Red Ticket: We Don't Want an American
Robin's second date in Moscow starts of weird and gets, well, weirder
Every weekend we serialize Red Ticket, Robin Whetstone’s memoir of her time in Moscow in the early ‘90s. Today, Robin goes on her second date in Moscow. If you need to catch up, go back and read chapters 1, 2-3, 4-5, 6, 7, 8-9, and 10-11.
Chapter 12. We Do Not Want an American
by Robin Whetstone
My second date with Lyosha was not actually a date, but an appointment with a realtor. Lyosha did not tell me this ahead of time, and we met in a very second-date-like ice cream parlor, and so for a confusingly long time I thought I was on a date with Lyosha and his…sister? Best friend? Wife? He definitely seemed to know this pretty blonde woman his own age, but how and how well was unclear. They fell into a quiet, intense conversation as soon as they met, one that continued as we hustled down the block to see the apartment Lyosha was about to rent for me.
It never occurred to me that someone would rent someone else an apartment on their second date. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the couch next to the apartment’s current tenant that I realized what was happening.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Wait.”
Lyosha and the blonde woman, who were standing in a corner of the living room with their heads together, discussing something, stopped talking and looked at me. The elderly lady on the couch next to me, who hadn’t said a word, frowned.
“Come on,” Lyosha said, pulling me to my feet and guiding me out the front door of the apartment. “Let’s wait out here.” We stood in the lobby by ourselves outside the old woman’s apartment.
“Lyosha,” I whispered, “What are we doing here? Who are these people? What’s going on?”
“Shhh, shhh,” he whispered. “I’ll tell you in a minute.”
After a few minutes the door opened and the young woman came out alone. “I’m sorry,” said the woman, “She changed her mind.”
“What?” said Lyosha, annoyed. “Why?”
“She does not want an American,” said the woman. “She thinks it will be trouble.”
“Blyat,” swore Lyosha as the young woman said goodbye to us and let herself out of the lobby.
“Lyosha,” I said as we stood back on the main boulevard. He had his arm out, trying to hail a car. “You can’t just rent me an apartment without even asking me. I barely even know you. And I don’t want to move. I’m fine where I am.”
“You are not fine,” he said. “Look at yourself. You are not fine. I do not care what you say, you cannot live in dorms. Someone will kill you. You have got to find other place to live. If you do not want my help, fine. Find someone else to help you. But, listen to me, you must not live in dorms.”
We climbed in a cab and I dug around in my bag for a minute and pulled out my pistol. “Look. I have a gun. Don’t worry. I have a gun.”
Lyosha took the gun from me and looked at it. He snorted and handed it back to me. “That is no kind of gun. What, you are going to shoot squirrels from your window (he pronounced it ‘skvirels from your vindow’)? okay, this is gun for you. This is not gun for shooting people.”
Lyosha leaned forward and gave instructions to the driver, who’d been listening disinterestedly to our conversation. We stopped in front of a huge block of gray, Soviet-style apartment buildings. Lyosha paid the man and began walking through the snow toward one of the buildings.
I watched him, annoyed. “Hey!” I yelled at his back, “Where are we going? I am sick of going places and you not telling me where we’re going and not introducing me to people! If you don’t tell me what we’re doing then I’m leaving!” I turned and walked away towards the main street, where I’d seen a metro stop.
“Robin!” he yelled at my back. “Stop! I am sorry! Please come with me. We are going to see about your arm.”
I followed Lyosha up two flights of stairs to an apartment door. Lyosha rang the bell and after a few moments a woman opened it. She stared at us with no expression and made no move to let us in.
“Privyet,” said Lyosha, pushing his way into the foyer past the woman, who said nothing. A short man with a pinched, sharp-featured face emerged from somewhere in the apartment and Lyosha turned to him. “This is Robin,” he said. “She is an American journalist. She has hurt her arm.”
The woman made a kind of annoyed clucking sound and muttered “iti.” We followed her down the hall and into a kitchen, where she motioned for me to sit in a chair. I did and she pulled back the bandana and looked with no expression at my arm. Finally, she looked at Lyosha and said, “Tell her she needs to peel a potato and put the skins on the burn. Then she must wrap it in paper and tie it with brown string.”
“Brown string,” I thought, staring at my wrist. “Does it have to be brown?”
Lyosha nodded, and we walked to the door without saying anything. As we were leaving, I turned around and kind of waved at the two people, who stood in the doorway watching us with stony faces. They didn’t wave back.
We walked down the stairs and into the snowy playground area, relieved to be out of the stuffy apartment with its ice-cold occupants. “Lyosha,” I said to him as we waited for a cab, “Who were those people?”
“They were my parents,” he said.
The next morning I went to the “American Clinic,” the place all the expats I’d talked to said I should go to get my arm treated. The receptionist at this Western-style doctor’s office told me that, once I paid the mandatory $700 cash registration fee, a doctor could see me 10 days from then. I went back to my dorm and called Lyosha on the lobby phone.
“I have found apartment for you,” he told me. “Will you move?”
I told him I would.
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