Russia-Lawrence Bransby (issue 5)

It’s one o’clock in the morning. Eight Russian bikers, two wives/girlfriends, Gareth and I, fill every available space in Alexi’s small apartment. His 17-year-old daughter sulks in the bedroom playing a TV game, resentful of this sudden invasion of her space. Three-litre plastic bottles of beer have appeared, as well as cognac – the drinking has begun… tomatoes and bread are put on the table and roughly chopped with a wicked-looking sheath knife with a bone handle. A girl sitting pressed against me on the couch leans over and with beery, sausage-laden breath murmurs huskily in my ear; “You’re going to have a Russian experience.”

The warmth of her body against mine and the intimate, beery way she speaks, makes me wonder whether this Russian experience might involve things of a fleshly nature and whether they will blow my head off with a shotgun if I refuse. The other girl sits quietly, almost haughtily (she doesn’t speak to us at all, I think because she has no English) and I realise she was the one I saw emerging from the outdoor sauna the previous night, her pert breasts braving the cold.

Then a type of ravioli, a Russian favourite, is brought to the table and someone drenches it with sour cream. People lean forward and help themselves; a fork is pressed into my hand and voices encourage me to eat. I do and it’s delicious. In the corner of the room, the TV continues to play some badly acted local soap, as it has done since we got here, part of the mutter of background noise. The talk, mostly in Russian, is about the ride that day, the accident. One bearded biker has a thick layer of sour cream spread on his sunburned nose – an effective remedy for wind and sunburn, they say. More beer is poured and then the bottle of cognac is cracked open…