Ireland is the same size as St Petersburg Oblast. I know this because one night after work I wasted hours on internet learning information while drinking beer and vodka, and filling our big Tia Maria ashtray, stolen by Viktor from pub in Howth, with used cigarettes. The house was empty—Evgeny was back in Russia buying cigarettes to sell and Viktor was working in the pub. I wrote information down in last year’s diary I got from work but never use as diary. When I got drunk, my Cyrillic began to be loose and look like English. Ireland is the same size as St Petersburg Oblast—even for a Russian that would not mean much. Maybe I say twice the size of Estonia instead? (I learned that too on Wikipedia.) I try to tell mother on phone what size is Ireland because she worries that my life is slavery here. I tell her I cross Ireland three times in one day for my work. Three times a day you cross country, Mischka! How many hours you work, Mischka? This is like my grandfather in time of the Emperor! But no, mother you don’t understand, it is a small country. I tell her Ireland is size of St Petersburg Oblast, but she doesn’t know what size is that. She even thinks St Petersburg is in St Petersburg Oblast (everyone knows it is Russian Federal Subject). So I tell her Ireland is twice Estonia’s size. Then she understands a little.
It is Friday and it is the last train. It pulls out slowly of Connolly Station, crawls past the backyards of grey houses and past the big stadium that is too big for those houses. Many people will get off at Maynooth. These are serious people who work in Dublin and they are called commuters. The train is quiet while they are here. It is as if they are still working. Even when they talk into mobile phones to tell wife or husband they will be home in twenty minutes, they sound like they are arranging meeting or giving orders to unimportant workers. Most get off at Maynooth and their places are taken by students with rucksacks full of dirty clothes. That’s what Marty says. When the commuters are gone, the train is different and louder. Irish country people are comical—they talk high and fast, like cockerels in cartoons. Many of these Irish muzhlans want to be your friend.
Trolley service begins when train has left the city. First customer is old lady who asks me what happened to Fintan. It is often they ask about Fintan. I say Fintan find better job as waiter in Abbey Street restaurant. Fair play to him, old lady says, he was very nice, Fintan. I serve them tea—it’s always tea—taken with milk and sugar, like the English do. Fintan used to say to them, do you want any sugar with that? Ah no, sure you’re sweet enough. Babushkas like that. But I cannot do as Fintan does. His words are not mine. My way of doing things is different. And where are you from yourself? she ask me. From Russia, yourself says. There was time I said Poland, until Evgeny’s immigration lawyer made our papers better. Russia! the old lady says. It must be fierce cold there at the minute. No, it is not so cold now because it is spring, but yes, in winter it is cold. I have this conversation many times as I cross country three times a day. When you tell them you are from Russia they have one or two things they can talk about. Not much. Sometimes they talk about chess, sometimes about communism, sometimes great Russian writers Tolstoy and Turgenev. Once two gays talked about the Bolshoi and Kirov ballet— oh how we loved the Bolshoi when they came to Dublin!—and other time a young man surprised me and said he was big fan of Sergei Fyodorov, hockey-with-shayboy player. But the Irish know not much about Russia. Such a big country but so far away for them. Russia is not exactly next door.
Would you have any wagon wheels? says man with bad breath. I do not know if this is joke order people make in train wagons, like request colleagues made first day I worked as kitchen porter in Dublin, where I get them rubber nails or bucket of steam. I am unsure so I say no. Politely. I call him sir. Later, I must remember to ask Marty if wagon wheel is legitimate request. Man is disappointed. They’re wild difficult to find anywhere these days, those wagon wheels. I wonder why that is? He takes Mars bar and pack of Tayto instead. And cup of tea. It is always tea, never coffee.
It is Friday and there are many students who go home for weekend. There are many girls. Irish girls are sometimes pretty but they are often fat. I have talked to some. They are not interested in Russian men, I think. Ah, go on, give us a smile, would you? I smile for my friends, young lady. My English is good but talk to a girl in English is a different story. I had sex with four women since I came to Ireland—one Lithuanian (half Russian), two Frenchwomen and one Brazilian. Never an Irish. I tried but they don’t seem interested. The younger women on the train don’t ask where I’m from. Only the older ones. The Irish babushkas are impressed by other lands. For the younger ones, it is different. They have already met foreigners and they don’t care about more that they meet. My mother asks me on telephone what are Irish women like (she worries I will marry and never come back). I tell her I don’t understand them. Is it the dialect they speak, Mischka? I knew you should have gone to England instead! No, I don’t mean it like that, mother. But I know she is happy that I don’t understand Irish women.
I finish trolley first service by time we get to Mullingar, which is longest time we go without station. I like to be free when train goes past lake after Mullingar. It goes by so close it feels you are sailing through the water. And then it is time for break at Mostrim, where the train waits. This is how I make my day shorter.
We stop for five minutes in Mostrim (also called Edgeworthstown but it is too long for me to say) to wait for train in other direction because there is only one line between Dublin and Sligo. I can step onto platform and have cigarette. Regulations say I cannot smoke while wearing uniform but some rules Irish don’t care about. Stepping out of train to smoke is sufficient. Irish colleagues, Marty, Peter and Assumpta the conductors, always step outside to smoke. In uniform. Stationmaster of Mostrim, Mr Donlon, smokes too. In fact I have never seen him without cigarette in his mouth. The Irish have a very sensible attitude to this rule and I applaud them. Most rules they care about very much but smoking in uniform is no big deal. They know that. My cigarettes come from Evgeny, and when he cannot go to Russia so much in case Customs get suspicious, from Sergei, an Uzbek with Russian passport, who always has smokes to sell. It is impossible to smoke with Irish prices. None are cheap. I tried rolling tobacco but I am lazy. And I always forget to roll cigarette before train stops in Mostrim. The train arrives in station after five minutes. Passengers on both trains look bored. Passengers on trains always look bored when you see them from the outside. That is something I have noticed. I crush my cigarette with foot and step back onto the train when mobile buzzes in my pocket. It is text message from Viktor:
Евгений поймали. В аэропорту. Отправляясь в Москву.
I will not be able to call Viktor until train stops in Sligo.
Two euros fifty for a cup of tea? Jesus, CIE knows how to make money, I can tell you. Perhaps you should tell CIE your problem, sir. I only work the trolley. I do not set prices. I do not say this—I would get fired—but I think it. The Irish complain about money a lot but they also like money. Irish people I meet—mostly through Viktor, who has friends from pub in Howth—complain about price of everything: drink, food, petrol, car, house. But do they want their country to be poor again? It was poor. I know that (I also find out this information on Wikipedia—English version, Russian page is not so detailed). You can buy house in Tula, Kazan, Novgorod for little money. But foreigners don’t come to Tula, Kazan or Novgorod to look for job, except maybe you are Chechen or Uzbek. Sometimes I think Irish do not understand capitalism. CIE charge you two euros fifty for tea, sir, because when you step on train, demand goes up and supply comes down. Train is not outside world. This is capitalism. You don’t like, you live in Cuba. It is also weak to complain about trifle things. It is weak to complain about your tea costing two euros fifty, sir. And you do not have to buy that tea, sir. We do not stick gun to your head to make you buy this tea. But I say nothing because I would get fired. I smile at customer, serve him steaming Lyon’s tea in plastic cup and give him change, two euros fifty from five-euro note. He will enjoy this tea more than all other teas.
When I pass between carriage I send Viktor text:
But customers are mostly OK. The only times customers give me trouble is when there is football match. Football fans always make jokes about you that you can’t understand. The Irish football fans, even bad boys like the Shamrock ones, aren’t scary like football fans in Russia do but still they are many and you are one. They call me Ivan. Eye-van. All Russians are Ivan to them. Ivan is my patronymic but it would be waste of time explaining patronymic to Irish people. They don’t know. It is also waste of time telling them my name is Mikhail. Why must they know my name anyway?
Some days I tell them I am from Slovakia or Bulgaria, like how I said I was from Poland before I get better papers. They can’t tell and they know even less about those countries than I do. They stop talking quickly. Maybe I should be Slovakian or Bulgarian all the time? But it is hard for a Russian not to be Russian. I should not betray my country like that, by pretending to be someone from a small country that Russia once ruled. Russia is not powerful like it was but it is still a great country. Slovakia and Bulgaria are not. They are more like Ireland.
I have other text from Viktor. It has more information. Yes, it is true that customs stop Evgeny at Dublin airport, they find suitcase full of cigarettes and send him back to Moscow. His better papers no help. I will call Viktor when train stops in Sligo.
I cross Ireland three times a day but I have not been to many parts of Ireland. (OK, I cross Ireland twice some days, three times other days. We have system where we work two trains three days, three trains two days and stay overnight at other end. And next week we do opposite. It works out that we don’t work too many hours that way. But I am boring you.) Most of Ireland I have travelled is two metres wide. The rest of the country I know is the landscape I see from the train (very flat and pretty and flooded in winter), the platform in Mostrim where I smoke in uniform and Sligo, where the train stops.
Cheer up, it might never happen. Woman who buys Danish pastry and tea between Dromod and Carrick-on-Shannon says that to me. She has kind face but doesn’t look kind when she says it. I do not know what is it. I cannot cheer up. I am not professional clown. And her prophecy is wrong. It has happened. Evgeny is not coming back. He will now stay in Russia. In the house in distant Dublin suburb of Rush, his belongings will remain—not much, suitcase of clothes, PlayStation, the trance CDs he burned before he left Russia. Maybe I will bring them to him when I go to Russia next. Consequences of his banishment are several: we must find new person to live in house—otherwise we pay more rent every month. It is difficult because Rush is distant suburb and many people do not want to live there. Many people do not want to live with Russians, I have found. They think: loud music, drunk on vodka and Mafia. But we prefer to have a Russian anyway because we can speak Russian in house. Other consequence: I must go to Sergei always for cigarettes now. Maybe Sergei will put up prices if he knows Evgeny is sent back to Russia. The sly Uzbek. Lady who says it might never happen is wrong. It has happened. Why do people say things like that? How does she know?
I finish trolley second service just before Ballymote, where people get off in the dark. There are still students on the train but it is quieter again. Viktor sends me another text. Why cannot he wait till I call him in Sligo? I step between carriage and read text. It says Evgeny owed money to Ukrainians in Dublin and they know where we live. I think of possibility of Evgeny sending us money by Western Union so that we can pay them but where will Evgeny get money if he has no cigarettes to sell? These Ukrainians are not nice people, says Viktor’s text.
Company puts me in hotel beside the big stone station in Sligo every time I must spend the night there. Great Southern Hotel, which I find confusing, because Sligo is in the north. Sligo is small and windy. It rains a lot and the wind blows from the Atlantic Ocean, meaning umbrella is pointless in such a climate. Nothing happens in Sligo—it is much too small—but it is pleasant. Men look bigger and less shaped than in Dublin—it is more like Russia. Tonight there is a wedding in the function room on ground floor of hotel. Red-faced men in suits stand outside, smoking, with pints of flat beer in their hands. They joke with one another. It is a wedding so there is only time to have fun. Every few minutes, the door opens and you can hear music rise up and the voice of an excited DJ who talks too much.
I call Viktor from hotel. His voice is the voice of fear. He panics. Obrechennye! We’re fucked, Mikhail. They know where we live, who we are. You must steal all the money from the trolley. As often as you can. These men are bad boys. They don’t joke. This of course is an absurdity. I cannot steal all the money from the trolley. And even if I did, it is not much. Not even the fat Irish eat enough muffins and Taytos and drink enough tea and cider to make trolley takings enough. I would have to steal from trolley ten times to make up this money. I tell Viktor calm down. I will talk to Evgeny. Also, we have time. I have nine hundred euros savings. Enough for Ryanair flight to Riga for both of us and then train home. They’ll find us in Russia, Mischka! No they won’t, Viktor.
But it is hard to talk to Viktor now. He is not being rational. Viktor is allowing his fear to dominate his whole being. It would appear he is correct to be scared— these Ukrainians are not nice people. I believe him. I am scared too. But one must not be too scared. Too scared and you become an orphaned bear with sore foot, alone in the world and more danger to yourself than to anyone else. This I learned from my mother but it does not appear that Viktor had someone to tell him this. Viktor is a swarm of fear, regret, anger and irrational thinking.
I walk around the hotel room when I talk to Viktor because the matter seems too important to sit on bed. We don’t have much time, Mischka, Viktor tells me. Yes, I know that. I want to leave Ireland tomorrow. No, you will wait for me, Viktor. Just leave the house if you are uncomfortable being there tonight. Go stay with friends. Make up story about house being flooded or something, I tell him. He talks about these Ukrainians and what they will do, their reputation among the cigarette smugglers of Dublin. I open window of hotel so I can have smoke. I am still listening to him. I grip mobile phone between my cheek and shoulder while I open new box of cigarettes, causing Viktor’s voice to go distant for a moment. The wedding continues down below, two floors down. The country men in suits, their ties loosened, talk about football and nothing. Occasionally a woman in fancy outfit will join them for a smoke and chatter in her cartoon-cockerel voice. From inside there is still music. Muzhlan music that is loud, fast and uncultivated. Music you never hear on the radio in Dublin. Okay, Mischka, I will go stay in town with the Serbs. I cannot believe you are being so calm. These Ukrainians do not joke. Good night, Viktor, I will talk to you tomorrow.
After talking on phone to Viktor for so long, kitchen in hotel is closed. It is too late to eat. Also I ate only cheese bap on the train. So I go out to get curry chips in Four Lanterns, which I like. There has been rain in Sligo and the streets are shiny black. Streets are quiet. Train goes back to Dublin first thing in the morning and then I am off till Tuesday. This will be my last time in Sligo. I know it. There will not be time to hand in notice. We will fly on Sunday morning. The Ukrainians won’t come looking for Evgeny until Monday, unless he was so idiot to call them from Russia. Viktor will stay in apartment of Serbian friends on the quays till Sunday. He will take all his belongings and not return to the house before he leaves.
I eat my curry chips in the bright takeaway. There are teenagers in tracksuits with bad haircuts standing around the counter talking to the girl working there. I find them hard to understand. I have seen them here before. They are too young for pubs but too old for sitting at home on Friday night so they spend time in takeaway, standing and sitting for hours, eating nothing, yapping to each other in their impossible accents. They look at me when I order my curry chips but they probably think I am Polish. They have seen many Poles before so they lose interest. I sit alone in the corner eating. It is my last time ever to be in Sligo. I have not counted how many times I have been to Sligo but I know it is more than most Irish people have been. Some Irish people may never have been there. I could say that I am a Sligo expert, though I will have to consult Wikipedia to find out more information. I will never see Sligo again so I will tonight get drunk. I will go to all the pubs I like, places that Marty first brought me to. Places that are dark, wooden, old like Soviet times. Old pubs with furniture from old churches and ruined houses. Pubs that still smell of smoke even after the smoking ban. I will not see Marty again. Sometimes I stay with him in Sligo if we are both working on the same train but this weekend he is in Canary Islands with his family on Easter holiday. I will have no chance to say goodbye, or ask about wagon wheels. I could get so drunk I not go into work tomorrow but that would be stupid as train brings me back to Dublin anyway. There is still a reason to do things right. The Ukrainians don’t joke, says Viktor. Neither do I.
My mother asks me every time I telephone when I come back to Russia. I say I wait another year. Another year! Next year, it will be another year too. I am getting old! But mothers are like that. I would stay in Ireland, another year. Maybe another year next year too. There is not much for me in Ireland. I have trolley job on train that pays enough. Nobody pretends they love being trolley boy. But what can I do in Russia? I have no education and I have already done army. I will get job in government office where I will stamp people’s forms, type information into computer and make people miserable when I tell them there is nothing I can do for them because those are the rules. And to get this job, mother will pay official 25,000, maybe 30,000, roubles, as a token of appreciation. So I can make people miserable. Right now I prefer to make people miserable when I tell them tea costs two euros fifty. It is easier to make such people miserable because to complain so strongly about tea one must already be miserable at heart. That is something I have noticed.