You Got a Second

by Reva Zerkalo

“There's daytime and there's nightwatchman-time.


“We have the Number One Rule - kill time without checking every two minutes to see how dead she is. Don't slip into the habit of watching the clock, if you get the habit, the hands'll stop running and it will be 3:00am forever. As the Poet says, the second hand deals time like a nightwatchman playing solitaire.


“Here, some elementary do's and don'ts to a cup of tea: pour out any remaining water in the kettle, fill it up and turn it on. Wander around looking for a cup, inspect the inside, read someone else's fortune in the tea dregs - the poor bastard - and rinse his bad luck down the drain. Open some containers to find the tea. After you've found it, go through the rest of the containers, maybe you'll find some instant coffee (there never is). Rummage through the drawers for a teaspoon, maybe your luck is in.


“The tea's measured into the cup and next on the list is to reboil the water. While that's happening, you have some spare time. Don't ruminate on why there's no milk in the refrigerator, it'll only depress you. The tea seeps and you're ready. Don't blow to cool it, that's counterproductive. If you wait patiently 'til it's tepid - you can only guess as to how much time will be killed.


“That's nightwatchman-time for you - you get the idea. Are you listening?


“On my way here I was humbled by a lesson from a master. I take the eleven o'clock bus and change at Agron Street. And next to that bus stop is where you can find Leonid in his cubbyhole behind a barred gate. On duty, guarding someone from something. For the life of me I have no idea how it works but there is one of those electronic displays on the bus stop which tells how long your wait for the bus is. They're really quite accurate so when Leonid asked for a sekondochka I knew I could give him seven minutes before it would be time to go back on my way.


“Leonid felt through one pocket and then the other and managed to retrieve his pencil, which is sharpened from both ends. Twisting the pencil around he reflected on the ends and after some evaluation finally settled on one. He tested the point, first with his forefinger and then with his eye and muttered what I presumed was to be ‘blunt', but which turned out to be blyad. Leonid is Russkiy - a Russian from Novosranks. Then came the big rummage - through both pockets again, at first with both hands and then in a concerted effort, one pocket at a time. He finally extracted his pencil sharpener. It is pinkish and liberated from a pigtailed girl's pencil box.  


“He turned it over in his hands for a bit to find the opening and then turned it for another bit to make absolutely sure he had. Leonid blew into it to free any foreign obstruction. Again for extra good measure onto the blade from the top. Finally he held the sharpener to the moonlight to inspect his handiwork. By then he had lost track of which end of the pencil he intended to sharpen, so with confounded deliberation and another perplexed blyad he blew into the hole once more for safety's sake and mated the pencil with the sharpener. For better or for the Slavic worse.


“I'm not going to tell you if he twists his pencil or twists the sharpener or whether he does both at the same time. Or how many revolutions. What I will tell you, it is done slowly and in deep contemplation. If you had been there you would have held your breath too. Like me. A tattoo on his inner wrist winked and I pointed at it with my eye and asked ‘spetznaz?'. He gave the pencil a couple more precise turns and removed it from the sharpener, tested its point. ‘Da - spetznaz'. Russian Special Forces.


“He blew on the sharpener and put it away. And out came the notebook. A dogeared school exercise book filled with all sorts of stuff. He centered around two or three pages near the middle, dancing them back and forth before deciding which one, and the optimum spot on the page. Then he re-flipped through the whole book page by page, back and front, to make abso-diddly-doodly sure he had decided on a good spot. And then, and only then, ‘nomer telefona' - he asked my number. Ah, so Leonid wanted to talk.


“I relayed it to him digit by digit with him verifying each digit and me verificating his verification. You know how long it took him from his first ‘sekondochka' to getting a seven digit phone number? It was a work of art. The display on the bus stop was my electronic timekeeper. From start to finish he managed to kill seven-plus minutes. That's an average of under one digit a minute. Leonid is a professional. With all that spetznaz training under his belt I'm not surprised. My number thirteen bus turned the corner and came down the bend right on time. And just in time, saving me from handing over the last digit. Which is a good thing because that would be breaking the Number Two Rule.


“Number Two Rule. On no account, ever, open up channels of communication with a nightwatchman. I'll give it to you from the hip. Mixing a Russian with an African metaphor - he'll knock his teapot until the cows come home. Any-thing and any-how, to kill time. It's pretty jaw-dropping the utter rubbish some people can come up with. You hear that?


“I see you're anxious to go. Let's brew a quick cup of tea before you do. I'll put water on to boil.”