The Ukrainian

The Ukrainian sat down at my table and said hello.

He was drinking a beer. So was I, alone--somewhere in the middle of London.

His English was broken and after I said ‘yeah’, instead of ‘yes’, he said my English was bad too.

“American English,” he said. “Very different.”

The Masters played on the TV above the bar and he turned to me, after a few awkward minutes in silence. He asked: “What do you think of Tiger Woods?”

An odd question, so long after the scandal broke. I told him Tiger was fine.

He didn’t ask about Charlie Sheen. For this, I was grateful. We went on about Obama and politics and the broken party system in America. I spouted off whatever I had heard someone else say on Twitter.

After ten minutes, I asked if he had children. He didn’t understand, so I used my hands. I lowered my hand, as if to indicate height. “Kids,” I said. He shook his head, misunderstanding my American English. “Son or daughter?”

I prodded like I had the right, even as he grimaced. After awhile, he answered.

“I have a son,” he said. “He lives in Canada.”

“Oh! Canada.” I pretended to know things about Canada. I pretended I’d been there. I repeated thoughts I’d had while watching the Winter Olympics last year.

The Ukrainian waited for me to shut up and then continued: “I have not seen him since he was very small. I do not speak to him.”

I asked if that made him sad. I was boldly looking for a story, some way to connect.

It had only been twelve minutes since he sat down.

“You know,” he started. “When you get old, you see this. Life is very simple; there are very simple things to be happy about. But life is very complicated too, and very beautiful and sad.”

I considered this, quietly.

He continued: “I don’t speak to him. He has a new father in Canada. He should only have one father. He does not know me.”

I nodded. I fidgeted with my phone and I took a sip of my beer.

He asked if I had children and I laughed. He asked if I was still a child. He guessed I was 20.

I said 25, and no. Not any children. Not yet, maybe never. “I’m not sure," I said. “I’m not sure about it.”

Our beers drained themselves. He asked if I wanted vodka. He told me he drinks a lot of vodka in the Ukraine.

I politely declined. I did not want to black out. I had to be safe. I was alone.

He told me, with a laugh, that I wasn’t very fun.  He repeated it when I declined his cigarette offer. “You travel alone, you do not drink vodka and now you don’t smoke cigarettes! You are not very fun!”

I agreed.

Eventually, I had to use the bathroom. I said I’d be back, and he said he’d have a beer waiting for me. 

Before I left the table, he said I’d make a terrible wife but at least I was sort of pretty.

I laughed in his face. I went upstairs and in the restroom, a young girl was sobbing at the sink. “Boy troubles?” I asked.

I was really looking for a story.

She nodded and went on about him. I went on about my own boy troubles and in the end, I handed her my card and told her to email me when she was visiting New York.

I went downstairs, 30 minutes later, and the Ukrainian was gone. He probably thought I had left for another bar, another place, ah, what a bad wife she’d be.

I sighed and drained the pint left for me on the table. 

I walked back to my hotel, alone, still looking for something I wasn't quite sure of.


  1. so interesting the people u meet

  2. Seriously, how do you meet these people!?

  3. Ukrainians are so rude! Good job for turning down the cigarette.

  4. I shoulda smoked it, but didn't want my drink to get roofied.

  5. Always a lesson to learn