Friday, April 11, 2014

I (Attempt to) Part Ways with the Oligarch

When I returned to my flat on Wednesday evening after three hours at the banya, I was ready to hydrate and collapse into bed. But my plans were derailed by Dima’s mother, who was fresh off a 48-hour train ride from Kazakhstan. She, Dima, and Liz were sitting around the kitchen table with a homemade bottle of vodka that had also made the voyage from Central Asia.

S lyogkim parom!” she said, giving me the standard post-banya refrain. “Come have some vodka!” Vodka was the last thing I wanted, but Russian women can be persuasive (read: pushy). Not five minutes later, I was chasing shots of vodka with pickled mushrooms and cursing my weak will.

Before I’d arrived, Dima and Liz had mentioned my oligarch adventure to Dima’s mom, and the fact that I had turned the job down. Dima thought this was a mistake, but his mother was even more aggrieved by the situation.

“Who turns down an opportunity like this? People would kill for this job!” While the Oligarch’s riches are seductive, I’m of the opinion that money doesn’t buy happiness, but Dima’s mom dismissed that naïveté. She reminded me that I’m unmarried and childless, making me perfectly suited for a job that would mostly consist of international travel.

“And how am I going to meet someone if I’m following around an oligarch and his girlfriend. Dima, how do you say ‘third-wheel for life?’”

Dima’s mom agreed that this was a valid point, albeit the only one I’d made thus far. Unfortunately, this led to her and Dima turning the topic to how they could find me a husband. He has been trying to force his best friend on me since I moved in, and decided this would be a great opportunity to see if I’d had a change of heart.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. "Don’t you know anyone else? I still think he’s autistic, or at the very least, on the spectrum. It’s never, never, NEVER, NEVER going to happen. Ever. NOT EVER.” I paused for a breath before adding, “And translate that for your mom.”

Dima repeated “nikogda” a few times to appease me, but then encouraged me to give his friend another chance, arguing that relationships require work and surely I could work through the fact that his friend and I have never been able to have a conversation. Sadly, this isn’t because of my pitiful language skills, but because his friend literally doesn’t speak. Dima’s mom jumped on the bandwagon, telling me that Dima’s friend would make a great husband.

“Tell your mom I never want to see him naked.” Dima translated for me, but his mom just shook her head and pointed to my glass.

“You just need to drink more.”

The next morning, I awoke to a headache and two missed calls from the Oligarch.  Liz declined to return the call on my behalf, so I mustered up the courage to call him back and reiterate my rejection, which he more or less ignored.

“Dzhessika, don’t say ‘no’ never. You call me in June, and I will show you the world.”

I muttered something non-committal and figured that was that. But then this morning, I learned that the organization I am supposed to be working for this summer has been shut down by the Russian government. It seems the Oligarch gives sage advice—or he wielded his far-reaching power to prove his point. I’m not sure where this leaves me post-Fulbright, other than still not dating Dima’s friend.  One has to draw a line somewhere.

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