wasn’t used to seeing snow everywhere. One such time, I suddenly felt a hard shove. Startled, I turned to face an elderly woman glaring at me intensely.

“Свали с дороги!” she shouted, which can be translated as “Get out of the way!” Well, okay, that was a bit rude. I finished my walk soon after, eager to report my findings.

“Welcome to Russia!” she joked. “Now you know not to mess with Russian babushki!” 

Indeed. Despite the strange encounter, I felt better after the walk; at least I had now seen a bit of the city and some time had gone by, bringing me closer to finally meeting Sasha in person after 4 months of intense online chatting. And I was finally in Russia! I had been trying to learn the majestic and mysterious Russian language for almost 10 years at that point, with my progress only really starting to improve after finding Sasha on the language exchange app. How was I to know we’d end up being more than just language partners? 

“I’m on the train, babe!” she messaged a while later.

“Oh my god, just a few hours left, I can’t believe it!”

“Yeah! 🙈”

“I’m going to take a bath.”

“Again?!”

“It’s cold… and I need to shave lol.”

I had already shaved, of course, but not everywhere, and it had to be absolutely perfect. Would it ever be possible to shave everywhere? What were lesbians’ expectations like when it came to body hair? Despite my efforts, I kept missing spots. I was reminded of Macbeth…

Out, stubborn hair; out, I say. One, two – why, then it’s time to do it. Perfection is elusive. Fie, my conscience, fie, a warrior in the battle of beauty, afeard? What need we fear who grooms, when none can judge our efforts so precisely? Yet who would have thought the body to harbour such persistent strands?

I ended up in a seemingly never-ending loop of shaving, pacing through the apartment, my heart beating wildly, before my fear over missed areas sent me packing again to the bathroom. But then I would worry that all of the pacing had made me sweaty, requiring another shower. Rinse and repeat. 

“How did your shaving go? Successful?)” she messaged me a while later. She had no idea. 

“I hope so)) By the way, I just messaged my husband and told him that you’re coming in the evening. He asked if I’m excited 🙈 If only he knew how excited!”

“Lol, omg. Sonya just messaged me this: Have a good trip 😉. At least she didn’t ask me if I’m excited lol.”

“They’ve both got their heads in the sand… How are you feeling about all this?”

“Good. I want to see you; the sooner the better!))”

“Me too. I can’t believe this day is finally here!))”

“Yes, can you imagine?!”

“Your tongue is so close now 😅.”

“Yeah, about 500-600 km to be exact. Are you scared?”

“A little, yes,” I admitted.

“I’m not, I feel calm. I want to explore your whole mouth.”

“🙈 I want your tongue so badly; I want it all over my body.”

And I did. Boy, did I want it – more than anything. But I was also nervous, scared, and insecure. What if she didn’t like me when she met me? What if I didn’t like her? (I didn’t think that was very likely.) What if I didn’t know what to do? It was my first time with a woman after all. 

And did I feel guilty, about our mutual deception? Honestly, no, not at that moment. I didn’t have the emotional space for guilt. My marriage was over anyway, and I had to focus on this now, to be present, and to feel everything, deeply. To really feel for the first time in my life. And Adriaan had plenty of opportunities to talk, but he made it clear he wasn’t interested. When he was seeing me off at the airport, there was a moment when I thought he might finally say something, but then, as per usual, he… didn’t. And now I had had it with inaction. I was done with hiding and was finally prioritising my own happiness. 

If I could go back in time, perhaps I would choose to be more honest and open. But there is no sense in thinking like that; everything happened the way it did for a reason – what happened was all that could ever have happened. My relationship with Adriaan was marked by missed connections and silent misunderstandings. Yet, it was a necessity, leading me to a deeper understanding of myself. The harsh truth that he was yet to acknowledge but that I already had, was that it was already too late for us – it had been for quite some time. If we had put in more effort, communicated more effectively, then maybe none of this would have happened. But would I have been truly happy? Without those experiences, painful though they were, I would never have discovered who I truly was, and the strengths and vulnerabilities I always had buried deep within me. And so, though others may not understand, I was thankful. Yes, I was grateful for everything, even the difficult journey I had walked with Adriaan, because it led me to her; no, it led me to me. In the end, it was clear that our journey together was never about reaching a destination but about the transformation it spurred within me. 

“How long to go still?” I enquired with anticipation. 

“3-3.5 hours.”

“So long!”

“A lot less than 4 months))”

Could it truly have been only 4 months? The time span seemed to stretch far beyond that, dense with a spectrum of emotions vaster and more intense than any I had experienced in my entire life before. 

I decided to take a short nap. I was still feeling tired from the previous day’s long flight, although all the excitement had distracted me from my fatigue. I slept deeply for an hour or so.  

“Hey, we’re almost arriving)) What shall we do tonight?)” she messaged after I woke up. 

“I’d like to study the Russian tongue 😉” Русский язык, or Russian tongue, means both the Russian language, and a Russian tongue. 

“Mmm, the whole night?)))”

“Yeah)))”

“What a diligent student))) I adore you)”

“I love you)”

“I love you more. And soon I’ll kiss you everywhere!”

“🙈”

“Are you ready?)”

“Ready) And you?)”

“Yeah). We’ve almost arrived) I’ll message you when we’re at the gate.”

So, it was really happening?! This wasn’t just a dream? The most intense 4 months of my life was finally culminating in me meeting her for the first time; putting everything on hold, lying to everyone (except, finally, myself), to fly half-way across the world for 26 hours, to meet her. To finally meet Sasha, who had saved me, and taught me to be me, to not be afraid. There was so little time left, and yet it seemed it was standing still. Should I shave again? No, what was I saying, there wasn’t time. And I was ready, just as I was. 

“I’m here)” she texted. 

Frick! “Oh my god 🙈 I’m coming))”

“Come on)))”

And so, there was nothing left to do but go meet her at the gate of the apartment building. No more messages to exchange. Before, we had speculated how it would unfold. I was a professional forecaster after all, so had, naturally, come up with a number of potential scenarios. Will we be shy? Will it be awkward? How slow would we go? How would she taste? Only a few minutes more, and we wouldn’t need to guess anymore. 

One flight of stairs. 

Heart racing, fingers clammy. I think back to the day we met, almost exactly 4 months ago to the day, with the innocuous message from her, “Why are you learning Russian?”, that I almost didn’t even reply to because it was so ordinary. But she turned out to be everything but. 

Two flights of stairs. 

Feeling light-headed, I hold on to the rail and reflect on the tumultuous journey that led me to the realisation that I was madly in love with a woman. In love with this woman, who lived on the other side of the world. Couldn’t I have picked a closer one? 

Three flights of stairs. 

My breath grows shallow, each inhale a sharp reminder of how far I had come – literally and figuratively – this long journey of figuring out who I was. Here, in the concrete reality of the stairwell, that distance felt both smaller and insurmountably vast.

Four flights of stairs. 

And I pause. What if? What did the future hold? Was I brave enough? But no, I’ve had enough ‘what ifs’ in my life, of being scared, of always doing the ‘right’ thing that actually turned out to be the very wrong thing. I was brave, I was ready. Onwards I go. 

Five flights of stairs. 

And there she was, waiting for me, smiling, and even more beautiful than the woman I had come to love through my screen. The descent had felt endless, but now time seemed to stand still. As I took those final steps, the fresh snow crunching under my feet, I closed the remaining metres of distance between us, and in those moments, every fear and flutter of doubt was replaced by an overwhelming sense of rightness: I was exactly where I was always meant to be. 

“Hello,” she said. 

“Hey,” I replied shyly. 

She took my hand in one of hers, carrying her suitcase in the other. Walking up the stairs, we were shy but deliriously happy, unable to take our eyes off each other for even a moment. She looked at me with so much love; it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Finally, we reached the apartment door, I unlocked it, and we entered. She took off her shoes and jacket and stood expectantly in front of me. The moment I’d been craving for so long was finally here. My heart was pounding like crazy, but my mind was suddenly free of its usual chaos. 

Leaning in, I bent down and at long last got to feel her soft lips against mine for the very first time. Her tongue was playful and tender. 

And it was better than I could ever have imagined — worth everything that we had to go through, a million times over.

February 16, 2024 23:49

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30 comments

Graham Kinross
11:08 Mar 25, 2024

Great story Melissa. My only critique is too many ().

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19:20 Mar 25, 2024

Thanks, Graham.

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Graham Kinross
21:10 Mar 25, 2024

You’re welcome Melissa.

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Angela M
09:35 Feb 22, 2024

The anticipation of a first kiss is such a universal experience and your portray it beautifully. I learned quite a lot about Russian culture! Great story)

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18:28 Feb 22, 2024

Thanks, Angela)) Glad you enjoyed it!

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L J
20:01 Feb 21, 2024

I liked this story. It's good to know that there is more waiting to be discovered. The only thing is the overuse of parentheses)))). I'm not sure why so many are used at the end of the sentences but it took away from the focus of your writing. I'm used to parentheses being used as an addendum of something. I was taught not to use them when writing stories; they belong on a different sort of writing. The story as a whole is great and will look forward to more. Thanks for taking time to read mine, much appreciated

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20:06 Feb 21, 2024

Hi LJ, thanks for reading and I'm glad you liked it. The use of parentheses is explained in the story: Russian-speakers tended to use brackets to indicate emotion via text — the more brackets, the more the person was smiling. But it's good to have your feedback that it's distracting. I was wondering about that and the emojis and I think it's probably better to take them out and convey the emotion in some other way. Thanks!

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L J
20:10 Feb 21, 2024

I thought maybe it was language based. Thanks for explaining- that is interesting but no, I would prefer not to see those or emojis in stories. I want to concentrate on your words- they are great! However, I think Reedsy gave us a prompt earlier that said to write a story using emojis!

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20:11 Feb 21, 2024

Thanks, appreciate the feedback! :)

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02:37 Apr 13, 2024

Melissa wrote a fantastic Reedsy story full of emojis. They really fitted the story!

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Karen Hope
15:01 Feb 19, 2024

The anticipation you create in this story is palpable. I felt so invested in this relationship by the end. Well done.

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19:57 Feb 19, 2024

Thank you so much, Karen! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Nolan Shultz
21:27 Feb 18, 2024

Agree with other comment, this could develop further. Great work, I enjoyed it! NS

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21:56 Feb 18, 2024

Thanks, Nolan! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Kemz F
18:26 Feb 18, 2024

This story had me blushing and excited to read more! I love it!

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19:16 Feb 18, 2024

Haha, thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it and that I managed to make you blush :-)

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Howard Halsall
15:51 Feb 18, 2024

Hey Melissa, I enjoyed reading your story and glad it worked out well for the couple. It’d be interesting to discover what secrets Sasha might reveal as the relationship develops. What’s happened in her life before their meeting? Could you develop the story further with Sasha as a second narrator? It’s certainly an intriguing prospect and an idea worth revisiting in a longer format… Anyhow, I thought you handled the timeframe really well and I loved the tone; intercutting the narrator’s nervous excitement and her introspection was a great wa...

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19:19 Feb 18, 2024

Thank you, Howard! This is actually part of a longer work, so I wasn't sure whether I revealed enough about the characters. I appreciate your feedback!

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Howard Halsall
19:33 Feb 18, 2024

Hey Melissa, In my opinion, your story works as it stands, however now you’ve revealed it’s part of a longer project, I’m now imagining it as a novella or novel. So, is it a work in progress or have you completed it? HH

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19:34 Feb 18, 2024

Thanks! It's still very much a work in progress :)

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Trudy Jas
22:31 Feb 17, 2024

What a lovely story. i was just reading MIchal P. and thus primed for the shoe to drop. Good thing it didn't. :-)))) (Now I have a double/triple chin. The Dutch nouw nouw means hold your horses, but nouw, nouw (or Nouw! Nouw!) means hurry! Would that be similar in Afrikaans?

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00:16 Feb 18, 2024

Thanks, Trudy. Haha, I'm glad you enjoyed it))) Sometimes happy endings are nice. Interesting about the Dutch... the Afrikaans nou nou doesn't have those meanings. It's merely a (very inaccurate) indicator of time :) Language is fun!

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Stella Aurelius
15:15 Feb 17, 2024

I smiled throughout this! Adorable story! Great job!

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20:08 Feb 17, 2024

Thank you so much, Stella! :-)

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J. I. MumfoRD
11:20 Mar 22, 2024

I believe your story has been used without your permission (as had mine) on youtube. Motivational Short Story channel, search for the story name.

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20:25 Mar 22, 2024

Thank you for letting me know! I've submitted a copyright infringement notice. I guess there's nothing else that can be done? Have you been successful in getting it removed?

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J. I. MumfoRD
20:39 Mar 22, 2024

Took 48 hours, you will likely get an email with follow up questions. Answer those, and add “the story was published on [date]” then add a link to your story.

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21:03 Mar 22, 2024

Thank you!

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Hannah Lynn
03:14 Feb 19, 2024

Loved all the interesting trivia mixed in. Great story and I learned some new facts! 😊 thanks for sharing!

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