Saturday, 31 January 2009

Taxis


I went away on business today. My transportation included two train journeys and four taxis. Taxi driver number one told me about his motorbike accidents. Taxi drivers two and three didn't say much. In fairness to them I read the newspaper in taxi two and slept in taxi three. Taxi driver number four though....

I stood outside the station and waited for my car to pick me up. Eventually I spotted a middle-aged man smoking a roll-up; he was holding a clip-board but I couldn't see what was written on it. I walked round him and saw that it bore my company's name so I asked him if he was waiting for me.

"ohhh, soaree you xav to vait. I vas toald your train vould com at 16:20"

I hopped in the car and sat in the front (I do that when I get a good feeling about the driver),

"So, where are you from?"

His reply came with a smile: "Sout-eest Seeberya", and I knew this was going to be an enjoyable ride home.

I asked him how he got from south-eastern Siberia to the north-west of England. He chuckled and told me: "Oh, it's a story very much long. But I vill tell you the short."

The short took nearly 35 minutes to tell and it was as fascinating a story as I have heard in a very long time. Secretly I was hoping for red lights and traffic-jams and all manner of delays.

Naturally I won't be able to report here half an hour's worth of conversation peppered with interesting detail and seemingly irrelevant excursions, and besides I would not do it justice in these few paragraphs, but here is the short short nonetheless.

Like many life-changing events, this one too could be traced back to a single banal episode. How we react to certain events around us can have a significant effect on the life that follows.

A retired army colonel, Vuva had remained in the militara doing an administrative job in Ukraine.
His journey to England began with a decision to have a cup of tea in a cafe in Sevastopol. He told me that another man was having a coffee on a different table, when suddenly two police men came in, grabbed the man and dragged him out into the street where they started interrogating him. After a while Vuva followed and stood outside not too far away from the police men shouting in Russian at a man who did not seem to understand what was going on. The England man apparently had trespassed onto military ground and the policemen wanted to know why? They spoke no English, the man spoke no Russian. It was hopeless (for the foreigner). Vuva intervened. As the superior officer he told the two police men to "check the stripes" and that he would handle the situation from then on.

The man was in Ukraine on business intent on buying mining equipment from someone but these guys hadn't shown up, so the man walked about and unable to read the Cyrillic 'do not trespass or we'll bust your arse' signs did just that.

Vuva took the man to his Hotel, made some checks and phone calls to the supposed vendors of the mining equipment and then told the silly man to stay put and not go trespassing again. The vendors were going to be late, so Vuva sat down with the man for a little while and told him that, as Vuva saw it, he had some problems of which the trespassing and the Ukrainian police were only a minor one.

'The equipment you want to buy belongs to a mining firm. They have been bankrupt for 10 years. How will you know that the sale is genuine and that you aren't dealing with the mafia?'

'Oh, I don't know.'

'OK. The documentation has to bear the stamps from Moscow and from Kiev, it should be counter-signed by such-and-such.

Your other problems are that you do not speak Russian, and the vendors speak no English. How will you do business?'

Eventually silly man manages to convince Vuva to act as the interpreter and as someone who can check that the relevant documentation is in order.

They met the vendors, Vuva negotiated a good deal for the silly man and everything turned out right. Silly man was allowed to get back home without any more trouble from the Ukrainian police, he got his machine through a genuine state-authorised deal, at a good price.

Many weeks late Vuva received a telephone call from the silly england man.

"Thank you for all your help. I want to repay your kindness. Will you come and work for me?"

"No" was the initial reply, but silly man proved to be insistent, tenacious and persuasive. After many, many months Vuva agreed to fly to Manchester to meet silly man David again and hear him out.

And so Vuva got a job with David who turned out to be a remarkably wealthy industrialist with many business interests (including mining). He got an office next to David's. In the three years and three months he stayed at the firm, not-so-silly man David and Vuva travelled to Russia 23 times and secured deals worth many, many millions of pounds.

Then, in the space of 6 weeks, David died of cancer. Vuva's expression became serious; with rheumy eyes he said softly: "he was like my brother".

He tried to stay at the firm for a while longer, "but my heart was not good any more" so he left and took a job as a chauffeur.

He finished the last few minutes of the short story while parked outside my house.

When he had finished I shook his hand and told him that I had enjoyed listening to him and that I would love to travel with him again.

He laughed "you tell this to my company, yes?"

"Of course, what is your full name?"

"Oh my full name is Vladimir ... ... ... ... (and he told me about five or six Russian names) but everyone calls me Rick."

"Rick???"

"Da, da, Russian Rick"

2 comments:

  1. I love your story telling. I have been waiting patiently for you to post something on your blogger account.

    Best regards,

    ReplyDelete