Being asked to leave Moscow and to move to the countryside for a couple of weeks was sweet melody to my ears. I was dying to escape this hell hole of a city so I jumped at the opportunity.
I had pictured cottages picturesquely planted across a lake. I imagined myself relaxing on a hammock between classes, watching sunsets and drinking vodkas with the newly found friends I would undoubtedly make there. It would be the break I so desperately needed. And as always I was wrong.
No man’s land, a huge soviet apartment building stood like a sore thumb in the middle of a forest. I felt like Harry Potter reaching Azkaban. Inside, I would surely be confronted by the worst sorts of sorcerers, all dying to end my life. The sorcerers wanting my demise turned out to be just kids, spoiled little rich kids. The devil spawns didn’t need wands and curses to make my life Hell. I was forced to play football with them, to dance at their “disco” and sat through an infinite number of hair-pulling performances that made me wish I was dead.
I tried teaching them. I did. I really did. But they were not having any of it. I was trapped. According to Einstein the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s exactly what was happening. Every day, I took the lift down to the ground floor where classes took place, said hello to my colleagues who bluntly ignored me, grabbed my stuff and waited in front of my door for my kids to form an orderly queue (they were not even aware of the concept). Once seated, after having begged them to shut the fuck up for a good ten minutes, I started the lesson. I had planned games, activities, fun stuff for them to do (they were in holidays after all) and they ignored me. They wanted to do exactly what they wanted to and nothing else would do. What that was consisted mainly on texting other friends in the adjacent classroom, talking in Russian about boys (for the girls) and their next football match (for the boys) or what was on TV. I bargained with them, offering uncensored episode of South Park if they behaved. They didn’t. They never did.
I was trapped in a building which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a zombie movie. The kind you can never escape from because you would have to run through the wild for days before you could reach any kind of civilization – if you didn’t get eaten by flesh eating brats on the way out.
That where I was: on the 10th floor of a gray (It is the only colour available in the entire country) tower block overlooking a forest (the forest was not gray –just in case you were wondering – it was green, duh! Fine, so not everything is gray!), trying not to completely lose the plot.
Then it was dinner time. Teachers and students all dined in the canteen. The food was…well…disgusting: a range of buttery pastas and mash potatoes. I would have rather chewed on eyeballs that having to eat there one more day. I managed to escape for a couple of days. And for the first time in my life, I was happy to be back in Moscow if only for the weekend.
Back home (God, I can’t believe I’m calling this place home), I found my entire flat littered with beer cans. My fifty year old alcoholic of a flatmate wasn’t expecting me back so soon and had a party of his own. I had always found it disturbing that every time I walked by his bedroom door all I heard were cans being open. But on seeing his entire week consumption on the floor, I realized that he was where he belonged. He stumbled out of the kitchen and offered me a gin and tonic (in a can – yes, there is such a thing) before talking to me. And as always, he started by saying: ‘I’ve been teaching for 20 years and…’ I wanted to shove the metallic cans down his throat. Instead I locked my bedroom door.
Friends from Spain had come to visit. Not actual friends. The friends of a friend type that needed a guide – even though I had given my right arm to see a familiar face, I had successfully convinced all my friends that coming to Russia would be a waste of their money. I showed those guys around. Me, imagine that, showing people around Moscow. It’s like asking a gay man to give the tour of a vagina. On your left you have: Urgh! And on your left: Urgh! Urghs here and Urghs there. We only met a couple of times in the end. They were probably not very impressed with my touring guide skills. Something struck me as odd though. Their demeanours changed in the few days they were there. They would get irritated a lot more easily and their face had turned from a sunny tanned colour to a sorry shade of gray. Funnily enough, it brought me hope. I wasn’t going mad, per say. It was the city in itself that had that effect on me. On me and on everyone else.
Eight months to go…