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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Stairway to Hell


I wake up from a dream where I find a severed hand and foot in a washing machine. It seems that the mild bit of food poisoning that we got from the bad cheese had leaked into my subconsciousness during the night and had displayed itself in a nightmare theatre involving laundry.

The others were feeling a bit worse. Nik had spent most of the night emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet bowl. Chris was not too bad but in no mood to be running around. I decide to check my emails at the post office.

Hours later Chris comes to pick me up. 'Anything happening?' he asks.
'Nothing much. There's more news about Steve Irwin. His father doesn't want a state funeral or some such thing.Besides-' I log off the computer, '-I care not. He's getting more recognition than bomb disposal experts who get blown up or rescue workers who fall to their deaths.'

When we get back to the apartment there are about five or six kids who are too young to smoke, smoking. 'He-llo,' says the bravest of them, a girl of about fourteen. 'Privyet,' I say back, the way cool Russians say a casual hello. They are impressed.

Pretty soon there are more of them in the stairway. The leader of the gang is a guy that I'll call Leo purely because I can't remember his name. Being 18 in this apartment block means that he is the king and he rules the others with an iron back hand. But in a friendly way. They like the fact that we are Australians but they don't know where it is.

Nik emerges from his coma to see what all the commotion is on their stairway. He sees Chris and I attempting to communicate with the kids (we taught them how to say 'F-ck off!) and, not to be outdone, grabs the bag full of koala key rings and distributes them to everyone. He's like a Santa Claus that only gives out shitty Korean-made key rings of fat Australian marsupials. One of the kids rips the head off his koala. May I have another? 'Sorry kid. One drunk herbivore per person.'

It's getting dark outside. 'We should grab a drink with them,' I suggest.
'You think it's wise to swig beer with underage children?' ask Chris and Nik, aghast.
'I don't know what the legal age for drinking in Russia is. Well, maybe just with Leo then. Let's get him to show us a bar around here.' We head to a convenience store (I thought we were being led to a bar) and buy some beer. On returning to our apartment and drinking the booze on the stairwell Nik informs us that he is feeling too uncomfortable about the situation and hides in the room. 'Who says I'm comfortable with this either?' I announce, 'It's just that we haven't done enough drinking in days.'
Chris says, 'Let's at least go to that sports bar that has no sports ( he read about this place in the Lonely Planet guide).'
'Leo. Do you know where this bar is?'
'Sports bar? Sports bar-' a whole bunch of Russian words, '-Da?'
Leo makes fist motions to his head.
'Are you trying to say we'll get our asses kicked if we go to the Sports bar?'
He nods his head. He lets loose with more Russian words.
'What. Are. You. Trying. To. Say?'
He repeats the words. Louder.

The story starts getting a little uglier from here. First of all, two of the eight-year olds came with us to the bar. That in itself wasn't a hassle since neither of them were drinking. But a couple of shots of vodka in, Leo decides that he's going to lift one of the kids over his head. He does so, and the kid hits the ceiling. That was in all likelihood an accident. But Leo does it again,knocking the wind out of the brat. The kid starts crying. Who the hell was Leo trying to impress- the 8-year olds or the absolute strangers? He then tries to get 300 roubles out of us for the taxi ride home.

'It was only 50 roubles to get here!' says a very annoyed Chris. Leo makes punching motions with his fists. Was he threatening us? We start to dislike Leo immensely. When we first met him he seemed to be a lovable bully, like Alfalfa from Our Gang, but he was turning into an actual bully- a threatening, tyrannical figure who gets drunk and wants to arm wrestle people. The 8-year olds look at us to see what we'd do.

Eventually we do get a cab together (?) and Chris, unaware that we were just in front of our building, hurls a 100 rouble note to the driver and lunges out of the cab in the opposite direction. We get back to the building, Leo in tow. 'No- we do NOT want to drink with you anymore Leo!' we say and close the door, checking three times that it was locked.


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