It’s been a week of silly screw ups. First I lost the cellphone Bet and I have been sharing, then I’m pretty sure I gave us cancer by cooking our kielbasa with the plastic wrapper still on. In terms of the day-to-day banalities of living, lately I've been struggling. In an effort to remedy the first problem, though, I stopped at the supermarket by our school to inquire after their lost & found.
“Excuse me,” I said to one of the cashiers, “Do you speak English?”
“Eh? No,” was the reply.
“Alright, do you know if my telephone is here?”
“Eh? No,” she answered.
“Okay, thank you.”
It seemed dumb to give up so easily, especially since I guessed she was blowing me off. My pronunciation is horrendous and understanding me takes some work, work that she’s not being paid to put in, especially when customers appear in her checkout line.
I did a lap around the store to see if I could find anyone looking more official than a stock boy, but no dice. In the corner by the beer counter there were several employee lockers and some binders with records, and I assumed this was as close as store administration as I was going to get.
“Excuse me!” I tapped one of the security guys on the shoulder. “Do you know if my telephone is here?” I could tell by the look on his face that he couldn’t understand my mangled Russian, so I whipped out my translator and showed him a phrase I hoped said “Lost telephone.”
He looked at it, still uncomprehending, and another security guard came over and joined him, speaking to him rapidly, maybe explaining what I was asking. He turned to me and said . . . something. I recognized one word: go.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Russian. I need to know, my phone here, or not here?”
He shrugged his shoulders and moved to the aid of one of the cashiers who was calling him, saying to me, “No.” The other security guard smiled at me. “English?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered with a sigh and gathered my bags. “Good-bye!” he called after me, and even in my defeat I smiled at his effort.
Riding home that night on the bus with Bet’s student Rakhat I shared with him my fruitless story. I repeated what I had tried to say to the store employees and asked him if it was correct. “Actually, I think your Russian is okay,” he said. Positively incredulous I asked him, “Why?!” He answered, “Because you know how to ask where is my telephone!”
It truly is the little victories.