It was a day of moral dilemmas yesterday: my Christ like nature was seriously tested and I can’t claim to have come through unscathed.
11:30 am: I’m at a metro station in the west of the city when I hear a voice shouting in Russian: “Hey Cultured gentleman!” I try to ignore it but it keeps repeating and getting louder, so I turn round and see a big guy with blood pouring from his nose and cuts dotting his face lumbering towards me arms outstretched. I pull back sharply, as one does, but he keeps coming so in a moment of panic I draw back my fist and give him a meaningful glare. This halts him, the memory of a beating obviously being rather fresh in the remnants of brain behind that battered face.
“You are a cultured gentleman,” he says again, clearly fooled by my business suit and the finely hewed nobility of my features.
I spot the way this is heading and start talking to him in English, figuring the resulting bewilderment might enable me to make good my escape. But he knows one English word, they always do. So he grabs my shoulders and sticks that face into mine to say: “dollars, dollars, dollars!” I push him away and set off for the metro figuring this is going where nowhere good, but he’s spotted the angle now and he comes after me grabbing my shoulder. I shake him off, but he grabs it again, I shake again, this has become an exploratory modern dance routine, so I stop and push him away again. Finally I make it into the metro with him still hanging on my shoulder and shouting: “dollars, dollars, dollars” at me.
In the metro at the top of the escalator there’s a police man, probably the one who gave him the beating, so seeing the cop before my new friend does I say, in Russian this time “Hey, ask the cop, he’ll give you some dollars” and as he recoils at the sight of the thug in uniform I dive through the turnstile and escape.
Would the good Samaritan have done the same?
5pm: I’m going into the university where I’m working at present when Tatiana Terienteva grabs me. I met her once before when I had to give a lecture, she asked me to give her a job and I had to explain that I was an English teacher rather than an employment agency. She too is an English teacher: one of the soviet generation of grammar obsessed disciplinarians, but she figures I can get her a job with some western company on the strength of her English. She got hold of my email from the administration of the university where she works too and sent me about 10 emails asking me to get her a real job. I sent her dozens of links to job search companies and adverts for positions that require English speaking applicants but she applied for none.
So yesterday she grabs me and tells me that the university has just fired her. Behind her the rest of the teachers are flashing me “Rabbit Boiler” signals. And she says she needs a job desperately and I can help her. I tell her again that I am in no position to give her a job, but she says “This is Russia, you have contacts, you can talk to them.”
So I looked at her in her ankle length grey skirt and shapeless cardigan with her long grey hair hanging in a pigtail to the small of her back and the constant panicked look in her eyes and despaired. Here, a woman who gets divorced, as Tatiana did, and then gets old can be in serious trouble: there are a whole generation of young people coming up out of the universities with economics degrees, fluent modern English and more energy that the national grid could produce in Brezhnev’s day and anyone over forty without excellent skills better start looking into street cleaning.
“How much do you want as a minimum salary?”
“$1500, I have to be able to respect myself you see.”
This is farcical, a secretary here will get $500 if they have the right skills, a good business administrator will get up to $1500 when they are experienced, Tanya doesn’t know how to use Microsoft Word.
So I say I’ll ask around, but I know that it’s hopeless. If I did recommend her to one of the businessmen I teach I would have to lie through my teeth, then they would give her an interview before ringing me to see if I was taking the piss. She’s right that everything works on contacts, but you have to help people on both sides of the deal.So, I’ll just keep sending her job vacancies that she might have a chance for and hopefully she’ll lose faith in my magic powers.
Good Samaritan mark out of 10 ?
9pm: I get out of the lecture and head for the metro and home just in time to see a crappy old Lada backing into the side of a shiny new Lexus outside the university and he hit it with some serious power. I stopped and looked up to see if he would get out and wait for the driver to come in reaction to the screaming car alarm. But he pulled away from the Lexus about 15 yards, threw it in reverse and then slammed back into it as fast as he could. This is when it occurred to me that I was watching a car assassination, so I edged back into the shadows that had stopped him seeing me. After a third run and with the side of the lexus utterly destroyed he drove off down the street.
So dilemma number 3, do I wait and tell the Lexus owner what has happened and give him the number of the Lada which I got?
To do so means dealing with a very angry Russian on a cold street when all I want to do is go home to the kids. What’s worse though is it might mean having to be a witness in a police investigation and the cops are just as likely to try and shake me down as anything else, and who knows who were the car killers? Could be some gangster revenge game going on and I’m averse to getting involved in such things.
But then, what if it’s just some mad bastard and a poor innocent Lexus owner who just lost his pride and joy in an act of random destruction.
So I scribbled the number of the Lada down in my notebook, nipped across the road and stuck it under his windscreen wiper before scuttling away.
Good Samaritan mark out of 10 is 6 (or so).
Today I’m staying in the house all day.