для читателей старше 18 лет
This book is dedicated to my American host families and Rotary International.
It is based on actual events.
I was born in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. When I was one year old, my parents moved to Irkutsk city (Eastern Siberia). At first, we lived in a hostel. Looking from the window, I could see a prison. By seeing the prisoners walking in circles, I learnt how hard life was in that place. Then, we lived in our friend’s studio. After a few years, the local government gave to my dad a two-bedroom apartment for his hard work at the union of artists. That’s how we started living in the neighborhood named “Pervomayskiy”. Almost 18 years of my life passed in that “wonderful” district.
The whole new world took me into its dreadful arms; it was the world of fear, grey nine-storey buildings, street gangs, guns and fights. I couldn’t escape from this system; I became a part of it.
Crimes in that area were all over the place: there were fights, robberies, even murders. Up to a hundred people came to massive fights, which always resulted in people getting fractures, bruises and other wounds. For such actions lots of young people were sent into jails. My parents started to worry about me, because they often noticed me smoking with my friends and sometimes saw me dealing with illegal affairs. If it hadn’t been for my music school, where I had been going to since I was six years old, I wouldn’t have been different from the others.
Because of the fact that my parents were members of the local Rotary Club, which dealt with international programs, there was a wonderful opportunity for me to live in the United States for a year as an exchange student, so that I could experience a different lifestyle, meet new people and change my outlook on life.
At the age of sixteen I left my country. I knew little English, that’s why, when I came to America, I had some difficulties understanding people.
I’ll start my story with the arrival in Vladivostok city (Far-Eastern Russia), as I got my visa there. I flew from that city to Chicago, changing planes in South Korea. My mom accompanied me till I left Russia, and my father said, “Keep a diary!”
I made his wish come true. Hearing the roar of huge engines of a 2- storey Boing 747 heading to Chicago, I started taking down all memories from my Siberian childhood.
From my diary
The City of Vladivostok
When the train arrived in Vladivostok, no one met us and my mother ran to call someone, leaving me with all the suitcases. She got back and said, “Let’s go and look where we can rent a room for some time here.”
One bus stop later, we were in the city center. We entered a huge building. My mother ran to look for accommodation for newcomers, and I was waiting for her on the first floor. After about an hour, she came and said, “Let’s go Nick! They’ll show us apartments where we can stay.”
Having come out of the building, we got into a black car and drove away from the center. We came to an old apartment building; an elderly woman opened the door and let us in.
We came inside. The smell was disgusting. The woman showed us our new room. There were an old sofa, a bed and a TV. We paid her 10 dollars a day. She introduced herself as Tamara Ivanovna. Tamara was 65 years old.
The same day we went to see the city. It was beautiful, the fountains with colorful lights created a special spirit of the city, the spirit of the far-east. We waited for my visa for almost a month, so we had a lot of time to spare and we used it for walking along the seashore. It was my first time when I saw the sea. The view of it was magnificent: the never- ending horizon made me think about my future. Every day we left our room at 9.00 am and returned at 7.00—8.00 pm. At first glance, the old lady Tamara was fine, but after a while she became pretty annoying.
She violated our privacy quite often by turning on her favorite TV series very loud, despite the fact that we asked her not to do that. Finally one day she said, “I’ve got high blood pressure, could you please go and buy some tomatoes and a watermelon for me?”
We bought her what she had asked for: ten kilos of tomatoes and a big watermelon. After that, my mother and I thought that Tamara would leave us. But we were entirely wrong. It reached the point where
Tamara asked my mom to wash her old mother. My mom refused to wash the person she had never met.
The whole time we spent on the beach, we saw many weird people. There was one with a hole in his shorts. Before jumping into the sea, he prayed, then threw his rubber slippers into the water and dived to get them. There was another guy, whose name was Shurik. From early morning till evening he spent his time on the beach with a book in one hand, but he did not read it. In the other hand he was holding a long stick and was drawing some words on the sand.
He did all this to give girls an impression of being a smart guy. Then Shurik put on his swimming goggles and did pull-ups on the bar.
One day my mom and I were sitting on the beach. Our two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola was lying nearby. Shurik came up and said, “Hey man, can I drink your Cola?”
I looked at him, he was well physically developed. He reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger. How could I say no to him? “Sure!” I replied.
He started drinking greedily from the bottle. Then he said, “Thank you, now, go and play chess!”
I looked around and no one near me was playing chess. Then I thought, “What a weird dude.”
The next day we went to the cinema called “The Ocean”. We watched the “Bruce Almighty”. We really liked it. After that we decided to have a walk along the sea. It was 6.30 pm and my mom said that it was time to get back to Tamara. On our way we met Shurik. It was the first time we saw him without the book. We were very much intrigued by it, and my mom asked him, “Well, Shurik? Where is your book?”
Shurik turned and replied, “I hear that you are asking with sarcasm! You shouldn’t treat me like that!”
“Okay, but can you drink my Coca-Cola without asking me permission?”
Shurik frowned, “Your son allowed me!”
“But the Coca-Cola was mine!” my Mom joked.
After this ridiculous conversation we went back to our room.
The time passed and I had to talk with the Consul. The official interview was on the sixth of July, at 10.50. The meeting went fine. He gave me the visa and wished me good luck. At the time I couldn’t imagine how this trip would change my entire life, but first I would like to tell you a few stories from my life before I got to America.
I was about 12 years old. My friends and I constantly played war games with pistols, which fired with plastic bullets. I remember it was quite painful when such bullets hit the body, but that’s where the fun was. We always played in places where big buildings where being built, in the construction areas.
Now, in our district there were two big age groups: the seniors and the juniors. The seniors were the people who were more experienced and who gave us, the juniors, advice on criminal things.
So, one day, when we were playing there, we saw the senior guys. They were standing near the building crane. I approached them and asked why they were hanging around there and whether they were waiting for someone or something. Vampire (that was the name of the guy, whose face was very much like one of a vampire) replied to me, “We are going to check, whether Ivan is a real man or not. Ivan’s nickname is Terminator.”
We stayed to see how Ivan would prove it. He was a true daredevil. The terminator began climbing the ladder which led to the top of the crane. At first I thought he was going to climb into the crane cabin, but when he reached the top, he turned to the crane arm. It was frightening to watch what he was doing. When Terminator was at the very end of the arm, he hung on the crane arm with his legs and turned over! He was hanging upside down at the height of 25 meters (82 feet)! He shouted, “Look at me! I am a real man!”
He waved his hands at us. Any wrong move could kill him! Then the seniors shouted to him, “Okay Ivan that’s enough. Get out of there!”
Twenty minutes later, Ivan was on the ground. Our seniors began to shake his hand, saying, “Good for you! Now you’re a real man!”
Terminator turned to us, “And you, young people, watch and learn!”
After such lesson, we threw away our pistols and began to check “who was a real man among us”. We started doing crazy and dangerous things like jumping from one garage to another.
Three years later, my friends and I were sitting on a roof of the house which was built by that crane. It was sunset and from the roof we could see the lights of the whole district and the dense smoke from the pipes of the plant which occasionally made a terrible noise much like an engine of a huge plane. We were drinking some beer (although we were only 15), playing the guitar and sang some songs. Suddenly, feeling a little dizzy from the alcohol, I looked at the house nearby and said, “I bet you guys I will jump from this house to the one over there!”
Between the houses there was a big hole, which was one and a half meters (about 5 feet). The building on the roof of which we were was twelve floors, and the one I wanted to jump on was ten.
For a moment I thought, “Maybe it is a bad idea.”
But my friends insisted, “Come on, Nikita, jump once you said!”
My task was to jump over that hole between the houses. I didn’t think about anything. My heart started beating fast, I felt the adrenaline rush in my blood, I could see only the objective: to jump over it and stay alive. I took my courage in both hands, ran as fast as I could and jumped. The last thing I heard was the sound of the broken roofing slate under my legs. I lost my conscience and then, 5 minutes later, I found myself in the attic. I was lying for a minute or two and heard the guys laughed, “Are you alive, Batman? Come on, get out!”
I climbed onto the roof and when I saw the hole that I had made in the roof, I began laughing with my friends.
By that time we were only 15 years old, but we knew all the attics, roofs and basements of all 9-storey buildings in our neighborhood.
We constantly put our lives at risk and didn’t think about the consequences of our actions.
The Next “Real Man”
There was a huge construction area in front of the house where I lived: a new 9-storey house was being built. The working crane was like a sculptor, finalizing its work on it’s another “masterpiece” in our neighborhood. That day was a day-off for the workers, and the guys from my district used this moment to check which one of them was a “real man”.
The next “candidate” was Gosha, the Terminator’s brother. You will not believe what he did! He got to the top of an unfinished house, tied the “sausage” (that’s how builders call a pipe-shaped heat-insulating material, which is put in the open spaces between the blocks and is flimsy) to a piece of metal, threw the other end of the rope out of the window and started descending down from the 9th floor! Everybody was watching this frightening and exciting show of a guy, whose life depended on that rope. As he got to the 6th floor, the guys started shouting, “Come on man! There’s not much left!”
Suddenly, something happened and he started falling down! Everybody thought that it was the end of his life, but, gladly, that wasn’t the case! He flew for about two floors and, thanks to his strong hands, he managed to clutch back to the rope and successfully get down! Everybody breathed a sigh of relief that everything went fine. That’s how Gosha proved that he was deserved to be called the Terminator’s brother.
One day, my friends and I were hanging out in the streets. The sky was filled with grey clouds and some-time later it started raining. That’s why we got to one of the 9-storey buildings and had a “brilliant” idea.
We did not want to fall behind our seniors and we decided to prove that we were “real men”. There were ten of us and we all huddled up in the elevator on the eighth floor. We were actually packed like sardines. It was so inconvenient that we could hardly push the button of the first floor. When the elevator started moving, we started jumping actively and all together.
The elevator was designed for four people max, not for ten guys jumping crazily. So, after several seconds there was an emergency stop. The light turned off. The darkness was all around us, we heard a strange noise from the upstairs. It sounded like the metal rope which was holding us was cracking and it seemed that we could fall down the elevator shaft any second possible. Everyone stood still not knowing whether we would stay alive. Suddenly, the cabin started shaking and we thought that the lift was to become our coffin in a few seconds. The grinding sound of the elevator was the final accord of our life. But, luckily, the light turned on, the lift started working properly and we got to the first floor. When the elevator doors opened, we saw people waiting for us. We pushed each other out of the cabin. They started yelling at us, saying, “Because of people like you, we had to walk up to the ninth floor, idiots!” We were laughing, got out of the elevator and ran into the street. We were happy that we stayed alive and started enjoying every single moment of our precious lives
As the time went on, we were growing up. In our neighborhood we had a lot of young people. The district was like a machine, creating more and more small and large criminal groups from twenty to one hundred young men. Their parents were ordinary people. The children, seeing their parents work hard for a small salary, wanted to find a better way of life. So, it was easier to steal a pager or to beat up somebody and take the money than to find a job.
There were only twenty-five people in my group. At that time, most of our senior guys were in the army and some of them started drinking and using drugs. By the way, those people who were drug addicts had always been punished to the fullest extent of the “street law” in our neighborhood.
There was a guy in the senior group, whose nickname was Bugs Bunny. He got such a nickname because of his teeth. They looked like ones of the famous American cartoon character. The guys got the information that his friend Bunny was taking drugs. The whole gang (about 10 people) caught him in the streets the very next day. The guys started beating up Bugs Banny so furiously, that they knocked out his cartoon teeth. He screamed, “I won’t do this anymore, please, forgive me!”
But they did not listen and went on kicking him. They stopped only when he lost his consciousness.
I asked Ivan (the Terminator), “Why did you beat him up so severely?” “For being hooked on heroine, he replied.”
I remember that we always tried to lead a healthy lifestyle. Quite often we took our boxing gloves and went to a place, where there were no people. We had real sparring over there. The rules were: as soon as the first blood appeared, the fight was over. Usually the fighting did not last long, because everyone was trying to hit in the nose, so that it would start bleeding. Such way we prepared ourselves for more serious fights.
The Kind Policeman
You may be asking yourself why there was so much crime in our society, but the answer is quite simple. It was after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 90s. The system of law-enforcement agencies stopped working properly and corruption was all over the country. Russia was actually divided into 2 groups: the law-abiding workers and the criminals. In our dangerous district there were only 3 patrol militia cars and there were hundreds of criminals against them. So, they hardly could do anything to make the situation better. That day my friend Dima had a birthday party which I went to, but had to return back home at 22.00 p.m. Our guys continued celebrating his birthday all night long. The next day they told me what happened that night.
They all went to buy some beer, Dima stood outside the store and waited for the other guys. Suddenly, he saw three huge figures coming towards him. Dima knew that something bad was going to happen. Apparently, they liked his leather coat and they wanted to steal it. He hit the huge guy as hard as he could, but that guy only smiled thinking that Dima was alone, grabbed Dima’s arm and said, “Well, you are dead now!”
He hit Dima right in the face! Somehow, my friend managed to whistle really loud and in about 10 seconds they could see the running crowd of twenty people with bottles and sticks in their hands. As a result: the big guys were lying on the ground getting beaten by the crowd of our guys. Two minutes later the patrol car arrived, and two policemen got out of it. Having seen them, the guys immediately stopped fighting. The cops greeted the guys and one of them said, “Hey guys, could you take those three away from these apartment buildings and beat them up somewhere in place far from these buildings? The people are already sleeping and you are making a lot of noise.”
Our guys and the birthday boy followed the advice of a kind policeman. They dragged them to a deserted place, where there were no people, and continued what they were doing. They also took off their jackets as a punishment. After that they merely continued celebrating the Dima’s birthday and their glorious victory in the fight.
I would like to tell you about my apartment. It was in a usual 9-story building, it had 3 rooms ( plus a kitchen and a small bathroom). The worst thing about this place was that we had really noisy neighbors: some were listening to loud music at nights, the others had scandals quite often. People were packed like rabbits in a warren in those 9-storey buildings, there was hardly any privacy. The walls between the apartments were thin, therefore it was almost impossible for me to play the piano and get prepared for school. Sometimes, it was hard to sleep. My apartment was on the 4th floor, so I usually took the stairs, although we had an elevator. One morning, my mom asked me to buy some bread from the store outside. When I got out of my apartment to the stairs, a terrible scene appeared in front of my eyes. The walls, the ceiling, and stairs: everything was covered in blood! I suddenly saw some blood was still dripping from the ceiling.
In the middle of the day, I learnt, that last night our neighbor, who was a bartender in a restaurant, was returning home. He was said to owe someone a large amount of money. When he reached his apartment on the fifth floor, he got attacked by Afro-American men who started hitting him with their axes!
He ran down the stairs, splashing his blood all over the place and barely got outside. Some people saw him and immediately called the ambulance. The killers were afraid of getting caught and they ran away. Our neighbor was taken to the hospital. After a while he returned home feeling all right.
My parents and I knew him very well. He had a wife, a daughter and a son. After that incident he started drinking a lot and then became a drug addict. Sometimes he asked me to buy vodka for him. They could sell alcohol without any problems, although I was only 7 years old! After I brought “the treasure” to my neighbor, he gave me some money to buy some candy. Sometimes from the upper floor I heard him screaming and I knew that he needed a dose. A year later, he died after he got an overdose. His wife was alone with kids. Anyway, I was sorry for her loss.
Go Over the Swamp!
The sun was shining bight and I was hanging out with my gang in our neighborhood. There was a guy, whose name was Vadik. He was the leader of our street gang, everybody listened to what he said and treated him with respect. We were really bored at that time, we had nothing to do. Suddenly, Vadik said, “Follow me!” Our district was set on a mountain and there were basically 3 parts of the neighborhood: the top (the part where we lived in, was called Nagorno-Karabakh), the middle (The Sicily) and the bottom (The Pentagon). So, all five of us followed our leader down the hill not knowing what was going to happen next. The air started smelling awful and it only got worse. “We are almost there!” said Vadik. A few moments later we could see a huge swamp (about 300 meters (1000 feet) to the other side. It was disgusting! Dirt was all around us! We were wondering what we could possibly be doing in that horrible place. “What I want you to do is to cross this swamp,” said Vadik.
“You guys go first, I will follow you and don’t you dare stop or refuse to do that!”
There was nothing we could do but cross the swamp as our “Boss” said. Apparently, he really enjoyed yelling at us and watching us fall down right in the mud. The quarter of our dirty journey was done. I was in the middle of the line, behind me was my friend Ruslan and Vadik. Vadik was always hurrying Ruslan and suddenly Ruslan lost his balance and accidentally dove with his head first, so, as a result, he got stuck with his legs dangling in the air.
I was afraid that he would start choking, so, I immediately started pulling him out of the mud with the help of the other guys. When we succeeded in that, his face was dirty and all we could see was the fear in his eyes. We looked at him and started laughing. We decided to turn back, because it was dangerous to continue. We were glad that everything ended up fine. When we got back to our neighborhood we started telling the story about our walk through the swamp and about Ruslan, who nearly got stuck in the mud, to all our friends.
Bottles for Sale