“Fuck this!” I blurted out as my father and I left the developer’s office after learning that the mall would not open in February and might not open until April. My insides were boiling. As soon as we got in the “GAZelle,” my father immediately smoked, and so did I. After a few minutes, I calmed down a bit and started breathing normally. We began to discuss the situation over dinner at home.
“We can stay in this mall, or we can take the advance and look for another place,” I said, sitting at the kitchen table, picking at fried eggs and biting into rye bread.
After my mother’s protest, food became scarce. If we came home early from work, my father would cook something. It was delicious, I must say. Meanwhile, I did the waybills. Sometimes we’d get grilled chicken and a beer on the way home. If we got home late, were too tired and forgot to buy chicken, we’d fry some eggs and go to bed so we could have eggs in the morning.
My father ate in silence. As always, he chewed his food in the same measured, thorough manner. I swallowed everything in big chunks, chewed hastily, and drank my tea quickly. My father always took longer to eat. I would sit at the table later than he did, and I would still finish first.
“It’s always like this with you,” my father said after chewing. “First you’re all fired up – go, go, go! Then, when something happens, you go, go, go again, but back. You’re always rushing back and forth! You’d better think about it properly.”
“What’s there to think about!?” I stared at him, perplexed. “I didn’t force you, did I? We decided together to rent a department at the mall! And now it turns out that I’m rushing!? Interesting thing to say!”
I shook my head and popped a piece of fried egg into my mouth.
“You have to think first!” my father continued. “Nine thousand this way, ten thousand that way, we’ll never have enough money for you!”
“What money!?” I was stunned. “What are you talking about!? I make my own money, I don’t ask you for it, we work fifty-fifty! What nine this way, ten that way!? If we don’t want to rent the department, well, we’ll go and get our money back and that’s it!”
“That money!” my father stared at me with the look of a mentor. “The money you blow on your clubs left and right!”
“Oh, that’s what you mean!” I almost choked on my food.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean!” my father added harshly.
“I see,” I nodded and then stared at my plate, the conversation making me sick. “I don’t have to go anywhere, I’ll just sit at home.”
“No way, sit!” my mother’s voice sounded behind me.
I shuddered. It was as if my mother was standing guard around the corner and quickly entered the kitchen.
“Should he sit at home like you?” she glared at my father, hovering over him with her small stature. “So he can become a cheapskate like you! What money does he take from you!? He earns it himself! Maybe he should ask your permission!? He’s an adult! Let him go where he wants! He shouldn’t stay at home! Otherwise he’ll end up like you! You sit here counting every penny like a miser!”
My mother’s pressure confused my father – he even stopped chewing.
“Don’t listen to him, son!” my mother waved at my father and looked at me. “Otherwise, you’ll end up with a sour face and forget how to smile! Go wherever you want!”
My mother spoke the truth; my father was remarkably unsmiling and unemotional. I rarely saw him laugh heartily. A broad but restrained smile was his maximum emotion. If it appeared for a second, it was quickly hidden. My father’s restraint was also manifested in his willful control of negativity. But when the willpower ran out, there was a release. Several times I saw his anger literally tear him in half, his face contorted in wild rage, and then I didn’t envy anyone who got in my father’s way. I had been the cause of his anger three times during my school years when my father beat me violently, but each time my mother saved me by shielding me and pulling my father away. He hit me hard, really hard, like I was an adult. I would huddle in the corner and wait for my mother. About the same number of times, my mother and father had a big fight in front of me. Once when my mother was being particularly intemperate with words, my father used his fists. He kicked her kidneys and damaged something regarding women’s health. Then my mother said that if he laid a finger on her again, she would stab my father to death in his sleep. I saw his eyes as she said this, filled with real fear and horror. He never touched my mother again.
The suppressed emotions accumulated in my father. But only the negative was angrily released, while the positive was at most capable of a rare smile.
“Go, make friends, have fun!” my mother kept waving her hands in the air and shooting crushing looks at my father. “Your youth will end and you may turn into him!”
“Look here, you!” my father exclaimed.
“Don’t you dare!” my mother was furious. “Got it!? You are nobody to me!!! Shut up!!”
My father became quiet and clenched his jaw.
“You can clench your teeth,” my mother said, watching my father’s reaction with undisguised glee. “Grit them all you want! I don’t give a shit about you, you fucking miser!”
She turned abruptly to the fridge, opened it, rummaged through it, slammed the door loudly, and slurred as she walked out of the kitchen:
“You stuff your face with eggs, and that’s good! Serves you right, you cheapskate!”
I drank my tea and felt the hairs on my head move. The family crisis was threatening to escalate into something more. My father chewed thoughtfully, slower than usual.
“All right,” I said when the oppressive silence became unbearable. “Let’s decide what to do about the mall anyway…”
“What’s there to decide,” my father said, crossing his legs and twitching one leg nervously. “We have to stay, that’s all. We won’t find another place like this, and it’s not a good idea to rush from place to place.”
“I agree,” I slammed my hand down on the table. “It would be silly to wait so long and leave it half done. Maybe there will be good sales. Anyway, we’re staying!”
“We’re staying,” my father said nervously, clearly thinking about my mother’s antics.
I finished my tea and walked out of the kitchen, my computer and the waybills waiting for me.
Another spring selling season came and exposed the shortcomings of our warehouse – the roof was leaking in places, and meltwater was collecting outside the gate. Every night it froze, and in the morning we’d chisel the lower edges of the gate out of the ice. At least half an hour. Take a crowbar and get on with it. And so on until the end of March.
Sales went up sharply. “Mercury” and “Peresvet” began to gobble up barter goods so much that we were short of them. Again, there were two ways out. Either we add new wholesalers to the barter system. But there were almost none left in the city. Only “Homeland” came to mind. The company continued to amaze us with its growth rate, as if it had been pumped full of money. Or we find a new producer of liquid goods. I did not see any, and I was not eager to boost another unknown product. Thoughts swirled in my head, but there was no solution. Senya, who had the taste of money, went hyphy.
“Go ahead, propose!” he exclaimed excitedly when I visited him again. “What else do you have there to bring?”
I was standing in the middle of the office. Senya was sitting at his desk, his tongue sticking out in lust as he hurriedly filled out my waybill. I listed several groups of goods that could have been delivered by anyone. Senya grimaced, and so did I when I saw his reaction.
“All right! You know what we’ll do?” Senya pursed his lips, drumming on the table with his fingers, thinking. “You unload now and come to me, and I’ll write you the prices and the assortment of these groups in the meantime. You’ll take it all at once, okay?”
I agreed and went outside. Our “GAZelle” was already parked in front of the warehouse. I approached just as my father was about to put the first box on the conveyor belt.
“Let me,” I pushed him aside and got to work.
The loader came in, looked in the back of the “GAZelle”, and called another one from the smoke room.
“Here,” I shoved a box into his hands, and stepped aside. “Pass it on.”
As soon as the unloading was finished, I checked the goods in the warehouse and went back to the office.
“Senya gave me the papers for the other goods!” I said as I got back to the car. “We’ll see what’s what at home, and tomorrow we’ll call everyone. Check the prices, calculate everything. We don’t have any extra barter, but we shouldn’t refuse. We’ll have to work it out.”
“How exactly are we going to work this out?” my father stared at me in surprise. “Don’t promise him pie in the sky if it doesn’t work out.”
“It will!” I objected excitedly. “It’s the season, we’ll have the goods for a few months, and then, maybe, we’ll find something else! Maybe ‘Luxchem’ will finally wake up. Assholes, they’ve been promising us for a year. All right. We’ll make it, right, Daddy?”
“Yes,” my father nodded cheerfully with a smile. “Where to now?”
“To the market!” I threw up my hands. “We’ll take the proceeds and then we’ll go home.”
After half an hour of trembling, we were there. At 5:45 p.m. my father went to the kiosks. As I stayed in the car, I realized I was very tired, so I curled up in the corner of the cabin and dozed off. I didn’t expect the idle chatterer to return anytime soon.
“Asleep?” my father said in a cheerful voice as he climbed into the cabin twenty minutes later.
“Uh-huh,” I murmured without opening my eyes.
“I chatted with Nadezhda Petrovna,” my father said with a satisfied look on his face.
The cabin vibrated with the revived engine, rousing me from my slumber, and I sat upright.
“Well, home!?” my father added cheerfully.
“Yeah,” I said weakly.
“You don’t look very happy, do you?” my father continued to smile. “Didn’t you sleep well?”
“I’m hungry, my stomach hurts,” I said, still listless.
“Stomach – that’s bad,” my father grew darker. “You’ll have some soup at home.”
“Of course I will,” I mumbled, pressing my fingers against my aching stomach.
Before, I didn’t understand why people with gastritis or peptic ulcers weren’t drafted into the army. But when I got these problems, I understood everything. The constant and unbearable pain was so unpleasant that I couldn’t think of anything else. Overwhelming everything, it took away my strength, first moral and then physical. The pain created irritation with the inability to stop it immediately, except with medication.
We drove to the parking lot and walked halfway home in complete silence.
“How much does it hurt?” my father said.
“It’s… okay,” I let out through irritation, feeling queasy.
As soon as my mother opened the door after the bell rang, she defiantly went into the back room. My father and I undressed, washed our hands, and went to eat. My father had made an excellent soup the day before. He was a good cook; I was cack-handed at it. Something as simple as scrambled eggs was the ceiling of my cooking skills. There had been a change in the family since the last quarrel – my father and mother had gone to separate rooms. My father stayed in the sunny room with the balcony. My mother moved into the former nursery across the hall. A wardrobe, a bed and a dressing table were the only furnishings in that half-empty room. The only television, an old one with a worn out kinescope, remained in my father’s room. In our absence, my mother would sit there for days, staring at the dim screen. As soon as we returned in the evening, she would go to her room and toss and turn on the creaking bed until midnight, when she would fall asleep.
I stayed in the living room. The dividing line even went through the refrigerator. My mother began to store food and eat separately from us. We now cleaned the apartment, did the laundry, and cooked for ourselves. My mother did not communicate with us defiantly, only speaking to us when she had to. I was willing to tolerate her behavior just so the family would finally stop fighting and arguing.
I felt nauseous. The soup was stuck in the middle of my chest and wouldn’t go down. The heartburn began. I endured it for a while, sitting at the computer and dealing with flowing papers. After an hour, the heaviness in my chest eased, I drank the syrup, and I got sicker. My father was asleep. Not a sound came from my mother’s room either. Heartburn and a lump in my throat kept me awake. I went to the bathroom and was immediately turned inside out. The pain and heaviness subsided and I felt better. I made my way to the bed, lay down exhausted and fell asleep.
In April, I was thinking about “Homeland” again and wanted to finally see its elusive director. After another unloading at the “Mongoose”, we paid him a visit.
“Oh, what a little one!” I thought to myself as the girl in the sales room complied with my request and led the director to us. He was about one hundred and sixty centimeters tall, with a down-to-nothing haircut and a sour face, dressed in a cream-colored three-piece suit and a white shirt without a tie. The man’s chubby little hands were clutching a frayed black belt bag, a symbol that was beginning to go out of fashion. He came up to us with sad, shy, thieving slanting eyes and mumbled something. I couldn’t hear, so I held out my hand first and said: “Hello!” The man mumbled again and lazily extended his small hand to me. I shook it gently. My father shook it after me. The director sighed and said: “What have you got there?”
I took out the price list, handed it to him, put a box of product samples on the table, and talked vigorously about it for five minutes. The director looked lazily at the price list, turned the bottles in his hands, and his face became more and more sour before our very eyes.
“All right, you can leave it here,” the director said, giving in to my insistence and showing me that our visit was pointless.
We said goodbye and walked out.
“Yeah, that’s tough,” I uttered. “He’s hard to deal with. Well, okay. We’ll keep pushing, coming back every week, until he agrees to take the goods.”
My father said nothing. We walked over to the “GAZelle”, got in, opened the windows, and smoked. I looked around the yard. There was more bustle outside the warehouses. The volume of goods in the warehouses had increased. A couple of new trucks were parked beside us.
“Meanwhile, the ‘Homeland’ is growing,” I voiced my thoughts.
“Yes, it is, there are more people working,” my father said and started the “GAZelle”.
“Where did he get the money?” I added. “I don’t understand.”
The new manager of “Arbalest”, the inconspicuous Ilya with the shifty eyes, had set up his own retail outlet. He told me the secret in a half-whisper when, on another visit, I entered the manager’s office and saw Ilya’s glowing face. His phlegmatic colleague’s chair was empty; he had gone to lunch.
“No way!? Really!?” I was surprised.
“Well, yeah,” Ilya confirmed with a slight touch of laziness and self-importance.
“Oh! Wow! Congratulations! And what kind of retail? A store? A department? Where is it?” I overwhelmed the manager with questions, which obviously pleased him.
Together with his partner, a manager of the same company, Ilya rented a store in the center of the city. The little information I had was enough to understand in a second how his business worked. Ilya followed the simplest scheme – to buy goods with maximum deferred payment and at wholesale prices in the company where he worked and sell them at retail. The idea was as uncomplicated and straightforward as a crowbar, and therefore unviable. Such a store could make a profit only if the traffic was high, even the maximum discounts did not allow to make a profit from a retail store with average customer activity. From my experience with our kiosks, I knew this for sure. Barter was the invisible stream that fed our business. Ilya did not have it; the guy had clearly stepped on a flimsy path. Still, I sincerely wished him success.
“Uh-huh!” Ilya accepted the wishes, nodded, straightened up in his chair, winked at me, and added, with a slightly raised chin, “You’re not the only ones setting up retail!”
We both laughed, said goodbye, and I went to the warehouse. The “GAZelle” was already unloading, boxes were flying out one by one, and a loader caught them and put them on the pallet.
“All right, let me!” I replaced my father in the back and handed him the waybills. “Here.”
After unloading, we drove to the next customer. I told my father the news.
“No kidding!?” he was surprised. “Nice one, Ilyukha! I didn’t expect it from him! Who would have thought it! He sits quietly in his little chair, and suddenly here we are, his own store!”
“So we’re not the only ones setting up stores, got it?” I added.
“That’s for sure! See how our kiosks have sunk into Ilyukha’s mind!” my father said.
“We’ll open a third outlet in the mall, and he’ll die of envy!” I said contentedly, thought about it and then added. “Although, no! We won’t tell him… Otherwise he won’t be able to sleep anymore!”
“Well, fair enough, true,” my father nodded.
Work on the new mall was in full swing, the asphalt was already laid and everything was in place for the opening at the end of April. It was time to think about the retail equipment.
“We’ll order it from ‘WholeSale’ in barter,” I suggested to my father. “They have their own carpentry shop, they make everything out of wood. They’ll make us shelves, too.”
“How are they going to make us barter shelves if we work with them on household chemicals?” my father stared at me as he sipped his coffee in the kitchen that morning.
“What difference does it make to them what to give in barter?” I stared at him too. “It’s their department, they can do it in accounting.”
“What makes you think they can?” my father looked at me in surprise.
I was starting to get annoyed. It wasn’t the first time my father had been skeptical of one of my out-of-the-box suggestions. It was as if there was a pattern of tried and true actions in his mind, and there was no room for anything new. Each time I had to implant something new in my father’s head, and then, after careful consideration, he would agree. My father was not open to new ideas; he accepted them with difficulty. Whether his lack of natural flexibility of thought led to excessive caution or, on the contrary, caution killed creativity, I did not know. But the peculiarity of his character was that on the road of life, my father used only the proven ways. Our business, on the other hand, required nothing but flexibility and originality to stay afloat and grow. We had to take advantage of every opportunity to increase revenue or reduce expenses. When I saw an opportunity to cut costs, I shared it with my father. And once again, his brain creaked strenuously. By ordering in barter, we saved a third of the amount. My father had to be led to such simple solutions; he didn’t see them. When my father heard an understandable explanation, he would object, hesitate, and finally agree. At first I did not notice his slow-wittedness, but later I became unconsciously irritated by similar arguments, and when I understood the reason for my irritation and the peculiarity of my father’s character, I began to grow weary of debates. They wore me out every time I expended my energies to move my father forward like a stone. My mental fatigue grew, and in the spring of 2004, a critical point in my perception of my father arose – I questioned his leadership of our business. The cracks in my father’s image appeared unnoticed, and the conclusions did not make me happy. I began to realize that my father was sluggish, conservative, inflexible in his thinking, and passive in generating solutions. And the main conclusion I came to was that my father was not the leader in character that I had imagined him to be. He didn’t lead me, he just waddled along, occasionally yelling and reprimanding me when I went on a life sprint.
“I haven’t decided anything yet!” I snapped. “I just need to talk to them, that’s all!”
“Well, talk to them first and then decide!” my father looked at me sternly.
“Well, obviously I will!” I suppressed my anger. “Tomorrow we’ll go there and I’ll talk to them.”
Everything worked out. We ordered the production of the retail equipment from “WholeSale” and saved ten thousand rubles.
In the middle of the month we stopped by “Homeland” again, the director was there, and we went straight to his office. The rectangular office, about thirty meters square, was occupied by a long, massive desk, at the head of which sat a chubby little man in a large, solid leather chair. There were chairs on either side of the desk.
“Hello,” I yelled from the doorway, flinging myself onto the nearest chair.
The little man mumbled something and blinked confusedly, as if trapped, looking at me and my father, who sat on the other side of the table.
“We came to you to talk about something!” I took the bull by the horns, as they say, intuitively choosing the only appropriate tactic. “A week ago…”
I briefly explained the reason for our visit. In the course of the monologue, the little man seemed to come to his senses – he relaxed and began to absent-mindedly twirl a paper clip in his hands.
“All right,” the director said weakly. “We will consider your proposal…”
“When should we come by?” I interrupted him cheekily.
“In about a week or so,” he added in the same tone.
“Good! We’ll be here in a week!” I summarized and stood up. “See you then!”
My father also stood up. The little man mumbled something.
“Goodbye,” my father said and cleared his throat.
We walked out.
“We’ll come back in a week for sure!” I said as we left the office. “We’ve got to put the squeeze on this ghoul…”
The growing sales of barter goods forced us to include everyone in the barter system. I wondered about the second-rate wholesalers. The most interesting among them was “Sasha”. This company was a dealer for several large manufacturers, including “Aerosib”, one of the three largest aerosol manufacturers in the country. The leader was “Arbalest”, whose products were sold exclusively by the company of the same name. “Sasha” was the exclusive distributor for “Aerosib”. The products of the third factory were sold by both companies on equal terms. When I learned all these nuances, it became clear that the fattest piece of “Sasha’s” business was “Aerosib”. Of all “Aerosib’s” products, only air fresheners and, in the summer, dichlorvos sold well all year round.
“Yes, hello!” I answered my cell phone in the morning.
“Hello, Roma,” came the pleasant, slightly ingratiating voice of “Sasha’s” manager. It sounded remarkably soft. Its owner seemed embarrassed by the fact of the call and the inconvenience it caused. He did not demand anything, but shyly asked if I could bring another batch of goods, since the previous one had run out. I was surprised to hear such a tone from the manager of a larger company. I was used to cold, sometimes dismissive, business communication. Although over time I developed a fairly warm and trusting business relationship with most of the managers. But Sergey was courteous from the first minute, and in this way he immediately won my favor. My attitude affected our work – our trips to “Sasha” were internally pleasant. I wanted to work with the company.
“Hey, Seryoga!” I said cheerfully, expecting the order.
“I’m out of blueish here, do you have any more?” the voice continued quietly.
“Yes, Seryoga, I do, plenty! How much do you need?” I clarified.
“I think I could use fifteen packlings…”
“All right, we’ll bring it to you!” I said contentedly.
Sergey kindly informed me that the company “Sasha” had moved to a new location and gave me the address, which was completely unknown to me.
“I know where it is,” said my father. “I have a rough idea.”
In the afternoon of the next day we drove to “Sascha” with our last order. “It’s a ghetto, no less,” I thought as we drove over the bridge and into the residential yards of one of the left-bank districts. Old, shabby “Khrushchyovka” houses stretched all around the window. The active rhythm of life, boiling on the right bank, was not felt here at all. It was as if time had stood still here, as if we had gone back ten years. It was a complete ruin and a depressing sight. The houses on both sides of the street stared at us with their peeling windows and dirty glass, overhanging the street with ragged walls of old paint. Five meters in front of our car, slowly, as if we were in a zombie movie, a poorly dressed, dirty man with a glassy stare walked by. My father slowed down. The man wandered into the alley we were about to turn into. Three others dragged along on different sides of the street.
“Wow! What a drunk dude!” I exclaimed. “There must be a boozer nearby!”
There was another alchy sitting under the wall of the house, two lying by the bench, and one sleeping in the bushes.
“Yeah, I think so,” my father said thoughtfully, slowing down.
“Oh, there’s the boozer!” I shouted as the “GAZelle” rolled off the road to the right.
On the back wall of the house was an iron door leading to a room with dirty windows, a liquor store. We drove slowly past it, looking at the people who had lost all traces of personality. The asphalt ended with the house.
“There, it looks like a former kindergarten!” I exclaimed as I saw the new metal fence and the slate roof of the building behind it. “This way, Dad!”
The gate in the fence was open. We shook on the ground for another thirty meters and entered the property. The two-story building, with two attics on each side, looked like an old manor house. The right attic had been converted into a solid brick addition. The left attic was in a state of disrepair. In some places, the building showed signs of renovation: new windows; a new front door, one of two; and a roof covered with new slate. The whole area around it showed the beginnings of order and tidiness. There were two cars parked in front of the building – a new “Audi A6” and a used “Toyota Corolla”. We pulled up beside them and I went into the building and up to the second floor. It smelled like paint inside. Passing a room with desks of computers and three girls sitting behind them, I entered the spacious sales room. “Not bad,” I thought, started to look around, and my eyes fell on Sergey, who suddenly approached me. We greeted each other. I handed the waybill to the manager, he began to study it, and I studied him.
“It’s strange how disproportionately large his shoulders are,” I thought, noticing how much the heavy fabric jacket made them look larger. “And his head…” I thought afterwards. “And his lips are awfully thick and big.” I was surprised at my new perception of Sergey, remembering the previous image from two years ago of a nice, slim, swarthy, even handsome guy. Suddenly the image fell apart into separate fragments. The jacket, which made Sergey look like a square drawer for his medium height. A large head jutted down with a swollen double chin. Lips – big, wide, fleshy, bulging out so much on his face that it seemed they were all there and the rest was separate. A medium, neat nose. Slightly slanted eyes, large in relation to the nose, but inferior in proportion to the lips. A dull, as if extinguished gaze, framed by a rainbow of gray sheaths. A low sloping forehead, three fingers high. Strongly developed eyebrows protruding excessively from the rudimentary forehead. Machine-cut, dark, straight hair with a touch of gray at the temples. “Either he’s always looked like that, or he’s changed so much,” I thought, confused.
“Are you going to take anything?” Sergey said, taking his eyes off the waybill.
“Yes, here,” I handed over a piece of paper with a pre-written order.
“Okay, I’ll register the order, and you can go unload, and the storekeepers will have prepared it by then,” Sergey said, sitting down at the unoccupied computer in the sales room. I came closer. Sergey fidgeted in his chair and began to stare at the screen, as if cautiously touching the mouse with his hand.
“Katya, where’s the trading program?” he shouted after a minute into the next room, the one I had passed earlier. “Did you get out of it?”
A girl came up. She picked up the mouse, clicked and started the right program.
“Here,” she said and went back out.
“Oh, yeah,” Sergey stared intently at the screen, “Yeah, I got it, thanks, Katya.”
His hand hovered over the mouse, trembling, moved it slightly to the side, clicked the button. “Why is he doing everything so slowly?” I wondered.
“Okay, now I’ll enter the discount,” Sergey said, and his trembling fingers began to slowly poke at the keys as if they were doing it for the first time.
Tired of standing, I began to wander along the windows of the sales room.
“Okay, you got it, here, I’ll register what you ordered,” I heard from the computer. “You ordered air fresheners. Why don’t you get the other aerosols, the ones for the kitchen, for the stoves?”
“Are they selling well?” I asked, standing with my back to Sergey at the far windows.
“Yes, they are. You can take them for a try, retail them,” he said. “You want me to add a box each?”
“No, don’t,” I said without changing my posture, knowing full well that the product on offer was pointless, that it would hang in circulation and not be sold. “Just what I wrote.”
“All right,” he said to my back.
I turned and walked slowly towards Sergey. He continued to slowly poke at the keys, moving his lips as he read my order.
“Okay, done,” he said after five minutes, wiping his forehead with the palm of his hand and yelling into the room again. “Katya, how do you get from here to the waybill and print it out?”
The girl came over, fluttered her fingers over the keys, the printer whistled, pulled a blank sheet of paper from the tray, and returned it with the waybill on it. The girl left in silence.
“Oh, yes, I remember,” Sergey hesitated. “Yes, that’s right. Okay, uh-huh, Katya.”
“Strange, all those years of work and not being able to type a waybill,” I wondered again.
“Come over, you can unload!” Sergey said to me, raking all the documents together at once. “And I’ll take the waybills to the storekeeper.”
I nodded and walked out. My father drove the “GAZelle” to the pickup window and I unloaded the order. When I finished, I barely had time to put the waybill in my pocket before the first two boxes of air fresheners fell into my hands. I sent them to the back of the car. The boxes came flooding in. Two more boxes of air fresheners. Two more. More. A box of antistatic and two boxes of varnish. Two more boxes. “What kind of boxes are these? They don’t look familiar,” I thought. I automatically took them and put them in the back.
“That’s it!” the storekeeper barked. “Are you going to check it?”
“Yes, wait, let me have a look,” I said confusedly and took the waybill out of my pants, ran my eyes over it, checked it against the boxes in the back of the car. I remembered my order perfectly. Everything was correct except for two boxes. “Stove cleaner,” I read the name to myself.
“Is everything all right?” the storekeeper said impatiently.
“Just a minute,” I hesitated.
“I definitely did not order these two boxes… It’s junk… not for sale at all. Why did he give them to me? I didn’t ask for them. I said I didn’t want anything but the order! Strange,” my mind raced. I looked at the unwanted boxes and did not know what to do. This was the first time I had ever been in a situation where a product was being palmed off on me. An incomprehensible move. It didn’t make sense. I could have easily refused the item, couldn’t I? “Why?” swirled around in my head.
“Is everything all right!?” came the voice in my ear again, the storekeeper impatiently tapping his pen on the metal railing.
“Fine, I’ll take these boxes. I’ll put them in the kiosks. If they don’t sell, I’ll give them back, who cares,” my brain hastily made an uncomfortable decision.
“Yes, it’s all right,” I mumbled confusedly and closed the back of the “GAZelle”.
“Well, okay, bye!” the storekeeper waved his hand and closed the shutters.
Still a little perplexed, I sat down in the cabin and immediately said:
“Fancy that, Seryoga shoved me two boxes of a stove cleaner for some reason!”
“What for?” my father asked in surprise.
“I have no idea!” I shrugged. “Maybe he does this to everyone as a test run.”
“Well, maybe,” my father grimaced in disbelief.
“Never mind!” I shrugged off the strange event and threw the waybill on the dash. “We’ll try retail and see if it sells, and if not, we’ll give it back.”
“Whatever you decide, I don’t mind,” my father shrugged indifferently.
“All right,” I agreed, and we left.
Ten days before the end of April, the commercial director of “Luxchem” appeared unexpectedly. He called early in the morning and asked for a meeting. We met Edik in a cafe for lunch. The conversation was casual, about current events. I mentioned “Homeland” and said that the negotiations were difficult, but we still hoped to get the director of that company.
“I’ll have to pay him a visit while I’m here,” Edik said.
“Yes, you should, see if you can make a deal!” I perked up. “He might listen to you and agree right away! Then we’ll start delivering your goods to ‘Homeland’!”
“Okay, Roma, I’ll be sure to stop by today!” Edik smiled foxishly.
The last week of April was hectic – we were getting ready for the mall to open. On Monday we made two trips to get the retail equipment – display cases and shelves, brought them in and set them up. On Tuesday, we put up an ad at the entrance of the mall for saleswomen in the department, and on Wednesday, two girls responded. On Wednesday and Thursday, we moved the goods into the department and got it ready to open. The other tenants did the same. At the end, I looked around tiredly; the room that was once empty was now full of sales departments. At 10 a.m. on Friday, April 30, after half an hour of boring official speeches from the balloon-covered podium in front of the main entrance, the grand opening of the mall was complete! The crowd poured in, ensuring a good day’s sales for the festively dressed merchants.
“Let’s go to ‘Homeland’!” I suggested to my father around noon, when the first wave of euphoria had subsided. “It’s the last day before the holidays.”
My father agreed, and in half an hour we were there.
“Hello, how can I help you?” the sales manager smiled at me.
“Hello! I wanted to ask you about the situation with our commercial proposal, you know, the one we made to you, to your director!” I said cheerfully, in a festive mood. “We opened a third outlet! And not the old kiosks, but a full-fledged department in a new shopping mall!” my thoughts bounced around happily in my head.
“Yes, we will work with your products,” said the girl, and everything in me rejoiced with double force: “What news! We didn’t stop by for nothing! It felt like it!”
“We have already placed an order with the manufacturer,” the manager added.
“What do you mean???” I stared at the girl, dazed.
“The director found your offer interesting,” she explained calmly. “A representative of the manufacturer came to see us, we signed a contract, and now we will work directly with him.”
I had a sinking feeling. I turned around. My father was standing behind me, scratching his nose.
“Who came?” I forced myself, knowing that I had to say something, even if it was pointless, and that it was even more stupid to remain silent. “Edik?”
“Oh, I don’t know his name,” said the girl. “He was short and gray-haired.”
“Edik,” I looked at my father, who nodded, turned away, and walked slowly out the door.
“Okay, I see,” I said, trying to gather my thoughts and calm my pounding heart. “Yes, that was him. I need to call him and see what’s going on. Because, you see, there was a misunderstanding…”
I threw up my hands and the girl smiled understandingly.
“Okay, so it goes,” I exhaled heavily, waving my hand and heading for the exit. The sun was blindingly bright outside, making me squint. The weather was beautiful – clear and blue skies, no wind, warm, just over twenty degrees above zero. It was perfect. And just five minutes ago, the mood had been completely ruined. My father was smoking nervously in the distance. I smoked without thinking.
“That Edik is such a pig!” my father forced himself. “That’s all I have to say.”
“Well, yes,” I nodded.
We smoked for a minute in silence.
“I don’t understand!” came out of my mouth. “How could they do that? Why would they do that? They’re cutting us from behind! We can’t develop this way! How can we sell their product if they’re taking our customers?”
My father was silent. Everything inside me was seething. There was a terrible feeling of being stabbed in the back, and I reflexively stood against the wall with it. I remembered a story from a book. There was a bandit in America during the Wild West. They couldn’t catch him. He was a good shot and always sat with his back to the wall and his face to the entrance in all the establishments, so that he could see and control everything. Of course, he was killed in the back, the first and only time he sat with his back to the entrance. The bottom line is, don’t relax and don’t put your head on the block. I finished my cigarette.
“Shall we go?” my father said, angrily tossing away his cigarette butt.
I nodded. The upcoming holidays were no fun anymore. I felt like a dog that had been cheated out of a hard-to-find bone. I had learned my lesson.
I spent the whole May holidays with Vovka in “Clear Skies”. My inner state was like a “screwdriver”, a cocktail that I used to drink in the evenings at that club: on one side anger at Edik, on the other side euphoria at the opening of the first full-fledged retail department. Joy mixed with bitterness, like vodka and juice. The days were mixed as well. I crawled out of the drunken haze of the club on the last night of the holidays and found myself out in the fresh air at two in the morning, just as the club was closing. Nearby, Vovka was fuming.
“I’m going to quit smoking after all,” he suddenly said tiredly.
“You’ve quit before, right?” I chuckled and took a drag.
“I’m going to quit again,” Vovka frowned, and we wandered towards the hotel.
“Yeah, cigarettes are a bad thing!” I sighed. “One day I’ll quit smoking too.”
“I’m starving!” Vovka said and started to circle his hand over his stomach.
“I’m hungry too,” I immediately felt a pang of hunger.
In a few minutes we were greedily eating our food, standing at a 24-hour fast-food kiosk. Vovka chomped horribly. The sauce dripped down the corners of his mouth, breadcrumbs flew in all directions. I finished first, the hamburger clogged my stomach and got stuck, making it hard to breathe. I drank my coffee. It didn’t help. The chunk of food was right under my throat.
“Well, let’s go!?” Vovka shouted.
I nodded and took a deep breath, no use. We got into Edik’s car and drove off. The whole way, without shutting up, Vovka told him something loudly. I started to sweat and felt sick.
“Pull over here, for fuck’s sake!” Vovka yelled as we got in front of his alley.
The car squeaked its brakes. Panting, Vovka got out of the front seat, said goodbye to us loudly, and waddled off into the darkness. We drove on. I tried hard to pretend that I was okay, but it was getting worse. A lump in my stomach bounced in time with the wheels on the broken streets of the city. Time melted away in seconds.
“Don’t take me to the house,” I said casually. “Just stop on the street and I’ll walk, get some air.”
Here we are! I counted the money, said goodbye to Edik and he drove off. I looked around, not a soul in sight. I took a step towards the nearest bush and threw up a fountain.
“Fucking stomach, I’m so fucking sick of you!” I cursed, exhaled in relief, and, wiping the sweat from my face, walked home on jelly legs.
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