My cab driver’s name was Boris. He was an older guy, probably in his 50s, with a very thick Russian accent. During the first half of the ride he was mostly silent but then he asked a question I hear every-time I share a cab with an ex-Soviet driver:

“Are you Russian?”

“Half Russian.”

“Where are you from?”

“Uzbekistan.”

“Uzbekistan is big.”

“I’m from Tashkent, came here five years ago.”

After that we switched to Russian and he told me his story. He was a veteran. He spent over 25 years in the Soviet army. His group, around 25 folks, was deployed all over the place, including Afghanistan. I asked if he still kept in touch with his army buddies.

“There is nobody to keep in touch with. Some were killed back then. Others died from alcoholism after their discharge. You leave the army and that’s it. Nobody needs you. You don’t have friends. All you know is how to kill.”

“We also had one guy in our group who was later fighting against us in Chechnya. He was Chechen and I don’t blame him, really.”

That guy didn’t survive. He was killed during the first war in Chechnya. Still, there were a couple of people back in Moscow, one in New York, one in San Francisco. Also, a few months ago, he met an American veteran who was taken as a prisoner of war by his group during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

“He was very lucky we didn’t just shoot him right there. Good thing we didn’t. It was interesting to meet him after all these years.”

Boris also tried to get into the US army and go to Afghanistan. He knew Afghanistan, he knew how to fight. But they told him he was too old for that.

“If I could go back there and fight again, I would not hesitate. There’s not much for me here.”

We got to my destination and I thanked him for the ride. He smiled.

“You have a good night, son. And good luck out there.”