I was an American building a retail business in Russia for an English company. It was only the third year of our very successful business when suddenly, my Russian partner was assassinated. Since we did not know why he was done in, some felt I could be next. I lived in a two bedroom Russian apartment in a typical Russian square block complex with an inner courtyard. I did have very heavy double doors, each with three locks. But, nevertheless, I had a rappel rope with seat tied to my iron steam heat pipes, in case I should need to leap off the balcony and escape on the ground five stories below.
For a few nights, I was alone, without my constant companion and interpreter, Veronica. One night, I was awakened by a commotion in the courtyard and looking down from behind kitchen curtains saw two large Russian (brand) sedans disgorge 8 tall and bulky men wearing eight dark and lengthy black leather coats. I can still feel that stone in my stomach that denotes real fear. I quickly put on some pants and sneakers and pulled the rappel rope out into position. But, nobody came to my door and, after a few minutes, I looked out again and saw two of the blackcoats dragging a woman in a bathrobe from the building and then shoving her into the second car, they drove off leaving me out of it.
My compassion was great but my relief was greater.
However, the next evening, I had put on my robe and slippers and was drawing a relaxing bath but was interrupted by a phone call from the UK from a Vision Express Board member who was concerned with my well-being in the face of the recent death of our partner. I was able to convince him, but only after a long drawn out explanation, that I would be ok and that I felt safe staying on in the city of my Russian partner’s demise.
But, not two minutes after I hung up, there was the sound of footsteps running down the hall towards my apartment followed by loud-voiced crowd of Russians pounding on my door and screaming Russian invectives at me. I never have felt so alone as I did, having no knowledge of the language or the threats that it carried. I yelled, “Ya Americanitz, ya na panimaio!!” meaning, “I’m an American, I don’t understand”, not once but each time their voices rose louder with what sounded like ever more threatening invectives. I was about to use the rappel rope and escape the impending doom when I felt something around my slippers. It was water. It was wet. It was everywhere. I had left the tub water running when the UK call came.
The crowd at the door was comprised of my neighbors from below who were being flooded from above. I shouted “OK. OK, ya znaio!” (I understand) and I ran to turn off the tub water. The next morning I asked Veronica to call upon the apartment below and offer to pay for all damages and we made sure all was “well”. Except, my stone of fear had now been replaced by the weight of shame for revealing my American ass-hole side to my forgiving Russian neighbors.