First Language

This city is a tumour, she thought at the traffic lights. Living matter multiplying itself one unit after another, one inside another, one on top of the other. Cells spreading an unnamed disease. She bought a loaf of bread and went back to the flat. Last floor, a brand-new block. Paint splashes on windows, like incomplete maps of distant, better worlds. All around more blocks, a periphery of post-communist Moscow in full real estate swing. The apartment was clean, spacious, but empty, not even a chair. The floorboards reflected the sunlight like a picture-perfect house for sale ad, evoking the same sense of a nicely designed prison. She switched on the light in the kitchen. Holy shit, the floor was flooded with dirty laundry like marine debris washed up on shore. Grey and khaki pants, white and red T-shirts, black underwear, socks of all colours, some thin striped shirts. Gert had just moved out, Frida had told her, but it seemed he hadn’t taken all of his things yet. Or he’d simply abandoned them, a past made in China. Gert was expecting her downstairs, in five minutes.

‘Hello, are you Gert? I’m Jay.’

‘Yeah, hallo. You’re in, all right? I brought you these’, said Gert, handing her a large laundry bag with a white towel and a blue sleeping bag. ‘Let me help you with it upstairs.’

‘Please, there’s no light in the elevator.’

They crammed inside, ten floors in the hazy darkness of crude oil. She hadn’t seen him well, but liked his voice. Or rather the German accent, it reminded her of Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s films, hypnotic. At the same time, she was a bit frightened: what if the lift gets stuck? She read in a local newspaper that two lovers had hid in a new block like this to have sex, got stuck in the elevator and died, one having eaten the other.

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