Archive | November 2012

Dima’s secret study

I close the door behind me, quietly. The size of his secret study is astounding. Perhaps, for some reason I expected this to be smaller. Denser. A crypt. It’s not that but it certainly is dark. No windows to trap any sunrays. Carefully, I take a step to the side. I take advantage of the glimmer of light piercing through the keyhole and let my fingers trail along the wall, the one adjacent to the door, for the switch. I quickly turn the light on. In front of me, spreads a long, long corridor. I am not sure where it leads to. It’s too dark to even discern what that large shadow is, at the end of the corridor.  An object. A piece of furniture, maybe. Possibly a desk. I gape at the floor, watching my step. It is wooden, a light, caramel colour. The walls are painted white, but a trace of brickwork shades from beneath the paint.  I can see why they’re painted. The white walls give an air of openness in this otherwise suffocating room. They make it falsely welcoming.

I cross the corridor leaving the entrance behind me. Along the way, I pass a wooden, dainty-carved table to my left and a fifties-style armchair of pistachio-velour on my right. As I am nearing the end of the corridor I am bathed in darkness once more. I walk towards the nearest switch and turn it on. Soon enough I can see the desk, but not only that. A tall, wide, wall-mounted bookcase reveals in front of me. Its shelves occupy the walls that surround the study, rendering the seating area in front of the desk something of a hearth. The desk itself is a mocca-brown colour and the chairs are a match. Light-brown leather pillows, too puffy for my liking, are placed neatly on each of the five chairs assembled in front of the desk.

I keep trying to think what this setting reminds me of, and for a second there, I nearly miss my favourite memory of them all. My Law School Library. Dima’s secret study reminds me of my Law School Library. This place could easily be mistaken for a library. After all, the bookcase covers up all of the walls in this room, if we exclude the ones along the corridor. And the shelves are dressed with books from the ceiling to the ground.

Books? I never thought Dima a bibliophile. Intrigued, I pace quickly towards the bookcase, unease building up inside me. There is something odd about this room. For one, there’s no direct sunlight coming in or air circulation for that matter, and I can feel my claustrophobia twitching its claws at me.

I gaze at the books and realise how difficult it is to understand what they’re all about. First, there’s so many of them and second, a lot of them are stacked so high up the shelves, way beyond my reach. I couldn’t read them even if I could get hold of them. As I come closer to this potent bookcase, with a bit of struggle I manage to pick up one of the books, which is, in hindsight and a broken nail later, stacked a tad too tight with the rest. Once I manage to take it out I can’t help but stare at the cover. The book is a dated hardback and the title is pressed against it, in burgundy letters. Right there, at the very centre of the book. The cyrillic writing makes it difficult to read. I turn it over in search for the writer’s name. Again, the name is in cyrillic but it is shorter and I just about comprehend the second letter “E”, the third “Z” and the final two letters, “EN”. “Herzen,” I mouth. I put the book close to my nose to sniff it -strange habit but I’ve had it forever – and to my surprise it smells only of paper. There’s no trace of dampness, no iota of dust. Someone is taking care of these books. I eye the rest of the books and I am tempted to pull them all out. I wonder the kinds of stories these books can tell. When you know how to read them, that is. I turn to look at the desk and I am surprised again to find that it is in immaculate shape. Clean, polished, well preserved.

I am making my away along the bookcase when, suddenly, I hear a rythmical thumping noise. Toum-toum-toum. I’m startled, obviously. I think about the turned on lights and contemplate switching them off, but I am too far away from the switches for that. Definitely for that first switch. And if anybody comes down here, they’ll realise someone’s in Dima’s secret study, well, because I’ve left the entrance door unlocked. The thumping resumes, this time closer to me than before. I follow the sound, taking small, soft steps alongside the room. And then it stops. Someone is snooping around Dima’s sacred territory. Who else is home apart from me, his mother and Joe the Giant? No one should be home, apart from us. And no one should definitely be in here. Not even me.

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It was supposed to be an ordinary board meeting

“No, Yuri, that is not what I am saying. Can you please look at the projections? How can we possibly cater for thirty hubs of the BNF if you let go half of the staff?”

“Sure we can. The remaining staff will simply need to put in some extra hours, Bella. I can’t see why you won’t get this.”

“А что такое “девушка” предлагаешь?”

“The ‘girl’ isn’t suggesting anything but the obvious, Malmo, which is to keep the staff and do some internal re-organisation.”

“Bella, forgive me, my English is not good. That is only reason I speak to Yuri in Russian.”

“That’s quite alright, Malmo.”

“И она могла бы узнал некоторые русские, а, Мальме. Почему, черт возьми, она хочет здесь жить, если она не научится любой русский?”

“Well, thanks for your addition, Yuri. I am sure it’s colourful.”

“Bella, it’s only something to help Malmo understand your suggestion.”

“Why, thanks for your support, Yuri. But do you think you understand what I am saying?”

“I do. You want to be a host to your guest and a host to his dog, too, as they say in Russia.”

“Is that what they say here?”

“Ah, that is old Russian proverb, Yuri, where you remember that?”

“Malmo, are you so old that you’ve forgotten that it was you who said it first? To Dima?”

“Ah yes. When Dima was only just starting.”

“What a lovely trip down memory lane, guys. Shall we focus on the hot topics instead of wandering down a path which will only waste our time?”

“Sure, Bella. We’ll cut down the staff by just a few. We give them good compensation. But they don’t work very good anyway. Trust me, Bella. I am older, I know.”

“No doubt you do, Malmo. So, what do you suggest we consider before you cut the staff?”

“What do you mean, Bella?”

I mean, Malmo, who and on what grounds will you be cutting down?”

“Она означает, что причин для увольнения, Мальме”

“хорошо, Юрий”

“Yes, thank you Yuri, now I understand. Bella, we say they work poorly.”

“Were they given any notice of their poor performance, Malmo?”

“We give them. We write letters of one month ago and give them now.”

“Magnificent. And don’t you think they’ll find it odd that the letters are dated a month ago but they only just received them, Malmo?”

“Ah Bella. No need to worry. We’ll arrange. They will say not a thing. Trust me. I am older, I know.”

“Yuri. Do you agree with Malmo?”

“Listen, Bella, Malmo has many years experience of dismissing employees when they perform poorly. Sure, I listen to what he has to say.”

“хорошо, Yuri. And the rest of you, what do you say?”

I watch an array of nods, from the three other men of the BNF board. Olya the only other woman in this board apart from me,  isn’t nodding in agreement. She’s raising her brows at me, and I don’t know if I want her to feel explosive with anger or if she actually feels that, after what’s been said at this meeting. I move my head to the side prompting her to speak her mind. She takes a deep breath closing her eyes and then exhales as she opens them up.

“Yuri, you are a bigger fool than I thought you were at the beginning of this meeting. So, Malmo has experience and we should all listen to him, right? Are you forgetting how many times he got us into trouble with his stupid decisions to let go people on a whim?”

She takes me aback. “Olya?” She darts her eyes at me and keeps her lips pursed. I prompt her to go on. I am pleased, naturally, but her direct, vicious tone, takes me completely by surprise. She seems like she has a lot more to say to these two.

“And you, Malmo. The only host whose dog Dima, took along is you. Are you forgetting that you were a drunken unionist and Dima only took you along because you were a distant cousin of his mother’s? So, not because of your expertise on employment matters, but out of the goodness of his heart. Or rather, his mother’s heart.”

And what was the reason again that Dima thought these people should be on my BNF board?

I lower my eyes, because if they meet Olya’s blazing ones, there’s bound to be hell on earth in this room. It’s not a women against men, thing. There’s another three of them sitting here watching Olya speak with their ties in their mouths, not even murmuring a single word. No. I like to think of it as an old guard against new guard kind of thing. A board bullying went wrong. Because that is exactly what those bastards were doing. They were trying to bully me, and Olya and whoever else spared more than just half a brain in their heads. Because evidently, Yuri and Malmo have none in theirs combined.

I thank Olya for her input to the meeting and keep the decision reserved. There’s more than one decision to be taken here. It’s not only a matter of rendering the BNF more equipped to do the job it was created to do. The root of evil is deeper than I had imagined. It’s not just the youth who need to be cared for -which is what BNF is aiming at. BNF itself needs to be cared for and protected from the danger of ending up a bureaucratic institution that exists simply to nurture board bullying. Well, I’ll be damned if I let this go on.

“My love, how was your meeting? I called you several times, why didn’t you pick up?”

“Are you kidding me, Dima?”

“Come again?”

“Do you think that was a board meeting?”

“It wasn’t?”

“No, it wasn’t. Do you think I’m some kind of an idiot, Dima?”

“Here we go again. What have I done to hurt you this time, Bella?”

“How exactly are Yuri and Malmo, especially Malmo, qualified to participate in the BNF board, Dima?”

“Oh. Listen…I’ll explain over dinner, tonight. Can you bear with me until this evening?”

“I’ve got an hour and a half’s drive until I make it home. Is that enough time for you to explain to me?”

“But baby, I wanted to explain this in person. It’s kind of complicated.”

“Kind of complicated? How?”

“Not over the phone. In person. How else am I supposed to know what you’re thinking? I won’t be able to see you. You have me at a disadvantage.”

“That’s the wrong way of looking at it, darling. I am so mad at you that, I think the distance is working wonders for you right now.  Now, tell me.”

“Can’t you just wait for a couple of hours?”

“No. I can’t. And I’d appreciate it, if you didn’t call me ‘baby’ when we’re discussing work.”

“If I must. OK so, it was a bad board meeting. Well, if you must know, Bella, I did it for you. Yuri and Malmo are indeed the biggest a**holes around, they work half as much as they should and they get paid twice as much as they should. I could have them sent to the factories in Belarus, but it would make my mother sad.”

“And so you thought, let’s throw them over to the BNF and have Bella deal with them, right?”

“Not exactly. I thought, let’s give them the opportunity to show their humanitarian side, Bella.”

“…you are mocking me? Is that what this is? A game to you?”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Bella. Here you are getting all paranoid with me… This is exactly the reason I wanted to have this conversation face to face.”

“…humanitarian side, Dima? Really?”

“OK, so they haven’t got a humanitarian side. But you see, it was important for you to meet them, as well.”

“Do you think BNF is joke? Is that what BNF is for you?”

“Certainly not. And you know it, Bella. Think of it as ‘training’.'”

“You think I need you to train me? What gave you that impression?”

“I can see that you’re upset. So, I say let’s leave it at that, and speak when we get home. You misinterpret all my good intentions.”

“….humanitarian side… you just wait. I’ll show you exactly which side of theirs they showed me at the meeting. It had nothing to do with humanitarians. Other kinds of neanderthals? Yes.”

“Bella, I wanna see whatever it is you want to show me, honey.”

“Nop. I assure you, you won’t like what I have for you. I can’t believe you, Dima. You had a problem and the solution to it was to pass it on to me? Is this the chivalrous, Dima I met?”

“You think I’m chivalrous?”

“I used to, Dima. After today, I think you are a degenerate.”

“Ouch, that hurt. You’ve got a foul mouth, young lady. We’ve got to do something about it. I think we’ve got some soap at home, right?”

“Don’t give me any more ideas on how to make you suffer for messing up my board, Dima. Please.”

“Arh… OK. So…”

“Goodbye, now. I’ve got another important call to make.”

“No, Bella, wait!”

The home to Keele’s aspiring lawyers is a lovely place to visit, read and educate.

The old lady at the farmers’ market…

The other day I came across this old lady at the farmers’ market, who nearly made my heart break. She had a stall full of cheeses and cured meats and I could tell that her products were well cared for. On the centre of her two by three table laid a large, round basket, hosting a red and white checkered square cloth. The four ends of the cloth were hanging from the basket’s rim.  Inside the basket were an array of cheeses, all stacked neatly according to their kind. There were the white cheeses, the yellowish and the yolky ones there.

I’m not sure if I was drawn there because of the eerie presence of this old lady -she wore a red and white bandana as a halo – or because of the musky, peppery smell that whistled out of the stall. There was definitely something about this stall, this old lady, that made me stop and look and drew me close.

Dima had his hand in mine, our fingers interlocked, and I moved my thumb over his, nudging him out of his trance -he was on the phone, again, listening in at what I perceived to be a long and boring metal-related conference call. I urged him follow me as I approached this old lady’s stall. He made two steps along with me but eventually, Dima let go of my hand, brought his index finger to his mouth gesturing me to hush and glancing at the stall, he gave me an approving wink -like I needed it. He moved the opposite direction at a quieter area, a safe two metre distance away from the stall.

I watched him walk away and then made my way closer to the stall. The old lady was standing behind the table alone. It was just the two of us, there.

This old lady had the most piercing blue eyes I’d ever seen. Clear, crystal blue. The colour of the summer sky. Her nose was long and thin and her cheeks were the colour of strawberries. Her skin was fair and immaculate. She wore a red apron that covered most of her black, flowy long dress. The sleeves of the dress were puffy and hugged neatly at her elbows. Her icy, blonde hair was wrapped in what I guessed was a bun at the back of her head, away from her face, and her red and white checkered bandana framed her face. Her smile was sincere. Her look was clear and proud. She couldn’t have been older than fifty.

She began to speak to me in Russian and naturally I gave it my best shot at trying to understand what she said. I got that she spoke about cheese and ham -after all she was trying to sell her products -but I in the end I gave up trying to pick each and every single word. Right about the time when I felt mesmerised by the way she spoke. What she said made little difference to me. It was how she said it that intrigued me.

A soft, calm voice. She spoke unhurriedly. Her eyes, such kind eyes, never left mine. She gestured me to try the cheese and the bread in fact all of her products, doing so with her inviting smile. I didn’t stand a chance.

As the first cube of cheese was making its way into my mouth, I heard Dima call my name and I had to stop and turn.

“Bella, what are you doing?”

I  frowned.

“What’s the matter?”

“What are you doing?” he repeated with a low yet intense voice, covering his mobile phone with his palm.

“Trying out food.”

I stated the obvious rolling my eyes at him. Then I turned back to the old lady who regarded us with a confused look on her face. And a tad embarrassed. Or was that just me?

“Don’t,” Dima said. He walked closer to me, still covering his mobile phone with his palm.

“You don’t know how long that cheese’s been out in the open, or if it’s safe to eat.” He whispered annoyingly.

I suspected that the old lady couldn’t understand English, and boy, was I glad.

I apologised in Russian for his intervention and quickly shoved the little piece of cheese into my mouth, turning my back at Dima.

“Harosho,” she said, her eyes dropping to the ground but her smile lingering on.

By the time we left her stall, Dima, Joe, and the rest of the marine-cut beefs all had a bite of the old lady’s products.

When I finally made my way into bits of all her products, I felt a pang in my stomach and realised it was time to stop.

And so we left. Dima still speaking on the phone -well participating I should say, seeing as he said very little.  Joe savouring a piece of Kulebyaka pie and me, having bought three paper boxes of products to take home. I felt justified for some reason. Justified and at peace.

When the old lady finished packing the third box, she placed all of them in a brown paper bag, cut a blossom from her peonies pot and handed them all to me.

“Oh no,” I told her.

She  raised her eyebrows curiously, still smiling warmly.

“They’re beautiful, it’s such a shame to cut them.” I gestured my words.

She gestured back that it’s no problem.

As I waved goodbye, she gave me a gleaming smile, tilted her head on one side and wished me a good day. I watched her wipe her hands on her red apron before waving back and then turn round and lay out on the table some more pieces of cheese, bread and ham. She kept her sparkling smile throughout this ritual. Like a modern-day Kirke.