I fell in love with the Moscow River that day

“Welcome aboard, my lady.”

Ellie smiled politely back at the attendant who held his hand out to her. With a confident stride, she crossed over the makeshift pathway connecting the ground to the ship, totally ignoring the hand the attendant had offered her.

He didn’t seem offended; rather, he shook his head in mock defeat, “I see. My lady doesn’t require my assistance anymore.”

Ellie rolled her eyes and walked up to the deck. Her eyes surveyed the area. There are more people than usual, she noted. Most of them were tourists who were too distracted to notice the dark haired young lady as she steadily climbed the staircase to the uppermost deck.

It was her most favourite place on the whole ship. The uppermost deck was small, and thus could fit only a few tables. Ellie sauntered over to an empty spot under the shade and settled down on the cushioned chair with a contented sigh. She closed her eyes, enjoying the summer breeze that swept through. It was warm. And windy. And perfect.

The ship’s engine roared to life and the cruise ship lazily began to move, much to the happy cheers of the tourists on the deck below that Ellie could hear.

Her gaze latched onto the wondrous view of the city as the boat took its passengers down the scenic Moscow River. She has been here countless of times. But every single time, she was always overwhelmed by the amazing, tranquil feeling that calmed her soul. It was addictive. And Ellie kept coming back. 

It was a welcoming change to her troubled soul after a hectic week.
And more often than not, Ellie paid the 400 rubles for the cruise to get away from the pressure of her job. Her team is now on the brink of a medical breakthrough after painstaking years of research and failed attempts. It had already received considerable amount of attention from the media, with reporters constantly publishing on how her findings would surely change the world and improve human lives. Ellie was well aware she could win a Nobel Prize for her research if it is a success. But what if something goes wrong?

“Gloomy as always, huh?”

Ellie didn’t bother to even open her eyes. By the low, amused voice, she could already tell it was Ethan, the cruise attendant that she had rejected help from earlier. 
He placed a bowl of ice cream on her table and Ellie heard the chairlegs on her opposite side scrape against the wooden floor as the seat was pulled out. She opened her eyes to see the grinning guy with blond hair sitting across from her, helping himself to a spoonful of her ice cream.

“Hey!” she protested, snatching the spoon away from his hands.

Ethan laughed. “So what’s bothering you this time?” he asked, leaning back on his chair. Ellie glared at him before proceeding to scoop a spoonful of cold chocolate ice cream. It instantly melted her anger and she continued to indulge herself until she felt another spoon clang with her own.

“Will you please stop eating my ice cream?” she asked, taking another spoonful. When the man didn’t stop, Ellie scowled and slapped Ethan’s hand away before cradling the ice-cream bowl in her hands. 

“Don’t you have work to do?” Ellie gestured to some of the tourists that were going over the menu, pondering on what they would later order.
“It’s hot,” Ethan replied simply, shrugging. “And they’re probably going to get ice-creams too. And it isn’t fair, because the crew doesn’t get free ice-cream when the weather’s this sunny.”
         “So you come and steal a customer’s ice-cream instead?”

He waved his spoon in front of her face. “Technically, it’s mine. Since you didn’t get one for yourself,” he replied with a playful smile on his face.

Before Ellie could even protest, Ethan stood up and straightened out his outfit. He flashed her a charming grin and said, “Like you said, I have work to do. Enjoy the rest of the cruise!”

Instrumental music began to play from the loudspeakers as the ship took them down the river. Ellie couldn’t help but giggle. It made her feel like she was in some kind of music video.

When the cruise ended, nearly two hours later, Ellie decided to break routine. Usually, she would take a taxi back to the airport for her next flight. But today, the girl wanted to experience the city she had fallen in love with years ago during her childhood.

So here she was. Ellie stared up in awe. She kept a steady pace, heels clicking against the pavement; her mind was everywhere but the road in front of her. This city amazed her. The buildings were old, and ancient and beautiful and it took Ellie’s breath away. Each building block has its own unique design with its own intricately carved sculptures decorating its walls. She loved it.

She walked past tall, brooding windows of cheerful, pastel coloured buildings. They were her favourite since the buildings were slice shaped and reminded her of the icing on fancy wedding cakes. She loved the numerous bridges that were of different widths and lengths. She loved the winding rivers that went around the city. But most of all, Ellie thought, I love the parks.

She sighed in relief as she stepped into the shade of the large trees, glad to be away from the burning summer sun. She swept her gaze across the span of the park. Several Russians were already sprawled on the grassy lawn, no doubt enjoying the sun’s warmth after having suffered the piercing cold days of winter. Couples occupied most of the benches and Ellie hurriedly sat in one of the remaining available benches. More people were arriving at the park but Ellie didn’t mind.

She kept her attention upwards, gazing at the green canopy that blocked the searing heat from touching her. A slight breeze swept through and the girl smiled, eyes closed. It’s a wonderful life, definitely. It was refreshing—to Ellie—that not a single soul turned their heads to look at her a second time when she passed them. 
She was not Dr. Ellie Reed, the famed scientist known for her countless contribution to mankind, here. She was just plan, old Ellie. 
There were no reporters after her, no paparazzi begging for autographs and pictures.

Just Ellie and Moscow.
And she was grateful.

“I like Moscow,” she decided, kicking her heels off. She had walked across the whole city with them and the heels were killing her poor, sore feet.
        “I wouldn’t say that too soon.”
That voice. She raised a curious eyebrow as he came up to her.

“You again,” she accused.

Ethan ignored her and continued, “You haven’t met the batty old grandmas yet. Some of them have a real mean right hook.”

“I don’t believe you one bit,” Ellie replied with a huff. “So far, the grandmas I’ve met have been nothing but nice.”

The guy laughed and Ellie found herself smiling along with him.
She leaned back against the bench and asked, “So, why are you stalking me?”
“I’m not.”
         “Yes, you are.”
“Okay, so maybe I’m following you—“
          “That counts as stalking.”

The guy ran a hand through his blond hair, “Hey, you’re not familiar with this city right? I mean, you only fly halfway across the world just to take an hour and a half long cruise down the Moscow river before catching the next plane back.” He grinned sheepishly at her. “But I didn’t see you catch the next cab to the airport today, so I got worried. Can’t let a distinguished lady explore this city alone.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “So you thought I needed an escort?”

“Nope.” Ethan extended a hand for her to take. “Thought you needed a tour guide. No amount charged and I promise I’ll bring you to the best places in the city.” 

When he saw her skeptical look, he continued, “Cause we’re friends, aren’t we?”

She stared at his offered hand. 
There it is. Her ticket to a few more hours of happiness in this wonderful city. Ellie glanced at her watch. She would have to board her next flight home soon. If she accepted his offer, she wouldn’t be able to get back to her team and continue where they left off on time. God knows how Ellie hated not being on schedule.

She bit her lip nervously. His offer was so very tempting. The young scientist had devoted most of her life to science and mankind. She was on the verge of her biggest discovery yet. But she desperately wanted to explore, experience and travel.

“Okay. Take me away.” Ellie smiled brightly at him. “I want to see Kremlin, the Winter Palace, Saint Basil’s, the Red Square and all those other places.”

She took his hand and Ethan pulled the girl to her feet. He tugged her away from the park. “You’re so silly Ellie. Kremlin and the Red Square are kind of the same thing,” he told her with a chuckle, “Welcome to Moscow.”

Mankind can wait for a few more hours.

28 January 2013

At the Tsarina’s Garden

A piece I wrote for an essay competition back in high school. Just for future comparisons with my ever-changing writing style. The story was partly written during a family trip to Russia for my sister’s graduation.

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