EARLY IN MY life in Australia, during the year I spent on a bridging visa that included no work permit, and with the little savings I had running out, I rejoiced when a new job offer finally came my way. My prospective employer, Boris, knew about my financial hardships. He was also my co-worker at the only cash-in-hand job I’d managed to find until that point and which earned me five dollars per hour – a Russian video library in St Kilda. My family left Russia for Israel when I was twelve, but now, at twenty-six, I still spoke fairly decent Russian. And I loved that place, which was really a cross between a neighbourhood house and a crazy supermarket that sold everything from smoked salmon to dubbed South American soap operas. Yet I couldn’t survive on those wages. And Boris said he had something for me.
Boris, who barely reached my chin and had small, button-like facial features – plus small, button-like grandchildren – summoned me to discuss his work proposition just before his morning shift began. We sat at the table in the middle of the library where customers usually lounged with shopping bags at their feet, reading newspapers or discussing the rising caviar prices. ‘Oh Mama, Mama, Mama! I love a gypsy man!’ a red-mulletted singer of indeterminate gender was screaming from the television hanging above us. I hoped Boris’s offer of an additional job would help me to delay moving in with a man from Moscow whom I’d recently met. I liked the Russian way the man courted me, with red roses and recitations of Pushkin. But while his claims that he’d done business with the Russian mafia added to his sexual appeal in my eyes, they didn’t make me trust him. I could smell his dubious past in the overflowing ashtrays strewn all over his apartment. I didn’t want to move in with him so quickly, but I couldn’t manage any rent on my current pay and the owner of the place I was housesitting was about to return to Melbourne. Meanwhile, the man-in-question had already bought me a pillow. As a prelude to our conversation, Boris sliced up some cake his wife had baked. My work in the library taught me that even the minutest of Russian social interactions involved food. ‘I’m unwell,’ Boris told me. I felt concerned about both Boris’s health and my own future. If he was ill, he wouldn’t be thinking about my work prospects. ‘My doctor said I lack protein. And one of the best protein sources I know of…’ Boris paused to wipe cake crumbs off his tiny mouth. ‘Dear Lee, I’ll pay you well. If I can go down on you once a week… Don’t misunderstand me, please. It’s only for medical purposes…’
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