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I dashed forward with a half bemused, half disgruntled face, and picked up Emily to put her in my room for a while. As I did so, Vladimir promptly took a shower with which towel to dry himself after, who knows. He made some sighing sounds, apparently due to the lack of hot water. During this time of year, when summer is approaching, the government turns off the hot water to conserve energy.

Woman shrugging
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I prepared some earl grey tea as Vladimir took his 40 minute shower. I guess he had to wash away more than just daily dirt.

When he popped out of the bathroom, I could see he had shaved his orthodox-priest style beard. I think he used my razor and my mint shaving cream.

“Well, I’m ready to cook!” Vladimir said with an indiscernible wink.

It sounded good to me after a day’s work, but I doubted his cooking capabilities.

“Sure, go ahead. Use what you want you in the kitchen, and be sure to…”

Before telling him about my lack of decent cooking equipment, he sprinted to the refrigerator, the stove, and oven. He slammed my clanky cast-iron pan on the stove, and threw a bunch of ingredients from the fridge and the pantry on the rickety kitchen table. My cat, Malina, and I watched him in action.

“I’m going to make you the best borscht!” Vladimir blurted amid his scrambling.

I looked at his clothes while he was cooking, and felt a bit queasy.

“Vladimir, you know, you could try some of my clothes…”

I wanted to continue saying something like, “…because you look like you vomited on yourself and didn’t clean it up for days,” but I stopped myself from such a direct observation.

“Mmm,” he said as he walked over to my room.

I ran over to my room as well, to win the undisclosed race there. I remembered Emily was in my room.

“Why are you rushing around?” Vladimir asked.
“I’m making sure you don’t have to deal with my pug, Emily,” I said.

He simply produced a grunting sound and looked at me square in the eyes as he opened the door to my room. When he stepped in, Emily didn’t bark, and was wagging her tail. Vladimir even embraced Emily like a child would a teddy bear.

After the awkward moment of seeing an old homeless man hug my dog with a childlike smile, I was in for another interesting scene: Vladimir almost piled himself into my closet, flipping through my clothes on wire hangers.

“These jeans, with holes…” he paused at the word “holes” and glanced at my mixed bag of an expression, “and this shirt with ‘I love myself, sometimes’ written on it.”

I nodded in almost blank compliance. He dashed to the bathroom to change his clothes, and was back to “cooking” in a matter of seconds.

While he acted like he was on a cooking reality show, I fed my dog and cat, and went on a mandatory walk with my dog. I had all my money at hand in my wallet, and my savings in a bank, so I didn’t fear Vladimir searching for some extra money in my apartment. Besides, I didn’t have anything of great value—only a somewhat real ivory chess set gifted to me by my parents when I was active in my high school chess club.

On my walk with Emily, on the pot-holed streets winding through drug-dealer areas occasioned by prostitutes, I saw a blue Volga car with a hole in it, maybe made by being bit by a metal pole.

When I came back to the apartment, the smell of borscht permeated like incense. It didn’t smell burnt or unlike borscht, so I had my hopes.

“Going to be done in 20 minutes or so,” yelled Vladimir, even though the kitchen was only a few steps from the front door.

“Alright,” I said quietly.

I played my bongo in the meantime. It was an everyday activity for me—Charlie Parker was my favorite artist to jam with.

Did you know some African tribes believe when someone plays a drum, the negativity a person comes out of the bottom hole of the drum?

“It’s ready,” Vladimir yelled, with purpose this time, as I was in my bedroom playing my drums.

I got up with a slight cramp in my leg and semi-hobbled over to the kitchen. When I entered, Vladimir was grinning, exposing a gap between his front teeth. Two bowls of steaming borscht with sour cream in it were set on the table.

borschtWith grin intact, Vladimir motioned me to sit on a stool. As I dipped my spoon into the borscht, he did so as well, waiting for me to try his creation. When I took my first taste, I noticed the chicken was flavored with paprika, and the borscht in general had a sweet taste to it. I can’t say I enjoyed it more than my mother’s borscht, but it was good cooking for a homeless chef.

“The best borscht, right?” Vladimir interposed.

“Yea,” I said, with a genuine smile.

Before I settled into my bed for sleep, and Vladimir laid out the foldout bed from my living room sofa. We almost had a conversation, but stopped short due to the awkwardness of our first day together.

I heard him hum something somber as I fell asleep.

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