Chapter 034

On the morning of Friday, March 24, I could hear the stomping of feet in the hallway outside the office door. I was sitting at my desk going through some papers. The handle came down, the door opened, and two children entered the room and froze. Vera squeezed in next.

“Vera, come in, would you?” said Sergey irritably from behind the door. “How am I supposed to enter!? You’re standing right in the doorway!”

The kids stared at me. I smiled. The older girl, dressed in a pink jacket and a red knit cap, immediately started twirling and acting. “About three or four years old,” I decided offhand. The baby, dressed in a gray-green jacket and a cap of the similar color, wobbled unsteadily on his feet and stared at me with the full width of his light blue eyes. “One and a half,” I determined.

“Well, say hello to Mister!” Vera said and gave the children a motherly nudge from behind to clear the doorway. “Lilya, walk forward a little.”

The girl ignored her mother’s words, stomped her feet as if dancing, and walked over to the table. Her brother kept staring at me without moving and finally blinked.

“Hello!” the girl said, letting me out of the focus of her attention and shifting it to the items on the table, grabbing a pen.

“Hello!” I chuckled, “Whose are you, guys?”

Holding his briefcase in one hand and adjusting his hood with the other, Sergey squeezed into the office.

“Damn it!” he cackled as he met my gaze and shoved his wife with his stomach.

“Ours, say we are ours,” Vera replied, moving her son a step forward.

“Hi, Romych!” Sergey held out his hand to me, cackled again, and pushed his way to the cupboard. “That’s how it is today, yes! The whole family came to work, you see.”

“I see!” I nodded, keeping my eyes on the baby.

He stirred, looked to the side and began to look around.

“Say hello to Mr. Roma,” Vera said.

The baby looked at me, moved his lips silently and looked at the cupboard.

“What’s your name, huh? What? Tell Mister!” Vera continued, skillfully taking off her outer clothes.

“Hello, Mister Roma!” the girl said, looking under the table and adding, “I’m Lilya…”

“Lyonya, Lyonya, hey Lyonya!” Vera called, catching the smallest one by the hood with her hand. “Lilya said hello! She told Mister her name! What’s your name? Tell him!”

Dragged by his mother’s hand, the baby turned toward me, looked at me nonchalantly, stuck out his lower lip, wiggled it a bit, and turned away.

“His name is Lyonya! Leonid!” Sergey said, taking off his jacket and sniffing his nose. “Romych, we had no one to leave the kids at home with today, you know! Let them stay here for a few hours. Verok will do her things quickly and we’ll let her and the kids go, okay?”

“Seryoga, let them stay, does it look like I mind?” I nodded and continued to study the children. Lilya was a copy of Vera. Lyonya – unclear, something average from the looks of both parents.

“Well, I’m just asking!” Sergey waved his hands. “Just in case…”

“Seryoga, they’re already here, aren’t they?” I hummed, “And they’re not bothering us, right, Lyonya?”

I smiled at the little boy. He turned slowly when he heard his name, caught my eye and, losing interest, turned away almost immediately.

Vera started fussing – turned on the computer, took off the children’s outer clothes, sat Lilya down at the table, gave her a pen and a piece of paper, took Lyonya on her lap and started her work, which she finished in an hour.

“Well, Romych?” my partner looked at me tiredly, the children had behaved noisily the whole time and had exhausted even me. “Let Vera go?”

“Seryoga, of course!” I nodded immediately. “Let her go home, we’ll do everything here ourselves!”

Vera quickly dressed the children and walked out the door with them. As soon as the office was quiet, Sergey plopped down in his wife’s chair, ran his hand over his forehead, and exhaled noisily. I smiled.

“Oh my, Roman, it’s like this every day!” he nodded. “Already in the morning I feel like a squeezed lemon…”

“Let’s have some tea, eh, lemon?” I chuckled almost silently.

Sergey nodded.


On March 27, I bought another part of my future apartment. My father was stubborn at first and suggested that I bring the money later. When I asked him why I should wait, he couldn’t answer, so he waved his hand and said: “All right, do it!”

“Just take it for ten meters, one hundred and forty thousand and that’s enough! You’ll take the rest in April,” my father specified, adding, noticing my confusion, “that’s the way to do it! You’ll bring it later.”

“Well, all right,” I shrugged and went to the construction company’s office.

“They say the prices will double this summer,” the manager said as soon as I put the money in the company’s cash register and returned to her office.

I was taken aback.

“So… if you have money, you can cover more meters,” she added.

Digesting what I had heard, I walked out, got on a bus and went to the office.

“So did you take more money for the apartment?” Sergey said, looking at my face.

“Yes, I did…” I nodded, still in a slight prostration.

“How much?”

I said the amount and sat down in the chair by the door. The sun shone brightly through the dusty window panes. Vera was in her seat, Senya and the new loader were in the warehouse, and Petya was out delivering.

“How much more do you have to pay?” Vera asked.

“Half… a little less…” I calculated in my head.

“You’ll manage!” Sergey waved. “We make money after all!”

“No, I’m not worried, I’m thinking about something else,” I said thoughtfully, recounting everything I’d heard from the construction company manager.

“But that’s nonsense!” Sergey waved off again. “There will be no such jump in prices! Why should there be? There will be some increase, as usual, and that’s all…”

His words didn’t convince me, but my worries were gone – any price increase would only affect me by a known percentage. In the evening I told my father the news and added:

“Dad, look, I think we should take all the money and cover the meters to the max!”

My father’s cheekbones moved under his skin as he sat with his legs crossed in the kitchen.

“Can’t you bring it later!?” my father gave me a barbed look.

“What’s the point?” I was surprised. “We’re going to lose two percent! How much do you have left in your bank account, one hundred and fifty?”

“One hundred and fifty,” my father nodded, looking at me coldly, as if he’d found something bad in me and that finding had planted suspicion in his soul. “The point is, I may need the money.”

“Well…” I was confused, thinking, my eyebrows knitted. “What do you need the money for?”

“Do you think you’re the only one who needs money!?” my father said harshly.

“No, Dad, I don’t…” I was even more confused because my father was escalating the dialog for no apparent reason. “I’m just asking… I didn’t mean to…”

“I will make an insulated body for the ‘GAZelle’! To transport fruits and vegetables…”

“Oh!” I realized. “That’s a good idea! So you’re going to work with fruit!”

“What do you want me to do? Spend the rest of my life running errands for you and offering these detergents!?” my father took another swing at me.

“Dad…” I was confused again. “I’m not suggesting that you run errands for us, we discussed this together! You agreed. We both realized that it would not be of much use… But… if you’d said no, we would have dropped the subject right away. I just don’t understand you…”

“What don’t you understand!?” My father didn’t change his tone. “You make money and I’m the one left behind! I have no income, in case you don’t know! Just my pension and what I earn as a driver! That’s just enough to eat! I have to take care of myself somehow!”

“Dad!” I was completely confused as I realized that my father’s words were all about me – everything that happened to him was my fault. “But I don’t mind you making money! I offered it to you back in the fall – our warehouse is free, take the money and bring in any goods you want!”

My father remained silent.

“You didn’t put it in circulation! And then we decided to invest in an apartment. If you need a body for fruit, go ahead. You just didn’t tell me about it before.”

“I’m telling you now!” My father waved his hand and turned the kettle on the stove nervously.

“Dad, I know what you’re saying! But you make it sound like an ultimatum… You could have said it before… Just make me aware…”

“I couldn’t say it before,” my father said, as if to justify himself. “I decided… recently!”

“Well… okay,” I shrugged. “You recently decided… how much do you need for that, anyway?”

“Well…” my father turned off the kettle, made himself some coffee, and went through the familiar ritual of stirring the sugar with a spoon, blowing on it, licking it, and setting the spoon on the table, measuring a perpendicular line along its edge. “About fifty thousand or so. That’s how I calculated it…”

“Fifty thousand more, fifty thousand less, it doesn’t matter, we still have to pay!”

“I think so too!” My father nodded and, satisfied with what he had heard, took a sip of coffee, his foot moving in time with his head again.

“So you’re going to do this with Vasily, aren’t you?”

“With Vasily, yes,” my father nodded, and his face grew rigid again, as if I had intruded on some part of his living space. “Why!?”

“No, no reason… Just asking…” I shook my head and headed for my room.


I continued to see Natasha. Our relationship was so smooth that one would think we had been married for a long time. On weekdays I would meet her at the closing of the mobile phone outlet, and on weekends we would walk around the center and warm ourselves in cafes. On one of these walks we had a conversation about past relationships.

“We didn’t see each other for long,” Natasha said. “It was complicated…”

I described to Natasha the moment I first saw her and the tall blond man.

“Yes, that’s him,” she nodded and added bitterly, “It didn’t work out.”

Natasha hesitated and slowed down. Obviously she really liked the guy. I felt a pang of jealousy. We walked to the crosswalk, waited silently for the green light, and crossed silently to the other side. The pause dragged on.

“So how long ago were you in a normal relationship, you know, one that lasted more or less?” I gathered my courage and continued to dig into Natasha’s past.

“I had a relationship… ended last summer… two years of dating…” she said, letting go of my hand and pulling up the collar of her coat. I slipped my hands into the pockets of my jeans and we pulled away from each other, walking in parallel.

“Oh! All right… Two years…” I said, hesitating, and added, “Why did you break up?”

“We dated for a year first, and then I met another… guy… a man… and that guy, my boyfriend… was only a year older than me, and this one was older…” Natasha said randomly, picking up words as she went.

“How much older?”

“A grown man, he was in his forties…” Natasha said.

“Wow!” I blurted out. “That means you dated two men at the same time!?”

“Yes, I happened to like both of them…” Natasha continued calmly. “Of course I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was seeing someone else…”

“Well, of course!” I nodded, continuing to play the simpleton, feeling uncomfortable with the details. “Why should he know, I don’t think he’d be happy about it!”

“Right, we broke up with him because of that…” Natasha said tiredly.

“Oh, so he found out about the… other one!?” I shuddered.

“Yes, he did… Well, I guess I kind of got confused,” Natasha waved her hand sadly and fixed her hair. “I decided that I didn’t need any of this… And I broke up with both of them and realized that I’d better not do it again!”

“Well…” I sighed and smiled. “Good conclusion…”

“It’s just that he wasn’t a bad boy, but he didn’t have anything… I mean, he was so young, really… Twenty-three years old when I met him. And this one… we were just friends at first… sitting in his car, talking… He helped me out a couple of times…”

“Hey, Natasha, it’s all water under the bridge! No need to remember all that now, right?” I said, realizing that I didn’t want to listen any more. There was no telling what else I might hear.

We went to the theater and in ten minutes we were watching a movie.


At the beginning of April, I paid the last ninety-eight thousand for the apartment under construction from my and my father’s stock. He had a little over fifty thousand left in his account. The tension between us grew, and I could feel the reluctance with which my father took the money out of his savings book and gave it to me. His face froze like a stone in the bank teller’s window. My father didn’t even touch the money, he just nodded at me and said, “Take it”. I scooped it out of the drawer and put it in my pockets.

“Thanks, Dad,” I mumbled, feeling as if I had taken my father’s money by force. His eyes, full of reproach and hardness, made it clear that I was doing something risky and unnecessary, and that he disapproved of my move and would only agree to it under my pressure. I realized that my father was treating the situation as if I had embarked on another venture, and that if anything went wrong, it would be my fault alone. And I accepted that.

“Are we going together or what?” I asked as soon as we left the bank.

“You go,” my father said, reaching for his cigarettes. “I have nothing to do there…”

I nodded and walked right to the bus stop, my father turned and walked left – home.

“Did you take the money for the apartment again?” Sergey said as soon as I arrived at the office.

Vera sat at her desk. Sergey, interrupting his reading of the newspaper, put it aside.

“Yes, I did,” I nodded and plopped down in the chair by the door. “So, how is it going?”

“Those two are in the warehouse! Petya’s gone!” Sergey said cheerfully, stretching and yawning like a hippo, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest, sniffing his nose. “We have to place an order for ‘Aerosib’, Romych, remember?”

“Course I do!” I nodded, feeling a rush of cheer after the oppressive morning with my father.

“Course I do…” Sergey mimicked me, leaned forward, put his elbows on the table, pulled a sheet of paper from the pile of others and handed it to me. “Here! Look with your own eyes! I’ve drafted an order, but we decide everything together, so you better take a look, in case I missed something…”

I scanned the paper. The order was competently written.

“It’s all right, Seryoga!” I nodded and handed the sheet back. “And how much does it weigh?”

“About five tons!” said Vera.

“Why so little???” Surprised, I looked from her to my partner. “Seryoga!????”

“How much do you want to order!?” He got a little excited and spread his hands.

“Ten tons… will be just right, I think…” I shrugged.

“Roman, there is no such container for ten tons!” Sergey explained irritably.

“So what, they have delivery by truck! They’ll bring ten tons for sure!” I said, not taking my eyes off my partner’s indignant face.

“How do you know they will!? Maybe they won’t!?” he tried to argue.

“Call them…” I said calmly, nodding at the phone. “Just call and find out.”

Sergey was confused, silent, and said, still angry:

“Vera! What’s their phone number?”

She quickly shoved her hands into the desk, took out a notebook, opened it with a measured movement almost on the right side, made a mistake on two pages, turned them over and said the number. Sergey, pressing the fax buttons hard and irritated, dialed the number. After five minutes on the phone, my words were confirmed.

“See?” I waved my hands as Sergey finished and calmed his irritation.

“Yes, they have truck delivery!” Sergey looked at me. “Make it ten then!?”

I blinked. Sergey sighed, corrected the order and handed the sheet back to me.

“Yup, that’s fine,” I nodded. “We’ll distribute half of it at once, and half of it will stay in the warehouse as a reserve… As soon as half of the stock is gone from the warehouse, we’ll make the next order. What do you think, Seryoga, how long will it take to sell it?”

“Ten tons?” He looked at me skeptically. “A thousand boxes of dichlorvos and four hundred of the rest? Well… I think that’s enough for the whole season and even the winter!”

“Oh, come on! We would have sold a thousand last summer if we hadn’t just run out.”

“What, come on!?” Sergey sputtered in irritation again. “Do you know how much dichlorvos we sold in ‘Sasha’ in one season at most? And we sold it well there!”

“I have no idea, Seryoga!” I shrugged.

“Two and a half thousand boxes!” He raised a finger for the weight of his words. “And that’s a lot! Only ‘Arbalest’, with its own dichlorvos, sold more!”

“Well, ‘Arbalest’ for sure!” I nodded respectfully.

We both fell silent for a moment.

“I think we’ll sell them quickly, and sometime in late June we’ll order more,” I said firmly, feeling the intuition and looking into my partner’s eyes. “You’ll see, Seryoga!”

He didn’t answer, and our conversation was interrupted again. To fill the awkward pause, I pressed the button on the kettle, and the kettle rumbled as I fiddled with my cup. I made myself a cup of tea, took the first sip with sugar, and broke the long silence in the office:

“Why are you reading newspapers all of a sudden, Seryoga?”

“I’ve always read them!” he objected, a little tense and even offended. “It’s just that I never took them to work, I read them at home! But I like reading newspapers, there’s a lot of analysis and some interesting articles…”

“I just saw it for the first time, so I was surprised…” I shrugged.

“Roman, it doesn’t mean that I don’t read anything if you don’t see it!” Sergey parried with a challenge, sticking out his lips resentfully.

“That makes sense!” I nodded, clearing the air of irritation.

“You read some divine books, and so do I! I read newspapers, I watch all kinds of programs on TV about business, about markets, about stocks… So don’t think I don’t do some self-education too!”

“Seryoga, I don’t think anything, I just asked about the paper!” I said conciliatorily. “And I don’t read divine books, it’s just the title. Interesting book. Read it if you want…”

“So what is this book about?” Sergey said as if reluctantly.

I told him.

“I’ll have to read it sometime,” Sergey muttered relaxed, realizing that there was no catch. “What did you say it was called?”

I said. Sergey said the title almost silently, just with his lips, and nodded.

That was the end of our morning socializing, and the office went about its business.

At noon, Sergey and I habitually went to the village to get something to eat. We passed the gatehouse, and as soon as we were near the janitor in glasses smoking at the entrance, she nodded and said hello. I said hello in return, Sergey shouted “Hello!” through the glass, smiled and said:

“She says hello now.”

“Indeed…” I muttered disappointedly.

“So you don’t watch TV at home?” Sergey set the topic of the dialog.

“I don’t have it!” I blurted out and looked at my partner.

“What do you mean, you don’t have it?” He was genuinely surprised and turned his head between me and the road.

“Well, my parents have a TV in each of their rooms, but I don’t.”

“What do you mean? Don’t Anatoly Vasilievich and your mother live together?”

“No, they don’t… they have their problems… Didn’t I tell you?”

“I don’t remember, maybe you did, I don’t remember…”

“They live in separate rooms, and I’m in mine, and I don’t have a TV, and I don’t watch it. What’s there to watch, Seryoga!? It’s all shit! Fights, murders, endless talk shows, who fucked who and where! It’s fucking retarded shit! If I need information, I can always find it on the Internet, it’s easier for me!”

“Well, you see, you have the Internet at home, I don’t… so I have to read newspapers or watch TV. I only watch one business channel and that’s it! Have you ever watched that channel?!”

“Yes, I have!” I nodded. “Always some stock market reports like bulletins from the fronts… this one went down, that one went up… ten minutes later my head starts to swell, I want to buy or sell something urgently!”

Sergey laughed out loud.

“What’s the matter, I’m wrong!?” I smiled.

“No, you’re right, Romych, you’re right!” Sergey nodded, chuckling and wiping the corners of his eyes with his fingers. “You just tell everything so emotionally! It’s so funny…”

“Here we go… funny…” I couldn’t resist and giggled.


“I just check the stock prices there from time to time…” Sergey added.

“Why would you do that?” I was surprised.

“Well, I have stocks…” my partner said a little carelessly.

“Oh, right… I forgot!” I nodded, feeling the irritation rising inside me and involuntarily responding with sarcasm, “Those are the ones that were first ‘three hundred’ and then ‘five hundred’ a month later?”

Sergey fell silent. I immediately regretted my foolish ability to be sarcastic and added conciliatingly: “Listen, Seryoga, but is there any sense in these stocks? Do they really grow there?”

“Yes, they do,” my partner sighed.

“Have you had them long?” I continued, pulling the conversation out of the pit of sarcasm.

“I bought them when I worked at ‘Sasha’!” Sergey was full of importance again. “I put them in the bank for management, let them grow…”

“And how long will they grow? When will you sell them? They can’t grow forever!” I said.

“Why should I sell them? Let it grow! Romych, that’s why I’m looking at all these security analyses! You’re the one surfing the Internet, picking up chicks or whatever, I don’t know what you’re doing there, downloading movies… and I’m looking at stock prices, at their volatility…”

“Their what???” I stared at my partner. “Vola…”

“Volatility!” he said contentedly.

“What the fuck is that, Seryoga!???” I smiled. “It’s the first time I’ve heard such a word!”

“Well, it has to do with stocks, how they change, go up or down,” my partner explained nonchalantly with a wave of his hand.

“Uh-huh… I see…” I nodded, for some reason not taking this whole stock thing seriously. The belief in freebies, so persistent in most people, could not develop in me, left me long ago to go in search of other fools. All these stock indexes are invented for speculation. They have nothing to do with the real business.

“So I made a reserve for my kids, the shares are for them, let them grow up. When they come of age, they’ll get some help from me,” Sergey said.

“Oh, well… right!” I nodded, instantly feeling respect for my partner again. “Good idea, Seryoga! The main thing is to make sure that everything goes smoothly with the stock market.”

“Romych, our economy is booming now, there won’t be such a default as in ninety-eight, even if growth slows down somewhere, it’s still a good investment – put your money in stocks and let it grow there! That’s why I regularly watch the business channel and monitor the quotations…”

The market. The “Mazda” was parked at the curb. After ordering at a fast-food kiosk, we stepped aside. The sun was pleasantly warm. With each passing day, spring was coming closer and closer. I squeezed my eyes shut, and rainbow circles immediately ran under my closed eyelids.

“So, did you take all the money for the apartment?” sounded next to me. “Or not yet?”

“All of it,” I said and opened my eyes. Sergey was standing opposite me, grinning and studying me.

“From now on I will take it from the company!” I grinned. “We’ll have to be patient, Seryoga!”

“You’re welcome to take it!” He splashed his hands. “Romych, we already talked about this! I understand, you need it. The apartment is a good thing! When will it be ready? In two years, just imagine, at thirty you’ll have your own place! That’s really cool!”

“Your order is ready!” came a woman’s voice from the kiosk window.

We took the bags of food and went back to the office. We had lunch.

“Okay, guys, the reports are ready,” Vera said, placing two stacks of sheets with tables and figures on the table. I took one and immediately started flipping through it, running my eyes over the columns of numbers. Sergey rolled up on the chair from the door, took the other one and started to leaf through it, too.

“Let’s do the math!” I said excitedly, taking out a calculator and starting to strike a balance. I wrote the calculations on the first sheet of paper, crossed them out, and then wrote the total amount.

“One million, Seryoga!” I shouted, slapping my hand on the report. “Congratulations, colleague!”

I held out my hand to my partner, who shook it in confusion, smiled, and began to stare eagerly at the figures I had drawn up.

“Imagine, Seryoga, we made a million net in the first year… in less than a year! Without investing a single ruble of our own!” I raised my index finger. “Pretty cool, huh?”

“And how much did you make in one month?” Vera joined in the excitement, tapping the keys.

“One hundred and twelve thousand,” I looked up at her.

“I see one hundred and twenty-five here!” Vera looked at the monitor in surprise, looked at me, and explained. “I ran the internal report, you know!”

“You didn’t print it out, did you?” I started digging through the reports. “No!”

“I’ll print it out!” Vera nodded, and the printer squeaked and produced a sheet.

I pulled the sheet over to me, and after checking the reports – manual and electronic – I found the difference in the “Other Expenses” line, and the balance matched.

“Shall I print this report for you, Seryozha?” Vera looked at her husband.

“No, Vera, no need!” He waved her off, at the same time diligently transcribing my calculations onto his copy of the report. “We can always look at it on the computer, can’t we?”

“Yes, anytime,” Vera said. “Choose a month and a year and start the report.”

“Aha, okay,” Sergey nodded and plunged into writing.

I smiled – his hand, clutching the pen awkwardly with chubby fingers, was shaking, causing the numbers to come out jerky and jagged. When he finished, Sergey leaned back in his chair, looked at the record, curled his lips down impressively and said:

“Right, Romych, one million fifty six in… nine months… not bad!”

“Not bad, you say, that’s great!” I nodded. “We should make more this year!”

“God willing, Romych!” Sergey exhaled somehow pitifully with a touch of sadness and put his report in his briefcase. “I’m all for it!”


In mid-April, everything finally melted and dried up. The sun was getting warmer. Sales of dichlorvos increased every day. We distributed the winter leftovers to our customers and waited for a big arrival of “Aerosib” any day. Sales of perfumes and bath salts, on the other hand, were falling. We went from one product to another as if on an amusement ride.

On the morning of Monday, April 17, I entered the office without the annoying winter clothes – in jeans and a sweatshirt – and sat down in an empty chair by the door.

Sergey looked at me intently and said: “Are you still… training?”

“Yes!” I nodded, then reflexively contracted my body muscles to check their tone. “I am! Four months already. At least I started to feel like a different man! I’ve become so decrepit, Seryoga! I had some muscles, but when I went to the gym – all rickets! Now I’m better, I’m stronger… I’ll be back in shape in a year. These fucking parties won’t do any good! I quit in time! I was smart enough to quit smoking, it’s so poisonous! Fucking yuck!”

“Well, I can see it in you… You’ve gotten stronger, your shoulders hit the eye,” my partner murmured, looking at his wife. “Roman’s doing well, huh? He’s taken up sports. In the summer he’ll be jacked-up, he’ll go to the beach, take his clothes off, show off for the girls…”

“What do girls have to do with it, Seryoga!?” I snorted. “I’m working out for myself!”

“Come on – for yourself!” He waved me off. “Who’s kidding who… What’s the point of working out for yourself?”

“Seryoga, for fuck’s sake!” I stared at him. “You keep surprising me! Health is the main point! What girls? Ha! Go on with you!”

Sergey’s cell phone rang. He took it out of the case on his belt and pressed the button. It kept ringing. Sergey pressed the button again with his finger. It kept ringing.

“Fuck, what kind of phone is this!?” Sergey shouted angrily, pressing the button several times, finally stopping the ringing and putting the phone to his ear. After a few minutes of talking, Sergey looked at me and said:

“We need to go to the warehouse, tell Senya to prepare the intercity order…”

“Let’s go then!” I stood up abruptly, excited at the opportunity to leave the gloom of the office and be in the fresh air and bright sunshine. The desire was so great that I immediately left the office, pushed open the door of the building, and, caught in the warm rays of the sun, squeezed my eyes shut.

“Enjoying?” I heard a voice behind me.

“Yeah! Cool! It’s warm! Finally…” I opened my eyes and went after Sergey.

He took out his cell phone and started pressing buttons.

“Stupid phone!” Sergey said. “I should have bought the black one!”

“Well, if you had bought the black one, you would have paid more money. They’re the same,” I brushed it off.

“No, that one was better! You have a good phone! It takes good pictures and videos, but this… I’ll have to buy another one!”

“If you want it, buy it,” I said, and we walked around the corner to the warehouse.

Senya leaned his naked torso against the heated wall of the warehouse, half lying on a crate. A newspaper cap shielded his head from the sun. Only the absence of the splashing sea at his feet disturbed the almost resort idyll that opened up before us.

“Senya, are you sunbathing?” I said cheerfully, which set the storekeeper in motion. He woke up, jumped up, and quickly pulled his T-shirt over his body. His cap fell down and Senya became entangled in the sleeves of his shirt. I laughed.

“Senya, come on, relax,” Sergey said, holding back a laugh.

The janitor’s nephew emerged from the depths of the warehouse. He gave us an indifferent look and stopped at the gate. After giving instructions for the work, we went back.

“So how do you work out? Properly!? You bench press the barbell, you lift it!?” Sergey said as soon as we turned the corner.

“Well,” I was surprised, “yes. How else? Are there other ways to work out!?”

“Well, could be anything!” Sergey shrugged his shoulders. “What do I know? Maybe you’re doing it somehow else! You’re forward-minded… maybe you’ve invented something! Some extraordinary exercises!”

“Seryoga, what are you talking about!?” I hummed, “Just pull the weights until you turn blue, that’s the whole science! Lie down under the bar and press!”

“How much do you bench press?”

“Oh! Not much! When I came in this winter, I could barely do 80! Can you believe it? Now I’m doing ninety-ninety-five, and hopefully by summer I’ll be doing a hundred!”

“Well… that’s pretty good. What are you wearing? Flip-flops or sneakers?”

“Flip-flops… why?” I shrugged, again surprised by the question.

“It’s just that I have a friend who also works out… And he said that only fools train in flip-flops, all normal people train in sneakers,” Sergey said, cackling quietly, obviously enjoying his words.

“Why fools?” I said, feeling that the phrase hurt me unpleasantly and caused irritation and anger, but I continued with apparent calmness: “If you are a weakling, you will still press the sixty-kilogram barbell…no matter what you wear – sneakers or flip-flops…”

I brushed it off irritably, fell silent, my mood was spoiled, and there was a feeling that the sentence was meant for me and had been said for a reason.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that!” Sergey simply shifted the blame for his words to someone else. “That’s what he said, not me… Train in whatever you want…”

The conversation was interrupted. This feeling accompanied me all the way to the office, where Sergey was the first to enter, opened the door wide and said to his wife from the threshold:

“I need to buy a barbell, too, Verok!”

The couple’s eyes met.

“What? Romka is working out… I’ll buy a barbell, take it to the dacha and work out there all summer!” Sergey added, responding to his wife’s silent surprise, plumped down in the armchair by the door, crossed his legs as usual, and began to chew his lip. “We’re going to live at the dacha for six months in a week! That’s what I’m going to do! The air, nature and sports! All together!”

Vera said nothing, obviously holding her objections, smiled and lowered her eyes to the table, busy with some paper. Sergey turned his eyes to me, as if looking for support.

“Well, that’s a good idea! You have the mass! You’ll lose fat, get fit and look good!” I said warmly.

“The girls at the beach will be happy!” Vera sneered without lifting her eyes.

“Come on, Verok, don’t talk nonsense,” Sergey muttered irritably.

There was a pause.

“I’ll sign up for some hand-to-hand combat later, you’ll see!” I blurted out.

“What do you need hand-to-hand combat for?” Sergey snorted in surprise. “Go to boxing!”

“No, boxing is not my thing! I tried it once when I was a kid, I practiced for two months, had two sparring sessions, one of them I knocked out, the other one broke my nose, and I left!”

I laughed, remembering this incident from my childhood. Sergey cackled too.

“And it’s not because I got punched in the nose! I just don’t like boxing, because only hands can fight, they stand opposite each other and hammer on the head all the time… you can become a fool that way! I still need my head, I use it to think sometimes!”

I laughed again. Sergey leaned back in his chair in a similar mood.

“You like boxing!” I said. “That’s why you practiced, and you were good at it…”

“Yeah, I’ve even been in competitions! I won some tournaments!”

“See? If you like what you do, you always get results! That’s the law of life! I didn’t like boxing! I’m not going to fucking torture myself! It’s just not my thing! So I quit! I like martial arts where you can swing your legs and push and grab! I have such a figure, I’m tall, my legs are long, swinging is the best for me! You, on the other hand, are stocky, like Tyson, so a sport without legs is just right for you!”

“By the way, everyone compared me to Tyson! The trainer said that our builds are similar, I am good at diving in from underneath!” Sergey perked up, pressed his hands to his chin and shook his shoulders to the sides, then put his hands around the back of his head and threw his head back under the influence of memories and added, “Yeah! Five years of boxing, imagine that!”


The truck from Novosibirsk arrived on Friday, April 21.

“So, Roma, how much is there?” Senya asked as soon as the truck stopped at the warehouse.

“Ten, Senya!” Sergey said contentedly and walked along the side of the truck.

“Fuck…” the storekeeper choked, smiled, scratched his chin, and added, “Up the wazoo.”

“Yeah, Senya, that’s a lot,” I laughed and nodded. “Two or three hours, with breaks…”

“I understand, hehehe…” Senya glanced over his glasses at me with his sly look, glanced back at the loader standing nearby, and returned his gaze to me. “The two of us?”

“Yes, Senya, the two of you!” Sergey came up and cut off the sentiment.

“Oh, fuck…” Senya shook his head.

“Go ahead, Senya, start unloading!” Sergey shouted.

Senya jumped into the warehouse on stiff legs.

“If you need us, we’ll be in the office,” Sergey said over his shoulder and walked away.

We left.

In the evening, when I was already at home, Vovka called me and screamed into the phone as usual:

“Ramses!!! What are you doing tonight!? Let’s go to this shitty place, huh?!?”

I didn’t need to be begged, at nine o’clock I was shaking Vovka’s clinging hand in the center of the city.

“So what’s up, bigwigs!!? Getting rich!!!? Hee-hee-hee!” he growled.

“Absolutely, no choice!” I smiled, glad as hell to see my friend. “How are you doing? Lovey dovey!?”

“Lera is pregnant!” Vovka blurted out.

“Wow!!! That’s news!!! Cool, Vovan! Congratulations! How long has it been?”

“Over two months!” He was beaming with joy.

An hour later, as darkness fell, we went down to the small bar of the club.

“Let’s booze it up, Vovan!” I said, feeling the return of my former desires and moods.

“That’s the spirit!” He turned to the bar and yelled over the music, “Bartender, for fuck’s sake!! Bartender!! Pour me and Roman a whiskey and coke!!”

We were left in the grotto with a glass of black liquid in our hands, sitting by a small shelf. The tobacco smoke, the loud music, the flickering lights on the dance floor, the hum of voices – I was so unaccustomed to it all that I soon felt tired. What had once energized me was now draining me. I realized that it was about an inner change – I was becoming different. There were changes happening within me that I felt but only vaguely understood. But I liked them. I wanted them. The shell I had been in all this time was wearing away. I looked at the visitors of “Clear Skies” and half of them I didn’t recognize anymore. New faces, the wave of change had already washed out the old. My turn was coming. Such thoughts made me sad. I took a big sip. The feeling that I was no longer comfortable here grew. I looked around, trying to catch the old excitement, but there was none.

“Why don’t we take a walk and then go home?” I suggested.

“Alrighty!” Vovka nodded, caught my mood with a glance, turned the glass over into his mouth and patted me on the shoulder. “Let’s go, Ramses! I’m so happy to see you!”

We walked outside. It was quiet after the rumble of the club.

“So you’re getting married soon, aren’t you?” I said with a grin.

“Yes, we’re doing it this summer,” Vovka replied.

“Awesome! Let’s get you married!” I hummed. “You’ll be a father soon.”

“First me and then you, eh, Ramses?” Vovka grinned and rubbed his hands together. “At least I will have a party at your wedding, because nobody I know is getting married; they have all been married and divorced a hundred times! You’re the only one left, you old prick!”

“I’m not old and I’m not a prick!” I laughed.

“You’ve got this, what’s her name, Natasha? You’re dating, she’s a good chick – take her and marry her, that’s all!” Vovka said.

“Vova, I don’t mind,” I shook my head. “How much longer can I knock around alone, I like her, if everything will be okay, then why not? I’m all for it…”

We walked leisurely along the beaten path to the hotel, reached it, passed a number of cars with taxi drivers standing in a bunch and looking at us eagerly, left them behind and walked on.

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