It is not a real dacha but rather a large brick house that a couple and their toddler son have been renting. They have each been working away on projects or in the city and have broken up, leaving the son with parents in a different region. So the only people at the dacha have been friends of theirs, a lady and her 4-yr old daughter who last week went to live in Cyprus. We went to keep her company in the last days to close up the house and leave.
The houses are all big but awful: badly built, square, with idiotic slanting roofs and small triangular windows. I suspect they were all built quickly in the 90s, quickly and tastelessly. But the fields are beautiful and the space is a luxury after the city. The house shares a field with next door whose goats and chickens roam about and make a racket.
When Alik and Ksush moved in in the spring they redecorated in cheerful, india-inspired colours, and Sergei painted a mural on the walls. Kids' toys and books lie around and there are mattresses in all the 4 rooms and on the brick/cement balcony to house all the guests that passed through in the mad, sociable summer. Now the house was quiet although the kitchen is still cosy. You can pass things out the window to eat in the field although people have to go round through the front door and through a gap in the fence.
Last time, when it was warmer, we bathed in a pond nearby fringed with tall birch trees. By the pond the families seemed to have moved from the city: cultivated gardens rather than goats and hens. We stopped at a hedge to pick raspberries and buckthorn and only after a few minutes of boisterous chatter we were embarrassed to see a girl sitting in the garden gently rocking a pram. She smiled at us but we left quickly so as not to disturb the peaceful scene. The cut lawn and hydrangeas only added to her happy selfabsorbed-ness in the slanting light. Last time we went looking for mushrooms in the woods but it was still too early. But it had been lovely to get out into the woods and then to come home across the dusky fields that were glowing orange and purple in the setting sun. Even though we had no mushrooms we walked fast in a line, swinging sicks with an air of satisfied hunters tramping home, although all we had was buckthorn. By the way, buckthorn is not poisonous as we were lead to believe in the UK. You can crush the berries to make an opaque oily orange juice and is it with vodka or mineral water to drink.
This time we only left town when it was dark on saturday evening in Bogdan's car, Sergei and I drinking wine and bickering over the radio. It turned into radio night because when we arrived we danced and drank with Nura. Sergei had not believed until this night that she was really leaving. We danced round the kitchen and sang along but we always had to have someone stationed near the radio to swat away all the wandering hands that wanted to change channel. When you dance to the radio you always feel deprived; even when a good song is on you always feel that there might be something better somewhere else.
By 2 we were drunk and tired but we couldn't sleep yet because Dimon was coming. This guy always shows up late but expects everyone to entertain him. So we had to keep it up for a while when he did arrive.
Next day we wanted to get out early for a walk in the woods to look for mushrooms but Nura said that Dimon had come specifically to go mushy picking so we had to wait. We even woke him up so as not to miss the day. He wanted to cook and the whole palaver of cooking breakfast (lunch for us)then relaxing after, then getting ready to go out and generally faffing about took half the day. Then Dimon wanted to drive somewhere because the mushrooms would be better there. So we spent a while in the car feeling sick with his slow driving. We went to a guy called Johnny to ask what good places he knows. Johnny's dacha is a small but very tall and pointed wooden house. He was sawing and hammering to make a wide veranda round the whole house. He said the woods near him were sometimes good but that it was still too dry and warm for mushies. We looked anyway, although the bending down and focussing was too much after a while for my hungover head and so instead I rested and watched a woodpecker going up and down a branch. Dimon was obviously stubbornly refusing to come back until he had found at least one mushroom, although the rest of us had given up long before. We waited by his car. He came back when the sun was low and we went home to make a fire and cook shashlyk.
Nura was waiting until late to drive into town to miss the traffic. The evening started to feel like a wake, as we guests sat at the kitchen table drinking tea while she busied about packing the car and sorting out the last piles of belongings. Sergei lamented over and over again about the tragedy of an empire collapsing, a civilisation dispersing. We found some special balled-up chinese tea that unfolded in the water to make a beaitful pink and green flower. That eased the tension a bit. A cat that none of us had ever seen before had come in earlier in the day and made itself at home: eating whatever it could find then falling asleep on a bed. We said, 'bit late mate'.
On the drive into Moscow late at night, Nura put lovesongs on loudly and stared steadily at the road. We were silent. In theory me and Sergei could still go there because she left the key with us, but it won't be the same. Now she has gone to live in Cyprus; we all miss her, but we hope to see her again soon.