"Siberia 2007" story # 37

Tomsk, Russia           November 15, 2007

Somewhere on Tomsk's main Lenina Street, right between the universities, on a quiet street-corner lawn with shallow snow, illuminated by the golden globes of a merry street lamp, sits a single-story, wintry green, wooden house that's been there since the 1870's. This abandoned house is sadly going to get demolished soon. But, for some strange reason, it's still warmly heated. And I recently moved in.
     The house rests deeply back on its lawn, like an old woman too old to near the bustling road and sidewalk. Thick, hanging shutter doors usually close the windows off to incoming light, but I sometimes undo their metal latches and swing them open. The shutters adorn yellow stripes, which brightly contrast with the quiet green. A padlock fastens the front door, which stands upon a small, five-stair porch beneath a triangular roof overhang. I walk around to the back, where a door hides itself atop snowy steps, in the side of a one-room extension which looks like it was made clumsily but solidly by a pair of Alaskan hunters.
     In the dark and alive and peacefully dying, wooden inside, I live and entertain guests.
     There are comfortable places to live, and there are beautiful places to live. I love "krasota" (beauty)! I like wooden homes. There's beauty in life. The walls of my former, modern, apartment building felt like prison bars. But, living in a wooden house is one of the closest things to living in a tent.
     My wooden home isn't completely comfortable. Pieces of it fall apart all the time. As a result, I live alone. I have all eight rooms to myself and my guests and - as a friend once joked, mocking my poverty - all my "seven possessions."
     My eight rooms connect to one another, one by one, in a line snaking around the western and northern sides of the house. (Other residences occupy the house's southeastern half.)
     The last room in this line has a floor made up of wide, blood-red boards. The wallpaper's bland, white-and-blue stripes surround you and make you want to scream for an escape from the monotamy. It feels as if the former tenants had led stale lives and watched TV a lot. I sleep here, on a quilt in my sleeping bag. My third guest (orange-Asiatic-skinned Tanya from Xakasia) spoke about how she knows she's too selfish to daringly travel, while I swept up lots of dust, so as not to enhale it when I sleep. She repeatedly described my house as "strashnyy" (scary). A sliver of light from Lenina Street gets through the shutters and in past the tall, rectangular windows. Thus, if I look back towards the rest of the house, the dark mouths that are the doorways seem as if they could hold a lurking robber.
     The only furniture in this room is a five-foot-tall wardrobe, now laying on its back. My most-recent guest (curly-haired, round-faced Sasha, a hillarious girl) coaxed me into opening it. We found nothing inside, just two empty coffin-like halves. Sasha joked I could sleep there, and I laughed quite hard. I said she could spend the night, and we could each knock on the wardrobe's central board before sleeping, to say good-night.
     My former roommate (at whose apartment in the suburbs I only ever had two guests) told me that, while sleeping even normally, I should be careful that I don't wake up to the house being demolished.
     Sasha described the house as "gruznyy" (gloomy).
     My bedroom connects directly to the entryway for the padlocked front door. This room is difficult to see but also bland, empty except for a few drawers and out-of-use doors. The worn front door lets a bit of cold air in through a hole. (It's been about 5 degrees Fahrenheit, or -15 degrees Celsius, lately.) I use this room for its coat-rack. This room and my bedroom, with personalities like a burrowing guinea pig, had been rented together, and, in the past, separate from the other rooms.
     A young, hyperactive art student named Aleksei used to live with his five siblings and two parents (there usually are two) in the other six rooms. Aleksei's a kind, dark-haired twenty-year-old who's mostly incomprehensible and who speaks every sentence as if it were the most exciting, most important thing that ever happened. He told me to imagine six children with his energy, bouncing off the wooden rooms.
     It had been Aleksei, and then a middle-man associated with the new owners, who'd given me the "OK" to temporarily reside here.
     Most of Aleksei's family's rooms hadn't been very functional.
     They had entered through the aforementioned back door, via the crudely-made entryway, currently a.k.a. my refridgerator, because it's not heated at all. This is the first room in the snake. The boards that went into making it have only been decorated with dirt, and the ceiling is crooked like a shack's. There's a collapsing dresser, some shelves, a pair of cross-country ski's, and an old-fashioned, metal-framed sledge for toddlers, (and, sometimes, my sausage and mayonnaise) in this Siberian entryway.
     The next trapezoidal room, slightly better-made, is the entryway for the entryway, a.k.a. the entryway to the bathroom. A small window-box has been built into the wall, a small window you almost have to squint to see out of. A naked baby doll lives in that window-box, staring out at the world. Oo-ooh, spooky! Other than the baby, there's a coat-rack in this room.
     The bathroom has no toilet seat, no toilet tank, and - like all the previously-mentioned rooms, and the next-to-be mentioned one - no light. But, many of Tomsk's wooden houses have outdoor bathrooms, so, you see, mine is pretty good.
     If I were to attempt to bathe myself here rather than go to friends' houses, I'd have to do it in a tiny, portable tub. A mysterious tube leads and drains into the toilet bowl, and when I open up the coldwater valve I have to be careful this tube doesn't shoot out of the bowl and flood the linoleum floor. The floor sinks down in front of the toilet bowl. With the aid of my flashlight, I see that the dark walls are a checker-board of nailed-on boards. I "flush" by pouring water into the bowl.
     My bathroom actually leads nowhere - at least, nowhere we would want to go. Returning to the house's snaking body, we turn left and get to the kitchen.
     In my first days of residence, I used to enter my house through the kitchen window. This was much more pleasant than life in the apartment-building suburbs, where I had to unlock and lock doors five times just in order to go buy bread. Later, I was given a key to the house, but I've since given it to the middle-man. Now, I just leave the doors unlocked and hide my worthless things in the wardrobe, feeling safe that if anyone did venture in they wouldn't be able to find a working light. The kitchen's window pane, meanwhile, is barely staying together.
     There's a sink with hot and, when I need it, cold water, an antique cupboard, a coat-rack, and wallpaper decorated with maple leaves that seems to give off oxygen, itself. The plaster above the wallpaper, and the floor, are in decay.
     "And, in the seventh room of our tour, our happy Ameican host proclaimed, 'Let there be light!"
     In addition to electricity, this room has something very rare: furniture. I usually entertain guests in this room, where we sit on overturned drawers and dressers, around the big "table" (an overturned wardrobe). My fourth guest (blond Katya, whose plain looks are beautiful) told me, over tea, how she studies part-time and, at age nineteen, works sixty hours a week as an economist, so there'll be enough money for her younger brother to keep studying. Poor, sad Katya. She enjoyed visiting my house; afterwards, she called me: "funny".
     The guest's room seems bigger than it is, because it's a ten-by-ten-foot cube with empty, white walls. Light from my lamp doesn't reach many of the corners, casting monstrous, growling shadows. Paper-machiere pumpkins and a real jack'o'lantern - leftovers from the art students' Halloween party - hang from the ceiling or serve as a waste basket. The house's sturdily made, wooden frame is visible where the wall is peeling off.
     My second-to-last guest (very special Anya) and I had sat together and read fairy tales.
     We'd rendezvous'd at a quiet university campus nearby, so I could walk her to the house. Her blue eyes are precious, river-smoothened rocks; her hair is springtime sunlight; her little smile is funny; like a toy, she looked at me from inside the furry hood of her purple coat. She's so delicate, so soft, her movements so gentle, I had to put my arm around her and hold her hand.
     Her hood kept falling back off her head, slightly. Instead of adjusting it with her hand, she abruptly bowed forward, so the hood would fall back into place on its own. Being with Anya makes me want to laugh at life.
     Once we'd arrived, and she'd seen my house with her funny, sweet eyes, she called me: "very interesting".
     Unfortunately, this strong blonde isn't always with me. The house is.
     The house's wooden doors, rounded and worn from moisture and usage, open and close tightly with delicious "squishing" noises. The house smells of dry, rotting timber.
     The last room of our tour is my favorite. It's a corner room with roses on its faded, torn wallpaper. Warm pipes travel around the perimeter - heating pipes which are present in all the main rooms - but in this room they make me think I'm in a kitchen. Yet, there's no stove for me. There is light and electricity. During my first week of residence, there had been a self-heating, leaky tea kettle and an old tape-player.
     My first guest (a progressive-thinking, slightly older woman with pale eyes) and I had danced. We danced freely, or together seductively, to the quick violin music. She called the house: "romanticheskyy" (romantic).
     In this same room, my second guest (small, green-eyed Nastia) stood with excited eyes. She said you could feel the lives of all the house's former residents. She also said she would be unable to sleep there; it's too "strashnyy" (scary).
     This final room of the dark house is my favorite, because the art students had drawn all over the walls on Halloween. On the walls are: little, cartoonish goblins; the devil dancing; and a person who's been hung. On the walls are written: "Halloween", "Die", "X-Files", and - in the corner - "3deCb Y6uLu MaWY" (which means, "Here they killed Masha").

from the scary, gloomy, funny, interesting, romantic, scary home -
Modern Oddyseus.

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