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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stolen Niva: Not Just a Car, But Real 'Baba'

Not all Russian characters are human. Last week I said goodbye in my heart to Lastochka, my battered white Niva which was stolen in December. I hoped she would come back to me, but now I must accept that she has probably gone forever.


I hated her at first. I used to drive a Volvo and, when I first went out in Lastochka -- literally, swallow -- she seemed as heavy and clumsy as a tank by comparison. I thought she was like one of those terrible Russian battleaxe women who wear arm bands, sit sullenly behind counters and say "nyet" to everything.


But like many of these harridans on closer acquaintance, Lastochka turned out to be a real Russian baba (peasant woman), loyal and golden-hearted. Like so many of these Russian women, she was also horribly abused by Russian men.


The abuse evidently started at the factory where she was produced. The workers on the conveyor belt must have been drunk for she came into the world with a cracked engine, firing on only three of her four cylinders. The string of dumb and dishonest mechanics who manhandled her subsequently only wrecked her health further.


Of course it did not help that I allowed my friend Venyamin to learn to drive in Lastochka. He must hold a world record for the length of time it took him to master the art of bringing up the clutch while pressing on the accelerator. We went through several clutch plates before he became a smooth driver.


And Lastochka did not help herself. Like most Russian babas, she enjoyed a drink. She preferred good liquor but would consume almost anything, often petrol diluted with water.


Yet Lastochka never, ever let me down. Once, on the way back from Kolomna in the Moscow region, she was coughing and belching alarmingly and I expected her to break down on the dark road. She took me all the way to my doorstep before she died. Edik, the last and most loving of her mechanics, had to come and tow her away for repairs.


Another time, Venyamin and I were driving at night from northern Russia. We drove in shifts but Venyamin was so tired he was seeing large white mushrooms through the rear-view mirror, and I was hallucinating too. Lastochka herself drove us home, saving us from the fate of a Finnish truck driver we saw in the ditch after he fell asleep at the wheel.


Lastochka was lost because of the malicious stupidity of the boys from Moscow's police station No. 88. I told you how they stopped me in early December and harassed a Latvian passenger traveling with me. I was so angry that when the encounter was over, I rolled up the side window too violently and broke the winding handle. After that, the window kept slipping down when the car was parked. Lastochka was exposed and it was too good an invitation for thieves to miss.


Police inspector Konstantin Zolotukhin, as gray as the ash dribbling from his cigarette, was supremely uninterested. A few hours after the theft, he said it was too late to do much about it. I comforted myself with the thought that Lastochka would break down for the thieves but it seems the girl would go with anyone.


Now I am looking for a replacement. I have fantasies that through the pages of Iz Ruk v Ruki, the classified ads which are said to be full of stolen goods, I might find Lastochka once more. But this is sentimental. I must forget her and drive again. If anyone has a Niva for sale, please ring the paper and let me know.