The harsh, cold wind of Murmansk was blowing through the cracks of Oleg’s old window.
He reluctantly opened his eyes. With no recollection of what happened last night, he glanced at the empty bottle of vodka on his dusty Persian carpet. Despite the headache, which kicked in just as he got out of bed and the pesky dry feeling in his mouth, Oleg hobbled to the fridge. Upon opening it he found a pack of frozen Pelmeni and an old, but still edible Belarussian sausage. After dealing with the sausage, brushing his slightly yellow teeth and washing his tired face he went over to the beat-up, light brown Soviet closet, which was missing a handle, and picked out the most appropriate clothing for his „job“, as he jokingly called it, – a black tracksuit, a pair of black Derbies and most importantly, a gold chain and a small silver cross. As he was leaving the flat he instinctively picked up his trusty knuckle-dusters and switchblade off of the shelf near the entrance. Slipping through the doorway, which consisted of a relatively thin door with a burgundy leather cover on the inner side and a moldy dark brown casing, he looked back at his flat – an old remnant of a standard Eastern European household from the 60s, with a simplistic ceiling lamp that was emitting a cold, harsh light on the scraped green wallpaper and the mostly broken furniture filled with random things, some of which he wasn’t even aware of having. Oleg turned off that disgusting light, the one he had hated for as long as he could remember, closed the squeaky door and stepped outside onto the stone stairway, surrounded by green walls, which were decorated by children’s insults hastily written with a black marker and some ugly, unrecogisable graffiti. Looking at the simplistic, childish messages, Oleg remembered the days of his long gone youth. He’d never had any ambitions or interests, despite being forced to play guitar from the age of 12 to 15 by his parents, as well as joining a Sambo club at school, which he actually liked but had to leave after sustaining a serious hip injury. After graduation, he quickly realised that he was lost, since the usual routine he had gotten used to in his school days had suddenly ended and he now had the terrifying ability task to choose what to do with his life. His rather bad grades weren’t really helping either. Since he didn’t go to university, he had to go to the military for a year to receive basic training. There he met Ilya, the tall, blonde young man he was currently waiting for, three years later in good old Murmansk. Oleg’s job mostly consisted of stealing small things such as cellphones and wallets from those who seemed to be intimidated by his appearance. Today was no different. He was squatting on a rickety bench several blocks away from his neighbourhood, eating fried sunflower seeds and staring at the little shop across the street. A yellow Volga slowly pulled over on the wet sidewalk, only several steps away from Oleg. The door opened and out climbed Ilya, dressed in a similar tracksuit, with a black eye and a slightly frightening grin, revealing two missing bottom teeth. „Zdarova, how you doin‘ dude?“ said Ilya, eagerly stretching out his rugged hand in an attempt to shake hands. Oleg forcedly smiled back and shook hands with him as he quickly jumped off the bench. „Shall we go?“ Ilya muttered, already running across the road to the tiny shop, leaving Oleg alone with his thoughts. Before Oleg could react to Ilya’s disappearance, the latter jumped out of the store, carrying two bottles of their beloved crystal clear beverage in his left and a bag of cheap sunflower seeds in his right hand.
„Come on, we don’t have much time, it’s getting pretty dark already!“ he shouted irritably as he pushed Oleg further down the street. Today’s job was to trash Nikolai’s car. Nikolai was a short but sturdy policeman with a receding grey hairline who frequently broke the law himself and was currently in charge of Ilya’s friend’s brother’s case, who smashed through a shop window several days earlier after drinking too many bottles of „Stolichnaya“ all by himself and ended up taming a bear in the nearby woods later that night. The wet, white-blue police car was standing in front of Nikolai’s apartment building, who had stopped by to eat some lunch with his family before running off to work again. Ilya looked around. He couldn’t see anyone through the heavy snowfall that had already fully covered the road and most vehicles parked on either side of it. „Let’s get to it then“, he said, unzipping his dark „Adidas“ bag. Out of the bag came a dented baseball bat, with some of the silver paint scratched off from previous violent adventures. Oleg stood aside and watched as the police car’s windshield broke and little pieces of glass scattered across the front seats and the panel. He couldn’t physically contribute to this act since he hadn’t brought anything besides a small pocket knife and brass knuckles, nor did he want to. All that Oleg wanted to get out of this was enough money to get drunk and fall asleep until morning, thus fulfilling his daily duty and keeping this „circle of life“ spinning. The alarm went off, but Ilya was too carried away by his work to notice. Suddenly, the apartment building door slammed open, and a chubby short man in a bubble jacket with a police uniform underneath, both of which were put on in a hurry ran out screaming „Aiaiai what are you doing, pridurok?“. He stopped for a moment, looking at the wreck that used to be his freshly painted police car mere minutes ago. Oleg couldn’t properly see the man’s face, since it was covered by a magnificent walrus-like moustache, but he knew that the man was angry. Fortunately for him, the old policeman was only focused on the young man who was standing on top of his car, still relentlessly beating it with his bat. Oleg thanked God for this opportunity to save himself and hid behind the corner, leaving Ilya and Nikolai alone on the snowy street. For a chubby middle-aged man, Nikolai was surprisingly nimble. Before Ilya was able to brace himself, Nikolai gracefully jumped across the car and slammed into him, like a cannonball hitting a weak, young foal. Then, a fairly one-sided brawl ensued, with Nikolai pinning Ilya to the cold muddy ground and beating him with his baton. The unconscious young „gopnik“ was then handcuffed and thrown into the police vehicle. Nikolai drove off, and even though his car wasn’t visible anymore, the sirens were still echoing through the neighbourhood. Once the street was completely quiet again, Oleg indifferently turned around and went back home, feeling no sadness or remorse for his fallen comrade. Suddenly, he stopped, his eyes widened with excitement. Right beneath his feet, partly submerged in snow was a brown leather wallet. In it he found 545 Rubles. „Davai, davaaai!“ he shouted, running towards the nearby kiosk.
The squeaky door opened. Oleg crawled inside, carrying an empty bottle of vodka in his shaky left hand and desperately trying to reach the light switch. After all his attempts had failed, he flopped on the floor, spilling some leftover vodka in the process. „Bl…y…a…“ was the last noise he could blurt out, as he took another swig and closed his baggy eyes. The bottle hit the floor with a loud thud, covering the sound of bears roaring in the distance and the whistling of the cold northern wind.
Illustrated by Eva Havlova.