Eventually, I realized that I felt tired, that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. The Georgians kept watching my hands, grabbing the banknotes out of the box every now and then. I’d rather you helped me to cut the ribbons, you skinflints! I felt hurt. I tried to make another bargain with them, to no avail. As ill luck would have it, there was not a single familiar face in the queue, whom I could give a bouquet for free.

I made an attempt to hide some money for myself. I tried it this way and that. In vain. I lingered while giving the change to a customer. The young woman looked at me with curiosity. So I ventured. I bowed and whispered right into her ear:

“I’m very ill-paid for my job… Please give me the money for your bouquet imperceptibly if you can…”

Young as the woman was, unperturbed, she tucked ten roubles into the sleeve of my anorak without batting an eyelid.

Moreover, to my horror, I saw her telling quite loudly to the rest of the queue that impudent, heartless wogs (Thanks God, the Georgians ignored it!) were deceiving the poor Russian woman.

The queue gasped. There were quite a few men in it. I was afraid lest they should overturn the van. They were obviously about to do that at first. Then they prudently deliberated on it and decided to obtain justice differently.

The customers began to think of ways how to give me their money unnoticed.

Gosh, you can’t imagine what it led to! I was wearing a green anorak without pockets, trimmed with elastics. So some of the male customers distracted my employers’ attention, ostentatiously asking them about their merchandise, whether it is certified, etc., while the others swiftly tucked their money into my sleeves, felt boots, and even under the collar of my anorak. Every next customer, when leaving with the purchased bouquet, regarded it as their duty to tell about the “circumstances” to the rest of the queue. Apparently, my story of the poor Russian woman had acquired such heart-rending details that many of the customers, while giving me their money surreptitiously, also asked what else they could do to help me. I could hardly suppress my laughter! Finally, I couldn’t contain myself and burst out laughing, my laughter ringing about the market!

My sides were positively splitting with laughter!

Firstly, my anorak had already swollen with money; it rustled all over every time I happened to brush the counter. I was afraid lest either of the van owners should hug me! However, against my will, I wished they did that more and more! The rustle would have been heard all over the market! Thanks God, they turned out not to be that loving.

Secondly, I wanted but was unable to stop the customers already. I could almost hear myself shout to them:

“Stop giving me your money like this! I’ve already got more than enough!”

One should also take into account the fact that on the eve of the holiday most of the men in the queue were tipsy[4]. So it was impossible to stop their alcohol charged determination ‘to rescue, to protect, to revenge’.

It was gradually getting dark. The queue began to thin out. The market was getting deserted.

Still there were a lot of flowers left, so the Georgians suggested driving to the central square of the city to sell them out there. Suddenly, I remembered about my boxes with apples. Seizing the younger Georgian by the arm, I dashed to the place, where I had left them, together with him.

The place was almost empty, apart from my boxes with apples and the poor old woman, who I had asked to look after them. She thought that something terrible had happened to me. There she stood crying.

I thanked her effusively and gave her a packet of my best apples. The Georgians quickly loaded my boxes into their van and we left for Victory Square.

Victory Square was lit with the streetlights. We took out the table from the van, laid out the flowers and put a pile of my apples next them. The apples looked quite different in the dim light. They looked quite nice and unblemished.

A queue gathered quickly. People were coming from work, having had no chance to buy flowers and fruit earlier.

Here we had no rivals. I sold my apples in no time, at ten roubles per kilo. Every one of them! The customers even spotted and sternly demanded those apples which I had put aside for myself to take home.

Everything went off quite fine. Until the last mimosa was sold out. Then the Georgians announced that they were going to count their receipts and that if they discovered the shortage of money, they would get even with me…

By that moment, they had already been quite tipsy. I got frightened. No, I was more than frightened, I was paralyzed with terror. I still had a chance to run away while they were counting the money, but I stood there like a convict awaiting the execution. Time seemed to shrink to a flicker, filled with horror of atonement.

Eventually, they came back. Their faces were shining with sweat and happiness.

“Fancy that!” said the elderly Georgian, his voice radiant with warmth. “We’ve never got so much profit since we started selling mimosa. Twice as much! Sorry, we didn’t trust you…”

And the old Georgian kissed my hand. And gave me two hundred roubles instead of twenty, as was settled… Shame and happiness brought tears to my eyes. But I had to suppress them. The men might feel like hugging to comfort me; then the money inside my anorak was bound to rustle…

We said our good-byes. The van left. I stood there watching it leave.

I crossed the square and approached the nearest block of flats. There I squatted under its windows and cried my heart out. Later I mopped my face carefully and couldn’t help unzipping my anorak a little. The banknotes began to pour out, I could hardly push them back inside.

I dragged myself along to the nearest kiosk to buy my children some sweets – all the shops had been closed by then. There were only chocolate bars with cream filling. I bought everything they had on sale – twenty-three bars – and went home.

The children were not asleep. They had been waiting for me and the chocolate bars. While they were unwrapping all the bars at once, I closed myself in the sitting-room.

I began to undress at last. There was a fall of banknotes as I took off my anorak. The banknotes were falling off me like autumn leaves from a silver birch, rustling and dancing down onto the floor. Sitting on a whole pile of money, I cupped the banknotes with my hands occasionally, tossed them upwards and thought: “Well done, Vanga!”

/extract from the novel “Temptation of Abyss or How to Earn Money in Russia”/

/translated by Elena Sturova/


[1] (International) Women’s Day – originally called International Working Women’s Day, an annual public holiday in Russia, celebrated on March 8; it has lost its political flavour and become simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

[2] Vanga – born Vangelia Pandeva Dimitrova (31 January 1911 – 11 August 1996), a blind Bulgarian clairvoyant and herbalist, who is supposed to have paranormal abilities, widely popular in Russia.

[3] Valenok – one of the pair of traditional old Russian winter footwear, felt boot

[4] In Russia most of the public holidays are often celebrated at work at the end of the working day before the holiday; the staff make various festivities, usually with alcohol

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