Monday, July 04, 2005

The Chess Chronicals
Part four.

For the last couple of days I have been serializing a story I wrote back in January about some dirty dealings in and around Egor’s chess club. Today I am presenting part four. If you are just tuning in, the first three parts follow this one in reverse order. Sorry for the inconvenience, but that’ the way the daily post works.

Oh, and as an aside, tomorrow, July 5th is Egor’s birthday.

The Chess Chronicals
Part four.

This conversation with Janna had me off. I am not sure if I made this clear or not, but it really seemed to me as if Janna had been desperately trying to stop me from saying what I was saying. Ididn’t think that this was a language issue, though I am not completely sure of that. But it was as if the information simply wasn’t wanted. She wasn’t saying that she didn’t want to talk to me, but she was protesting for her own innocence so much that I began to think that she was a part of this somehow. That thought had never occurred to me before. Why was that? Why was she trying to pretend that she didn’t know that Kosty was a favorite? And why all of those protestations about how Kosty studies just like anyone else? Was I being jealous? Hadn’t I just sent a chess program over there? I had thought that I liked them.

It was odd feeling. It was as if I had walked in on a conversation that had been going on about me that had stopped the moment I came in the room. This situation was getting weirder and weirder.

I walked over to the telephone office next. There was no line but I still had to go to a couple of different window before finding a lady who knew what to do with the documents I had. As I was waiting for the registration to be processed, Tamarra, the teacher of French from the Economic University offered me a "Bon Jour".

I first met Tammara when Leonid Fioderavich, the head of the Economic University had asked her to come and be a translator for a meeting I had with him about becoming a teacher there. This was on my first day back in Pinsk a little over two years earlier. I don’t know why Leonid Fiodorovich asked her to come in and translate for us. I had studied French in school but it was a long time ago and to be honest, I would have been happier to conduct the interview in Russian. But he had and so the three of us got into the conversation about whether or not I could begin teaching some English classes at the school. On my part, this is exactly what I wanted to do because it would have been about the most obvious thing I could possibly do to make myself useful here. At the time, I was very enthused about being back in Pinsk, this after my Polish episode had finally come to an end, and I saw this meeting as my new and long awaited start here. Unfortunately Leonid Fiodorovich decided that regardless of a university diploma, my being a native speaker, the Russian language play I had written for their local theatre, and that I had some English teaching experience already that he didn’t want me. He used as an excuse that I was lacking a teaching credential, and certainly this is a reasonable excuse, but I always had the feeling that there was something else behind this. I mean, you would think that the school’s not having anyone but a French teacher to do the translating for a meeting with an English speaking guest would have illustrated the point that I might be needed well enough, but it wasn’t.

I hadn’t seen Tamara in a while and she had always seemed a little guilty at having been involved with that situation. At the meeting she seemed as bewildered as I was at Leonid Fiodorovich’s attitude. In fact she had even made a speech to him about how wonderful it would be to have a native speaker on the faculty. That was a tough day too. But again that was two years ago and that teaching gig, regardless of how well my talks with English classes have gone or how many teachers have supported me has simply never happened.

At any rate, Tammara said some words about how happy she was to see me in very rapid French. At least I assume that this was what she was saying. I asked her to please speak in Russian as it had been a long time for me since I tried to get by in that other language. She asked me if I had been here the whole time. I told her it has been a little over two years. She started to speak to me about something but unfortunately, she spoke even faster in Russian than she did in French, but I got the gist that she wanted to take my phone number because she wanted to send me some students who might wish to study conversational English with me. I told her I would be delighted.

"You have really been two years?" She asked.

"Yes, a little more than two years." I answered. She seemed sad. " Leonid Fiodorovich…" I started.

"He is the director…"

"Yes, I know. He never let me work." She was quiet a moment. She did her business at the window, that same look on her face that was there at our meeting returning again. She started speaking to the Telephone office woman even more quickly if that would be possible and then had me write my phone number on a scrap of paper. She told me she would soon be in contact.

We parted a bit uncomfortably and then I went to get some bread, stopping on the way to get some butter and sour creme and a couple of sweet cheese bars that Egor likes. I figured he could use a present about now.

When I got back, Tanya had made soup so we sat in the kitchen for a while and talked about what Janna had said. Egor came home a little later and his drama for the day was that he was upset that his teacher hadn’t called on him to read his homework for his Russian reading class. This was one of the classes that he had missed for the tournament but had done the homework for anyway and he was a little pissed to have had to have done the extra work but not to have received the credit. I handed him a cheese bar.

It was an odd afternoon. Everything was moving a little off key. Egor was really slow doing his homework and Tanya was having a hard time getting her sleep in. Anya was crankier than usual.

After a while Tanya got up and ate something in the kitchen and called to me to come and talk to her. I was busy but went anyway, and she started to ask me what I wanted her to say to Grib’s parents when she called. I went over it again, but she made some noises like she was becoming afraid of the phone call. I got a little angry at this and told her that we have already started this little program of ours and that this was no time to start playing games. We had had plenty of time to decide what to do and now we were doing it. She gave a shitty remark and I shot another back at her and it escalated into some name-calling. These things happen. I don’t like that they do, but they do. Egor was trying to work out his homework, Anya was sleeping in her crib and Tanya and I were yelling at each other across the corridor. I got up and gave her the same sort of speech I would give to Egor about not being a lazy fool and doing what you need to do without a lot of unnecessary drama and she let me know that she wasn’t hearing a word of it. More name-calling.

Tanya then decided to help Egor with his homework, this better than speaking to me, but when he was slow with an answer to her question, she blew up at him too. He responded with some name-calling of his own which brought both me into the room, and some tears from Egor. How come I could use those words and he couldn’t? He backed off and tried his best to be stoic about it, but I heard him weeping over his math and I could see a couple splashes on his notebook. I dragged him into the kitchen and drank a glass of water with him, toasting and drinking it as if we were drinking double glasses of vodka instead- complete with the deep breath in preparation.

The tension was really thick. Egor seemed to have gotten over the moment but nevertheless was taking forever to do his work. It stayed like this for the rest of the afternoon.

At 6:30 Tanya got up and called Grib’s house. Grib is a heavy boy and has been both the butt of some jokes and well as the subject of conversation concerning his rapid improvement in chess. He had been a remarkably weak player for a long time and also a remarkably soft boy as well. The thinking for a long time was that he was an incurable mama’s boy and too soft for anything, much less chess. However, over the previous few months, he had affected an incredible change. Though still heavy, he became rather ruthless in his chess and at the same time, somewhat meaner and less patient in life.

Tanya got his mother on the phone. I was listening in to our half of the conversation for a while. Tanya was sticking to the script and was getting the information across very well. And then she laughed a few times and then the conversation seemed to shift away from what we wanted to do with Boris Vasilovich and more into a gossip session about what had been going on at the chess club. They went on like chums for a while and I got the rundown after.

There was apparently a lot of dirt going down at the Chess Club. Grip’s mother had also heard the story about the kid who had been left to rot when he wanted to leave Boris Vasilovich’s charge and she also knew several other stories. Grib’s mom was also very serious about her son’s chess and had gone through her own battles with Boris Vasilovich and had some thoughts about Linderenko as well. She told Tanya that they had also considered taking Roman (Grib’s first name) out of Boris Vasilovich’s class but had inevitably decided against it because she had received the assurance from Boris Vasilovich that Kosty was soon be going to Canada. She also had heard a lot from Roman about what had been going on in the chess club, specifically about how much Kosty is both favored and protected. She said that Roman had complained about how many more chess problems Kosty is given to study, and how Roman is given less and Egor even less than him. According to Roman, Kosty is never really challenged in his games in the chess club. And, as far as she knew, Kosty not only receives special attention in chess club, but also studies two hours a day with his grandfather, the King of Pinsk chess, and also sometimes stays home from school in deference to his chess. Interesting.

Tanya took this information as a call to arms and was very emotional about telling me what she had heard. My head started to spin. Memories and conversations from the last two years started to connect to each other and I started thinking of the whole of this mess as some great under-the-table Chess Club conspiracy.

I remembered how Janna had been going on forever about wanting to immigrate to Canada. In fact, she even specifically called me one time to help her put together a cover letter to the Canadian immigration council. I hadn’t known why she had called on me, she didn’t need the language help and she didn’t seem to want my advice on how to write the letter. But now I was thinking that that whole Canada tidbit of hers was simply intended as a pacifier for me to quell what she was assuming were my jealousies over her boy. I guess she had gotten away with that Canada shit with Grib and was using it on me. Or visa Versa…

And then I started to think of how often Janna and Edward had offered car rides home to Boris Vasilovich and how chummy they were with him. Tanya and I hadn’t been. Not that we didn’t like Boris Vasilovich, but we just didn’t. I mean, we visited the guy when he was in the hospital after his heart attack and I had always spoke to him respectfully and with deference, but I wouldn’t say we were very social together.

But about this business of Kosty getting lessons from his granddad, I didn’t think much of and certainly I had not been jealous of this. Of course he would. Why is this a problem? But Grib’s mom was jealous. And I remembered asking Janna one time how much time Kosty spent with his granddad, but she had told me that they never studied at all together. Internesting…

And then I remembered being told that Kosty had gone off at one time to a sanitarium for a rest. That word is a little more harsh in western culture than it is here; its not really the nut house, but it is pretty darned close. I remember being a little angry at the news and at Janna when I heard it. We ran into each other on the street one day and I had asked why her son needed to be in a sanatorium, implying that they had done something to him to make him need it. I remember the moment I said it to her. She reacted with complete guilt. That moment had affected the relationship for a long time. In fact, she even came to me and asked about this later, asking if she was doing the right thing- sort of apologizing, in a way I guess. Hard to say.
But exactly what have they been doing with Kosty? How isolated and protected has this boy been? And for how long?

Buy now my head really was swimming. I had been blowing all of this off as being nothing more than a little chess parent jealously and for me, all of this had started with the episode at the tournament. But now it seems as though all of this had been only a tiny moment, just a small part of a larger, very weird scheme to create an artificial world around Kosty.

Bori Vasilovich had himself a star. The boy was the grandson of one of the town’s greatest chess personalities. And when Egor got up and played well enough to have a chance to win, Boris Vasilovich beat Egor down and that is what started this.

The Gribs had wanted no part of Kosty’s world, they wanted a trainer, but they had been mollified with the news that Kosty would be off to Canada soon and that after that happened, they would be the chess royalty when he was gone. They had bought that story at the time, but now found they had been burned because Kosty isn’t going anywhere. So now they are thrilled to be spreading Chess Club gossip about Kosty. Anything to get their kid ahead.

Linderenko saw Tatyana’s approaching him to be Egor’s new trainer also as jealousy over Kosty and this is why he threw in that bit about the nine-month-wait. The National Tournament would be played some time before next September. That’s the big tournament you see, and it is expected that Kosty might win. Egor won’t play in that tournament because he lost in the regionals, but nevertheless has a role to play in Kosty’s situation and so nobody wants anything to change.

Grib’s mom by the way also had some thoughts about Linderenko, just in case we were thinking of going to him…

And there was the revelation: This my friends is Kosty’s world and we only live in it. Kosty is a star and around this star his mother and his grandfather and all the trainers at the chess club have set up a perfect little protective wall, a little artificial kingdom for the boy to rule. As I was seeing the picture now, we, all of us, had not actually been studying chess at the Chess Club two days a week, but rather had been performers in a rather large Shakespearean drama known as Kosty’s kingdom. And in this magical little world, Kosty is just a normal little boy who simply happens to have some talent for the game of chess. Again, Kosty is just as normal as everyone else. He goes to Chess Club twice a week, just like anyone else. And just like anyone else, Kosty has friends, two friends in fact and Kosty’s friends also play chess. One is Grib, the boy who is too fat, and the other is Egor, who is too lazy and crazy. Kosty though is perfect and that is why he wins. And as far as Egor is concerned, the whole of his chess life has apparently been a fraud but removing him from the situation won’t be allowed before Kosty gets a chance to be officially crowned.

Welcome to Chess Club.

Well, be all this as it may, we still had a meeting with Boris Vasilovich on Thursday.

From 01/14/05

Tune in tomorrow for part five.
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