King of the Hallway
It's a postcard scenery. The sky is grey like memory loss. Snow falls to the ground like dandruff off a bus driver. We are trapped in a snow globe far from home.
Rashit's wife has come to our apartment to cook us a three course breakfast for the last time while Nik stares at the window excitedly. He has never seen snow. I think to an outsider who is travelling through town in the Russian autumn snow is a beautiful thing. If you're indoors, rugged up and with a screamingly hot cup of cocoa. It looks the same as when a high school drama production has a snow scene- billions of bits of little paper falling gently to the ground- except in real life the snow melts and doesn't have to be swept up by stage hands.
A few hours later the doorbell rings. It is Leo the neighbourhood thug. With him are two cohorts. One of the little miscreants looks like he is fourteen. But a tough fourteen year old. The kind that carries flick knives and hurts pets. They offer me some warm beer but I decline.
We try to talk. Something something something. Oh, Leo wants me to show the kids some coin tricks. I flick a 5 rouble piece back and forth on the flat of my fist. I make the coin disappear. The kids go- How the f-ck...? Then Leo speaks some Russian to me. Something something something. He wants to exchange....dollars for dollars? What the...? Leo says more things that don't make sense to me. 'You want to swap dollars with me?'
'Da. Yes.' He pulls out a Singaporean $10.
'You little rat bastard! That was from my wallet.'
'You want to swap an American $10 for a Singaporean $10 that was mine to begin with in the first place?'
I couldn't be bothered arguing with him anymore so I do so. Then he has the gall to ask me for a 100 roubles. 'You join for piva (beer) yes?'
I spend the rest of the day walking around Severobaikalsk. Apart from almost walking into a brothel that I presumed was a restaurant the day is fairly uneventful. Which gives me time to think about the whole 'kids in the hallway' situation. The girls were fairly nice. They were probably too young to be interested in guys but maybe in a few years they'd hook up with one of the thugs and have little monsters of their own one day. Lack of choice. It happens. And I don't think the little boys would turn out like Leo but who knows what will happen in the future. I hope for the best. But for now there seems that there's not much to do in apartment blocks in Siberia except swigging home brew vodka and hassling foreigners for loose change.