Partners in Crime

Don and Lari attempting to look innocent

The first of my friends, Larissa, or Lari as she’s always known, is due to join me here today later in the afternoon. The train tickets are also meant to be arriving too, so I wind up staying in Alisha’s apartment, surfing the web, looking out the window, reading and doing very little. Around three in the afternoon I finally get tired of inactivity and decide it must be time to go out and meet her. In record time I’m heading for the city and having a bowl of soup and a beer when my mobile buzzes with her message asking where I am. I tell her to head for Alisha’s train station and travel there myself to meet her. Alisha kindly agreed yesterday to let Lari stay at her apartment as well and this morning she’s letting my other friend, Don, stay from tomorrow too. Alisha is rapidly becoming my favourite host ever; her calm, relaxed approach to everything is addictive and fun. I find Lari outside the Metro station and greet her in Russian with “Welcome to St Petersburg”. I introduce her to the way of the marshrutka and advise her about the hot water situation as we head for the apartment.

I’ve known Lari for about fifteen years, a Darwin local always up for fun, parties and travelling adventures. She’s of part Serbian extraction and had spent a year living in the town her father came from; which had both made her curious to visit Russia and wary of Slavic men. So travelling with a six foot tall, huge, crazy Australian like me seemed the best way to avoid problems. We can always pretend to be a couple as required, which generally makes life easier. She is fairly tall and slim with a fantastic figure and broad, cheeky smile. Her eyes speak as much as her mouth does and she still hasn’t entirely gotten over a pushbike accident that left her with some light scarring on one side of her face and her arm. That wasn’t enough to stop the Russian men trying it on with her and I still think her beauty always shines through those huge, soulful eyes.

When she unloads her backpack on the floor she rummages inside it to produce an Australian power adapater for me. I give her a huge hug and thank her profusely for remembering. I plug it in first and then plug in the four point powerboard I’ve brought with me. Her eyebrows rise as I search for my phone and mp3 player chargers and plug them both in,
“That’s a good idea, can I use one of them for my phone?”
“Of course, that’s why I bought it. I figured we’d all want to charge things all the time and this would make it easy.”
She plugs her phone in and we sit and have a beer as I acquaint her with the wonder of Alisha’s window.

We soon make the short trek to the local supermarket and buy a stack of food, wine and beer to last for a few days. By the time Alisha returns home from work we have dinner ready, dessert planned and the wine flowing. It’s at this time that I realise that the tickets haven’t arrived and we’ve had no note or sign that anyone even visited. I jump on the internet again, beginning to feel the anger of desperate helplessness set in. I wrote what I really felt in an email, then deleted it and phrased a simple, but direct and more polite query asking what had happened. I’m more amazed to receive a response in under five minutes telling me that DHL had visited, would visit again the next day and I could check on the website for verification. It seemed I’d managed to miss them in the time I’d been in the city waiting for Lari. Don is arriving in the morning, so we agree to just wait at home until the tickets arrive, then we’ll launch ourselves into the city. It will also be a chance to catch up, since the three of us haven’t been in the same room at the same time for a number of years. With that, we rearrange the loungeroom and pass into a gentle rest.

I meet Don outside the station and we share a hug as I greet him with a ‘Welcome to St Petersburg’ in Russian. He wants a shower and I tell him about the hot water issue. He shrugs and says,
“When in Russia do as the Russians do. Got any vodka?”
I laugh and admit I don’t. Don’s long black hair reaches almost to his waist and he’s cared for it like that for as long as I can remember. His face is narrow and elongated enough that he can do a mad impression of a rodent whenever he chooses; which fits is wiry, tiny body perfectly. His eyes are always alert, watching everywhere and absorbing everything; meaning he can be easily distracted by shiny objects. There are streaks of grey appearing in his hair and I get to hassle him about that since I’m definitely the older brother and still showing no signs of grey. He’s not my brother by birth, he’s my brother from another mother. And father for that matter…and country. Don largely grew up in Jamaica and Africa, before a stint in Fiji leading to Darwin in Australia; which is where we had met at University. I’ve travelled with Don across Australia before, shared houses for three years in Darwin and Melbourne and been involved in countless festivals, parties, events and trouble together. He saw the same Total Solar Eclipse that I did in the desert of South Australia, at the week long trance festival that was held to celebrate it. So it when I was planning my Russian adventure he jumped to join it.

On our return to Alisha’s apartment we sit down to have some late morning beers and catch up on Don’s adventures in Moscow.
“I noticed one beautiful moment when I was in the Kremlin too”, he begins,
“There’s a McDonalds right near it and I saw a pack of sick, skinny, feral looking dogs sniffing around the bins. There was meat and leftover burgers there, but they turned up their noses and kept going. Even pack dogs in the Kremlin won’t eat that crap.”
Don also has his own illustrative story about trying to get a train ticket in Moscow. After an hour of crawling forward in line he finally lurched to the window and presented the piece of paper with his desired trains on it to the sour faced middle aged woman. She looks at the piece of paper, looks back at him and emphatically announces,
Don looks at her and at the piece of paper, then points at both the train departures listed and looks hopefully back at her. The answer returns equally surely,
Having exhausted his knowledge of Russian and reservoir of ideas he points at where it says ‘St Petersburg’ in Russian on the ticket, then at the date.
He pushes the paper through to her, thinking maybe she can’t read it properly and she gets a new idea. She picks up a pen and carefully writes, in Russian, ‘Nyet’. Now he produces the piece of paper in question amid peals of laughter from myself and Lari.

The three of us talk until after two in the afternoon and then begin to wonder if the tickets are on their way. I check on the web link the agent had given me and now it does say they had tried to deliver it the previous day. It also says it’s been dispatched again this morning. Taking some hope from this, Don and I take some time to wander to the shops to find more beer, food and general supplies. Over the next few hours, time slows down to a trickle. Our joint tension grows as the fear of not having these tickets becomes more and more real. We begin talking about what else we can do and how we could find the guy in Moscow. This had been on my mind for more than ten days now as the tickets continued to remain conspicuously absent, so I’m feeling flashes of anger. Lari points out that we can all post incredibly bad references for him at the website we had used to buy the tickets in the first place. I’m actually drafting the reference when the doorbell rings. I answer it and a voice says, “DHL”, in a suitably Russian accent. My heart leaps into my mouth, I can’t believe this might be the end of the torment. I buzz him into the building and sign for the envelope a minute later. It’s just after five in the afternoon, we’re over 10,000 kilometres from Vladivostok, it’s light and I’ve got my sunglasses on. I tear the packet open to find three envelopes inside; one for each of us and I distribute them so we can check through everything. It’s all there, for all of us. Our Trans-Siberian adventure is now officially ready to begin.


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