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Drinking with the Siberians


He had a way with snoring, it was insidious something about his manner and his frail physicality just did not measure up to the demon rumblings that emitted from his nostrils when he slept. It was the last leg of the journey, from Irkutsk to Moscow and it was to take four days.

I was sharing a cabin with a couple of old guys from Adelaide, they were in their seventies, good mates reinventing the concept of adventure, but boy could Bill snore. I wasn’t too fazed, I had resigned myself to ‘power naps’ during the day and evening, while Bill and Graham sat at the foldaway table, playing games of cards and analysing all that flashed past the window:

“Geez would ya check out the girth on that cedar Bill”

I decided to spend the ‘snoring hours’ reading in the corridor that connected the cabins to the further reaches of the train. Timber towns and timber forests passed by silhouetted in the moonlight.

There were two young Russian stewards assigned to our carriage. Each worked a twelve-hour shift. They complained that their jobs were in peril because their supervisor hated them. On request I wrote a note to the supervisor saying what a hardworking asset they both were. I neglected to mention that they actually spent their shifts drinking tea and gambling.

It was early in the morning, 5am, when the Siberians got to me. I was walking past their cabin when one just reached out and pulled me in. They were big, burly, bearded and extremely drunk; though drunk in a habitual way, with an inherent ability to function regardlessly, they obviously knew how to drink.

I surveyed the scene. Empty vodka bottles littered the floor, a full one sat atop the table. Alongside lay out on crumpled butchers paper sat salami and a block of pungent cheese. Hanging from a bunk was the arm of a compatriot quietly ‘passed out’, his hairy hand still held a half full tumbler.

“What’s your name?” one of the Siberians roared.

“Greg”, I replied cautiously.

“Gregorio you must drink”!

He ripped the top off the new bottle, poured out half a glass and pushed it my way. At the same time he filled his own glass and that of his smiling friend.

An escape seemed impossible so I decided to comply. They were throwing questions at me almost as quickly as they threw down the vodka. Their English was bad but my Russian was non-existent. They encouraged me to drink with gesturing hands and deep-set eyes. No sooner was my glass empty than it was filled again. The Siberians used a long knife to wave slices of the salami and chunks of the cheese towards me, the accepting of which I declined.

More vodka was procured and opened. Cheap Mongolian vodka with a rip top, like old beer bottles, once opened never closed. We were all laughing, the Siberians began singing and I joined in drunk, carefree and out of tune. I slipped out when they began to get emotional. They had, after all, been drinking throughout the night. I stumbled back to my cabin; it was 8am.

Bill and Graham were just getting up; slurring a good morning I clambered onto my bunk. A valley, rolling by the window, was framed as colour filled life, brushed by the morning sunlight. Later they would tell me that I was snoring, loudly, though I cannot recall if this was so.

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