“Hey, Lilya! What are you doing? Are you at work?”
“Hi. Yeah, working, busy day. Lots of patients. How are you?”
“I’m okay. At work too. Miss you. Looking forward to November :)”
“I miss you too. Say hi to Vovchik for me! :)”
It was as if Vovka had disappeared. I saw him even less often, only when I came to the “Pelican” to get money. “Pelican” was the only place where Sergey didn’t get money. He went to all the other depots alone, and sometimes we went together. When we arrived at “Pelican”, we were always separated – Sergey stayed in the car and I went to get the money.
“Have you seen your Vovan?” Sergey said on Thursday, October 6, as I got back into the “Mazda” and handed him two sheets of leftover goods.
“Yes, I have,” I nodded.
“How is he?” Sergey murmured, studying the papers.
“He’s fine, working, all over in his relationship!” I hummed cheerfully, hardly imagining Vovka as a romantic.
“Wow, really!?” Sergey was deliberately surprised. “Did Vovan get a girlfriend!?”
“Yes!” I smiled harder. “He met a girl when we went to the barbecue.”
I told him the details of that day.
“Who do you go clubbing with now?” Sergey looked at me.
“I have no one! I can go alone. There are plenty of people I know there without Vovka…”
I spent Friday and Saturday night at “Skies”. When I went down to the club on Friday, I immediately made eye contact with Rita. She looked past me and turned away. I made my way to the bar and as I approached I said hello and walked past her. I ordered a double “screwdriver” from the bartender, lit a cigarette and smirked at my own thoughts. This kind of female reaction always surprised me. If a girl chooses one of two guys, can’t she at least treat the other one neutrally and politely? Why all the posturing? Maybe girls don’t like it when a rejected guy doesn’t hang around suffering, but walks around with a satisfied face, like I did that night.
“Hey, Lilya 🙂 What are you doing? Not sleeping?”
“Hey. No, not yet. Sitting in a cafe with colleagues. Celebrating a birthday. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. Went to the bar for a few hours. Then home.”
“Why did you go there? To meet girls? :)”
“No. Just bored. You’re not around. I miss you.”
“Don’t miss me. I’ll see you soon.”
“It’s too long, a whole month. I want to hear your voice. Can I call you?”
“Let’s do it later. It’s not convenient now.”
“In an hour.”
The “screwdriver” was out. My stomach hurt. I already knew what to do – I repeated the order, immediately pulled half of it through the straw and smoked again. The mixture of alcohol and nicotine dulled the pain. I leaned against the wall of the grotto and sipped my cocktail, looking at everyone on the dance floor. The crowd in this place had changed. A few years ago it was students and more or less decent older people. Now I saw different people. The old ones were still there, but they were few and far between. Half-criminal looking young men and girls of the same low class crowded the club. Bald-headed or short-cropped guys swore incessantly, drank the cheapest beer and glasses of vodka without appetizers, looked around with dull eyes, chewed cigarettes and disappeared into the darkness of the dance floor. They soon returned for another round of vodka. After pouring a glass into their mouths, they wiped themselves with their sleeves or the backs of their hands, looked around with an aggressive look, and, shoving those who got in their way, went back to the dance floor with loping steps. These guys always finished off with beer, which they drank greedily and in large gulps, making their eyes blurry to the point of complete dumbness. Their companions, manically holding a cigarette or a plastic glass of beer, swore loudly and laughed defiantly. The lightness and cheerfulness of the place had been replaced by the stale air of despondency and hopelessness. Those who were striving upward in life were replaced by their peers who were rolling downward. In my mind, I suddenly realized that this whole club life was starting to slip away from me. I went to the bathroom. A clogged sink, one of two inoperable urinals, and the only occupied stall with belching sounds coming from it. The bathroom was full of drunken rabble. Strange, I had never noticed it before. Now, as if I’d been pulled out of the veil for a moment, I saw it. It was stuffy. I wanted fresh air. I went to the exit, pushed open the heavy door, and sucked in a lungful of fresh air. Its coolness penetrated my sweatshirt, touched my naked body and made me shiver. I stepped back to the street, lit a cigarette, turned to the entrance of the club, saw a girl and was stunned. She was about one hundred and sixty centimeters tall, a dyed blonde with a mop of curly hair down to her shoulder blades, and she was standing at the side of the entrance with a guy. He was sitting with his knees around her thighs. The girl was dressed in all light colors – a thin white sweater with a collar, tight beige breeches, and white stiletto shoes. The girl’s barely dark skin contrasted with the white, creating a striking effect. I stared at the girl for about ten minutes before I realized that her figure was perfect. Absolutely perfect proportions! I scanned her from the bottom to the top for the hundredth time: beautiful feet with a high instep; well-defined calves; neat thighs covered with breeches leading to a perfectly round and firm bottom; flat stomach with a narrow waist; finely carved hands with healthy, strong nails and manicure without nail polish. The masterpiece was completed by perfect С-sized breasts. The girl laughed at the guy’s remark, ruffled her hair with her hand, and I saw her face. Flawless, neat features. Big blue eyes, wide dark eyebrows, straight middle nose, full wide lips that revealed perfectly straight teeth when she smiled. And no makeup! Shuffling from foot to foot, the girl took a few steps away from the guy, came back and gently embraced his head. How fluidly she moved!
“Oh my God! Did you really create her!? Unbelievable!”
The girl was so different from the people around her that it was as if they didn’t exist. What was she doing here? The place didn’t fit her image. Like a swan in a henhouse. I looked at the guy. Tall, slim, handsome blond. They looked great together. A burning sense of longing spilled over my chest, a wild desire to finally have a real relationship. With a lump in my throat, I turned away from the couple and stared absentmindedly at the passing cars. The feelings that came over me combined with Lilya’s image and intensified. I pulled out my cell phone.
“Do you want me to come over?”
“What do you mean? When?”
“Let me call you.”
I called. I mumbled into the phone that I missed her and suggested that I come to Moscow to see her, go for a walk, go to the movies.
“A bit unexpected,” Lilya said thoughtfully. “And how would you like to come, for how long? I live in a dormitory and cannot accommodate you…”
“Lilya, what does that have to do with it!?” I was surprised and offended by such a thought. “I’m not going because of that. I want to see you. I’ll come, we’ll go for a walk, I’ll leave in the evening. That’s all.”
Lilya said that she would probably be free next weekend and would even meet me at the station. I replied happily.
The couple stopped hugging. The guy took her hand and they walked leisurely away from the club.
At my exclamation Lilya remarked that we would discuss the meeting closer to the weekend and asked if I was still at the club.
“No, I’m outside, on my way home…”
“Why? No interesting girls out there?” Lilya teased me.
“Lilya, I wasn’t looking for girls there…” I shrugged, perplexed.
“I was just kidding. Okay, I’m going to sleep. Send you a kiss, darling. Bye.”
“Bye, Lilya. A big kiss from me. Good night.”
I ended the call halfway to the hotel. It was almost midnight. The familiar car was parked in the usual spot. I greeted the driver.
“Why are you so early!?” He stared at me.
“No reason, I was bored there… I guess I’m getting old,” I laughed silently.
“Shall I drive you?”
“No, I think I’d better walk,” I shook my head, said goodbye and walked down the street.
I walked three stops and got into one of the last shared taxis.
It was unclear how to continue my relationship with my father. An almost imperceptible wall of estrangement had appeared between us, and our relationship became strained and neutral. Our communication was minimized. I turned the situation around in my mind, looking for an acceptable way out for both of us. On the one hand, I didn’t feel guilty about my father’s leaving. On the other hand, he expressed his view of what had happened: I had not supported my father in the dispute with Sergey when he “kicked him out”. My father insisted that “Sergey kicked him out” and that I “did not take a father’s position as a son should”. Each time I parried his argument by reminding him of the pre-merger agreement. The response was always silence. I felt in my gut that my father considered me a traitor. Not feeling guilty, but wanting to help my father out of the situation, I decided to talk to him. Early October 2005 was warm. On Saturday afternoon, my father was smoking as usual on the balcony, with his chest resting on the sill of the open window.
“Dad, listen…” I went to the balcony, sat down on the couch and lit a cigarette.
My father half turned and turned away again.
“Since you and Seryoga didn’t get along…” I tried to find the words, “maybe you could do something on your own? I mean, we have the money. And I don’t think we’ll have a problem with the warehouse. If you need it, you can rent some of ours. It won’t cost you much. I’d offer it to you for free, but since I’m not the only one in the company, Seryoga will probably be against it, but at the same price per meter that we pay, no problem.”
My father finished, threw a cigarette butt from the balcony, exhaled the smoke, turned around, looked at me with a stern, penetrating look, and said dryly: “I will, don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried…” I mumbled. “It’s up to you, of course, to do what’s best for you. I just thought there might be opportunities for you to work. You can take our money and work. I’ll help you with whatever you need. All right?”
My father nodded a few times, made a hissing sound, said coldly, “Okay,” and turned away.
Communication didn’t work. Inside me, anger replaced guilt. I gritted my teeth, got up, and walked out. The cold wall of alienation I’d built in my desire to help my father was the same wall I’d built in mine. The urge to help faded on its own. I felt that my father wouldn’t change his position. What did he want from me? Repentance? For what? For his own behavior? It’s convenient to blame someone else. Even if I had a part in what happened, it was only a part. So why make me the whole culprit? My father’s denial of any part of what happened made me angry. “Hurt people get the short end of the stick,” I thought harshly, drank some tea with a piece of bread in the kitchen, and left the house.
An hour later I was in the club. I ordered a double “screwdriver” and stayed at the bar. The evening was boring. By midnight “Clear Skies” was almost full, but my mood didn’t improve. My stomach hurt. I drowned the pain with alcohol and went outside. The moping continued. I smoked and went home. I didn’t want to stay at the club, I didn’t want to go home, I didn’t want to take a cab. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I walked, and the measured work of my feet was a relief. I wanted to walk and think. My head was in chaos, and only a clear rhythm of steps helped me to organize my thoughts. The super-successful relationship with Sergey had almost led to the breaking off of relations with my father. One relationship that didn’t work out was compensated by the acquaintance with Lilya. The pictures in my head were flying in a row and merged into a kaleidoscope: my father, my mother, Sergey, Vera, Vovka, Rita, Lilya and the blonde in white. I walked until I was tired. In the middle of the way I caught a “picker-upper” and soon I was home.
Sunday. It was uncomfortable at home. My mother still lounged in her room, coming out occasionally as needed. My father kept a silent psychological distance. Vovka didn’t call, Lilya didn’t write. I slept as much as I could and, after a late breakfast, sat down to play a computer game to kill some time.
“Ramseees!” Vovka called me out of the blue. “What are you doing!? Howdy! Come for a walk with us!”
Rejoicing at my friend’s call, I didn’t need to convince myself, and around six in the evening I met the newly-made couple in the center.
“Hi,” Lera said in a humble and friendly voice.
“Whassup, bigwig!” Vovka pushed his rough hand into my palm and hugged me, grunting with joy. “How are you doing? Business is booming!? Getting fucking rich!? I missed you, Ramses, you won’t believe it!”
“Why shouldn’t I believe you?” I smiled and looked at Lera. “I do!”
The three of us walked leisurely down the street. Vovka immediately started asking questions. I said that everything was fine: the business was moving and growing, my partner Sergey seemed to be a normal guy – he brought a lot of new goods to the company.
“In general, it was not in vain that we teamed up with him!” I summarized.
“How is Anatoly Vasilievich, your old man, how is he?” Vovka immediately became serious.
“Well, he’s doing something, driving, I guess…” I began, realizing that I really had no idea what my father did. “We don’t talk much now, we’re in a tense situation…”
“Yeah, your old man is a serious man!” Vovka scratched the back of his head.
“Well, how are things with you?” I changed the subject.
“Well, we’re going out!” Vovka nodded to Lera, who chuckled, and Vovka, pleased with himself, immediately pulled up his pants, stuck out his chest and gave the girl a playfully stern look. “I’m thinking of getting her a job at ‘Pelican’ in the accounting department. Will you come?”
“I will,” she laughed softly.
At ten o’clock at the movie theater, we parted ways.
“Where are you going now?” Vovka squinted. “To that shitty place, I bet!”
“Oh, wow! It’s already shitty! A month ago it was the best, and now it’s shitty!”
“No, I don’t mean that!” Vovka got confused, fidgeted, grabbed my hand, shook it, let go and grabbed the girl’s waist. “All right! Bye!”
“Bye,” Lera said, laughing, and Vovka, shuffling along the tiles of the avenue, pulled her behind him.
“Bye…” I said softly, looking after the departing couple, my gaze moving to the left to the traffic light. The yellow color on it changed to green. I crossed the street and went down to the club. I made the usual order, smoked a cigarette and stayed at the bar.
Second double “screwdriver”, third. I wasn’t in the mood, and the vodka didn’t affect me. I stayed almost sober. There was a feeling that I was confused or going the wrong way or doing the wrong thing. I didn’t understand the meaning, I was just groggy from the anxiety I felt. Or the alcohol. I forcefully drained the glass in two gulps and walked away sullenly.
“I bought them this weekend just to give you a treat,” Sergey said on Monday, putting the briefcase, which I called a “suitcase” because of its ability to swell to twice its size, on the table. “I smoked a few myself yesterday at the dacha with cognac!”
Two thin cigars appeared from the “suitcase”. I was surprised and confused.
“Do you want one?” Sergey said with a smile. “Have you ever smoked cigars?”
“Damn, Seryoga, you’ve done it! You brought cigars!” I shouted, took the offered cigar, put it to my nose and leaned back in the chair at the table.
Vera, who had come in after her husband, sat down at her workplace, started her computer and smiled sympathetically as she looked at us.
“I quit smoking a long time ago, but sometimes I indulge in cigars!” Sergey said, shoving his briefcase into the cupboard and, with a cigar in his hand, plopping down in the chair by the door. “Do you know what a pleasure it is to sit by the fire in the evening with a cigar and a glass of cognac, sipping cognac and then a cigar, so that the smoke mixes with the taste of the cognac in your mouth!”
After hearing the “mantra” about cigars, cognac, evening, and bonfires for the umpteenth time, I raised my eyebrows in surprise and said: “Seryoga, to be honest, I don’t understand, what’s the point of smoking them!? There are cigarettes, you at least inhale them, and this… you don’t inhale when you smoke cigars, do you?”
“Well, no, not inhaling, that’s why I smoke them! It’s not an addiction, just a pleasure!” Sergey said, looked at me conspiratorially and added. “Shall we smoke?”
“Well, I guess we can,” I shrugged, took a lighter out of my pocket, lit my cigar, and handed the lighter to my partner.
I took a drag, the sour taste filling my mouth.
“How was it?” Sergey took a drag too, blew the smoke up and looked at me triumphantly.
“Fuck knows, Seryoga! It’s not clear yet, it doesn’t go to my head, it tastes good…”
“Boys, you should smoke outside…” Vera said.
“Yes, right!” I got excited. “Sorry, Vera! Come on, Seryoga, let’s go outside!”
We went outside. It was a warm and dry fall, the ground was covered with yellow leaves. I carefully sat down on a sagging iron fence, and it creaked.
“Look, it’s going to break,” Sergey smiled.
“I’m being careful, it seems to be holding,” I put all my weight on the pipe. “Although I’m heavy…”
“How much do you weigh?” Sergey puffed on his cigar and staggered down the path.
“I don’t know, I haven’t weighed myself in a long time, somewhere between ninety-five and ninety-six kilos,” I shrugged, spitting out the unfamiliar taste of the cigar, and automatically asked, “And you?”
“Ninety-one or ninety-two,” Sergey twirled his hand in the air. “Something like that… And when I started boxing, I was seventy-five, imagine! Now I’ve put on some weight, of course!”
“You have, big time!” I chuckled and nodded at my partner’s belly, hanging over his belt and visible even with his shirt over his pants.
“Are you less than that!?” Sergey retorted.
“Well…” I thought about it, calculated. “About the same, but we are different heights. Ten centimeters difference! But you have broader shoulders, I don’t know where my weight is…”
“The weight also gives you a stronger punch!” Sergey turned the dialog to the level of boxing.
“Well, of course!” I nodded. “One thing is a hundred kilograms, you can knock someone down with one punch, and another – seventy or even sixty… You’d be too tired to swing your arms…”
“Come on, just one punch,” Sergey resisted for some reason.
“Well, what’s the matter?” I was surprised. “You went to boxing! I don’t know, a hundred kilograms is serious! When the punch is set, they hit like a rail.”
“No,” Sergey shook his head and sniffed his nose. “I liked my weight! I had a punch and moved well…”
He let out a puff of smoke and started down the path again, reaching the end of it and turning around. I blew smoke as well.
“Well?” Sergey nodded at my cigar.
“Fuck knows,” I said, laughing. “For me it’s better to smoke regular cigarettes, ’cause I don’t understand if I’m smoking or not…”
“I like it,” Sergey said, smoking even harder.
The dialog froze.
I smoked the cigar and didn’t know what I was doing. The smoke seemed to be there, but it didn’t do anything but make my mouth feel sour and stuffy. I spat, tasted the palate with my tongue and spat again. Sergey smoked with dignity, obviously making the act a ritual. Suddenly he hesitated, as if deciding whether to speak or not, hesitated for a few seconds, looked at me carefully and, having made up his mind, said: “There is another manufacturer, we worked with them at ‘Sasha’…”
“What manufacturer?” I immediately gave him my full attention.
Sergey told me about a company in Moscow that made cheap perfume. He said that this product was selling well and that the wholesale depots in the city didn’t have it.
“I think maybe we should get some and try to sell them. What do you think?”
“Well, if it sells well, there’s nothing to think about – we should take it and bring it in!” Sergey said that they bought the goods in cash, and the manufacturer would probably not give us a delay in payment.
“No way! We have to negotiate! What, just in advance?” I waved my hand with my cigar and coughed. “We’ll try to negotiate the standard terms-half payment in advance and the rest with a delay of thirty days. On such terms we can work…”
The door to the building opened and Vera stepped outside.
“The ‘WholeSale’ called, they increased the order, so I redid the waybill,” she came up to us and held out the document. “Petya’s loading now, right? Here, give it to him…”
“Let’s go!” I nodded to Sergey, stood up and took the papers. Having an excuse to finish my stupid occupation, I threw my cigar on the ground, crushed it with my shoe and headed for the warehouse.
“You should know that toilet water is a high-money item, and it only sells well during the holidays, and the rest of the time it sells poorly,” Sergey said, catching up with me.
“And how much better does it sell during the holidays?”
“It sells like crazy! Well, in ‘Sasha’ it was like that, and how in other depots, I don’t know,” Sergey spread his hands and waved them briskly. Because of the difference in height, I stepped wider and less often, and he couldn’t keep up, walking with a little shuffle that made his stomach and shoulders bounce rhythmically.
“Everyone sells everything the same way!” I waved away.
“Well, yeah,” Sergey sighed.
“How much better does it sell!? Two, three times!?” I said.
“No, more, five times more!” Sergey stuck out his lips.
“Fucking hell! Fucking awesome! Damn, Seryoga, then we don’t even have to fucking think about it, we have to bring it in and sell it!” I started, filling the speech with expletives. “Fuck, that must be a lot of dough, right?!”
“As a matter of fact, yes!” he pouted even more, adding, “And if we order the first batch and it’s not sold out in thirty days, what are we going to do? We’ve already bought a lot of salt, ten tons, and we’ve started selling poison… it’s all our money!”
Sergey pronounced the word “money” with a strong local accent. I was almost used to it and didn’t notice it, but when the accent sounded excessive, it cut my ears.
“So what?” I was surprised, like an impertinent gambler who is discouraged from making a fat bet. “Seryoga, don’t worry, we’ll get out of this! They’ll wait a little, if not, we’ll pay, others will wait! Fuck, Seryoga, we don’t have to think about that now! We’ll bring the goods, start selling, then we’ll see! The only thing is, we have to talk to everyone first. If at least two big companies agree to take it, then we should bring it in! Otherwise, someone will definitely bring the goods! You’ll see! If ‘Fort’ and ‘WholeSale’ agree…”
We immediately went through all the depots and wholesalers where we wanted to put the perfumes, and it turned out that we had acquaintances or connections everywhere.
“It’s more important to get good terms from the manufacturer, Seryoga!” I summarized.
“Well, yes, everything seems to be going smoothly,” he nodded, thought about it and said: “Listen, if suddenly… I’m just guessing… if we need the money, can you get it? I just don’t know how much you have, you don’t tell me. Although I’m not greedy, I see we’re doing well and I can get my own for the sake of it and invest in the company for you and myself if you can’t or don’t have it! Just tell me the truth so I know for sure! And money is no problem…”
I wondered. It wasn’t the first time Sergey had asked me if I had a stash of money. He had even said that he had a bank account and some stocks totaling three hundred thousand. That statement had been a boast, which I had let pass and joked about. Now the question came up again. I took it to mean that he wanted to be on the safe side in case we didn’t sell quickly. Caution is a good quality when it is not excessive. But there was a hesitation in Sergey’s question that irritated me a bit. That’s how I took his question about my having money.
“… I have five hundred thousand in the bank! Roman, if you don’t have it, I’ll do a good deed for you, take the money out and invest it! I’ll support you! The main thing for me is that the company develops!” Sergey continued.
I shuddered. It sounded even more like bragging, but it was also an outright lie. I couldn’t stand lying! I had put up with it the last time, but this time I couldn’t help myself and let my sarcasm out.
“Seryoga, what kind of bank do you have, where a month ago you had three hundred thousand, and now it’s already five hundred!?” I chuckled. “Where they pay such wild interest rates! I’ll take my money there right now! Huh!? What kind of bank is this?”
My partner fell silent. The dialog was cut off. In an awkward pause, we approached the warehouse.
“Seeenya!” I called, entering the warehouse first. “Here, a new waybill…”
Five minutes later, after leaving the warehouse, we walked in silence to the office. The aftertaste of Sergey’s boasting did not make me want to talk. The pause dragged on. Sergey interrupted it by resuming his story about boxing and his youth in general. I listened halfheartedly. I was not interested in the subject, but Sergey’s monologue broke the silence and allowed me to think about my own thoughts.
“Let’s stop here!” Sergey nodded towards the shopping mall on the right. We drove the “Mazda” from “Mercury”. Negotiations with Senya Stepanov, the director of the depot, about toilet water had failed. It turned out that Senya had already taken similar goods from an acquaintance of his. This acquaintance gave Senya a lot of money, and they were both happy. This acquaintance also supplied “Pelican” with toilet water. So Vovka also spread his hands and refused to take ours. All the other big customers agreed.
“All right!” I said in a sour mood after the outcome of the negotiations.
At the shopping center, Sergey bought a cell phone. But first he asked me to show him mine, found out its price – three thousand – and then began to study the display.
“This one seems pretty good,” Sergey said, then added, “And this one is okay…”
“Expensive!” I was surprised. “Ten grand! What the hell do you need a ten grand phone for?”
“Well, maybe I like it!” he looked at me defiantly.
“Well, if you like it, take it!” I spread my hands and stepped aside.
For a few minutes I heard Sergey sniffing behind me.
“That’s a good one, too,” came from behind me, and I turned and walked over.
“Yeah, it’s okay,” I nodded and looked at the price tag – “7,600”.
“I like this one too,” Sergey pressed his lip.
I shifted my gaze – “5,200”.
“Which one do you like better?” My partner looked at me.
“They both seem okay,” I shrugged. “You’d have to touch them, turn them in your hands.”
For the next five minutes, Sergey twirled the two phones in his hands and listened to the salesman’s obsessive fables about the benefits of each. I hung around and was frankly bored.
“Well, which one do you like better?” Sergey turned to me again.
“I don’t know… They have the same functionality. I’d take the cheaper one…”
“Okay, yeah, I’ll take this one,” my partner decided, waved his hand at the salesman, went into his briefcase, took out his money, counted it, and said: “Romych, listen, is it okay if I dive into the common fund? Because I’m a thousand short and I’ll pay it back from my salary!”
“It’s okay,” I shrugged, “there’s accounting, you’ll put it back later and that’s all.”
“Yes, I’ll do it as soon as I get my salary!” Sergey huffed, shoved his hand into the other compartment of his briefcase, and with trembling fingers counted out the missing amount from the bundle.
On Friday, all excited, I got on the train and went to Moscow. To see Lilya.
I lay on the top shelf and thought about my relationship with her. All I realized was that our relationship was different from my previous ones. For the first time I decided to be conscious and tried to build it not with feelings but with logic – to create a strict blueprint in my mind instead of shaping the relationship with expression. And Lilya was different. Posture, presence of manners, good education, hereditary belonging to a profession. I saw in her what is called, in a word, a breed. I had never paid much attention to such things before. I thought that no matter where a person was born or what kind of education they received, the main thing was that they turned out to be good. I denied the influence of the environment on human development, believing that the most important thing is the seed in each of us, and the rest will come. When I realized my mistake, I decided to start from the other end – to start with the wrapper and look for the grain inside.
At 8 in the morning on Saturday, October 15, I stepped onto the platform of Paveletsky Station and walked toward the main building. Winter was approaching in Moscow, the air already tingling my face with cold. A light frost held the puddles on the asphalt in a web of ice. “About zero degrees,” I thought, looking up at the clear, cloudless sky and realizing that it was going to be quite a day. Soon I saw Lilya, standing at the beginning of the platform in a light brown coat, black boots and holding a black purse in front of her with both hands in black leather gloves. I smiled. Lilya noticed me and smiled back. I walked over and awkwardly pressed my lips to her cheek. Lilya looked at me with her unusually light blue eyes, fluttered her eyelashes, smiled and looked down.
“Hi, Lilya!” I said and took the girl’s hand. My heart beat with joy.
“Hi!” the girl replied, a beautiful smile of plump lips in bright red lipstick lighting up her face. “How was your trip?”
“Good trip, fast! I fell asleep and woke up in Moscow… and here you are! Let’s go?”
Lilya nodded, took me under her arm, and we walked to the subway.
“How is Vovchik?” She looked at me carefully, elegantly tossing back a strand of perfect hair. “I missed you terribly!”
We spent the day together. We walked around the center, drank coffee and ate in various cafes. It was getting warmer outside. By noon the sun had warmed the air by ten degrees, and I, again feeling a rush of happiness and forgetting all my doubts, began to enjoy meeting Lilya.
“I’m kind of idle today…” She said, walking nicely beside me.
We came to a park without a single tree and paved with stone slabs.
“That is the buzzword in Moscow right now! Idle. You know?” Lilya glanced at me, continuing to measure every step with precision, tapping her stilettos elegantly.
“No, I didn’t know that,” I shrugged and looked for a free bench at the end of the park.
“Listen Lilya, why did you break up with that deputy?” I asked suddenly, reviving Lilya’s story about her previous relationship.
“He behaved in an unmanly way,” she said after a second delay, nervously waving her hand away from someone or something invisible.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I thought we were starting a relationship…” the girl became more nervous, reluctantly squeezing the words out of her mouth. “I believed him. We almost started living together. And then he disappeared without explaining anything…”
I tactfully didn’t broach the subject. At the same time, I remembered how Lilya had talked about these relationships in a pompous and breathy way a month before.
“You have to deal with people in your own circle,” she said at the time. “I’m selective in my relationships, and I don’t date just anyone. I recently ended a year-long relationship. He was a deputy. And now I know exactly what real men are like. After that, a self-respecting girl is not going to date just anyone…”
We walked over to the bench. I leaned over and ran my hand along the wooden slats.
“Dirty…” I looked at my fingers. “Sit like this!”
I held out my hand to Lilya. I supported her, and she climbed onto the bench, sat on its back, and put her feet on the dusty slats. Our eyes met. I looked down. Lilya’s hands, already gloveless, were in her lap over her coat. I took them in mine. I wrapped my palms around the cold, thin fingers and smiled. Lilya smiled awkwardly and tensed in return. I listened to my feelings. Inside everything was quiet. Alarmed, I squeezed her hands tighter. Lilya smirked aloofly, with the shadow of a beautiful woman’s self-confidence in her irresistibility, and averted her eyes to the left. I suddenly realized that I felt nothing for Lilya. The anxiety was gone and my chest felt empty. I unclenched my fingers and looked down. Lilya’s hands were in my palms. They weren’t pretty. I squeezed them again, instinctively chasing away the last thought. But then the next one came – I didn’t like touching her hands. Unattractive fingers with fancy red nail polish staring at me. In my mind, a physiological barrier was growing between us. I looked up. Lilya looked at me indifferently and condescendingly. She allowed me to be with her. This simple thought suddenly penetrated me. She allowed me to accompany her on her walks, she allowed me to come to her. She allowed me to hold her hands. All this Lilya allowed me, hiding the boredom of being with me behind a formal, polite smile. I slowly released my palms from hers, smiled strained, and shoved my hands into my pockets. The day was fading and the hours that had flown before were now frozen.
I shivered. Either from the chill or my epiphany. My practically built relationship was coming apart at the seams. The truth I had been hiding from myself was coming out – I didn’t love Lilya and she didn’t love me.
The second half of the day we walked around the malls. We walked down the long gallery of “Okhotny Ryad” station and went into a perfume store.
“What do you think of this perfume?” Lilya chose one of the bottles of men’s toilet water.
“Not bad, I like it,” I said automatically and a little tired, I wanted to go home.
“I like it too,” she smiled. “It will suit you.”
I nodded absent-mindedly and walked out into the common hallway, Lilya joining me a minute later. Walking with a girl in a shopping mall is not the best thing for a man’s psyche. Lilya walked ahead of me, looking at the departments, at the expensive women’s clothes. I walked behind her with a polite face and no mood.
“How’s work in general?” I said, breaking the long silence.
“Well, it could be better…” Lilya waved her hand pretentiously. “The patients are so greedy now, just misers! They practically don’t give me any money, can you imagine! So funny! Do they think I’ll treat them for free?!”
“What do you mean?” I didn’t understand. “I thought you had a military hospital there…”
“So?” Lilya gave me a slightly contemptuous look, as if I had said something incredibly stupid. “Those who want good treatment always pay there. I used to have such good patients, even some generals were lying there, always giving me money. Do you think I bought these boots with my salary!?”
Lilya hummed and put one foot aside. I looked down, ignorant of women’s clothing, and could only say absentmindedly, “How much do they cost anyway?”
“Ten thousand!” Lilya said indignantly.
“Wow!” I was surprised.
“My salary is only eight,” she added. “It’s not even enough to eat in Moscow. It’s good that there’s this man now, a general. I give him treatments at home, and he pays me two thousand for each one…”
“That’s pretty good, a second salary a month,” I nodded.
“Yes, the only normal patient left,” Lilya said, nervously tucking back a strand of her hair. “And these… misers! You can’t expect any money from them! Well, the way they pay, the treatment they get! I’m no Mother Teresa for them!”
“What about the Hippocratic Oath?” I blurted out.
“What oath!? I live in a dormitory, in a nine meter room, next to the toilet, I get these damn kopecks, and I still have to take some kind of oath! Don’t be stupid!” Lilya looked at me like an idiot.
Time slowed down even more. In the evening we were both tired. We went to another cafe. I immediately sat down on a chair and my legs started to buzz. Lilya sat across from me.
“What time is your train?” She said.
“Eight thirty,” I said tiredly and leaned back in my chair.
“Soon,” Lilya fluttered her eyelashes and modestly lowered her eyes.
“Yes, it is…”
A minute’s pause.
“I would invite you to my place, but…” Lilya started.
“No, Lilya!” I brushed her off. “I didn’t come here to spend the night, I just missed you and wanted to see you. If there is a possibility to accommodate me – fine, no – no. I have no demands, don’t worry about it! I’ll take the train and go home! It’s all right.”
“It’s so cramped in there. One bed, a fridge, and that’s it.”
“Lilya!” I looked into the girl’s eyes. “Don’t worry about it! It’s okay!”
“All right!” She cheered up immediately. “I’m so glad you’re so understanding!”
We left the cafe and said goodbye. I kissed Lilya on the lips or cheek and went to the train. I was almost late. I jumped into the vestibule of my car and the train started immediately.
“I should have kept you overnight after all.”
I saw the pinging text message and almost laughed as I typed a reply.
“Lilya, everything is great. Don’t think about it. Thanks for the day. Kisses.”
“Every game can be played by two,” I thought and sent the message.
On Monday, Sergey’s friends came to our office.
“Yes, hello?” he said into the phone. “Aha! It’s you?… Yes, at work!… Aha! Come over! Yes! … Aha! Aha! Aha, come on, come in right now! Yes!”
“Who’s that?” Vera was surprised when her husband finished.
“It’s Melyokha and his wife!” Sergey sniffed his nose, leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs and twitched one. “They’re coming here… to visit us!”
“Who’s ‘Melyokha’?” I frowned theatrically, copying Sergey’s habit.
“My neighbor!” He waved it off.
“His last name is Melyokhin, so we call him Melyokha,” Vera explained with a smile.
Soon there was a knock at the door.
“Yes!” Sergey shouted loudly and jumped up from his chair. “Come in!”
The door opened and a couple entered the room. A slim, handsome brunet, about one hundred and ninety centimeters tall, with short, black, slicked-back hair – a very distinguished looking guy in his early thirties. And an unassuming, unattractive, short, overweight brunette with a shapeless figure. The contrast between the guy and the girl was immediately striking.
“Who’s here?” Sergey jumped up jokingly, and the couple laughed.
The guests greeted Sergey first, then me and Vera, and then looked around.
“Well, how are you settling in here?” the girl said excitedly.
“Business is booming, Seryoga!?” the brunet added, looking around the tables. “I can see that it is!”
“Yes! Working, little by little!” my partner stomped on the spot with undisguised satisfaction at the effect, and began to stroke the back of his head with the palm of his hand.
“A little space you have here…” Melyokha’s wife expressed a common thought.
“Yes, Dasha, there isn’t much room,” Vera said. “You can’t even sit down here. Sorry!”
“Oh, come on!” She waved her hands. “It’s okay! We won’t be long.”
“We barely found you!” Melyokha blurted.
“Riiight!” Sergey choked, blushing with embarrassment for some reason. “It’s quite a long way here! But the rent is cheap and there’s nobody here! It’s great here in the summer!”
“Yes! It’s really nice here in the summer,” Vera added. “So quiet.”
I remained silent, shifting my gaze between the chattering foursome with seeming interest. In reality, I wasn’t really interested. The only thing was that, looking at the guests, I could not accept the idea that this handsome guy and a completely uninteresting ugly girl were husband and wife. How and why!? I even imagined them in bed and immediately shuddered.
“Nah, I couldn’t. Not even drunk as shit, I couldn’t,” I let my eyes wander over them.
The joy and chatter continued for about ten minutes. The neighbors had time to discuss all the affairs of life – children, kindergartens, dachas and cars. As soon as the euphoria subsided, everyone became bored and ordinary. The guests hurriedly said goodbye and left.
Share a book