How do you live?

When everything is a little communal

Since the late 1990s, my family had been living — on sufferance — in an old communal apartment in Novosibirsk, and after we were evicted my mother somehow managed to get us a place in a municipal shared accommodation. So we moved from a communal apartment, large but rather cramped for five people, into two rooms, one of which became our kitchen and living room, and the other our hall and children’s room.

The nine-square-meter children’s room was just big enough for us to squeeze in a bunk bed for my brothers, a small folding couch for me and a table for doing homework, but not much else. Paradoxically, it turned out to have enough room for up to 15 of my punk and role-player friends who liked to come over after our meetings under the bridge near the Ob River. All frozen and smelling like campfire (or even, some of us, like a bottle of port), we drank impossible amounts of tea and listened to the great Siberian band “Grazhdanskaya Oborona” and to Yanka Dyagileva. My stoic mother endured Yegor Letov’s rasping vocals and even tolerated the collection of dirty shit-kickers and fiberglass swords and battleaxes in the hall — so long as her teenage daughter wasn’t hanging out in the back streets. Just once she timidly asked my friends to bring their own tea.

This building had a women’s toilet on the second floor, and a men’s toilet on the third floor — both with doors that never closed. There was also a shared shower room in the basement, which was quite close to how I’ve always imagined the interiors of a post-apocalyptic civilization would look like: rusty pipes, broken tiles on the floor, wooden footways to the cubicles and fat slugs on the walls.

The communal apartment and later the shared accommodation had given me the gift of being content with small spaces, including personal space, and taught me not to be afraid of people — all kinds of people around me — as well as to better understand what made them like this. We had this neighbor on our floor, for example, this termagant who was not really old, but very tired, and who used to regularly make a fuss over the mess in the kitchen. But she couldn’t help quarreling with her housemates as her husband drank and beat her now and again, her younger son used soft drugs and was likely to switch over to hard ones soon enough, and her daughter already had a bun in the oven, which meant one more mouth to feed. Could you really blame her for flying off the handle because of a dirty sink?

It was this communal life that gave me my first real friends, too. We had just moved in when I started to notice a cute young outsider from the second floor. We used to bump into each other downstairs near the shared telephone, which I’d been using to call my boyfriend, and he to ring his girl. At that time mobile phones were still a novelty, and the janitor was kind enough to let us use this telephone, but only for three minutes — not much time to talk of love, wouldn’t you agree? So that’s how me and Lyosha came to know each other. We started to meet on the emergency stairs to smoke in secret, play guitar and sing songs to each other, enjoying the wonderful acoustics of the place.

It was on this staircase that I dumped my bloodstained towels after cutting my wrists because of a broken heart. It was just that my neighbor Lyosha wasn’t home so I didn’t have a shoulder to cry on, and my teenage despair (I was sure that I would never, never love again, and no-one would ever love me) drove me to pick the blades out of my father’s razor and… When Lyosha found out he got very mad and drove me to his surgeon friend, who decided against stitching my rather deep cuts as it was already too late for that, but advised me to just drink vodka next time.

It was also on this very staircase that I had been sitting, singing to myself, when suddenly some grown-up came down from the fourth floor and said to me: “You’ve got a nice voice.” For the whole evening we listened to “Piknik”, a band that somehow provided a connection between a seventeen-year-old girl and a forty-year-old man. We didn’t want to go and buy cigarettes so I stole a pack of “Yava” from my mother. He told me about his failed family and the children that would not acknowledge their own father. I told him about my fear of failing my university entrance exams.
Such a thing could only happen in shared accommodation — apartment buildings alien people from one another, and neighbors don’t greet one another even in the elevators. In shared accommodation, however, everything is a little communal: a staircase, a kitchen, a shower room, and even our fate. Nevertheless, we didn’t speak after that one time, and a month later he was dead of a heart attack.

© Margarita Loginova

Margarita Loginova

I’m a journalist of the informational and analytical portal “” and a mother as well. I write about people, I’m fond of poetry and of going on the business trips.


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