Another day, another 25.63 rubles. August was over; it was time for everyone to get back to work and make a half-assed attempt to catch up with the 30 days of work they let pile up during Russia's traditional slacker month. It's like the Back to School season, except we don't get a new collection of notebooks or any shiny new No.2 pencils. Instead, we enter our old, familiar workplace refreshed, we think, from our recent vacation. But then we are struck with wave after wave of disappointing nostalgia that instantly sucks away our will to live.
The smell of liver and giblets began to waft out of the company cafeteria as I passed through the main doors. The sinking "why did I bother?" feeling settled in my gut when I realized that the cleaning lady and I were once again the only ones on the 6th floor at 9 a.m. My desk seemed smaller than it used to be, and someone had taken my chair. My tea mug, box of tissues and despair.com calendar were all removed from their regular places on my desk and shoved disrespectfully into my tumbochka drawers, out of the sight of Executive Officers. It's been like this now ever since we moved offices for the third time, this time back to the head office. The head office is brimming with Executive Officers, strange long-necked mammals that spend most of their days strutting around looking officious and important in between filling out performance appraisals and foraging for fresh shoots and leaves.
Forty minutes later, Natasha, the bane of my working life, sashayed into the office in a new dress. She actually stopped in front of my desk, spun around, posed, and then asked if I like her new dress.
"Sure, it looks really nice on you."
"Can you believe it was only 12,000 rubles? We spent the weekend in Tula - we have another dacha there - and the clothes there are so cheap! And SUCH good quality! I bought five new dresses! Can you believe it? Just 12 grand each!"
I tried to push the muscles at the corner of my mouth in an upward direction for her sake. She had just spent double what she makes in a month, I happened to know. I also happened to know that her family was extraordinarily well-to-do, since she continually makes a point of dropping high-net-worth hints at every possible opportunity, but I can never decide if she is bragging or just thinks this is normal. All I knew then was that Natasha was going to be doing her little turn on the catwalk all week long, with a new dress for every single day of the week. I think I wilted a little.
Near 11 o'clock, the boss strode in. We have been asked to tell anyone who calls for him before 11 that he is in meetings, but the truth is he just comes in late all the time.
"Oh hi, Kolya! Would you like me to bring you some tea?" Natasha stood in the middle of the room in front of Kolya's desk, swishing the hem of her dress back and forth.
"Oh yes, Natasha, actually I would. Thank you!"
Natasha turned around and snarled through the door towards our reception area. "YULIA! BRING ME TWO TEAS! NOW! WITH CREAM AND SUGAR! So, Kolya..." she turned back around, smiling sweetly and swishing some more. "How was your weekend?"
"Weekend, what weekend? I never get any sleep! Oy! These people never give me a moment's rest. Do you know I was up until 3am emailing Mr. Smith last night?"
"Oh, that's horrible! You poor thing! Oh, Kolya, you suffer so! You must make time to rest! Like this past weekend, we went to Tu -
"And you know what else? Our neighbors across the hall were on vacation last week and they were robbed blind while they were away! It was just awful!"
Just when I thought I was about to ignore another tedious conversation filled with masterfully feigned enthusiasm on both sides, something magical happened. I couldn't turn away. It was like watching a linguistic ping pong match, an exchange that truly demonstrated the richness of the Russian language, as well as Natasha's desperation to keep a meaningless conversation going for as long as possible. It went a little something like this: