When I came to Cassambalis on Grolmanstrasse on a much too warm, almost summerly sultry spring evening, Viktor did not recognize me at first. He sat, tired and slightly slumped, with Mr. Schreiber and his wife at the back of a table that was much too long for us four, and when I said "Good evening" to him in Russian, he straightened up slightly and saw me tired and helpless. "Good evening," he said in Russian. "Excuse me, what was your name again?"
I told him, and he said, "Yes, of course, now I remember." And because he was the great, big, brave Victor Erofejew, who in the late 1970s had ranted the entire Politburo of the CPSU and half the Soviet Union with a single literary anthology, I did not care if he really knew we were two Years ago in Leukerbad, high up in the Swiss Alps, had met at a pretty good literary festival. That's why I almost forgive people like him because people like him practically do not exist here.
To be honest, I hardly recognized Viktor. Was his hair grayer? Were his features softer, more feminine, as sometimes happens with older men? Did he feel even less straight than at Leukerbad? And why did he suddenly remind me of the many old, sad Russian immigrant friends of my parents, who often visited us in Hamburg after our escape in 1970 and usually stayed much longer than they had promised us in the beginning?
But then Viktor began to tell about Widjayevo, of this now completely dead, abandoned port city behind the Arctic Circle, and immediately his voice became stronger and his eyes firm and young. Since the mysterious sinking of the famed Atomic submarine Kursk , no ordinary Russian was allowed to enter more Widjayevo, even the widows and children of the drowned Kursk sailors had to leave their homes forever, a classic and rather stupid FSB-KGB action, what else Viktor drove anyway, a few months ago, for a Mare report, but certainly to do something again, which was really forbidden, which the men and women and intelligence officers up there did not want, and now he showed Mr. Schreiber, his wife and me on his phone proudly - but also horrified - the pictures of the deserted horror movie streets of Varyaevo and the abandoned cars that have been there for almost twenty years slowly covered in mud and dirt.
"How did you even manage to get into Widjayevo?" I said to Viktor when he was done.
"I wanted it," he said. "Wanting something is usually enough for you to do it, so the rest was not a problem anymore."
"Did not you have any fear?"
"What should I be afraid of at the age of 74, please?" He laughed and showed us on his phone the photos of his youngest daughter Marianna, less than two years old, a beautiful, white-blonde Erofeev infanta who treated us like that Looking seriously and smartly from his iPhone, as if she was thinking about the future of socialism, or promoting the next five-year plan, I did not tell Victor that.
"On Marianna!", Viktor said and took his full white wine glass. Mr. Schreiber and his wife also took their wine glasses and looked at each other in love, and I also took my glass, in which there was only water, and thought of my dead father, who was arrested in Moscow in 1950 because of some derogatory Stalin remarks University and at the same time was expelled from the party, and while we now started to four, I once again wondered why there are practically no such people as Viktor or my father with us.