Chapter 029

Her name was Natasha. I got the name from the pimply Polinka. I didn’t feel well, but my feet carried me to the club. I spent the whole next week there, starting on Tuesday. Natasha never showed up. By Friday I was getting nervous, realizing that she would probably show up over the weekend. I drank a lot that night. On Saturday the same thing happened – she didn’t show up and I got drunk again. The next morning a terrible depression hit me. I was at a dead end trying to figure out what was happening to me. I felt like I was in a cage of life whose walls were slowly closing in on me. In the evening I escaped from my depressing thoughts to “Clear Skies”. I drank there and didn’t wait for the blonde anymore. The last double, my ninth double, was unnecessary. I’d crossed the line, and by 3 a.m. I was completely drunk. Almost hanging on the bar, I mumbled something to the bartender, but I could feel my lips not obeying and the words not coming together. I was ashamed. I mean, everybody here knew me. Yes, I’d had a drink, but I’d always left on my own two feet. Now I was drunk. I could barely walk, swaying from side to side, only the narrow walls of the bar kept me from falling. Trying to keep my balance, I made my way to the exit. But when I reached the guard’s chair by the checkroom, I collapsed on it. The music faded, the customers reached the checkroom for their outerwear and began to crowd and shout nearby. I continued to sit. Surprisingly, my brain was clear – I understood everything, heard and saw everything, but I felt like a rag. Gradually the visitors dispersed. I didn’t want to go home. No one was waiting for me there. No one was waiting for me anywhere. Desperation rose in my throat, my chest tightened. I looked up and was stunned, wishing I could fall right into the ground. Natasha stood in front of me. She was smiling, her eyes were shining. She was talking to someone behind me. I looked over there. One of the guards. He was ogling the blonde with the greasy eyes. She was glowing.

“Hi,” she smiled at me and continued with the guard. “Is Polinka here?”

“Yes, she’s still here, you can go to her,” he said, and Natasha went deep into the building.

The desperation inside me exploded, choking me even more. I sighed heavily a few times, trying to get my breathing back to normal. It didn’t help. The pressure inside me got worse and I started to choke. A wild wave of self-pity came over me, and tears welled up in my eyes. I breathed harder, fighting to hold them back. The tears froze. Afraid of letting a single one fall to the ground, I didn’t blink. Not wanting anyone to see my tears, I bowed my head, as if I were totally wrecked. I was unbearably miserable. No one wanted me. Even that idiot Lilya didn’t need me. I was sitting all alone, drunk and miserable. Natasha’s image was in front of my face. She was smiling. The girl was perfect. She was so close in the vision and completely out of reach. A second wave of despair and self-pity washed over me. I breathed heavily again. Tears streamed from my eyes and I discreetly wiped them away.

“You’ll never get a girl like that!” I heard my inner voice clearly. And as if condemned to be alone forever, I got up and walked away unnoticed.

I didn’t call the picker-upper I knew, I didn’t go to the hotel, but took a shortcut past the movie theater and deliberately walked through the deserted night park. The tears came again and I cried bitterly. I soon felt better. I walked on and, half sober, caught a random car and came home. My parents were asleep. I stripped down to my underwear and froze in front of the hall mirror. An unpleasant-looking guy was staring at me from there. Not badly built, but already showing signs of deterioration. The body looked flabby. The stomach was hanging in folds, the face was puffy and wrinkled, and the skin was an unhealthy color. The eyes were hopeless and sad, with the look of a hunted beast that could see no way out, resigned to its fate. I stared into my eyes and breathed heavily. My heart pounded, the alcohol pumping into my temples. I focused on the eyes, trying to see the irises and dive in. I saw the fire of life in them. It was barely smoldering, but it was alive. My stomach twitched in a sudden spasm and the quiet ache was replaced by a sharp pain. I clenched my abdominal muscles, but the pain grew. I pressed my fingers into my solar plexus, a familiar spot, like a button to shut off the pain. My fingers pressed into the spasming esophagus. I pressed harder – the pain intensified sharply. Angry at myself, I gritted my teeth and pressed again, my stomach ripping from the inside out. Hating myself, I slammed my fist into my solar plexus. My stomach twitched. “Suffer,” I mentally condemned myself and struck the same spot with sadistic pleasure. Pain shot back. I gritted my teeth and punched harder. My stomach started to twitch. Another punch! More! More! My stomach jerked in random spasms as if I was being cut from the inside out. Nausea came to my throat. I went into the bathroom, knelt down and threw up in the toilet. I breathed a sigh of relief. A second spasm jerked my stomach from below, and a new fountain hit the toilet through my mouth and nose. Another spasm, the result was the same but a little weaker. My arms and legs immediately weakened, sweat trickled down my forehead and back. A pause and three more spasms. The stomach was almost empty. Another pause. I spit. Wiped away the tears. My stomach twitched one last time and went quiet. I spit again, wiped my mouth with toilet paper. My body wouldn’t obey. I saw a few drops of blood in the toilet. Indifferently, I turned away and pulled the lever. Barely raising my hand to grab the doorknob, I struggled to my feet and staggered out into the hallway. In the mirror I saw the same haggard-looking guy again. When I looked at my reflection, I realized that I didn’t want to live. Apathy and indifference pervaded me. The pain in my stomach had been with me for so long that it felt like I’d been born with it. “You’re shit,” it went through my head again. It was clear to me that I had reached the point of no return. One more step and I would go to the bottom of life. Immediately a wild fear came over me and an icy shiver ran down my spine. A weak little man was hysterical in my chest – he wanted to live and was panting as if he was already in a tight coffin and life was about to throw earth on him. First he was hysterical, then he boiled over with anger and decided to fight. “That’s it, enough of that, fight!” I mentally told my reflection. There was no pain. My stomach froze, as if it had shut down. I was almost sober. I felt a slight chill, dizziness, and weakness shaking my body. Staggering, I turned off the light, got into bed, tucked my legs in and curled up in a cocoon, shutting myself off from the outside world and falling into oblivion. The cocoon began to warm me from within. I fell into a dream in which I saw myself healthy, slim, with a guileless smile and long forgotten what pain was – I looked at the world around me and felt as if I was floating above it.


I tried to get out of bed in the morning, but I couldn’t. My body was exhausted from the night and my stomach hurt. I reached under the bed, fumbled for a bottle of mineral water, and took a few sips. The water flowed into my stomach, cutting it and making the pain worse. I closed my eyes again and lay there for half an hour. Then I pulled myself together, got up and staggered to the bathroom.

“What happened?” my mother asked worriedly when she met me in the hallway.

“My stomach…” I said quietly.

“Again!?” she shrieked in frustration.

I said nothing, looked at my mother, and went into the bathroom.

“You eat garbage all the time, that’s why it hurts all the time!” my mother said in my back. “That one was suffering with his stomach, and now you too! God, I’m so sick of it all!”

I closed the door behind me and got in the shower. My stomach was convulsing, my temples were throbbing. I was so weak I could barely run a washcloth over my body.

“Does it hurt?” my mother asked sympathetically when I was barely out of the bathroom. “Uh-huh,” I nodded and went to bed. I had a sharp pain when I walked, and when I lay down, my stomach twitched with a dull ache. My father appeared in the doorway of the room.

“Stomach?” He said laconically and sternly. “Does it hurt?”

“Of course it’s his stomach!” My mother splashed her hands. “He eats whatever food! I told him that a long time ago! I’m sick of it! He won’t listen! There you go! He had it coming! Got an ulcer!”

I had no strength to object. My father came closer, assessed my condition and said:

“You need to be treated…”

“Yes, I do,” I nodded, wiping the sweat from my brow and closing my eyes.

“All right, I’ll get the medicine, I’ll bring everything,” my father said and hurried away.

“Maybe I should make you some porridge,” my mother said quietly.

“Yes, Mom… please…” I said with an effort.

“Oh, son, son!” my mother sighed and went into the kitchen.

I ate a bowl of porridge with difficulty. My mother brought it to my bed. My stomach hurt at first, but after the first few spoonfuls it eased. When I finished the porridge, I leaned back on the pillow without strength.

My mother left the room. I spent the next half hour fighting heartburn, hearing my parents arguing and whispering in the kitchen through my slumber. Time slowed. It was as if the wheel of life in which I was spinning suddenly jammed and I was thrown against its walls at full speed. Going to work was out of the question.

“Okay, Roman!” Sergey replied cheerfully as soon as I called him and told him everything. “All right, take your time, get well! We will fight here with Verok for three of us, don’t worry!”

The days went by monotonously. My mother fussed over me like a hen. She came out of anabiosis and started feeding me diet food. My stomach hurt less in the morning. But at night the pain would get worse and keep me awake. As I endured it, I was angry with myself. Every night I hated myself for all the past, my weaknesses, and the degradation that had begun. The weakness made me most angry. I imagined it as something viscous, like drench. And I floundered in it, not wanting to waste my strength on overcoming life’s difficulties. “A wuss, a wimp, a jerk, a shit,” I mentally called myself in every possible way, just to get me to fight my own spinelessness. My gut demanded action. I screwed myself up and fanned the fire of life in me. My mother fed me every hour, and my father went to the store at her request to get the necessary products. By the third day I had an appetite, but I was still weak and very thin, dizzy all the time. Severe pains would start at midnight and keep me in agonizing tension until three or four o’clock in the morning. It was like this every day. Painkillers and medications did not help. I drank them by the spoonful, but at night the effect was like nothing. My parents fell asleep in their rooms, the house fell silent, and I curled up under the covers, clutching my stomach with my fingers, and endured. At first there was pain, then colic and cramps. Time passed slowly, moving forward with the meager drops of a metronome – drip-drop… In the morning the pain would be gone and I would fall asleep, exhausted.

“You need a checkup,” my father said with a serious look.

“Why?” I said. “I already know that I have an ulcer. The doctor won’t tell me anything new. I just need to eat well, that’s all…”

“Then eat well!” My father got angry. “You know what to do and you don’t do it!”

I said nothing, and my father left the room.

On Friday, I went to the clinic with my mother. It was the first time I had been outside in a week. My stomach hurt and reacted to every movement of my body. I felt a little dizzy. My mother held me under my arm. The receptionist at the clinic said that the gastroscopy should be done on an empty stomach and in the morning. I made an appointment for the next day and we waddled home. The rest of the day I suffered as usual, at night it got worse, until five in the morning I lay twisted and exhausted and fell asleep.


“That’s it, you can get up now,” the doctor said phlegmatically as the black hose left my throat and I gasped greedily. The doctor sat down at his desk and started to write.

“How am I doing?” I asked, putting on my shoes and wiping my mouth.

“Not well… You have a surgical case. Ulcer.”

“I know I have the ulcer… Is there no way without surgery?”

The doctor continued to write, and when he finished, he looked at me.

“You have an ulcer at the entrance to the duodenum. It’s in a very bad place. It’s inflamed and blocking the passage. So food can’t get further down your esophagus.”

“What if we operate, will it go away? What are the odds?”

“The odds are fifty-fifty,” the doctor said. “You’ll either forget about your stomach problems once and for all, or you’ll be eating liquid food through a tube for the rest of your life!”

I pictured myself and my mother feeding me prepared food, and I shuddered.

“Doctor, just tell me… man to man,” I said, looking him in the eye. “Do I need this surgery? Or will it go away if I eat normally?”

The doctor finished writing, got up from the table, sighed, and twirled a pen between his fingers.

“Go home, you don’t need this surgery… Diet, regimen, and don’t be nervous… Ulcers are also caused by nerves!” He handed me the report. “Be well!”

My spirits immediately lifted, as if a man sentenced to be shot had his execution stayed. When I waddled home, I ate my porridge and went to bed. The day passed tolerably well. In anticipation of an exacerbation, I had taken medication earlier in the day, but that night it did not help at all.

I started to feel the pain at ten o’clock. I was lying on my side as usual with my legs up and my fingers in my solar plexus. My cramped stomach hurt half as much in this position. My nerves, strained by the constant pain, had heightened my sensitivity to the extreme. The pain increased and by midnight it was unbearable. My stomach felt like it was on fire from the inside and twitched with cramps. The spasms reverberated through my nerves, causing my legs to twitch involuntarily. The apartment was dark and silent, my parents were already asleep. The metronome of time began to slow down – drip-drop… drip-drop… The seconds seemed to fall on the ulcer itself, and each time it flared with pain. My brain flickered with thoughts. For the countless times I started to get angry with myself and thought that my current state was a just punishment for my lifestyle. I didn’t spare myself physically and I didn’t want to spare myself morally. I didn’t make excuses. I looked the situation squarely in the face and nipped self-pity in the bud. I passed a sentence on myself – “guilty” – and I was determined to carry it out. “No medication, I’ll just lie there and take it,” I decided, gritting my teeth.

“Basically, your life is shit… “I said to myself, “you’re twenty-eight years old, no wife, no kids, no apartment, no car, no normal relationship with your parents, no health, no…”

I slipped into oblivion from time to time. The pain had driven my brain and nerves into a frenzy. One, two, three o’clock in the morning, I lay in the dark, resigned to any further course of my life. Everything became insignificant and indifferent. The realization of my own worthlessness suddenly became so oppressive and heavy that I cried. Quietly, trying not to let anyone hear my sobs. The tears flowed onto the pillow. But it didn’t get better. The pain wouldn’t go away. It burned me from the inside out, melting my whole body through the fiery nerves. The pain reached its peak and…

I blacked out.

It was as if my consciousness had returned to zero. Images flashed through my brain from nowhere to nowhere. They came and went. And I saw myself in them. The images seemed familiar, as if I’d seen them before. But I hadn’t been in them yet…

I came to my senses.

The pain was gone and my body relaxed. I stretched my legs and straightened up completely. My stomach didn’t react. “The ulcer has closed,” I realized, instantly grasping the significance of what had happened. Someone’s invisible hand had cut away the past and placed a blank book of the future in my mind.

I closed my eyes and fell into a sound sleep for the first time in days.


The pain stopped, my appetite returned, and I recovered quickly. But when I looked in the mirror on Sunday, I was horrified to see a skinny body that had lost about eight kilograms during the week.


On Monday, Vera called me and asked how I was doing. I told her everything was fine – I was recovering and would be back to work soon.

“Well, I see,” Vera said. “Get well and come back as soon as you can…”

“Hi, Romych!” came the cheerful voice of my partner on the phone. “How are you?”

“Hi, Seryoga!” I rejoiced and broke into a smile. “I’m fine! I’m on the mend, next week I’ll be back in the saddle! What’s up, how are you there?”

“It’s all right!” Sergey said reassuringly. “Get well, don’t worry! Vera and I will do everything here together!”

“Listen, did you send an order for perfume to Moscow?” I asked, not noticing how the brain switched from rest mode to work mode.

“No, I didn’t!”

“Are there any leftover goods in the warehouse?”

“Well…” Sergey sniffed into the phone. “There is a little bit, but marketable items have been sold long ago… Why are you worried!? You go to work and we’ll make an order together!”

“I thought, if we already need the goods, why wait? What if you don’t have it for a week? You better order it, get it, and sell it! Otherwise someone else will bring it instead of us…”

“Romych, no one will bring it! Everyone only gets it from us!”

“Well, that’s true…” I agreed.

“So don’t worry!” Sergey continued energetically. “Get cured! Get well! When you come to work, we’ll make an order with you right away. Besides, why should I do it alone if we work together? Two heads are better than one!”

“Okay, Seryoga, you got it!” I smiled and my brain went back to rest.

“Here we go!” my partner cackled into the phone. “All right, feel better!”

“Thanks, Seryoga, bye, see you!”


 By Tuesday night I was feeling even better. I was surprised to find that I hadn’t smoked in over a week and had no cravings at all. I decided, “I’m going to quit smoking. To hell with it… I don’t want to.”

The second week I ate, read and slept. All kinds of thoughts came into my head. And more and more of them were new, incomprehensible thoughts that had suddenly taken on a new life.

On Wednesday I took my first walk. I dressed carefully, as if I were a seriously wounded man on the mend, and went outside. The fresh air smelled pleasantly cool in my face. It wasn’t snowing yet, but nature was living up to its last snowless days. I pulled on my hat, turned up the collar of my coat, and followed my nose. Although I was tired almost immediately and breathing heavily, I felt at ease. The walk brought me back to life. I just walked and thought.

When I was near the mall, I went inside. There were people scurrying back and forth, creating an atmosphere of joyful bustle. I needed those emotions. I plunged into it and felt comfortable. On the third floor there was a bookstore. My feet carried me to it. I went inside. The books, their smell, the silence. I looked through the titles, not knowing exactly what I wanted. I searched by instinct. I found it. I picked up the book, opened it. “Hmm, in verse…” I scanned a few lines. It was easy and interesting to read. I bought the book. I immediately felt joy. I realized that I had bought exactly what I wanted! Smiling at my purchase, I walked out of the store and went home, knowing that the most important thing of the day was done. And already at home, back in bed, I opened the book and started reading:


  1. Midway upon the journey of our life 1-1

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.


The phone I had bought to communicate with Lilya was starting to burn my hands. I couldn’t bear to even look at it, so I bought a new one on one of my walks – a nice black one that fit comfortably in the palm of my hand. I threw the old one to the farthest corner of the table and continued reading.


“Look who is here!” Vera smiled as she walked into the office on Monday, November 28th and saw me sitting in my usual chair behind the desk. “Hi! Are you well?”

“Yes!” I smiled back and held out my palm for a ritual greeting, Vera immediately clapped her palm on it. “I’m fine! Hi, Seryoga!”

My partner, who came in next, frowned dramatically, shook his head when he saw our ritual, and extended his hand to me. I shook it.

“Have you recovered?” He left the fake serious tone in his voice.

“As good as new!” I waved my hands.

“Rested too, eh?” said Vera. “Or have you been lying at home all these days?”

“At first I have…” I shrugged and suddenly remembered. “I quit smoking, you know!”

“Wow, really!!!???” Sergey stared at me, sat down in the chair by the door, crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head to the side in surprise.

“Wow! Congratulations!” said Vera.

“I haven’t smoked in two weeks!” I nodded.

“And no cravings?” Vera clarified.

“Nope!” I shook my head. “Well… sometimes I have thoughts, but I chase them away immediately…”

“I gave up right away, too!” Sergey chimed in. “Like you, I decided to quit and I did. And guess what,” Sergey raised his index finger, “I was the only one in our whole company to quit!”

“Yeah, everyone around me smokes too. I’m really sick of these cigarettes…”

“Tyn-dyn!” I shoved my hand into my jeans pocket and pulled out the new cell phone, poking at the buttons to see the message.

“Did you buy a phone?” Sergey reacted.

“Yes, during my time off!” I nodded and added that I liked the phones of that brand.

“Yes, this company has handy phones!” Sergey nodded, reached into the pouch on his belt, pulled out his own, and tugged nervously at his foot. “Verok has a good phone, though I bought it a long time ago, but this…”

Sergey jammed his fingers on the buttons of his phone, frowned and said:

“The menu is stupid, I get confused all the time, and it takes a while to find the settings… It’s a clumsy phone, I should have bought the more expensive one… how much is yours?”

“Seven thousand six hundred,” I said. “There were better and more expensive ones, but I didn’t spend much, why? A phone up to ten thousand is basically fine! All the necessary functions are there. And if you buy a more expensive one, it’s a stupid overpayment and just showing off!”

“Yes, an uncomfortable phone…” Sergey sighed, fiddled with the buttons and put the phone back in his bag. “I’ll have to buy another one…”

“Why!?” Vera stopped typing on the keyboard and stared at her husband.

“Vera, because!!!” Sergey barked. “You’re not the one suffering from it! It’s crooked, what can I do? What, do I have to walk around with it all my life?!”

“Oh man!” she waved and went back to her monitor. “Do whatever you want!”

“That’s what I’m doing!” Sergey folded his arms across his chest and breathed loudly, his nostrils flared in indignation.

His wife tapped nervously on the keyboard. There was a tense pause.

“Vera, you haven’t ordered the perfume yet, have you?” I said.

“No, Roma, we haven’t,” she said discreetly, not taking her eyes off the monitor.

“Seryoga, can we order now?” I looked at my partner.

“Yes, let’s do it!” he cheered, splashing his hands.

“Vera, print us the rest of the perfume, will you?” I said.

“Just a moment, Roma,” Vera almost took control of herself, the printer came to life, whistled and ejected a sheet.

“That’s it!?” I was surprised and stared at it. “Oh, we have almost nothing!”

“It’s been two weeks already…” Vera interjected quietly.

“Seryoga, sit here and draw the order!” I stood up and freed a chair at the table. “You know more about it, and then we’ll sort it out together…”

For the next half hour we prepared the order.

“Well, look again with your own eyes!” Sergey held out a written sheet of paper.

“It looks okay…” I said. “How much is the money here, let’s do the math.”

“Three hundred and twenty thousand!” After seeing the result, Sergey looked at me in surprise.

“Not bad,” I nodded, impressed.

“So we’re going to order it, right?” Sergey was more surprised and looked at me confused.

“Well, yes, why?” I was surprised again.

“I mean, isn’t it too much?” Sergey said doubtfully.

“Too much? Why? We counted, calculated and we need so much…”

“Maybe we should order less? It’s a lot of money,” Sergey took the order sheet in his hands and it shook in them like in the wind.

“What difference does it make how much it is?” I didn’t understand the meaning of my partner’s words. “We need the goods, there is a demand, we have calculated and placed an order. We didn’t order what we didn’t need, did we?”

“Well…” Sergey said and began to nervously crumple his lower lip with his fingers.

“Well what!?” I got a little worked up, feeling like a fly stuck in the dialog, receiving vague answers to each of my clear sentences. “If we need the goods, we should order them in the quantity they are sold in! Which part of it don’t you understand!?”

Sergey continued to crumple his lip, squeezing it sideways with the fingers of one hand. This caused the lip to bulge up in the middle and then fall down between his fingers.

“Why should we order less!? We’ll bring in the goods, distribute them to the depots, and that’s it, an empty warehouse again! We need at least a week’s supply! So we’ll order for two weeks. We have a two-week grace period. We’ll have the money from the first week by the end of the second week…”

Sergey’s lip, a fat caterpillar wriggling between his fingers, curled up and froze.

“Fuck, Seryoga, what are you doing with your lips!!??” I crinkled involuntarily.

He awoke from his reverie, embarrassed, and pulled his hand away. Sergey’s lips pouted and hung resentfully on his face.

“Well, yes…” he said.

“That’s why I think we should order as much as we need!” I finished.

“Yes, Roman!” Sergey exhaled, relieved and a little offended. “Good! So let’s order… Vera, here, send the order please…”

He handed the sheet to his wife, and it shook in his hand again. Vera took the sheet and began to work. Sergey turned the pen in his hands thoughtfully, took the cap off and put it on. He sniffed his nose. The room was silent for a few minutes.

“So you think we’ll have enough money and be able to pay for this order, if anything?” Sergey looked at me.

“What is there to think about!?” I was surprised again. “It’s simple arithmetic! We know the speed of sales, ordered the goods for exactly two weeks, it will be sold in that time!”

“And if it doesn’t, I mean, what if it sells for three days for example!?” Sergey began to torment me with his doubts. Overcoming the stickiness of his indecision, I began to get angry again.

“Then three days it is! What difference does it make, for fuck’s sake!?” I said sharply.

“Well, I wouldn’t say thaaat…” Sergey said, as if he had found a support for the mud of his doubts. “We have to give the money, and the goods have not been sold yet!”

“We have money! We earn it! We’ll give it back from our earnings, what’s the big deal!?”

“So you think we have enough money now?” Sergey began to chew his lip again.

“I don’t think, I knooow!” I leaned forward, not holding back my raised voice.

“Aha… you know…” Sergey nodded. “But how do you know!?”

“Seryoga!” I stared at my partner, looking at him like an idiot, completely confused by either the acting or the seriousness of the sentences he was saying. “I check the reports! Vera prints us reports every month… Are you aware of that!?”

“Well,” he said.

“Well, that’s what you say. You do look at them, don’t you?” I glared at Sergey.

“Well,” he said again, as if he was moving forward in the conversation by groping. “Well, I do…”

“Then why are you asking if we have money for this purchase or not!? That says it all! You must know the financial situation of your company!”

Sergey looked at me thoughtfully and silently for a few seconds, then perked up and just said, “Well, I see…” and exhaled loudly.

There was a knock at the door – Alexey Semyonovich had arrived with the goods. His appearance saved our dialog with Sergey from an unpleasant end. The hustle and bustle of receiving the goods brought the time for lunch closer. Sergey and I went to the village to get something to eat. The lunch was simple – sausage sandwiches and tea. After he had eaten his share and was already sipping tea with a bite of sugar, Sergey said:

“Roman, how much money did you pay for the cafe on your birthday?”

“Five thousand, I think!” I replied, digging into my memory. “Why?”

“It’s my birthday soon…” Sergey took a bite of sugar and sipped his tea.

“Wow! I didn’t know, when?” I replied, sipping at my tea as well.

“The first of December…” Sergey took another sip.

“And how old will you be?” I asked.

“Thirty-three. The age of Christ,” Sergey chewed sugar and slurped his tea.

“Oh! Yes! A beautiful age…” I gnawed at my lump of sugar.

“I’m having a party on Saturday…” Sergey said, naming a cafe. “Do you know it?”

“No… But yes! I know it! It’s in the center, near the stadium…”

“Aha, yes, there. I booked a big separate table for six o’clock at night… have you been there?”

“No, I haven’t… who else will be there?”

“You, my brother Romka…” Sergey leaned back in his chair, sighed and began to curl his fingers. “Vera, Melyokha and Dashka, Fedot and his wife, and Vitya Butenko and his wife.”

“Well, I know your Romka and Melyokha, so I’ll have someone to talk to,” I said.

“That’s right,” Sergey nodded, “you’ll get to know the others too, they’re old friends of mine. Fedot has his own dairy factory. Imagine, he was in prison for five years, got out and bought the factory outright!”

“Wow!” I grinned, raising my eyebrows. “That’s a good way to make money!”

“Aha!” Sergey cackled. “And Vitya deals in Chinese cars and sells them in our town. I don’t know who buys them. The cars all fall apart, break down, they’re so lousy…”

“Actually, he’s doing the right thing!” I thought. “In the beginning, my father and I took on everything, as long as the goods were given… Yes, it’s shit, but you can make some money! I think your Vitya does the same.”

“Well, actually, yes!” Sergey nodded, chewing the corners of his lips.

“Besides, Chinese cars are shit now, but in five years they will learn to assemble them, the quality will grow, and Vitya will have his own company, all set up, selling Chinese cars! And business will boom!”

Sergey was silent, listening, looking at me intently.

“It was the same with the Koreans. The first cars were awful, but now people are eagerly buying them! And before, remember, they used to say – phew, Korean, it’s a piece of shit!”

“Yeah,” Sergey muttered.

I stopped talking. Sergey stared at me intently for a few seconds, then jerked his knee, looked down at his hands, twisted the pen restlessly, and sighed heavily.

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