On October 2nd, 2020, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, journalist Irina Slavina died by self-immolation in protest over the Russian government attempting to silence her. In her final post on Facebook, she wrote, “I ask you to blame the Russian Federation for my death.” In this week’s New Voices, we are proud to present Shereen Akhtar’s “47”, a new flash fiction story dedicated to the life of Irina Slavina.
This is important. At forty-seven, she set herself alight.
In memory of Irina Slavina, journalist, b. 1973
I count backwards from sixty. There she is—grey-blonde, wrinkles over the edges of her lips. Perhaps even a very young grandchild balanced in her lap. We start there. Begin a full minute’s silence.
This is a story about Russia. Here, we may know someone who married an expatriate, or support a football club owned by an oligarch in exile. We know it as the land of tundra, of Dostoyevsky’s brilliant young man traipsing the streets of a former Moscow in delirium. We may have pictured the steam-hot cabins full of pink skin, and heard the slush of a man’s bottom sink into snow. We may even remember the massacre at Beslan, schoolchildren set for a day’s work and play. The gates that went up afterwards around mosque courtyards, and the armed officers that began to patrol. This is a different story.
In this one, she is fifty-five with a little more weight to her frame. She blows her candle, a single one, and her partner may or may not be there, ready with a squeeze on her shoulder.
A few seconds pass and she is fifty, or perhaps forty-nine. Somewhere close enough to merit a series of raised glasses, and a stumble rather than a walk to a taxi stand. Somewhere there is blood boiling hot in optimistic veins. Some conversation about a renewal of purpose, a deepening sense of what makes sense. Some worry and pride for an adult child making their way in this fierce place; how they will learn the lessons of the second adulthood, or fail to survive here. A gnawing worry that the bank account cannot tide them all over for very long, let alone afford a one-way plane ticket. A kiss to the head that lingers, two pinkies that eventually intertwine.
To continue reading “47” click here.