I was in the wrong place! This couldn't be ASS Lit! A summer-cottage wicker chair, an empty wooden desk, an open cupboard, a small table upside down in the corner. And two men. One was tall and very young in a pince-nez. His puttees stood out. They were white, and he was holding a battered briefcase and a sack. The other man, greying and elderly with bright, almost smiling eyes, wore a Caucasian fur cap and an army greatcoat. The coat was covered with holes and the pockets were hanging in tatters. He wore grey puttees and patent leather dancing shoes with little bows.
My lack-lustre gaze passed over the faces, then the walls, looking for another door. But there was none. The room with the broken wires had no windows. Tout. In a rather thick voice:
"Is this ASS Lit.?"
"Could I see the head, please?"
"That's me," the old man replied affectionately.
He picked up a large page of a Moscow newspaper from the desk, tore a piece off, sprinkled some tobacco on it, rolled himself a cigarette and asked me:
"Got a match?"
I struck a match automatically, and then under the old man's affectionately enquiring gaze took the precious paper out of my pocket.
The old man bent over it, and I racked my brains wondering who he could be. Most of all he looked like Emile Zola without a beard.
The young man also read the paper over the old man's shoulder. They finished and looked at me with a kind of puzzled respect.
"I'd like a job in ASS Lit.," I replied.
"Splendid! Well, I never!" the young man exclaimed in delight.
He took the old man aside and started whispering. Mumble-mumble-mumble.
The old man spun round on his heels and grabbed a pen off the desk. The young man said quickly:
"Write an application."
I had an application in my breast pocket. I handed it over.
The old man flourished the pen. It made a scratching sound and jerked, tearing the paper. He dipped it in a small bottle. But the bottle was dry.
"Got a pencil?"
I handed him a pencil, and the head scrawled:
"Please appoint as Secretary of ASS Lit. Signed..."
I shot upstairs. Barged through the door, tore across the room with the women and went into the office. The man sitting in the office took my paper and scribbled: "Appt. seer." Letter. Squiggle. He yawned and said: "Downstairs."
I raced downstairs again in a tizzy. Past the typewriter. Then instead of a bass, a silvery soprano said: "Meyerhold. October in the Theatre..."
The young man was storming round the old man and chortling.
"Did they appoint you? Fine! We'll see to it. We'll see to everything!"
Then he clapped me on the shoulder:
"Don't worry! You'll get everything."
I have always detested familiarity and always been a victim of it. But now I was so overwhelmed by what had happened, that all I could do was say weakly:
"But we need desks ... chairs ... and at least some ink!"
The young man shouted excitedly:
"You'll get them! Good lad! You'll get everything!"
He turned to the old man, winked at me and said:
"He means business, that lad! Fancy asking for desks straightaway. He'll put things right for us."
Appt. Seer. Heavens! ASS Lit. In Moscow. Maxim Gorky. The Lower Depths. Sheherazade. Mother. *
The young man untied the sack, spread a newspaper on the table and poured about five pounds of lentils onto it. "That's for you. A quarter of the food ration."