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Hey, Lyosha

There are prison tattoos on the backs of his hands. Faded, blotchy shapes and a finger that jabs at a phone. "Hey, Lyosha!" He shouts, as every face on the bus swings to him. There is no answer, no voice on the other side. "Lyosha." He says again, then stares angrily out the windows. I step on someone's foot by accident, apologizing quickly. The young man waves his hand as if to say I did not need to say anything. The man with the tattoos sips from a giant cup of soda from KFC that is balanced on the empty seat next to him.

We pass a hotel we used to live next to, where expensive escorts are ferried in and out like yachts in a harbor. There is a fresh line of flags snapping in a low wind, and an American one is curiously absent. Plenty of the businessmen behind those windows are from the states.

The man brandishes the phone and hands it to the young man in front of me. I did not see that one coming. The young man wipes invisible dust from it, a reserved frown …

oh banjola (goodnight 2017)




There is no shortage of banjo jokes. I never wanted to own one, but the banjola is another story. Made  entirely of wood, it has nylon strings (not steel, like a banjo) and with a great deal of a luck it would be a Pollman, which were made over 100 years ago. If you have ever heard 16 Horsepower, you would know why I want one so desperately. 

I signed up for alerts. I checked eBay every day. A few months later, one surfaced - well refurbished, from 1897. Can you imagine having an instrument that old in your living room? What songs would leap from such an old soul? What nicks and gouges, what wounds does it bear? My mind grew swollen with these thoughts as I bid, and raised my bid and then won a Pollman banjola over a week ago. It would take a month to ship to Moscow, where any and every package can be stopped and lost and returned without explanation. I held faith that it would arrive, safe and ready to play. 

The shipping notices arrived, saying "your package is now at the Global Shipping Center". I imagined it there, a box bursting with potential, with some sort of divine Christmas spirit guiding it across the ocean.  And then a new message came. The box was oversized. My payment had already been refunded by some computer system. The banjola was going back to the seller. I contacted him frantically on Christmas Eve. He answered after some time, and agreed to sell it to me outright. I breathed deeply, sipping cold wine at the dinner table, a great satisfaction rolling around me. The banjola would be here soon I thought, as I rested my head on the pillow. 

Then a new message from the seller. Ebay was not sending it back to him. They simply said they would resell it themselves. They paid him for it. End of story. It was all unheard of. So cruel and random, so rare. If I lived in the states I would have this instrument already. My cheeks flush red, embarrassed. Why do I need this old handful of wood and glue so much? A voice whispers in my ear, telling me I am being foolish. Maybe it is just the wish to buy something, and get it. Maybe this is not about exotic banjolas. Maybe this is about the ugly reality of life in Russia, and wanting something that is not there. 

The year of years ends with a fresh cut, and no apology. My only action is to call eBay and beg them, ship the banjola somewhere in the states and wait until I am back to take it. Russia surrounds itself with walls, to prevent anything from passing the borders untaxed. More than a book, or a document - how this gets through is a miracle. You must become your own postman, or postwoman to solve this. 

Goodnight 2017. 



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