“Oh, there is no way I am going to listen to that crap in my apartment,” Irene shouted, loud enough that I could hear it as I stepped off the elevator and onto the fifth floor. Living in an apartment with two boys was extremely hard to manage, especially for Irene and I. We’d both grown up as only children
For the cultural capital of Russia, our apartment building was very drab. In fact, our entire street was drab. All that we had was a laundromat, a bakery, and lots of housing. It didn’t matter much to me, because I spent all day at Saint Petersburg State University where I was studying Dental Medicine. Irene thought it was a boring subject, but I thought it was highly intriguing. Irene had no room to talk with her political science major.
Irene’s screaming got louder as I approached our apartment, but stopped all together when I opened the door. She knew that I hated arguments, so she always did her best to keep them away from me. Irene started protecting me when she moved in across the street in first grade and just never stopped. She always had such a good heart.
“What were you fighting about this time?” I questioned and sat down on the ratty couch Irene had picked up at a discount store.
Ivan rolled his eyes. “Irene thinks she’s too good to listen to the news, for some reason. I don’t think she understands there are people who actually like to know what’s going on in the world.”
Irene laughed. “I know those people exist because I am one. I want the real news, not the Kremlin endorsed news.”
“How about we just don’t watch television or talk about politics?” I suggested. “There are plenty of other things we can talk about. For example, where on earth is Dmitriy now?”
“He’ll be back for dinner, apparently,” Irene responded.
Out of all of us living in the apartment, Dmitriy was the one who worked the hardest. With the rest of us in university, he worked all day and still barely made enough to support himself. It was good for him to live with everyone, though. Dmitriy would die without people ready to listen to him complain about work.
Ivan stood up off the couch and walked into the tiny kitchen. Contrary to Dmitriy, the only things Ivan ever complained about were Irene and the size of our kitchen. He had been attending culinary classes for the past year and was quite the chef. My personal favorite was his blini, even though he only made it on special occasions because he refused to top them with anything but caviar. We all loved caviar, but it was rare that we could eat it without our parents supporting us.
“What’s for dinner tonight, Ivan?” I asked, following him into the kitchen. “I’m starving and I know you’re gonna make something delicious.”
“Potatoes,” Ivan stated harshly.
I furrowed my brow and walked back to the living room. “Well, whatever you make, I’ll love it.”
Ivan was an odd boy: he became upset easily, usually from a comment someone didn’t mean to be offensive. He also spent hours in the morning perfecting his hair. It was especially odd to me because of how Dmitriy acted. He acted like all the boys had at the school Irene and I had attended, not caring about much of anything. At least, as far as we knew. Neither of us were very interested in other friends because we had each other.
“You know, tomorrow is the first time we vote for the president,” Irene pointed out.
I nodded. “It is. It seems so weird to be voting for something as significant as president. It’s something adults do and we’re not adults.”
“But we are adults now, Anastasiya. We live on our own and make our own decisions,” Irene replied.
I laughed. “I would hardly call this living on our own or making our own decisions with the way our parents are always breathing down our necks. It’s like they don’t realize we’re adults now.”
“Hey, you just admitted that we’re adults.”
“Oh, shut up. I did not.”
Irene and I could go on bantering for hours, and on some days we did. We had practically grown up as sisters, living right next door to each other with our dads working at the same bank and at the same level. It helped that our parents both made almost the same income, keeping us both in Russia’s upper class permanently. Our mothers had grown up in the same town and bonded over a love of knitting. I always say we were destined to be best friends, because we were.
It only took a few minutes before Dmitriy popped through the door, listening to Timati through earphones loud enough that I was getting an ear ache. Dmitriy liked to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, however he wanted. It was awesome when that thing was clean the apartment, but not when it was watch American television. I hated the way everyone was always screaming at each other.
Dmitriy took out his earbuds and turned off his music. “Hey guys.”
I smiled at him. “Hi. How was work?”
He sighed and sprawled out across the couch. “Awful as always. I need a new job, but nowhere wants to hire me.”
Irene smirked at him. “Should’ve gone to school.”
“And study something boring like dental hygiene or whatever?” Dmitriy scoffed. “No offense, Anastasiya.”
I didn’t take offense from his statement. I thought he was cute, so I excused most things he said that would have been offensive had anyone else said them.
After half an hour of sitting on our phones and doing nothing, Ivan called all of us into the kitchen for dinner. Our apartment was made for two people, so the table we had was meant for two people. It was a stretch, but we made it work. Ivan had prepared potatoes, black bread, and tea. The meal was simple and cheap, yet delicious.
“So, tomorrow’s the big day, huh?” Dmitriy asked, sipping on the tea he’d loaded with sugar cubes.
Ivan stifled a laugh. “I wouldn’t call it a big day. Everyone already knows what the outcome is going to be.”
“No one’s even going to vote, dude,” Irene stated. “You’re, like, the only person I know who’s going to vote.”
“I’m going to vote,” I said.
Irene snorted. “For who? There’s no point in voting when there’s no good candidates. I mean, Sobchak is fine. It was pretty chill that she tried to get Putin out of the running, I thought. Still, she’s no Navalny.”
Dmitriy nodded. “I liked Navalny. His YouTube videos are amazing.”
“I was actually planning on voting for Putin,” I said, quietly.
Irene laughed cruelly. “That’s a good one, Anastasiya.”
“Why would that be a joke?” Ivan asked. “He’s done so much for our country and our economy. I have no reason to believe anyone will do as much for us as he has already done.”
“You guys are such idiots. All you guys think is what he wants you to think,” Irene stated.
I sighed and stood up. I didn’t want to be yelled at by my best friend. Politics did not interest me, anyways. After putting my dishes in the tiny sink, I went into the bedroom I shared with Irene. We both had twin beds on opposite walls and very little furniture other than that. There wasn’t enough space to breathe. I sprawled out across my bed and pulled out my phone. If nothing else, Subway Surfers would distract me.
It only took me three runs before Irene showed up and sat on her bed. She didn’t look sorry for what she said, so I was not expecting any sort of apology. Irene had always been stubborn. If she had a thought in her mind, there was nothing that could be done to get it out.
Irene made eye contact with me and said, “Anastasiya, I am not going to say you shouldn’t vote for Putin. If that is what you think is best, go for it. Under this government, there is so much I am afraid to do. I am afraid to post my opinions on the internet, because I do not want to be arrested. Just recently, there was a hit list put out on social media with the names of activists speaking against Putin.”
“I haven’t heard about that,” I said, slightly skeptical.
Irene snorted. “That’s because all anyone in this house hears is the Kremlin endorsed news. I have other sources to get my news.”
“I feel like I don’t know enough to vote,” I sighed. “What do I know about candidates other than just one?”
“Just don’t vote. It’s as simple as that,” Irene said.
I didn’t reply to that, wanting the conversation to be over. Everyone was filling my head with what seemed like propaganda, so I wanted time to myself. I decided I could ponder politics over even more Subway Surfers. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Irene walked out to take a shower and Ivan walked in.
“Hey,” I greeted.
Ivan sat next to me on my bed. “Hello. I think we should talk.”
I sighed. “What about?”
I groaned. “No thanks. You’re just going to try to sway me one way or another. I don’t even know if I’m going to vote or not.”
“Anastasiya, in our entire lives, almost nothing has gone wrong because of the government. You’ve heard about how other governments treat their citizens, but it’s not like that here. It’s so nice for us.”
“Ivan, we live in a two bedroom apartment with four people.”
“Us as a whole country, not as in just the two of us.”
“I suppose you’re right. The government hasn’t really done things that I haven’t approved of.”
“Exactly. We re-elect him and we continue to live in comfort for the rest of our lives.”
“It does sound nice, but I really feel like I’m not even old enough to be making such a big decision. This could potentially affect our entire country.”
“Just… Think on it, okay?”
I nodded and watched Ivan walk out the room. Irene had made a good point, but it wasn’t really enough to change my mind from what I already thought. I changed into my nightgown and crawled into my bed. If I slept on it, I’d probably know exactly what to do when I woke up.
After eight hours of sleeping, I woke up to Irene blasting American pop music. An awful way to wake up, if you ask me.
“It’s the big day,” she whisper-yelled. “Let’s go cast our votes and see what happens.”
I sighed and stood up. I was going to vote, not because I wanted to, but because it was my civil duty. I changed into my leggings and my favorite sweater from Forever 21. It was a chilly day, reaching about -5 degrees Celsius on my digital thermometer, so I decided to put on my new boots from DLT. I was warm and stylish.
“Are the boys coming with us?” I asked as I fishtail braided my chestnut hair.
Irene smiled. “Nah, they wanna do things on their own terms.”
I nodded and walked to out of our room, out of our apartment, and out of our complex. We didn’t have enough money or space for a car, so we pretty much walked everywhere. The walk to the polling center was a lot longer than anticipated because of the protestors. There were men and women filling the streets with signs. Almost all the people were chanting either “Putin is a thief” or “Russia without Putin”. The most surprising thing to me was that almost all of them were no older than me. In fact, I knew some of them had to be too young to vote. I saw a few girls I had attended school with last year who were in lower years than me. It was hard to believe they were so involved in politics when I actually had a say and didn’t care very much.
“You know, maybe I shouldn’t vote,” Irene speculated. “I could walk you to the polling center, drop you off, then join all these people. They know what they’re talking about.”
I sighed. “Irene, if you want to see Russia without Putin, vote against him. If you sit around and let other people vote, they’re gonna vote for him.”
She bit her lip and nodded, but didn’t say anything. She knew I was right about this.
After we cast our votes, the protesters were still there. And honestly, they had some pretty good points. They wanted us to live in a country that was truly free, which I couldn’t argue with. I didn’t know what life without Putin would be like, but it would mean my friends could post whatever they wanted on social media and not be arrested for it. It would mean free speech without a price instead of with.
I wanted to throw up. I tugged on Irene’s jacket sleeve and said, “Let’s go home. I can’t be here anymore. I need to go back to bed. I think I-”
Irene interrupted, “Chill out, Anastasiya. What difference is one vote going to make?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I responded, calming down a little.
We turned and made our way home. I tried to block out the protestors the best I could, but it was really hard. I knew that I had made a questionable decision. I had been right about voting being for adults. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have even voted with the lack of knowledge I had on the candidates. Contrary to Irene’s statement, every vote did count, and making the wrong choice could result in bad things. It was wrong to speak out against the government, so re-election could mean punishment if you voted for the wrong person. It could also mean foreign tension and even less freedom of speech. The stakes were high.
When we arrived at the apartment after what felt like ages of walking, the boys were gone. I assumed Ivan was either at church or voting and that Dmitriy was at one of his many jobs. It was nice to have some chill girl time, something I rarely got.
“The government here is a joke,” Irene stated before plopping down on the couch.
I flopped next to her and nodded. “Agreed. I mean, it doesn’t really affect me because… Well, I guess I’m just special.”
“That’s because we’re living in the upper class. Plus, you just don’t know about everything they do.”
“Like what? I heard about the censoring of ‘The Death of Stalin’ and that seems like something they’d try to hide to me.”
“Anastasiya, you see the version of everything the government wants to see. You saw that weird ad on television that explained all the weird things that will happen if you don’t vote. They’ve been feeding this to us since we were children. We just don’t know any other way.”
“We practically grew up in the same house. I spent every waking moment by your side. Where did you learn all this and I didn’t? Have we not basically lived the same life?”
“That’s what I thought, too. Life is just weird sometimes. I mean, I’ve been watching Navalny's videos since we were 14. It’s just how life goes, I guess.”
I rested my head on Irene’s shoulder and let myself have time to just think. It would be okay for me, no matter who won: well, except maybe that communist, Gennady Zyuganov. After hearing about Communism in class, I was not the biggest fan of possibly going back to it. Besides, I was in Russia’s upper class, which mean I would be living in luxury no matter what. I brought up Subway Surfers on my phone and played my worries away.
About five hours after we had arrived home from voting, Ivan walked in and sat on the ratty old arm chair to the right of the couch. He looked like he had gotten into a fight or something, with his normally perfect hair ratted up.
“Are you okay?” I questioned, looking him over.
“I know they said only half of eligible voters would actually vote, but I didn’t expect there to be so many protesters,” he explained. “To answer your unspoken question, no, they did not hurt me. The wind is just very strong.”
Irene laughed and smiled at him, something I’d not seen in a long time. “You’re such a… Decent dude.”
Ivan raised an eyebrow. “Decent dude?”
“Shut up and take the compliment,” Irene said.
I flipped on the television for live coverage of the election, which sounds boring but sucked us all in. When Dmitriy came home past dinner time, we were all still staring at the television and eating plyushka from the bakery down the street.
“Uh…” Dmitriy said. “Are you guys all right?”
Irene threw a little pastry at him and hushed, “This is very riveting for some unknown reason, so please shut your mouth.”
Dmitriy popped the whole plyushka in his mouth and sat on the floor in front of the television. If I was being completely honest, I thought he was adorable. The way he simply didn’t care about things was so attractive for some unknown reason. I snapped out of my daydream when my phone beeped. I had a message from my mother. It wasn’t anything unusual, just your casual parent text. She wanted to congratulate me on my first presidential vote cast. Little did she know, I wished I had never even voted. I would’ve been happy staying out of the mess that is our government.
Lots of people my age were obsessed with America and their culture, but I had always thought they were somewhat like us. At this point, I decided I’d rather go live there than deal with the agony of waiting for the results and then the years of waiting to find out if I’d even made the right choice. Voting was way too big of a responsibility for me. The fate of the entire country could rest on my one vote.
We stayed up all night watching television and binging on whatever food we could throw together. Stress eating, Irene called it. When they finally gave us the results, there were lots of emotions in the room. Irene was infuriated whereas Ivan was ecstatic.
To be honest, I didn’t quite understand why Irene was so upset. We all saw the results coming. Besides that, we had lived amazing lives under our president, so I had no reason to believe it would be any different this time around. There would be no change in our lives, it would be the same as it always had been.
It was only a matter of minutes before we could hear the commotion on the streets from our fifth floor apartment. I pulled back the curtain to reveal that the streets were yet again filled with people. I could not tell if they were celebrating or mourning, but I did know that I wanted to join.
“We should go,” I said, pulling my jacket on over my satin pyjamas. “We need to be with our people.”
Irene stared at me. “We are with our people right here.”
Dmitriy stood up and put his jacket on as well. “You know, I actually agree with Anastasiya. We should go and see what’s going down. Maybe burn a few houses if we’re feeling feisty. Kiss a few girls if we’re happy.”
I laughed for the first time all night at Dmitriy’s remark. He always seemed to know how to lighten the mood with a witty statement.
We poured onto the streets with what seemed like the rest of St Petersburg. It was the dead of night, so there were no cars on the normally busy streets. There were people of all ages and walks of life. There were people rejoicing and other people visibly upset. Everyone was crammed close together, but no one really cared.
Out on the street with hundreds of people, I realized I’d make the right choice. One vote wasn’t going to impact the outcome. And one president wouldn’t change my life. I would just continue to be a dental hygiene major floating through life, no matter the president.