The work got so fast that we hardly had time to prepare the waybills – they got big and took a long time to write. In addition, accounting became more complicated: we needed a computer. The growth in sales brought with it a new volume of barter. What to do with it? “Peresvet” was overloaded, “Pelican” was selling badly, only “Mercury” was left. One day we took the goods to “Mercury”, my father lit a cigarette and stayed near the “GAZelle” in the parking lot while I went to negotiate. As usual, the door to the commercial director’s office was wide open.
“Come on in!” he waved, inviting me in.
Arseny Mikhailovich, a tall man, about one hundred and ninety centimeters tall, with a well-developed musculature visible even through his jacket, sat at his desk in a cramped room six meters square. A second desk faced him, and a third, cluttered with office equipment, leaned against the side wall. The conversation was short and to the point. I immediately told him about Vovka’s call. After listening to me and scrutinizing me with an experienced eye, as if scanning me in “friend or foe” mode, Arseny Mikhailovich gave me a quick verdict.
“Yes, we can work, I think!” he said. “We have to decide on the product groups. What can you bring in on a regular basis? Because, as you yourself understand, if I start buying from you, it will have to be regular and the price will have to be ironclad. I won’t buy at a bad price, I don’t want any trouble.”
“Are your prices strictly controlled?” I encouraged the conversation.
“Hoh! Strictly indeed!” Arseny Mikhailovich, bouncing slightly in his chair, craned his neck forward like a goose and fixed his jacket with his hands. “We have special people running around the city, watching and rewriting prices at similar depots. The owners keep an eye on everything.”
“Can we go to first name terms?” I clarified, sensing that we were about to make a deal and decided to drop all formalities at once.
“Well, of course we can! Just call me Senya, without the ‘Mikhailovich’!” he smiled with two rows of straight white teeth.
“Almost all of them are implanted, the front ones for sure,” I noted mechanically, also smiling.
After discussing the nuances, we quickly came to an agreement. Senya impressed me more and more. He was definitely one of those people who knew the business, knew how to run it, and demanded the same from others. It’s usually hard to get used to people like that, but when you do, they’re a pleasure to work with. Finally, Senya said he would fax over the first order in two hours.
I returned to the parking lot in a great mood. My father was walking by the “GAZelle” and smoking. When he heard me out, he got excited and without taking the cigarette out of his mouth, he said: “Oh!” and took a big drag. The nervous tension of the negotiations subsided and I immediately got hungry. We ordered a glass of instant coffee and two masterpieces of fast food – sausages in dough. My stomach hurt. I hoped that eating would ease the pain. It didn’t help. For ten minutes the pain was almost gone, but later, as we drove, my stomach shook from the bumps in the road and the pain returned. The joy of success at work was overshadowed by a dull, nagging pain. I made it to the parking lot and on the way home I bought some painkiller syrup and drank a few spoonfuls and the pain subsided.
At the very end of the month, we finally bought a trolley for the warehouse. It cost the same money as the phone and was desperately needed. At the beginning of October, a second car from “Luxchem” arrived. Days off were a thing of the past and we began to work every day, enjoying the work and feeling more and more tired in the evenings.
At the same time, the subtenant, a tall man of about thirty-five, with a typical Russian appearance, gray bright eyes, and blond hair, came to visit. His open face with straight features made a pleasant impression. The guest was involved in the wholesale of motorcycle parts. He looked at the rented space and decided to move in. All the next day, we were making deliveries, and the newcomer dropped off his goods at the warehouse.
October passed quietly. The neighbor quickly settled in – he filled the whole area behind the room with motorcycle tires and tubes, placed shelves of goods along the walls of the room and a table with a chair, a laptop and a printer in the middle.
With the beginning of November, there was a hint of winter. The daylight hours were quickly melting away. We would come home from work after dark. There was nothing to do at home. The apartment was oppressive all the time. If my mother started scolding, it would become unbearable and I would want to run away from these four walls. My admonitions and calm tone provoked her anger even more than my silence. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know what to do. I was nervous, trying to understand the reasons for my mother’s attitude towards my father and me, but I couldn’t find them, so I ran to “Clear Skies”. I didn’t realize how I got used to this club. I was drawn to it. I would look forward to the weekend and spend every Saturday night there. Sometimes Fridays too. Money was tight. I had enough for Saturday. Friday wasn’t always enough. Somehow I managed to squeeze the most out of what I could afford. How? I would drink only “screwdriver” – fifty grams of vodka and a hundred and fifty of juice – the cheapest alcoholic cocktail I could think of. It cost thirty rubles. I would take about three hundred for the evening, drink six or seven “screwdrivers” and carefully leave at least seventy rubles for a taxi.
One Saturday in November, I got so carried away with alcohol that I ran out of money. At ten o’clock at night, I stood at the bar, sipping my first “screwdriver” from a plastic cup and watching the crowd fill the club. “It’ll be packed in two hours,” I estimated. And so it was. By then I was on my third “screwdriver” and getting ready for the fourth.
“How about a double?” the barman said, showing me a half-liter plastic glass.
“All right! How much!?” I said.
I nodded, got a cocktail, and finished it in half an hour while smoking. I immediately felt better. The two hundred and fifty grams of vodka in my blood demanded fun, and I joined the dense stream of heated bodies that floated onto the dance floor, jerking to a single rhythm. Both mirrored walls were fogged up to a quarter from below. Infected by the general merriment, I bounced around for a few minutes in sheer pleasure, until the stuffiness took over and pushed me out into the fresh air of the street. It was cool. Clarity returned to my head almost immediately. I smoked. The nicotine intensified the state of lightness and serenity. I didn’t want anything. Just to be here and like this. “Everything is fine. No, everything is wonderful!” I walked leisurely with a cigarette in the cold midnight November air, looking around at everyone and everything. I was cold. I went back to the stuffy basement and ordered a double “screwdriver”. Half an hour later I did it again. I wanted more. There was a lousy thirty in my pocket. “Screwdriver”? Of course! I drank it quickly and realized I’d had too much. I was drunk. I wanted to get some fresh air and just go home. I slowly walked to the exit, grabbed my jacket from the checkroom, and went outside. Fresh! Two in the morning. I’m downtown without a penny to my name. Walk home? That’s an hour and a half away. My legs hurt, I wanted to sleep. I wandered down the street, smoking. “Most of the taxi drivers are near the hotel, I’ll go there, get some fresh air, maybe someone will give me a ride, and when we get there, I’ll take the money in the house. Why did I drink it all? Too bad I didn’t have enough money, I would have drunk more. I got drunk, I’m staggering around, I’ll be helicoptering in bed, and I’ll have to sleep on my stomach again. Maybe it will air out at least a little while I walk,” I thought, wandering through the night city.
The group of taxi drivers, who had been standing by their cars, lost interest in me as soon as they heard about the lack of money. I nodded understandingly and walked along the line of cars. The line ended. In front of a few empty cars stood a white “fifth” or “seventh” Zhiguli car, it was hard to tell from the back – instead of the standard tail lights it had two red circles. Cigarette smoke drifted from the driver’s side window, and I decided to try my luck again.
Twenty minutes later I got home, ran to the floor, took the right amount and came back. The taxi driver was standing outside, smoking.
“Thanks for helping me out!” I gave him the money and shook his hand.
“Anytime, happens to the best of us,” he said, getting into the car with a look of mild surprise on his face. “My car’s always there if anything.”
That’s how I met Edik, a student who was moonlighting as a private driver.
It was getting unbearable without a computer. But we didn’t have another thirty-five or forty thousand. I offered to take out a loan and my father agreed. My passport was immediately rejected, with the explanation that they do not give loans to the unemployed. “Right, I’m officially unemployed, somehow I didn’t think about it, I just keep working,” I realized, confused, and put my passport in my pocket. My father’s application, a retired military man and self-employed businessman, was approved after a one-hour inspection, and in two days I was unpacking the new computer and printer in my room. After figuring out the product accounting program, I installed it, entered the assortment, and the first waybills came out of the printer with a bang. I was pleased. So was my father, and his eyes were puzzled by what I was doing with the computer. After that, every time he approached the computer and watched me work, he would scratch the back of his head, cough in embarrassment, and quietly walk away – the computer was Greek to my father. I, on the other hand, was very excited and enthusiastic about it.
“Wow, you guys are growing up!” exclaimed the manager of “Mongoose” when he saw the printed waybill.
“Yup,” I smiled happily.
The manager wrote the usual “accept” in the corner of the bill, signed it, and handed it to me. I went outside and walked into the warehouse to the steady sound of snow – December began. Things were going well at work – sales were increasing, we had already made three deliveries from “Luxchem”, each one bigger than the last. Having given up all previous suppliers, we were back with the only one. I learned from the previous experience and decided that as soon as we made enough money, we would immediately increase the number of suppliers.
“There’s a fax for you, bismissmen!” my mother said contemptuously as my father and I returned home one evening, and retired to her room.
I took the facsimile from the table and ran my eyes over it.
“Dear partners… blah blah… in order to increase sales, we offer you to undertake to implement in 2003 the sales volume of the products of ‘Luxchem’ in the amount of 1 million 600 thousand rubles. In case you fulfill and exceed the above mentioned obligations, we guarantee payment of remuneration in cash in the amount of 5% of the actual amount of sales at the end of 2003. Yours sincerely, the Director of blah blah Llc.”
“Here, read it!” I handed the paper to my father. “What an offer they sent us!”
He reached for his glasses. My hunger led me to the kitchen. I looked in the fridge – empty; I looked at the stove – empty. There was a rye crust in the bread box.
“Dad, we have no food!” I shouted angrily.
My mother came into the kitchen.
“Mom, why is there no food!? Why didn’t you cook anything?” I stared at her.
“What is there to cook with? There is nothing!” she replied sharply and defiantly.
“Why don’t you go to the store and get some, Mom? What’s the problem!?”
“You go yourself! Take your daddy and go! What do I have to do with it!?” my mother gave me a challenging look and turned away.
“Here we go again, not even a week after the last scolding, same old stew,” I realized:
“And you can’t, can you!? You’ve been here all day! We just got home from work!”
“It’s none of your business where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing, got it!?” my mother turned sharply and walked out of the kitchen, slurring over her shoulder, “Out, get your rear in gear! To the store!”
“I don’t get it, are you going to cook or what!?” hunger made me unable to get angry.
“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t!” came the voice from the hallway. “I’ll think about it!”
“I see,” I said, but more to myself than to her.
My father came into the kitchen, wearing glasses and carrying the piece of paper.
“Yes, it’s an interesting offer!” he looked at me over his glasses, scratching under his nose. “Yeah! What do you think?”
“I don’t think anything!” I snapped back, feeling a little worked up. “I’m hungry! There’s no food! There’s nothing in the fridge! Mom doesn’t care about anything! I have to go to the store, that’s what I think!”
My father stared at me in surprise.
“Do you want to go to the store together and we can discuss this offer on the way?” I softened. “I can go by myself, of course! As you wish!”
“No, we have to go to the store,” my father took off his glasses. “Well, let’s go. Let’s go together.”
On the way to the store and back, we decided that we wouldn’t risk anything by making a commitment: if we met it, we’d get a bonus; if we didn’t – okay, fine. It was worth a try. We brought two bags of food and stocked the fridge. My father had barely started to cook dinner when my mother appeared in the kitchen and said, with an angry look on her face, that she was going to cook it herself. I thought, “Well, let her do it herself then,” and went out.
My father spent the whole evening calculating, writing on paper, putting his fingers into a calculator, and in the morning he woke me up saying, “Look, I’ve done the math. Are you awake?”
“I am now,” I said.
My father smacked his lips and grunted as he prepared to speak.
“Look, I counted all the items we take from ‘Luxchem’ and the approximate sales volume. I calculated it for the coming year, taking into account the seasons for the blue and everything else, and taking into account the fact that Aslanbek promised to start producing new products in the spring…”
“What new products?” I was surprised, half awake, and remembered. “Oh yeah! That rings a bell.”
“I suggest we sign such an agreement,” my father said as if formally.
“Who’s against it?” I said. “I’m for it. All right, let’s sign up for these volumes, we’re not risking anything anyway, and if we make it, eighty thousand won’t hurt us.”
The same day we sent another order to “Luxchem”. In a telephone conversation my father gave Eduard Dmitrievich his consent on the volume of sales for the next year, and he in turn promised to come personally and bring copies of the agreement.
We were lucky with the weather in December, for the whole first half of the month the temperature was kept at five degrees below zero, the sky was clear, no wind. We cleared the day off work when the decrepit “MAZ” from Krasnodar was supposed to arrive, were home by noon, and waited for the truck. But it broke down a few hours from the city, and it wasn’t until seven that my father and I drove to the warehouse. And the weather began to change dramatically. Clouds covered the sky and snow began to fall like small grains of foamed plastic. I looked through the windshield at the beauty falling from the inky sky and thought about New Year’s Eve. We had barely pulled into the warehouse when the snow began to fall heavily and a wind began to blow. It swirled the snow and caused it to drift close to the ground. I felt a slight chill on my face. “It’s about ten degrees below zero, that’s fine as long as it doesn’t get any colder,” I thought to myself as I ducked into the warehouse to get warm. I talked to my father for about twenty minutes and then went back outside. It was snowing harder! It was up to my ankles. “It seems to be getting colder,” I thought, feeling the frost on my cheeks, and went back into the warehouse. After half an hour I heard the hum and clang of machines working. I went outside. The snow was coming down so hard! My face immediately froze. The sound came from the main road of the depot. I ducked into the narrow passage between the warehouses and, knee-deep in snow, stepped into the sound and froze – a solid white cloud was pouring from the sky. Here and there cars were sliding or stuck in the snow. A tractor drove between them, shoveling snow into the piles near the warehouse walls.
“It’s snowing like crazy out there!” I almost shouted as I ran into the warehouse, covered in flakes and clutching my frozen earlobe. “It’s knee deep outside the warehouse! We have to shovel it away, otherwise we won’t be able to open the gate! And it’s getting cold fast.”
“We’ll do it then!” my father said irritably.
“Call them, will you?” I suggested. “Find out where they are!”
My father called. The “MAZ” was already draggling along the left bank of the city.
For the next half hour, we vigorously shoveled the snow away from the warehouse and cleared the area for the car. There was a creaking sound under our feet and steam came out of our mouths. “It must be fifteen degrees by now,” I thought to myself, getting more active with the shovel. The phone in my father’s pocket rang – the car pulled up and was parked in front of the depot gate. We left the shovels and went there. The familiar “MAZ” was parked by the side of the road. “Good thing it doesn’t have a trailer,” I thought. The passenger door opened and the commercial director of “Luxchem”, dressed in a light brown sheepskin coat, a gray suit and light shoes, fell out of the cabin. His feet were knee-deep in a snowdrift.
“Oh, wow! Holy moly!!!” Eduard Dmitrievich widened his eyes and became just “Edik” to me at that moment. “What weather you have, Roma!”
“It’s winter, Edik!” I said, laughing. “What did you expect!?”
“It’s winter there, too!” He shook hands with me and my father. “It’s seven degrees above zero in Krasnodar!”
Edik climbed out of the snowdrift and began to kick his feet, shaking the snow out of his shoes.
Five minutes later the “MAZ” pulled into the depot, its central road already free of snow. While my father and I were panting and shoveling the snow away from the warehouse, a tractor appeared, panting with effort, raced down the neighboring road, cleared it immediately, and sped away. Happy with the help, we quickly cleared the road to the warehouse gate. My father’s face turned red with frost, as if covered with a motionless crust. “I must be like that now,” I thought, and overcoming the frozen crust on my face, I said with difficulty:
“What time is it?”
“It’s ten to ten,” my father said.
“How many degrees is it!? Twenty, no less!?”
“Yeah, it seems so,” my father looked at me with a face as red as a boiled crayfish. “No clouds at all. The sky is clear. It’s going to get colder.”
I looked up. The sky was dotted with huge stars. “That definitely means frost,” I realized, pushing away the thought of a warm bath and bed. It had almost stopped snowing.
Half an hour later the “MAZ” was already at our warehouse and opened the back doors of the “barn”. We started unloading. I had known Edik for a little more than three months, but I already knew his main personality traits: stubbornness, trickery, cunning, and laziness. Frost has one good quality – in the cold, even the most hardened lazybones begin to work. As soon as I climbed into the body and started to move the boxes to the edge, Edik immediately grabbed one of them and put it on the pallet. The work was in full swing, warming us up. The depot was silent and empty. The driver, who had spent twenty minutes in the cold cabin, joined us.
Dancing with a squeak in his thin shoes, Edik asked me where he could buy cigarettes and disappeared into the passage between the warehouses. I froze and sniffed the air – the temperature was clearly dropping.
“How many degrees is it now?” I looked at my father and the driver.
“More than twenty, for sure,” my father replied with a puff of steam and a sniffle.
“What time is it!?” I shouted from inside the “barn” without stopping my work.
“Half past eleven,” my father looked at the display of the phone and took out his cigarettes.
“Smoke break?” I said.
My father nodded. I reached for mine. I pulled one out and offered it to the driver.
“Nah, I don’t smoke!” he shook his head.
“Lucky you!” I took a drag and exhaled the smoke and steam. “I’ll quit one day, too.”
“You!?” my father froze in disbelief in his gaze. “You won’t!”
“Why not!?” I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “I don’t smoke much, just five or ten cigarettes a day. You’re the one who won’t quit! Because you smoke a pack a day!”
“You’ll see!” my father declared resolutely. “I’ll quit in about five years!”
“In five?” I narrowed my eyes, working it out in my head. “So at the end of two thousand and seven, well, rounded up to January 1st, two thousand and eight, you’ll quit smoking, right?”
“You’ll see!” my father looked contemptuously at the cigarette. “Hands down!”
“Sure!” I grinned. “We’ll see who does and who doesn’t!”
Edik creaked out of the black passage, shivering and smoking on the way – we continued working. We unloaded the goods quickly, almost in complete silence, just wanting to finish as soon as possible.
Twenty minutes later, Edik ran back to the market stalls. The frost didn’t spare us, so we worked non-stop. My father was left alone and could no longer keep up with the goods, so I jumped over to him. Edik came strolling down the passage, smiling foolishly, his eyes shining.
“Did you hit the sauce or what!?” I said inwardly amused.
“No, no, no!” he shook his hands. “Roma, the very idea! What are you saying!?”
“Come on, get in the back, you can help me there!” I broke into a smile.
Grunting and scrambling, Edik struggled to crawl into the “barn,” took the box, pressed it to his stomach, and cried out as he walked with his legs spread on the slippery metal floor of the body: “My goodness! Two hundred dollars! My siuut! The giiift! It was just given to me a week ago…” Hiccuping, he almost dropped the box, carried it and placed it on the edge of the body, caught his breath, adjusted the hat that had slipped down over his eyes, and dissolved his pink face into a happy smile. The others watched in silence, smiling as well.
“I’m helping you, Anatoly Vasilievich! Have you noticed?” Edik raised his index finger dramatically, hiccupped, turned and staggered into the back of the truck. “Two hundred dollars! My suuit! The giift!”
The emotions of the situation lasted about ten minutes, and then everyone fell silent, tired and working mechanically. Edik continued to mumble unintelligibly, but he wasn’t having any fun either. I was almost dead with cold. The work warmed my muscles, but my bones had been frozen for a long time.
We finished at one in the morning.
There was a resounding silence at the depot. Edik and the driver hastily said goodbye to us and immediately climbed into the cab of the “MAZ”. I closed the warehouse and staggered tiredly to the “GAZelle”. In a minute the starter of the truck came to life, the diesel engine picked up and started bouncing. It was our turn. My father turned on the ignition, pulled the choke, and we sat in the cab for a minute. Dad turned the key, the starter cranked briskly. Ten seconds. No luck. Not a single cylinder engaged. My father turned the key back on and pumped gasoline. Trying to keep warm, I sat motionless, staring apathetically, exhausted. I wasn’t sleepy. Every cell in me was thinking about warmth: “Warm up first, and then… and then everything else, but warm up first.”
My father repeated. The starter started almost as fast, but slowed down faster this time.
“That’s all we need right now,” my father said, expressing our shared concern.
“It’s about to start. Let’s wait a little longer,” I encouraged him, and began to picture in my mind how we would leave the “GAZelle” at the depot, walk to the roundabout where not many people drive at night, and try to catch a car at half past one in the morning.
Third try. The starter cranked the shaft three times, almost died on the fourth, and – oh my God! – one cylinder fired once and the engine froze.
“Yes! It’s about to start!” I perked up, and so did my father.
The fourth attempt. The engine started immediately and roared with all its might in the silence of the night, enveloping the “GAZelle” in thick clouds of exhaust fumes. My father touched the choke, the engine grabbed the icy air and stalled. But it didn’t matter anymore. “If it picks up, it’ll start again for sure,” I encouraged myself with a thought.
Forty minutes later we were home – while we started and warmed up the car, while we drove on snow-covered roads, while we parked the “GAZelle”, it was already two in the morning. We walked from the parking lot, almost hopping. I waved my hands, trying to get warm, but my body did not respond, only signaled a desire for warmth. At home, I quickly filled a tub with hot water and climbed in up to my neck. I sat there for a few minutes, but the internal cold would not stop pounding me. The water had cooled and I was not warm. I opened the tap and the boiling water flowed into the tub. It did not help. The cold felt like it was in my bones. The heat of the water only warmed my muscles, unable to penetrate deeper. I sat for twenty minutes with no effect, got out of the water, put on all my warm clothes – thick socks, military winter underwear, sweatpants, and a light sweater. It was still cold. I was shivering. I sat in the kitchen and pressed my feet and hands against the hot radiator and drank some tea. It worked, the cold came out from inside and I stopped shivering. I felt tired and sleepy at the same time. I went to my room, crawled under the comforter and, shivering from time to time with the remnants of the cold, fell asleep.
The next day we signed the agreement, which Edik brought with him, and sent it to Krasnodar.
The rest of December went by quietly. I spent my evenings playing computer games and my weekends hanging out at “Clear Skies”. I even wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve there, but it turned out to be mundane and meaningless. I was invited to the party by a girl who was the only one I knew there. New Year’s Eve turned out to be terrible. My stomach was already giving out, and then I ate a lot of salted fish and drank disgusting cheap wine. A few hours before midnight I had a severe attack of heartburn. The pharmacies were closed, of course, and there was not even baking soda in the apartment. My insides burned and the heaviness in my stomach made it hard to breathe. It was as if time had stopped. I almost threw up in the middle of the night. With dawn and the first buses, completely exhausted, I went home and drank soda and the heartburn subsided. I threw up in the toilet. On the first of January, I walked around the apartment and ate semolina, carefully prepared by my mother. I felt better, and on Saturday, January 4, I made my way to the club.
“So how did it go?” Edik stared at me with a cheerful look in his black eyes.
I rolled into his car with the usual smell of vodka, grape juice and a great mood. The evening had been a success. Even the slight pain in my stomach, which I had filled with a lot of alcohol, didn’t dampen it. I was breathing heavily from drinking and smoking. I didn’t want to go home, I wanted to sober up. Edik didn’t have many customers that night, so we made small talk. It turned out that he had been cabbing for two years, ever since he and his girlfriend started dating. They rented an apartment. Edik said he liked “family life,” but he and his girlfriend fought a lot.
“Why are you fighting, anyway!?” I stared at him. “Do you even love her?”
“Of course I do,” Edik nodded, looking at me in surprise at the question.
“Does she love you?” I went on.
“Well, I guess she does, or she wouldn’t be living with me,” he grinned.
“And if you love each other, why are you fighting?” I smiled.
“Well, everyone does,” Edik thought for a moment. “Sometimes she just pisses me off, so slow on the draw. I tell her, why are you doing that? And she doesn’t understand, she does everything her own way. She is such a pain in the ass. She’s always whining, ‘You’re not a man, no money, you don’t make any!’ Where will I get the money!? I’m a student! Go, she says, drive the car, earn money! So I get in the car and drive around the city…”
“I don’t understand anything about your relationship,” I said, realizing that the guy’s answers didn’t make the gender issue any clearer. “But if you live together, everything suits you fine, right?”
Edik had no time to answer.
“Beautiful?” I dug deeper, asking a frankly stupid question, as if any man in the world would say his girlfriend was ugly.
“But of course!” Edik said automatically, realizing the impertinence of the question, and stared at me in surprise, but the next question was right there.
“And the forms, well, the appearance, full-bodied or slender?”
“Well, like me,” Edik poked his hands into his chest and laughed.
“You’re as skinny as a rake,” I laughed, too.
“Well, not that way…she’s slim…”
“Oh, well, that’s more like it,” I made a theatrical pause and said that I liked a different type – curvy, dark-skinned girls with noticeable bends.
“Oh! You know which side your bread is buttered! Everyone likes that kind!” Edik fidgeted in his chair, suddenly thought about it, lit a cigarette, and said that he had such an acquaintance – a smart, particular girl who rents an apartment with her truck driver father somewhere in my neighborhood and is now looking for a normal guy because she is not satisfied with her current relationship.
I was surprised that the girl had a boyfriend since she was looking for a guy. Edik calmed me down by saying that the guy wasn’t serious and wasn’t her type, and suggested that I meet the girl in a group in the next few days, for example at Christmas. I agreed.
The crowd met on January 8th at “Clear Skies”. I was the last to arrive. Edik and his girlfriend and a swarthy brunette with D-size breasts and her boyfriend were already sitting at a table. I walked over and Edik introduced me.
“Inna,” the girl said, and I shook the beautiful but firm woman’s hand.
“Sanya!” said her boyfriend, a long, thin young brown-haired man of about twenty-two, with curly hair falling to his eyes, a freckled nose, and a happy, childlike, smiling, carefree face.
I shook his long “mitt” as well.
Edik’s girlfriend, an ugly, gnarled brunette with blank, flat eyes, thin strands of hair, and a disgruntled, pointed face, introduced herself last. “What an ugly one. If she’s beautiful, then Edik has nuts in his head instead of brains,” I thought and sat down fifth at the table.
Communication in an unfamiliar group is always the same – formal, forced conversations about general topics and implicit exploration of new faces. With Edik’s girlfriend, everything became clear at once. Her manner and character matched her appearance – a shrill, twitchy, hysterical girl. Sanya kept smiling. Communication with him became lively, but eerily primitive. “Consciousness not burdened with intellect,” I judged, and Sanya began to pour vodka. I didn’t want to drink it straight. Why do people drink vodka? It has no taste at all. But I didn’t want to be out of place right away, so I nodded to Sanya’s offer. The shot glasses were quickly filled, and Sanya’s eyes sparkled. We drank the first one. By this time, Inna was tired of taking stock of me, and I was able to sneak a peek at her. She was over one hundred and seventy centimeters tall, a sturdy, fleshy girl with broad shoulders, well-developed hips, and a thin waist. Her figure was feminine, but not the weak and cheesy femininity that reeked of affectation and uselessness, but energetic, the kind that aroused desire in men and confidence in the vitality of its possessor. Swarthy. Resinous, straight hair in a blunt bob. No jewelry on the long, beautiful, thin fingers with thick, healthy, clean, short nails without nail polish. The slightly thin, tightly pressed lips and the sharp look of her attentive black eyes revealed Inna to be a pragmatic girl who knew about the difficulties of life.
Finally, the music began to play, relieving the crowd of the exhausting conversations. The club came to life and people flocked to the dance floor. Sanya quickly poured a second drink for everyone with a practiced move. His fidgeting and burning eyes showed an irresistible desire for a drink. No sooner had the toast been said and the shot glasses raised than Sanya tipped his head back in a split second and poured vodka into his mouth. Everyone drank after him. The smell of vodka made me shiver and I started to eat the salad. Inna stared at me openly. The girl’s eyes made it clear that she was privy to the hidden meaning of the evening. The awkwardness of Inna’s gaze prompted me to speak to her. Edik’s girlfriend munched phlegmatically on herbs. Sanya smiled and lustfully touched an opened bottle of vodka. The sluggish conversation continued for another ten minutes, after which Inna got up to her full bosom – a thin, tight black sweater, a black skirt above the knees, black shoes on a ten-centimeter stiletto – and went to dance.
The dance floor was getting crowded. I sluggishly exchanged phrases with Edik and glanced in Inna’s direction. She was dancing smoothly, responding to the rhythm with energetic body movements. She waved invitingly in our direction a few times. Sitting with her back to the dance floor, Sanya poured vodka. I didn’t feel like drinking. I got up and, encouraged by Edik’s dirty gaze, walked over to Inna, caught the rhythm and moved in front of the girl. She smiled with her strong, straight rows of teeth and sparkled with the blackness of her eyes. Inna’s movements immediately became more active, her breasts swaying invitingly. I glanced in the direction of the table – Sanya was drinking, Edik was looking at us. My eyes fell on Inna’s breasts. She noticed, smiled brighter, took my hand in hers and moved more vigorously. “It’s a farce. A girl flirting with another guy in front of her boyfriend,” I was confused, finding myself in this situation for the first time.
We danced through two songs. I was carefully balancing on the edge of being friendly. Inna was having fun and openly hitting on me. I got tired of all the awkwardness and went back to the table. The vodka ran out and Sanya got sad. Wanting a break, I went to the bar, ordered a double “screwdriver” and chatted with the barman, feeling Inna’s attentive gaze on my back. “Clingy girlfriend, and Sanya is a milk toast, why is she hanging out with him, out of desperation or something? He’s definitely no match for her,” the thoughts floated in my head.
The rest of the evening was the same. Dancing, a few slow songs, during which Inna deliberately pressed her breasts against me, I supported her a little more than formally at the waist. Dance, like nothing else, conveys the energy of a partner – either a mulchy and spineless body at hand, or a firm and exuberant one. Inna’s body melted my hand with the grace and strength of a panther. Nimble, clingy, fluid, strong and intelligent. A dangerous cocktail.
We left the club shortly after midnight. Inna held Sanya’s hand, who looked happy, and smiled meaningfully. We said goodbye at the exit. I hitched a ride and was home in half an hour. “No need to get involved with her, today she smiles at me, holding the hand of her boyfriend, tomorrow at someone else,” I decided and mentally put the girl in the “unnecessary” section.
After the holidays, work resumed with renewed vigor. No sooner had we loaded the customers with goods than the severe cold during Epiphany set in, and the temperature dropped to twenty-five degrees below zero in two days and stayed there for a week. Every working day became a separate struggle for survival. The “GAZelle”, which started the first two days, responded to the efforts of the starter on the third day with silence. We removed the battery and carried it home, forcing ourselves to take a day off. The next morning we could hardly start the car. We couldn’t afford to wait until the cold weather was over – orders were coming in regularly and in large quantities. We worked fast: we drove the “GAZelle” to the warehouse, jumped out, loaded the goods in the back and, frozen to the bone, jumped into the warmth of the cabin. Two trips a day were the norm. Afterwards, we would remove the battery and carry it home. It got chilly in the apartment, too. After work, I would sit in a hot bath for an hour, then put on warm clothes, eat dinner, prepare the waybills for the next day, and go to bed in my clothes.
By the end of January, our patience had run out, I hated frost with every fiber of my being, and then suddenly the sky was covered with clouds, it warmed up to five degrees below zero, and there was a coarse-grained, soft snow.
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