“What are you thinking about?” Sergey looked at me through his sunglasses. It was summer – the heat had filled the city with hot air. We were sitting in the “Mazda” in a traffic jam.
“Never mind…” I muttered, turning my head away from the window. “I was thinking about women…”
“And what do you think?”
“I think about how the better you treat them, the worse they treat you… Like Lilya… I gave her flowers every day, went out with her, talked to her, never hinted at sex – basically, I acted like any normal guy who wanted to have a serious relationship with her, but I got tons of shit in return. Rita too. What the hell did she want? “Something wrong with you!” What’s wrong with me? All right, maybe. I drank, I smoked. Whatever. Natasha… No fucking idea what happened either! I treated her well… I didn’t even talk about sex for six months! Seryoga, six fucking months!”
I raised my index finger in indignation.
“You mean you didn’t bang her for so long??” he looked at me through his glasses.
“Fuck, Seryoga, I didn’t bang her and I didn’t want to get her into bed as soon as possible! I was serious about her, I wanted to build a normal relationship! It’s none of my business, but I guess you and Vera weren’t in a hurry either…”
He hesitated and said after a few seconds:
“No… no, you’re right, Roman! We also started in about six months…”
“You see!” I spread my hands. “We all did the same. Only Vera married you and Natasha bailed…”
I laughed silently and then stopped, my laughter tinged with bitterness.
“Roman, you see, you always invest in broads, but I never did. At most – a candy bar, a rose… Well, the biggest thing is a bottle of wine! That’s it!”
“What do you mean, invest?” I was confused. “I understand what you mean, but damn it! How can you not invest? I don’t really invest in them, I just spend some money… we go out, we sit in cafes… flowers… I wouldn’t say I spend a lot of money. I’ve invested in Lilya all right, though, fucking big time!”
I let out another bitter laugh and shook my head as if to shake off an obsession.
“I remember how you used to fuss over Lilya! You came to work every day with red eyes and kept taking money from the common fund,” Sergey perked up.
The cars in the traffic jam moved, the “Mazda” drove about three meters and then stopped.
“I only did it a few times! Fuck, I shudder to remember – some Lilya, I as the last fucker fussed around her, strained myself, cafes, clubs, bowling every day, and still she always made a dissatisfied mouth! Why the fuck did I bother, I don’t know… I wince at the memories…”
“What’s the point? You invested in her and it didn’t work out…” Sergey stopped talking, turned his face to me and, trying to hold back a smile, added, “Did you at least give her the time?”
“No,” I shook my head and turned to the window. “I had no such thoughts… Shit, Seryoga, I really wanted to build a relationship with her, I didn’t go out with her just to shag her! You can get laid without these somersaults!”
The traffic jam came to life again. Sergey put the car into gear, we rolled forward and stopped almost immediately. Sergey leaned against the window, propped his head with his hand and said:
“I had this buddy, you know how he called such broads like your Lilya?”
I looked at my partner who, after a pause, said, “Buttheads!”
“They screw with your brains,” Sergey explained. “But they don’t let you screw them…”
“Ah… that’s what you mean…” I nodded and grimaced. “Yeah, I get it…”
The traffic jam moved again, the dialog was interrupted. I thought about it, and after a minute of self-chastisement, I sighed heavily and said: “You know what the worst part is, Seryoga?”
“The worst part is that I didn’t love her at all!” I said, feeling the bitterness of disappointment drain out of me as I spoke the truth. I couldn’t even tell if I was disappointed that it didn’t work out with Lilya or that I didn’t love her.
“But you liked her, didn’t you?”
“I liked her, but that’s it. I don’t know why I was so obsessed with her back then!” I threw up my hands and turned to the window. I was in a state of confession. I didn’t care if Sergey listened to me or not, I just had to get it off my chest. The series of failed relationships was beginning to weigh me down. I longed to talk about it and get rid of it. I immediately corrected myself, trying to build the right chain in the jumble of thoughts. “I mean, I know, of course! It’s just that, you know, you’re already at that age, almost thirty, and you don’t have a family and kids, and everyone’s already married… and you start thinking: stop fucking hanging out alone, you need to find a decent girl, marry her, have kids and live a normal life! It’s all because of these thoughts, you know?”
“Roman, I hear you!” Sergey said, maneuvering in the fast traffic.
“Strange shit – you try your best, but it turns out to be worse… and so it was with Lilya. I’m like a fucking retard, I got hooked on her C-size boobs!”
“Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey’s cynical, deliberately humiliating laugh rang out.
“Yes, Seryoga,” I laughed too. “That’s the fucking thing, believe it or not!”
“Roman, I believe you! Who would turn down good, big boobs?” he said, and after a pause he added, “I sometimes miss them myself…”
Vera’s figure flashed before my eyes and I remained silent.
“Your Natasha has decent ones, too…” Sergey continued.
“Yes, Natasha has everything there!” I nodded. “Everything is perfect there! I’m very picky about women, but Natasha has a very chiseled figure!”
“Yes, your Natasha is a slim little thing! A woman should be smooth. Vera was like that when she was younger…”
“Seryoga, it’s none of my business, of course, but your Vera has a good figure now…”
“Roman, you haven’t seen Verok in her youth… Yes, Verok still looks very good for her age, I understand! But still… two kids… After Lyonka she had problems with her back, too…”
“You and Vera even look alike! One look at you and it’s clear that you are husband and wife!” I expressed the emotion that remained in me from the first meeting with Sergey and Vera as a married couple, at my birthday party just after our merger.
“As for me, as soon as I saw her, I realized – that’s my wife!” Sergey said, slowing down, we drove off the ring road, got into traffic again, stopped. My partner pulled his glasses up on his forehead, reached behind the seats, took out a bottle of water, sipped from it, put the bottle back, wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
“Really?” I was surprised, feeling a surge of interest in mysticism.
“Yes, I remember, we’re sitting with the guys in one of the apartments, and some chicks come in, there was this acquaintance of this buddy of mine, she brought her friends with her, so they come in, and the last one to come in is Vera, and I’m like – that’s my future wife!” Sergey snapped his fingers.
“What, you thought so?” I was almost childishly excited.
“Yes! I don’t know why I thought it, but I did!” Sergey blinked and stared ahead, his eyes twitching with memories. “Actually, broads were always hitting on me! Me and my buddies used to get together at someone’s house and call some broads we knew… And what do the women want? Pick up a guitar and play a little bit. My buddies used to say, “We’re not taking Lobov with us! If we did, all the broads would be his and we wouldn’t get any. A lot of chicks were after me, but I didn’t think of any of them as a wife, only Verok…”
“Yeah, cool!” I marveled at the twist of fate. “I’ve never experienced that… or maybe I have… No, I haven’t! Even when I loved this girl, I remember really loving her, but there was no such feeling… I mean, I wanted to marry her, yes! But… But that’s it!”
“Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever loved?” Sergey leaned his elbow against the downed window, supporting his head with his hand. The cars in the traffic jam breathed with the heat, a haze hovering over the asphalt.
“I have, sure…” I nodded and looked out the window. “What’s the point if there’s no love, Seryoga?”
“Roman, I don’t know what’s better,” he sighed. “I’ve always chosen women who liked me! What’s the point of running around with this love… you’re all crazy about her… and then she does some shit and your brain explodes!”
Sergey waved his hands, spreading his fingers sharply in front of him, imitating an explosion.
“Yeah, that sucks…” I shook my head. “And not knowing what to do… you like her… and you have to take it all…”
“Yeah…” Sergey perked up, twitched as if the topic of conversation stepped on a sore spot in his memory, “You go to a concert with a broad like that… The Palace of Sports used to host concerts by all kinds of celebrities, remember? I don’t know if they still do or not…”
“They do, I guess…” I shrugged. “Did you go to a concert there?”
“Yeah… I remember this boy band came to us… ‘Laskovyi Mai’ or something… I’m not sure!” Sergey wrinkled his nose and waved his hand in front of his face.
“Yeah… girls like that music!” I smiled.
“Yeah… and you take her to this concert, she says she wants to go to the bathroom, and you wait for her in the foyer… And the toilets are down there!” Sergey dove into the invisible basement with his hand in the air.
“Yeah, yeah, you have to go down there, I remember!” I nodded vigorously.
“And you stand there and wait for her for half an hour, and she doesn’t come back… and then you go downstairs, and there she is, in the toilet with someone…” Sergey nervously jerked his hands several times, imitating sexual intercourse.
“You’re kidding, right?!!” I stared at him, stunned by what I heard.
“No… no kidding!” Sergey said emotionally and with pain in his voice.
“Fuck, that’s rough!” I stared at him.
“Right, Roman, it’s rough! That’s life – you’re all in love and they stick a pin in your head!” Sergey nodded and stabbed the air in front of him with his index finger, fell silent and after a moment put the car into gear and it rolled forward.
We drove silently for a while. Sergey’s words shocked me and did not fit in my mind. I imagined myself in his place, shuddered and realized that I wouldn’t want to be in a similar situation. We entered the “Homeland” area and the gravel rustled under our wheels. The “Mazda” rolled up to the red trucks and stopped.
“Everything looks normal…” I said, looking at the routine bustle of workers in the warehouses. “We should go up and take a look around…”
There were rumors around town that this company was going from bad to worse. Our trade with “Homeland” was small, but I didn’t want to lose even that much money. We crossed the courtyard and went up to the sales room. Everything looked the same – the sales room was working, the managers were sitting at their computers. Soon we were back in the car.
“I don’t know… it seems okay, but it’s best not to take our chances…” I said.
“Yes, Roman, we have to deliver the exact amount, otherwise we could be screwed. We should not be the first to deliver, but only after they bring our order and then load the goods into their car,” Sergey summarized, and we drove back.
“Fuck, Seryoga, how did you meet broads before, how did you choose them?” I blurted out, impatient with the pile of thoughts in my head.
“Roman, in different ways,” he looked at me through his glasses. “For example, I always wanted to get to a broad’s house unexpectedly, to see how she lived, if the place was clean, and if her mother walked around the apartment all disheveled in a greasy robe!”
I was stunned and surprised by the simplicity of his words. Sergey didn’t go into long philosophical musings and theories, which always sound nice but are useless in life. He gave a clear practical technique that I immediately thought about.
“Shit, Seryoga, that’s a smart move!” I exclaimed, looking respectfully at my partner. “I would never have thought of that!”
“Roman, of course it is! You should look at people in their normal state, not when they are trying to look better. Any chick can put on some makeup and clean up when you come… A chick should be all smooth, so you wouldn’t be ashamed to go out with her…”
“Shit, that word – smooth! I’ve heard it so many times, but it still surprises me…”
“Smooth, I mean that she has a nice figure and…” Sergey started to explain.
“No, Seryoga, I understood the meaning! Just the word is so interesting…”
“Roman, this is life!” Sergey splashed his hands. “You’re looking for a broad to live with, not just to fuck, right?”
“Right, of course,” I nodded.
“Well, if that’s the case, then you have to look at how she is in life – what kind of relationship she has with her mother, what kind of mother she has, how she behaves in the household… Family life is serious, Roman. Somebody has to wipe the kids’ asses and keep the house in order… You’re not going to do all that, are you?”
Sergey looked at me and took his eyes off the road for a second.
“No, I’m not…” I shook my head and smiled, having learned this simple lesson.
We finally left the city and drove straight into the village.
“I’m hungry,” I said as the “Mazda” rolled past a fast-food kiosk.
“We’ll pick up Verok from the office and go get something to eat… I’m hungry myself. I have a sick pancreas… And with a sick pancreas you can’t go without food for too long…”
“Yes, you have to eat something every two hours…”
“Jeez… I don’t even know where my pancreas is. But I have a sick stomach. To each his own…” I sighed, staring at the temple under construction, the “Mazda” turning left at the T-junction and rolling downhill. We left the asphalt onto a dirt road, bouncing over the bumps on our way to the intersection. I kept half lying on the seat, looking out the window. The crossing. A cabin at the crossing. A girl dressed as a railroad worker came out of the cabin and froze on the threshold, looking at the “Mazda”. I stared at her in surprise, coming out of my relaxed state for a moment. What surprised me was the beauty of the girl. The tall, slender brunette met my eyes and, as if reading my thoughts, blushed embarrassedly and looked away. The “Mazda” rattled its wheels on the tracks and drove by.
“Yeah, smooth…” Sergey echoed my thoughts.
“Beautiful girl,” I mumbled, and then I perked up, jumped up and turned around in the seat – the girl was looking after the car. “What is she doing here, Seryoga, at this crossing?”
I didn’t hear an answer to this question, but I rather asked it to myself. And when the “Mazda” turned towards the factory, images appeared in my mind – flabby broads in winter coats at the crossing, and in contrast to them – a young, slender, beautiful girl.
“You have to get away from there, otherwise you’ll be lost, you’ll become the same old broad at this godforsaken crossing, and your life will be wasted!” I mentally admonished the girl, and the “Mazda” rolled into the factory.
“Verok, let’s go to lunch,” Sergey said as soon as we entered the office.
“Is it time already?” She took her eyes off the monitor after she had stopped typing something intensely.
“Yes, let’s go because my pancreas hurts!” Sergey said impatiently.
“Seryozha, you need to sign the waybills, here, I prepared some…” Vera started.
“Vera, I’ll sign them later! Let’s go!” Sergey retorted.
Vera jumped up, quickly got ready and followed us out.
We returned an hour later. Sergey sat down at the table and put his hands behind his head, while I sat by the door and stretched contentedly.
“Seryozha… the waybills…” Vera spoke up.
“Ah, right, Verok!” he exhaled, threw his hands on the table and took a pen. “Give them here…”
A weighty stack of waybills moved from one table to the other.
Sergey began to sign – diligently, as if in a calligraphy class, his hand wrote two signatures on each waybill, put it aside and started the next one. Concentrating on the action, enjoying it, he made large scribbles and, flying his hand over the paper, completed the signature with a wide squiggle.
After finishing, Sergey said solemnly:
“That’s it, Verok, para… pafa… pafaph…”
“Paraphed,” I said, smiling.
“Yes! Done! Pafarhed!” Sergey said hastily, gathered up the papers and just as solemnly handed them to his wife, looking at me. “Nineteen waybills signed!”
“The office is sweating,” I nodded and smiled again.
Business was booming. Kerosene-based dichlorvos was selling like hotcakes. We were even getting orders from companies that had previously only sold alcohol-based dichlorvos. Even “Sphere” – the big company we had been doggedly pursuing – started ordering. Three hundred boxes with deferred payment in ten days – it was a stroke of luck. Sergey broke the news in the middle of the penultimate week of June, flying into the office in the afternoon full of joy.
“But we have to take them today… they asked for it!” he added.
“Petya has already left on the second run…” said Vera, looking at me questioningly. I looked at Sergey, who put his feet on the base of the chair and kicked them.
“Petya has already left…” Sergey said, crossing his arms over his chest and chewing vigorously on his lip. “What can we do?”
“Maybe Anatoly Vasilievich can do it?” Vera looked at me cautiously.
I looked at Sergey, who looked at me and kept kicking his legs.
“Could Anatoly Vasilievich come by? Isn’t he busy right now? Is he working at all or not? What is he doing now?” Sergey asked me a series of questions.
“Well, actually he’s working. Delivering semi-finished products to a company…” I said. “But I don’t think he’s too busy, I think if he’s free today, he could help us…”
“Will you call him then?” Sergey’s legs kicked again.
I called, my father was at home.
“I’ll do it,” he said hoarsely into the phone. “Now?”
“Yeah, come over now… okay, yeah …see you,” I said and disconnected.
“Will he come?” Sergey nervously chewed his lip.
“Yes, he will,” I nodded.
The office became uncomfortably quiet. And then, as a relief, the phone rang. Vera took her cell phone from her purse. It was her brother.
“What did he want?” Sergey looked at his wife when she had finished speaking.
“Seryozha, we have to take Vanya with us today when we go to the dacha!” Vera said hurriedly, as if she was afraid of hearing a “no” answer. “He would stay there all week.”
“Well…” Sergey splashed his hands. “If we have to…”
“Why, does Vanyok not work or what?” I asked.
“Not now, he’s not working,” Vera said with regret in her voice.
“He worked at his last job, all right…” Sergey waved away and sulked.
“What happened?” I looked from him to Vera, who was confused.
“Vanyok broke some beer at work, so they kicked him out… You know, when a car has beer in crates one on top of the other… and they were delivering it to the outlets, and Vanyok had to take off the top crates so they wouldn’t fall, and he didn’t… They drove off, the car started, and the crates all fell in the back…” Sergey pictured with his hand a vertical column falling flat on a horizontal surface.
“Ah-ha…” I said and hummed, remembering the same incident. “My beer fell down too… that happened… So now Vanyok has to pay for the broken beer?”
“He’s already been deducted from his paycheck and fired… or not all of it… I don’t know exactly,” Vera dismissed the unpleasant talk about her brother.
“Vanyok is an idiot!” Sergey waved his hand.
“Seryozha!” Vera’s cheeks flushed, and she looked at her husband judiciously.
“Why, Vera!?” He stared at his wife. “Vanyok is a fool! Driving during working hours and getting drunk on beer so he could sleep in the cabin – is that wise?”
“What, he drove drunk!?” I was surprised.
“Yes! He was pissed on beer and worked the whole day like that, even fell asleep in the cabin,” Sergey waved again, the gesture reinforcing the hopelessness in his voice.
“Man…” I raised my eyebrows and looked at Vera. “Your Vanyok is something…”
I hesitated when I saw the shame on Vera’s face. The room became quiet again.
“So, is Anatoly Vasilievich on his way?” Sergey said, glancing at the clock on the phone screen. He opened the phone with a crunch, gently wiped the inner screen against his pants, carefully closed the phone, admired it in his hand, put it in his pocket.
“Yes, he is,” I nodded, my skin catching the air in the room as it began to tense. “Let’s run the waybill, I’ll go to the warehouse, give it to Senya…”
Five minutes later, I left the office. After another ten minutes, my father arrived, backed the “GAZelle” up to the warehouse, put on his work gloves, and climbed into the back of the truck out of habit.
“Get out, Dad,” I said, remembering my father’s bad back, and jumped into the back myself.
Senya and his son began handing me boxes, and I began stacking them in the back. Twenty minutes later, I jumped out of the car, and my father was walking around outside the warehouse, smoking.
“You’ll give me the waybill at home tonight,” I told him.
“That’s it?” my father looked at me with a scratchy, scrutinizing look. “Can I go now?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” I nodded. “See you tonight, Dad…”
My father took a last drag, flicked out his cigarette and went into the cabin. I went into the office. The “GAZelle” started up behind me, overtook me and drove away. While the car was still in sight, I thought about my relationship with my father – had it recovered? My father’s look was still in my mind. I also noticed that Sergey had not followed me to the warehouse.
“Man, we really did a good job with this merger! I didn’t think we’d be so damn good at it!” I said aloud the thoughts that came over me as soon as Sergey and I got into the “Mazda” for another trip into town. The car dusted past the gatehouse, rolled out onto the dirt road and bounced over the bumps.
“You didn’t!?” Sergey looked at me in surprise.
“I mean, of course I did!” I fidgeted in my seat, half turned to my partner, tuned in to the conversation; lately I had begun to enjoy our one-on-one communication, learning more and more new things for myself, discovering other facets of life through the prism of Sergey’s experience. “I didn’t even doubt it… But I didn’t think it would be so cool, Seryoga! I calculated that ‘Aerosib’ will definitely give larger volumes than ‘Luxchem’, so we could merge… And you brought the rest, and everything is so cool now!”
“No, I thought we’d make it,” Sergey nodded, looking forward and puckered his lips self-importantly. “We’re doing fine so far…”
I looked at my partner. Sergey was driving the car, looking at the road, his whole image radiating confidence and determination. I was suddenly disgusted by such blatant boasting and empty posturing. I remembered another Sergey – a confused and frightened manager, suddenly out of work and not knowing what to do next in life. The picture I remembered was not the one Sergey had painted.
“So you were sure that we would have such sales and that everything would work out?” I couldn’t hold back the sarcasm, but it bounced off my partner’s puffed-up, smug look.
“Yeah, well, what’s the big deal? We already knew each other, you had your experience, I had mine, we shook hands and started working. We got good contracts. That’s what I thought. I wouldn’t have teamed up with anybody else. I told you, I’ve had other offers. Yours wasn’t even the most interesting. But somehow I liked you right away… you and Anatoly Vasilievich… I’ll tell you the truth, I respected your father right away… even now I respect him… it’s just his temper, I understand… it’s difficult… But I still think I made the right choice by joining forces with you… We just liked each other…”
I shuddered at that last sentence. Every time I heard it, it bored my ears.
“What did you like about me?” Sergey added, waving his hand.
“Seryoga, you asked me that question a hundred times!” I said stiffly and without restraint of discontent, wanting to finally discourage the desire to ever ask this question again. “I’m telling you for the hundredth time – I haven’t thought about whether I like you or not!”
“Yes, yes, I remember!” Sergey interrupted me abruptly. “You and Anatoly Vasilievich were thinking about ‘Aerosib’ and wanted to get it! And it doesn’t matter who would have been there instead of me…”
The complacent expression on my partner’s face vanished in an instant, and he smirked.
“Yes, Seryoga, that’s right – I was specifically after ‘Aerosib’, and you had the contract! If someone else had it, I would have made them an offer!”
I turned to the window, irritated by my partner’s insistence on a question that made no sense to me. Sergey reached forward, picked up the glasses lying on the panel and put them on.
The car rattled on the rails of the crossing and rolled back down the dirt road. We shook in the car and were silent. I thought about Sergey. About how some moments of his behavior, literally like a fly in the ointment, kept falling into my consciousness, leaving an unpleasant taste. I realized that all of us are not sinless, we all have worthy traits in our character, as well as far from the best. We live in society and we all have to put up with the character of other people. Sergey and I were united by common business, and we had to accept each other’s personality traits. Another fly, having entered my soul, dissolved there only by my effort – I did it every time to notice the best in my partner and to dissolve the negativity coming from him.
“After all, Seryoga’s a nice guy… yes, he has his faults, he’s resentful, sometimes arrogant, snooty, indecisive, lazy… but… but… but we have a business together, and it’s a good income. I don’t want to give up the business I’ve been working on with my father for so long because I don’t like something in Seryoga… It’s all right. I have to earn as much as I can in this business, and then we’ll see. I should go to Moscow. There’s nothing to do here in our city… It’s impossible to live with my mother. My father… We’ll settle things with my father. I’ll pay him back. I can even leave him my share of the business. After all, my father has every right to profit from this business… Yes, he was rude and refused to work, but still… We started together, we went through the hardest part together, and we both have the right to receive dividends from our labor… I do, he doesn’t… About that… good idea – I can really just leave my father my half of the business when I get tired of it… And I would go to Moscow…” I thought, sitting in the car, which finally hit the asphalt and flew quickly through the village, and suddenly I felt unbearably drawn somewhere. The thought wandered vaguely in my mind, and all I could read in it, straining my senses, was: “I don’t belong here, my place is there…”
“Seryoga, what does your father do, he’s ex-military too, right?” I turned my head to my partner, burdened by the long pause in our conversation.
“What does he do… he works!” Sergey said with a heavy sigh.
“Where does he work?” I continued, suddenly realizing that I knew nothing about Sergey’s father and had never seen him.
“At the market, as a security guard, a couple of days on, a couple off…”
“Why didn’t he go into business or sell with your mother?” I wondered. “Your mother sells goods, they could have done it together…”
“Roman, how should I know why my father doesn’t sell at the market with my mother?” Sergey reacted nervously. “He said he had enough and went into security as soon as he left the army… His pension is good and he gets some money at work…”
“I don’t know, I just thought they could, like me and my father in our time, start a family business, especially since you have Romka, your brother…” I shrugged.
Sergey didn’t answer anything. Later, when we returned to the office, he suddenly said:
“When we did business with my father, we almost crashed with him, you know?”
I was sitting at the desk, Vera at her place. Sergey stood in the middle of the room and, as usual, accompanied the story with florid gestures.
“You didn’t say that you and your father did something…” I was surprised.
“Yes, we did something together,” Sergey dismissed it. “And guess what, we drove with him at night, there was not much left to the city, about thirty kilometers… And my father was driving… So he’s driving the car… and then I see these dividing lines suddenly start to shift… you know! I’m sitting there looking at the road, and the white lines are shifting to the left… and I realize we’re going to the curb… and I look at my father… and I turn my head and…”
Sergey paused dramatically so that I could absorb the story, grabbed his head with his hands and, seeing my surprised face, continued, “…and I see my father asleep!”
Sergey took his hands off his head and grabbed the imaginary steering wheel, closed his eyes, paused again, opened his eyes and exclaimed:
“Imagine! Asleep! Sitting behind the wheel like that and sleeping!”
My partner froze, still clutching the wheel and looking at me with round eyes like an actor reaching the climax of his performance.
“Seryoga, I told you the story about my father falling asleep at the wheel,” I said plainly, stunned to realize that I had just heard my own story.
“When did you tell me this story!?” Sergey “took his hands off the wheel”, came out of the climax and gave me a surprised and dissatisfied look.
Surprised, I ingenuously recounted the original story briefly.
“Where were you then!?” Sergey muttered, glancing around the corners of the office in confusion.
“Well, my father and I were driving from Moscow! It was on the Moscow highway!”
“Ah, no!” Sergey brushed it off immediately. “We were coming from the Rostov side in our ‘third Zhiguli’!”
“Aha…” I said, still bewildered by the blatant and insolent retelling of an incident from my life as his own!
Sergey stopped talking, sat down by the door and gave me a few puzzled looks.
The office phone rang. I picked it up.
“Catch the fax!” a cheerful voice commanded in my ear.
“Hi, Senya, catching!” I replied, jabbing my finger into the green button.
The machine squeaked and paper with the rest of our goods came out, with handwritten numbers at the end of each line – an order.
“Vera, do a quick report, please!” I said, continuing to track the growth of the company’s money. The printer whistled and produced a sheet. I took out my calculator and started to add up the figures. Sergey, sitting in the chair by the door, gave me a curious look, immediately crossed his legs, kicked his foot and folded his arms across his chest.
“Seryoga!” I said happily, leaning back in my chair. “Congratulations! Two million!”
“Two?” he sniffed, kicking his foot harder. “One million for each of us.”
Sergey looked at his wife and added:
“Imagine, Roman became a ruble millionaire at the age of twenty-nine!”
“Hah!” I chuckled, “You say that as if you didn’t become one! We both did! So did you! And not at twenty-nine, but at thirty… I’ll be thirty in a month…”
“No, at twenty-nine…” Sergey said with sadness in his eyes. “Still a month to go… and you’ve earned your million now…”
“And you became one in…” I narrowed my eyes and did some calculations. “Thirty-four… well, that’s nice, too! Although you actually became one earlier! You have a car and,” I almost blurted out in front of Vera that her husband had a stash in the bank, I hesitated, quickly thinking how to continue, “and an apartment. Actually, I bought an apartment too, but I still have to fix it up, and that’s half a million, and you’ve already done that… So… you became one earlier, and I’m just catching up now…”
“No,” Sergey grimaced and shook his head, as if something unpleasant had happened that weighed on him. “The apartment and the repairs are just expenses, things! It doesn’t count.”
“Well, I don’t have a car!” I said.
“You don’t really need it!” Sergey objected with a hint of irritation.
“Um, that’s right… I don’t need it…”
“Exactly! If you needed it, you would have bought it a long time ago. You’re just fine with it as it is.”
“Well…” I thought for a moment and nodded. “Actually, yes! I’m fine with it! I have an apartment, I don’t need a car, the main thing is business, the company is working, I’m earning money, and I’ll take money from the cash register any moment and buy a car!”
“You see!” Sergey summed up with a kind of sadness, and with pouting lips began to pick his finger in his sandal like an offended child.
“Am I not right?” I spread my hands. “What’s wrong with it, Seryoga?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Roman… everything is fine with you…” he sighed heavily.
A moment of silence hung in the office.
“And Vitya Butenko is already a dollar millionaire,” Sergey said, as if thinking aloud. And I suddenly realized that Sergey was not so much envious as hopelessly sad. And this hopelessness was due to the fact that an ordinary guy like him had become a dollar millionaire. And that this amount was too much for Sergey to understand, so much that he would never earn it and would not be able to reduce the resulting financial gap.
Sergey sighed again.
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