My feet hurt.
I have not walked this much since the summer. Yesterday, I took a brief break from my exploration of Riga’s Art Nouveau district to sit down on a park bench, and was a little concerned to find that this actually made matters worse – when I stood up again, I almost fell over due to the throbbing in the soles of my feet. Of course, I was in rather a hurry to get away at the time, as I had just embarrassed myself quite spectacularly, so my haste may have contributed to my feet’s refusal to cooperate.
I was simply sitting there minding my own business and watching the world go by, enjoying the chance to rest my aching feet, when a very elderly lady ambled past and paused to look at me with an inexplicably huge grin on her face. She began to speak, quite excitedly, in what I vaguely recognised as Russian. (Interestingly, Russian is almost as widely spoken here as Latvian – and in fact, until very recently, there were actually more speakers of Russian than of Latvian. A result of the Soviet regime and Soviet schooling, I presume. OK, maybe it’s not that interesting. But I think it is! I suppose, though, that it’s a bit like a foreigner being surprised to find that more Irish people speak English than Irish…)
I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian, I said, including a little shrug just in case she didn’t get what I meant. She stared intently at me for a minute in the manner of one seeing a unique new unidentifiable species of jungle creature for the first time, and then said something that her body language told me meant “Never mind, never mind!”. And then she sat down next to me and continued to talk.
Not one word of Russian do I speak. Not one word of English did she speak. And yet there we were. I stared helplessly at her as she earnestly poured forth what could have been her deepest, darkest secrets for all I knew. Erm… I repeated in bewilderment when she paused for breath, I really don’t speak any Russian at all, you know. She gave a peal of tinkling laughter and punched me affectionately on the arm, with surprising force for a 90-year-old. Then she recommenced her story, and I gave up, half amused and half confused, and let her talk. It would have been rude to get up and walk away – she was a very smiley, apple-cheeked, twinkly-eyed lady with a headscarf and a little walking stick. You don’t just walk away from someone like that, even if you haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about.
It would all have been fine if we had not been joined on the bench by a young businessman carrying a briefcase and a laptop and talking seriously into his mobile phone. He hung up and lit a cigarette, and smoked in silence for a while as my new friend continued to chat to me and I continued to nod and smile politely. After a while, and during a pause in the admittedly one-sided conversation, the man said something to me quietly in Russian. I blushed, looked at him in embarrassment, and was forced to say I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian. He looked at me, then at the old woman, then back at me with an incredulous expression on his face. What an utter lunatic, you could hear him thinking, having an entire conversation with someone when she doesn’t actually have a clue what the other person’s saying!
Umm, anyway, I said loudly and somewhat pointlessly before the woman could start again, I really have to go now. I got up hurriedly, my face flaming, and tried to run away – at which point my complaining feet refused to work and I staggered into the (now frowning disapprovingly) businessman.
Honestly, I don’t know how I get into these situations, I really don’t. But I have to admit that secretly, I think they’re quite good fun. ;)