Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Lock, Part Two

Nikolai came back over right on time, just as the maestro was lifting his baton on Shostakovich's 15th, and got the lock assembled and operating in no time. My girlfriend was over, so when Nikolai finished up he talked to her, saying there was a form to fill out that essentially said I, State Your Name, have paid X Griven and received five keys. Also, there was the matter of payment: 392 Griven, almost $80.

"That's too much," Nastia said.

I nodded, I bounced my head from side to side, but Nikolai was a good man and apparently there was some work he'd had to do in the shop.

"I'll just call Lena," I said.

Within moments, my landlord was on the phone and I was telling her about the form and the total.

"Do you want me to pay? It's 392 Griven -- minus the 50 I paid the night before."

Hearing the number, she asked to speak to Nikolai. They communicated briskly in Russian. I understood what was being said. There was an offense and a defense involved. The price was the football. It was being moved up and down the field. Nikolai handed the phone back and picked up the mug of tea I'd made for him. I returned to my conversation with Lena.

"Because if I pay now," I said, "you can just deduct it from my rent."


She speaks English very well, but in the past she has shown an ability to lose her proficiency in the language when she does not want to understand.

"Do you want me to pay this," I said, "and then pay less rent because of it?"

"Shto-shto?" What-what?

"I said"--was deduct the word she didn't understand?--"do you want me to--oh here, let me put my girlfriend on."

I put my girlfriend on. Nastia spoke, she paced, she shook her head. At one point, she covered the phone and whispered that Lena, after feigning a lack of understanding even in Russian now, had handed the phone to her husband. I'd seen this man twice before. The first time, he'd been installing my washing machine in the kitchen while wearing black jeans and a black shirt. Because of the color scheme, I'd only made out his holster and handgun after several minutes. "Is that normal?" I asked my translator when we were walking away (I'd gone to pick up the key and pay the first month's rent). My translator assured me it was.

Nastia asked the man with the gun about the fridge. She was firm and director, a hero of mine. "And if the refrigerator breaks," she said, "will he have to pay for that too?" I nodded. I showed her my approval. This is what you needed to say. They were being ridiculous! All I had done was tried to enter and exit my lawfully rented apartment!

But it was all for naught. Details went back and forth, scenarios and warranties were discussed, and in the end it was determined that I had broken the lock, or that I at least must pay. After all, the lock had been installed just a few months before, and so it was all but brand new. Why would they have to replace a new lock?

"Because it's brand new and broken?"

Nastia shook her head.

"So I have to pay for it?" I said.

She nodded.

I pocketed the phone and turned back to Nikolai. This was unfair. This was unjust. This would never happen in America. I wanted satisfaction, to write a letter to the editor, to do their business harm. I thought of refusing to give the landlord a key if ever she asked for one. I thought of writing the State Department to demand a full investigation if ever I went missing, along with $77. But in the end I reached for my wallet and paid.

Nikolai gave me change, returned his wallet to his back pocket, then raised his mug. Hot tea, thank you. He was a good man. If nothing else, I liked him. Maybe he needed the money.

"Do you still have the broken lock?" I asked.

He appeared confused.

"The one from yesterday," I said.

He nodded, he pointed down at the box the new lock had come in; the old one was inside.

"And how much will it cost to put it back in?" I asked.

He shrugged, though he was quick with a number. "Fifty Griven." Maybe ten bucks.

Now I nodded. "Good. Because when I move out," I said, "I think I'd like to see you again."

He gave me his card.


The Ranger said...

Wow , It not my fault. LOL Man O Man gotta love it.

Richard said...

It's your lock--bring it back to America and encase it in plastic for use as a paperweight and conversaton piece.

WittyName32 said...

I may just bring the whole door, Richard. See if it fits in the overhead compartment.

Richard said...

While you're at it, bring me back one of those mail order brides--not for me, of course, but my dad has a new house and seems lonely. It might cheer him up. He likes blondes who can't seem to hold their liquor.

P.S. Fold the door to make it fit. (Or maybe that only applies to the paper-thin walls...)