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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Telephonic Tribulations In Communal Quarters

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Twenty years ago most Muscovites lived in communal apartments. There were five families in ours -- a total of 22 people (one toilet, one bathroom, a shared kitchen with a single sink). Workers, military men, doctors and lawyers. The only telephone belonged to my parents, who were doctors. Our neighbors didn't have much need for a phone; if there was any need to call someone or ring for an ambulance, all they had to do was come by and phone from our place.

Nonetheless, one of the residents demanded that our phone be relocated to the corridor so that it would be accessible to everybody. This was done, and the phone never fell silent. One neighbor rang, then another, and then children started messing around with it.

They would find interesting surnames in the directory and call them. Like Lvov, for example. In response to the question "Who's there?" they would say "Tigrov," and burst out laughing.

But there was one lady who never called anyone. One day in the kitchen she said to her neighbor "You yak away on the phone day and night." The other woman, unable to contain herself, fired back "and you don't get any calls at all. You're no use to anyone!" The arguing ladies retreated to their rooms.

Time passed and the argument was forgotten. No one could have suspected, however, that the woman was secretly offended. She took out an ad in the paper: "Will rent apartment to single man, age 30-40, cheap. Call between 3 p.m. and midnight. Ask for Yelena Nikolayevna," and she gave the phone number of our apartment.

From then on Yelena Nikolayevna received calls nonstop, and they were all from young men. The neighbors went out of their minds with curiosity. Yelena Nikolaevna took the phone to her room where nobody could make out her quiet voice, and smiling coyly she would come out into the kitchen, put the kettle on, and shut herself away again in her room. In the evening, dressed smartly, she would go out. Not for long, it has to be said. The womenfolk in the apartment were divided: Some criticized her for her secret conversations with men, while others were happy for her, a plain woman getting on in years.

Soon she was given a one-room apartment and moved out.

"Amazing -- that's what her telephone calls got her," the women said. "Thank God" said everyone else.

However, the young male voices continued to ask for Yelena Nikolayevna for some time. When they learned that she had moved on they expressed dismay.

Recently I bumped into Yelena Nikolayevna on the street. She told me how she wound up the neighbors and we had a good laugh about it.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a journalist and pensioner living in Moscow.