"Siberia 2007" story # 41

Tomsk, Russia           December 16, 2007

The last story should've been called, "Two More Walks and a Hop around Tomsk."
     Now that I'm living in a spacious, wooden house in the center of town, I walk almost everywhere I go. I try to dress sufficiently warmly. A week ago, in fact, I walked for forty minutes home from basketball, with wet hair, and I was perfectly warm. I'd put my hair in a ponytail, covered it with a winter hat, and swallowed my head inside my coat's furry hood.
     The last time I had a coat with a furry hood on it, I was in high school, home in Michigan. One of my best friends, disappointed by the fact that he had a friend who had fur on his coat, beat me until he could rip off the fur and throw it in the trash. And I've never had a furry hood since - until coming to Siberia.
     How else does a Siberian winter affect your life?
     Firstly, I wear a lot of clothes when I go out. This creates an inconvenience, because whenever I go inside - to friends' homes, to a beauty salon where I give English lessons, to bars - I have to take them all off and find a place to put them. (Well, I don't take ALL of my clothes off. The beauty salon would have to pay me more.) And now to the second point: my body sometimes weakens as if to tell me I haven't slept enough, or that I need to eat some healthy food.
     For the most part, I've felt very healthy. But, one day, I was sitting in the beauty salon, drinking tea and eating chocolate and spreading the love of my native language, when I suddenly realized I'd eaten only chocolate all day long. Oh-h-h, my!
     The next day, I felt ill. Following an English lesson, one of the young sisters who owns the salon (the one who thinks it's cool to hop on one foot) invited me to rest in her flat. The sofa in her flat was much more comfortable than my sleeping bag, on a quilt on the ground, in my wooden house.
     But, she lives far away, and while I was returning to Lenina Street, riding in a cursed marshutka bus, seated near the door leaking in cold air, my healthy probably deteriorated by as much as the rest had helped it.
     But, I couldn't be stopped on this day. It was Thursday. On Thursday evenings, "Mega Mix Blues" plays live, classic rock hits in the bar, "Sinyaya Boroda." I braved the cold weather to walk forty minutes to this bar. I reached the bar.
     ... or could I be stopped?
     Thursday nights are wonderful. Many people dance. I dance with many girls. An unconfident, gentle guy named Shtyopa drinks a lot then dances with many girls. A twenty-three-year-old girl named Katya (the long-haired girl with whom I'd danced to Green Day on my first night in the bar) prances as happy, and as beautifully brainlessly, as a kitten, smiling with baby-sharp teeth, dances with me often. She even has her own move: she pushes on my chest to make me stand as tall as possible, and then she curls one leg high around mine, holds my hand, and dips herself backwards with a wave-like motion.
     On this, the last Thursday in November, I entered the bar. Nowadays, there are more people dancing in the bar than when I'd first come.
     I walked towards the coat check. Sometimes, as many as four of the bar's regulars grab and hug me BEFORE I CAN EVEN GET TO THE COAT CHECK. On this day, Marina then Lena grabbed and hugged me.
     I got beside the coat check. I told the bar's owner that I'd undress myself a moment, then give him my coat and boots and bag.
     He, a small and bony middle-aged man, whose dark soul and dark eye-brows and dark hairline and eyes kind of all mess together, responded by asking why I come to his bar. He said I come every Thursday and dance. And he said I was no longer welcome there. I had to leave.
     I hadn't expected this. I figured his words were a mistake. I proceeded to undress myself.
     He returned. "Naverno vy menya ne ponyal." (Obviously, you didn't understand me.) This may've been a hint at an insult, towards my not being Russian. But, I HAD understood him. I just couldn't believe him. He said I "take up space" (though I hardly sit).
     This was the first time I'd been confronted. I'd always spent a not-large amount of money in the bar, penetrating the intolerant bar-tender's sneers to buy my juice and a plate of food. Now, I told the owner to name his price, and I'd give it to him. He wasn't interested.
     OK. Wow. So, I had to leave. But, I wanted to take his customers with me. I quickly told some of the regulars, girls (because I didn't see any familiar guys in those five seconds), my "friends", what had happened. Their looks were ones of confusion, or personal fear as if the last thing they wanted to do was put themselves in a conflict.
     I turned to the band, who was just finishing a song. I told the timid yet very talented lead singer (who may be gay), who knows me, that I'd been kicked out, and asked if he wouldn't say something. He would, he said, ... but what? OK; "Luchshe ya," I said. (It's better if I speak.) He let me on-stage.
     I addressed the microphone and the large crowd. "Zdravstvuy," I greeted them ...
     But, then, in the "Play of the Day", the bar's good-looking door-man (if he wants to be like the owner when he's older, he's making a bad decision) covered up the microphone, with his hand.
     The door-man led me to believe we would work things out if I went to the owner again. But, the owner didn't want me in his bar. The co-owner, a small gray-haired man who watches over the bar miserably keeping track of which customers are spending too little money, came. I tried calling them racists. The co-owner loudly agreed with my statement. (But, the Russian word for "racists" is similar to the word for "Russians", so I'm not sure that we proved anything during that dialogue.)
     Katya, my favorite dance partner, in her coat, came in. I told her I'd been kicked out. She would later tell me that my being kicked out had upset her.
     "Eto biznes!" the owners hissed! (It's business!)
     "Eto Rossiya." (This is Russia.) The owners justified their actions, actions which, I think, would've been unjust in many countries.
     Except for the owners and bar-tender, everyone in this bar seemed to really, really like me.
     But, I left the "Sinyaya Boroda", forever, with my right arm held painfully behind my back by the door-man - with, at that moment, not a friend in sight.
     (Many people, including the people who were supposed to meet me there, hadn't arrived yet. And not everyone was in a position to see me leave.)
     Eto Rossiya?

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