Hello! Here in Smolensk butcher shop, we is think about little things you must say to make life bearable.
Yesterday, Smolensk oligarch Big Oleg come shop. “I have job for you Pavel,” he announce. Recently, Oleg been move back into entertainment business. He move out in 1990s when lose plenty money. British gangster get him drunk and convince him buy controlling interest in Fred Dinenage. Now he propose take this year’s Smolensk Is Have Talents TV show by storm with new act.
“I found him in circus at Irkutsk,” say Oleg. “Called Panka. Incredible. Come see.” We go out shop, where is huge truck, surround by Oleg men. Bodyguard Gleb throw open back doors and I see Panka.
“Incredible Pavel. He can ski, sing Nessun Dorma, predict lottery numbers and impersonate Humphrey Bogart. Say hello.”
“Hello Panka,” I say. Panka flap ears and swish trunk. Oleg smile and motion Gleb close trailer.
“Panka be biggest thing on Smolensk TV this year, Pavel,” say Oleg. I think he probably right. Unless Oleg rival Big Alkan get his juggling sperm whale Rinka out of rehab. “But I need your help. You see, I bring Panka from Irkutsk without prior permission.”
“You mean you stole her?”
“There was ownership misunderstanding. And I get some heat from Irkutsk mob. Don’t worry. I make it good with them. But meanwhile Panka must lie low. I need hide him.”
This difficult moment. I know Oleg mean he want hide Panka in my shop. Probably in our flat. And thing is, I alone. Wife Irina take our boys to visit friends in Moscow and I not expect her back for few day. And my assistant Yuri have day off to visit Smolensk’s Hasselhoff-themed spa for his annual mullet-adjustment. And though I myself rarely defy Oleg, sometimes, when Oleg propose something particular crazy, Yuri say to him in naive way I never dare copy, “I don’t know, Oleg, what would Irina think?” and Oleg back off. (My wife is one person in Smolensk Oleg fear.) But neither Yuri nor Irina here. So I must make decision. And Oleg give me look that say it worth my while. Which mean Gleb not take me sightseeing on Smolensk’s taller buildings. So I shrug. Oleg smile.
Gleb escort Panka up fire-escape at back of shop, into flat, and conceal him in our bedroom.
And it all go pretty good. Panka surprising quiet and unfussy, nothing half tonne of hay, very big shovel and copy of this month Pouting Pachyderms can’t manage. And it even disappointing. Panka save himself. There no display of talent.
In morning Oleg call. “All clear Pavel. Irkutsk mob happy give me Panka in exchange for smallish ICBM and that Atlantic Blue Tang who look like Sarah Palin. So we pick him up. Couple of hour.” I ring off, plenty relieve.
Then Irina walk in shop.
At best of time, my wife make me feel guilt. Guilt that this beautiful, talented, cultured woman could do better than Smolensk butcher. Guilt of know she know I know this. Guilt of know she know I know she pretend I not know she was in KGB then FSB, working on organised crime, before politics force her out and into deliberate obscurity. Guilt of being that obscurity. Guilt of loving her and of know in spite of everything she love me.
“Irina! You’re back, but why? Never mind. I so please see you. And look! Boys here too. This call for celebration. Let us all go out for meal. Right now.”
“It is ten in the morning Pavel,” say Irina. “And no. I very tired. Little Pavel had big row with the Rogozins on whether SALT II covered his Nerf Blaster. So we came back. And I need a bath.”
I lead way through shop, into backroom, upstairs and into flat, talking constant, trying think. I tell Irina go straight bathroom, while I fetch her robe, and manoeuvre boys into living room by let Little Pavel (9) spot I leave drinks cabinet unlock. Then I go our room and after fail attempt to hide Panka in wardrobe, I retreat, lock bedroom door and pick up cellphone to ring Oleg. Battery die. I go living room. Eldest on landline. So I sit in hallway and pray Oleg men come.
Soon Irina finish bath.
“Irina, you look so nice. How are you?”
“Tired Pavel. I want to lie down.”
“Yes. You look tired. Nice but tired. You could lie here. In hallway. I get blankets.”
“What are you talking about Pavel? Let me pass.” Irina move towards bedroom. Desperate, I rush in front of her.
“You can’t go in Irina. It locked.”
“Well, you see, you see, safety people is come while you away and they found, they found leak.”
“A leak? What sort of leak? Gas? Sewage?”
“No. Not nuclear. Worse.”
“Ectoplasm,” I mumble.
“Pavel, let me into the bedroom now, you – ”
The we stop as this sound come from bedroom > http://bit.ly/z7hCAK
I try mouth words, but I never been great singer and Irina unconvince, especially as I not remember what come after “Tu pure, o principessa”. Irina look at door, then me.
“Give me the key Pavel.” I crumple and hand it over. Soon I see Irina staring at Panka. Panka stare at Irina and declare, “Here’s lookin’ at you kid.” Then he perform amazing slalom between my various scattered pant. Pretty good stuff, mar only by soft thud of his latest rear discharge hitting floor.
“Pavel. What is an elephant doing in my bedroom?”
“3, 26, 49, 51,” intone Panka.
“Wait Irina, let me get these down,” I say, scrabbling for pencil. Irina stamp foot.
“WHAT IS AN ELEPHANT DOING IN MY BEDROOM?”
Just then, there noise of someone running up stairs from shop. I hear Yuri voice.
“Sorry, I late for work boss, my hair took time to set comp –” He appear in doorway and see everything. Then behind me is noise of feet on fire-escape and huge frame of Oleg appear in window. He see Irina and consider retreat, but she rush across room and fling window open.
“WHAT IS AN ELEPHANT DOING IN MY BEDROOM?”
Then I inspired. “Irina,” I say. “It Yuri’s fault.”
“Me?” say Yuri.
“Yes you. You see when Oleg suggest I look after Panka – that elephant name – Yuri not with me. And if he been here, he would have say…well, what Yuri?”
“ ‘I don’t know, Oleg, what would Irina think?’ ”
“Exactly. But because he not here, I obey Oleg. But now,” I turn on oligarch, full of courage Irina presence give me, “Now I don’t think there should be an elephant in our room at all, frankly Oleg.”
Just then, boys run in to investigate commotion. They astonish. Irina give them severe glance. Boys know that look and leave.
Well Oleg and his men start remove Panka, who observe, “Of all the bedrooms, in all the meat joints, in all the world, she had to walk into mine.”
“MINE!” shout Irina, and Oleg and Gleb start move Panka quick. Irina say nothing, but look me in way that show she has put her vengeance on ice. I send Yuri to mind shop while we go see boys.
“Mum, Dad,” say Little Pavel. “There was an elephant in your room! Why?”
I look at Irina, desperate not to appear fool in front of boys yet again, trying hard to be good example. Irina glance at them, then at me and nod. I speak, serious, thoughtful.
“We were very shocked to find the elephant in our room. But we are dealing with it now.”