Kristina’s mother was dying of cancer, she hadn’t told anyone and we only found out about her illness in the final stages. It was a Friday, we were drinking wine, Kristina was crying.

I told her about the crazy old lady in Ryazan and about Archimandrite Father Polycarp, who held prayers for the sick on Saturdays. Kristina lit up—let’s go tomorrow morning, it might help, don’t have anything more to drink. “And maybe the old lady was crazy and there is no Father Polycarp?” Kristina looked it up online: Father Polycarp, Archimandrite, exorcist, casts out demons.

We left in the early morning, but we were still late. You have to get there at 11am and we got there at 2pm. I have a bad hangover, there’s snow all over, the church is closed, it’s unclear what we should do next. Should we go home, back to Moscow? A young guy comes along and says, “Have you come to see Father Polycarp?”

“Does he really exist?” 

“Of course he exists, come on, I’ll take you to him.” 

We arrived at his house, there were people sitting in the upper room, five of them altogether, they fed us lean vegetable soup. An elderly nun said that Father Polycarp was now asleep following the service, but after he woke up he might receive us, or might not.

I talk to some old man about whether there’s a God. The old man explains something about the system of our universe in terms of physics, I don’t understand a thing. He says he has two specialisms, music and physics. He had worked as a conductor at the prestigious Mosconcert and had retired—he felt something was missing and went off to the monastery. He stayed a while at the monastery and realized everything there was just as profane, with the same petty squabbles as in ordinary life, and he went to some old lady, stayed there for a bit, and then to some father. Finally he came here, to Father Polycarp, everything here was wonderful, it was like nothing else.

The elderly nun came in and said that Father Polycarp would receive us. We went up to the second floor and there, at a long wooden table, sat this enormous giant of a man in a cassock. He looked me in the eye and my legs gave way, he was that powerful. He offered us a seat as the table, on a bench. I said nothing, and Kristina took out the medical history. Father Polycarp said that there was nothing we could say, as her mother had already died, and he could see her soul with God. The body would go on for a short while in this world, and in it her earthly life would come to an end. Why had we come so late? The only thing he could do would be to pray for her, she would then die without pain and we would not need to buy any drugs. A large icon hung on the wall. He stood next to it and prayed.

There was nothing we could say in return, and we got up to leave. Father Polycarp said, “Wait, I shall pray for you, also,” and he prayed to the icon again.

We said good-bye, left the house and sat in the car in silence. I got ready to drive to Moscow and realized I couldn’t, I was shaking like I had a fever. I started the car, pushed my chair back and told Kristina we’d have to wait. I went on shaking till I fell asleep. I woke up half an hour later, drank some tea and drove off.

Kristina’s mother never regained consciousness and died without pain.

On Monday I opened my post box and there was an invitation to work with a form attached where you had to write your measurements for all the protective clothing. The invitation indicated a salary of $2,200. At the time my salary was around $500. I wrote a reply saying I would accept the offer and completed and sent off the form.

No sooner had I sent his message than I received a call from a different company. They asked was I really born in Irkutsk? Yes I was. Perhaps you would be interested in helping to build a gas pipeline in the Irkutsk region? Of course I would, what’s the company? It was a foreign company and a real foreign project—I went along and passed the interview.

They asked me what salary I was looking for. I didn’t know what to say and told them I had another offer where they had promised me $2,200. They gave me $2,500.

I would have to start at this company in the new year after the holidays, and I was working my last days at the old place.

They’d organized a company dinner at a restaurant on December 25, we needed to get there for 4pm, but I wasn’t feeling too good as I’d had too much wine the night before. I’d have to go home to get my suit and tie, and that was something I really didn’t want to do. Kristina said most companies in Moscow dress casual for corporate events and I shouldn’t sweat about wearing a suit. I listened to her—I don’t need to go home, let’s have some wine, there’s plenty of time. I wore jeans, a shirt and a bright red sweater and went off to the party.

As I walked into the restaurant a brass band was playing, and everyone, of course, was dressed in suit and tie, I was the only one wearing jeans and a red sweater and I felt very awkward. We sat at our tables, the director general made a speech and I thought that speech would never end, I wanted a drink, but everyone sat silently hanging on his every word, there was silence in the hall.

Sitting next to me at the table was Ivan. He had worked in Sakhalin before and now he was deputy head of the department where I worked. I sat in silence and thought if Ivan has worked in Sakhalin then he must give about as much of a crap about all this nonsense as I did, but I didn’t want to be the one to start that conversation. Ivan couldn’t help himself, he opened a bottle of vodka under the table, tapped me on the side and handed me a glass. We poured out the vodka and drank it down quietly. The speech went on for forty minutes and we managed to drink the whole bottle. Then everyone clapped and an official toast was given, we had another drink and a bite to eat to soak it up.

I thought the speeches were over but it turned out this was just the start. Next to speak were the deputy director general, the trade union, and hell knows who else. When all the speeches had finished, Ivan and I were completely slaughtered. At last the door opened and I went for a cigarette. I didn’t care that I was wearing a red sweater and jeans, and that I was drunk.

I found the smoking area, lit a cigarette, took a look around me and realized something was wrong. There were more than a hundred people in the hall, but I was smoking on my own—that just doesn’t happen. Where were the others? It turned out the others were smoking outside because the director was planning to smoke where I was smoking.

He came over and asked how I found it working at his company. I said working there sucked and that’s why I was leaving after the holidays to go to Siberia. 

“Why does it suck? what don’t you like about it?”

“The salary is 16,000 rubles, which is very low, it takes me two hours to get there, there’s nowhere to park my car because the spaces are only for management, so you have to drive around for blocks looking for a space, which means I’m always late and I get written up in the black book. I drive back in two hours if I’m lucky, the work is dull, I put together a five-hundred-page report on the joints welded in-country and there are no prospects.”

The director said I should go see him after the holidays and he’d raise my salary to 30,000, but I already had one foot in Siberia.

After the cigarette break, I went into the hall, and almost all the other employees were hissing and yelling at me, expressing their displeasure. What right did I have to speak to the director general in person, let alone to tell him I was unhappy? You can all go to hell, I thought—and said what was I meant to do, stick my tongue up his ass and shut up? You like it? You can shut up. I’m going home.

After the festivities I went in to work and I had a terrible hangover. I sat and waited for the day to end. Ivan offered me a drink to ward off the hangover—yes please, pour away. We go to work drunk the whole week. The boss tried to prick our conscience—there are only three people in the department and two of them are drunk, and that’s sixty-six percent, that sort of thing. Boss, you’re a good man, but I don’t have time for you right now.

I wrote my letter of resignation, resigned and received the 30,000 I was promised. The director general wished me luck and said that if things didn’t work out for me in Siberia I could always come back.