I arrived in Novy Urengoy in 1990 and didn’t recognize a thing. The hutments had been demolished, the rubbish dumps filled in, everywhere there were multi-story residential houses, asphalt roads and all these different passenger vehicles in all different colors. My mother had been given a two-room apartment in a five-story building. For a start I enrolled at evening school and then went to work in my own brigade as a welder.
Out on the street one day I bumped into Lilia, a former classmate from the school I was kicked out of, I bought her roses and visited the kindergarten where she worked. I had never had a sexual relationship and I wanted for us to fall head over heels in love, but as it turned out she was already happily married to a butcher.
Lilia told me about all of our classmates, including how Pyotr, the class commander, had dropped dead of heart trouble.
I worked there a month before realizing all these things surrounding me were not what I needed at all. Work, drinking in the brigade, the movie theater and all the empty small talk were of no interest to me. Perhaps what I needed was to finish my studies at the institute and become a big boss? Or did I need to study nuclear physics and go to work at a top-secret laboratory? Or was what I needed to find a beautiful girl and get married? I was damned if I knew what I needed to do, but first I needed to finish school.
I ended up going to a bar with a colleague to celebrate International Youth Day and met Victor there (we had traveled to Tyumen several times together in the prison convoy). When Victor saw me, he genuinely lit up. We had a drink together and Victor asked what I was doing for work and how much it paid.
“I’m a welder, I get eight hundred rubles.”
“A day, right?”
“What do you mean a day? a month.”
“What are you stupid?”
“I don’t know, maybe I am.”
“These days, there’s money lying around all over the place, you just need to know how to get it.”
“Well I don’t see it lying around anywhere and I certainly wouldn’t know how to get it.” Then Victor said, “Let’s go see the manager.”
Ten minutes later I was working at that bar.
It was a lot of fun working at the bar, the music booming, the drinking never stopped, and money rained down from the sky. I didn’t work there long, maybe a couple of months.
Then the hard times came, there were all these gangs of different nationalities popping up like mushrooms, the cops were arresting everyone, putting them in jail.
I realized if I didn’t get out of there that night, the next day they’d slap that year and eleven months, less three days, on me, and I’d be off to a “strict” prison. The nearest “strict” prisons were up in our wonderful northern cities, and I still have no idea if I would ever have got out of there alive.