Visibly exhausted, the taxi driver looks at me through the side window like an owl. After a short meditation break, he bends over and opens the passenger door. His face has high cheekbones and seems emaciated, his eyes seem big, he wears a baseball cap and his thin body is in a jogging suit. I estimate his age at about 40 years. I’m not sure if he’s sober. I ask him if he can take me to the city center of Odessa. He mumbles something incomprehensible, I ask him again. Finally, he instructs me with a hand gesture to sit on the passenger seat. I inquire about the price of the trip. He says it costs 150 hryvna (about 5 euros), I agree. He brings his seat in the upright position laboriously and after several attempts, the engine starts.
The car is in a miserable condition. With about 80 kilometers per hour we rumble over the bad roads, the shock absorbers beat in almost every bump. When a traffic light turns red in about a distance of hundred meters, he starts to brake. It rumbles terribly, the brakes of the desolate vehicle go completely on iron. He asks me if I can pay him straight away, he does not have much fuel in the tank anymore. I hand him a 200-hryvna note and let him know that he can keep the rest. He thanks me warmly. I can feel his joy over the risible tip of 50 hryvna. We start talking, his name is Andrej. He wants to know what I’m doing out there. I’m just telling him that I was in a nightclub. Whether I’m from Odessa, he asks. I explain to him that I am from Germany. He smiles, shows his bad teeth. But at least he still has some.
He begins to swarm about Germany, clean and intact roads, beautiful cars and a better life. I ask him if he has ever been to Germany. He says that he cannot afford that. He feels exhausted, working all day, earns too little. I believe him, he is an honest man, scarred from a hard life. On the center console hangs a picture of him and a young woman. He brakes under squeaks and groans, steers his taxi around train tracks and deep potholes. There certainly would not be anything like that in Germany, he notes. I agree. I don’t want to destroy his image of paradise. As we approach the center, his navigation system takes him wrong, he gets lost, does not find the hotel.
Finally through a side street, I can see the lights of the boulevard and know where we are. I ask him to stop at an intersection, because I can take the last two hundred meters by feet. Before I get out, I put a few more notes to him and he can hardly believe his luck, thanks me exuberantly, calls me a brother. I would have liked to give him more, but I do not know how much money more I’ll need that night. We say goodbye and I make my way to the hotel. On the way I meet the crutch beggar, he does not pay any attention to me. I’m fine with it. Finally on the fourth floor, at the reception of our hotel, I realize that Kristina is on duty today.
I am relieved to see her, because I got the impression that she is beeing nobody’s fool and certainly knows what to do. I’ll tell her what happened. She shows up two possibilities for me. Either she could call the police, but it may take two hours for someone to come. Besides, police could be corrupt here. Well, who would have thought that? The alternative would be to call the hotel security, a kind of organized private police. Then I would have the opportunity to go back to the club with some of these guys. I choose the second option. She picks up the phone and calls, I take place on a couch opposite the reception and wait. About five minutes later, she informs me that my companion is here. On the surveillance screen, she can see him coming up in the elevator; he has two guys in tow.
The sliding door of the elevator opens and I am relieved to see Rudi. Behind him, the gorilla from the nightclub enters the lobby followed by another guy who’s holding a card terminal in his hand. I recognize him again. He’s one of the men who tried to stop me. A gaunt guy with piercing eyes, he looks like a real baddie. Apparently Rudi has managed in the meantime to push the price to 16000 hryvna. Allegedly, the girls had paid half the drought let us know pretentiously. That’s a lie, of course. I correct him about the girls have paid nothing, because they are part of the fraud. Rudi was smart, he told them that he has no money and his credit card is in the hotel. The gaunt insists him to get the card, I tell him in German, he should leave his time.
While we wait for Rudi I’m silent, because I have nothing to talk about with these criminals. They stare at me stupidly, apparently they did not expect me to be here yet. Rudi appears again and tries several times to pay the 16000 hryvna by credit card, but this cannot work because his card has a limit. He mimes the unsuspecting and plays on time. Shortly thereafter, the elevator goes again. The door opens and spits out three brawny guys. Our security is here. Their leader is a well-trained guy with short-cropped hair. The appearance of his combat boots resounds on the tiled floor and he wears a bulletproof vest over his black uniform. He is about my age, I estimate him on 100 kilograms living combat mass. He looks really proficient, a guy I would not like to mess with.
I can tell from the gorilla’s face that he did not count with. He is on foreign territory and has nothing to say here. The baddie seems searching for words a moment. Kristina takes over the talking and clarifies the security people about the situation. They want to see the photo of the bill I shot. I pass my smartphone around, they argue with each other, laugh, shake their heads. A clear sign that these guys are on our side. The elevator door opens again and two more men step out, they are also part of our security. Their colleagues inform them about the situation. The baddie started talking on the phone, obviously with his boss. The gorilla stays stupid in the corner and suddenly he does not seem so powerful anymore.
Slowly seems to dawn on them, that the rip-off number will probably not work as they have imagined. After some further discussion they suddenly want only 8000 hryvna. Rudi should go with them to the ATM and withdraw the sum. I take the talking and make clear that Rudi goes nowhere. I say that we only pay for what we have really ordered. The gaunt calls again, finally he disappears with his card terminal in the elevator, the gorilla follows him. A few minutes later, the gorilla returns with two policemen, the baddie stays disappeared. The police and our security greet each other with a handshake. The events are rolled up again, so that the official policemen are informed too.
One of the policemen says we should pay the 8000 hryvna, then it would be done. I say no and quote a price that is below. The gorilla shakes his head, the policemen give themselves helpless, one speaks in his radio. Another few minutes later another policeman enters the lobby. A young man with a soft face, his shoulders are decorated with badges. Obviously, he is the boss of the other policemen. There are now twelve people staying around in the small lobby. Again, the situation is rolled out, he also wants to see the photo of the bill. The discussion turns in circles, the gorilla wants to get 8000 hryvna, I stay tough and say we pay nothing that we did not order. The upper policeman talks to Kristina, then he starts questioning about our integrity.
I’m just about losing my patience. I am tired, unnerved and my Russian is over its limits. In English I declare loudly to that punch that we support the Ukraine, because we go on vacations here and bring money to this country. That we respect the law, appreciating the hospitable people and like it to be here. I point to the gorilla and say that such mafia scammers bring shame on the reputation of all the honest working people down to the marrow. Outspokenly, I refer to the perfidy of this rip-off scam and add that there is no evidence that we have ordered this goddamn champagne or consumed it. Kristina translates kindly and quotes my statement bluntly in Russian. The upper policeman looks at me with a concerned facial expression. Again they begin to discuss and consult with each other.
After all, the policeman says that we have to pay the 8000 hryvna now or I have to go with them. This should be a good compromise and there is no way around it. Again I stay hard and say no. Then I approach to the officers and tell them to take me with them now. Perplexity is spreading and the local sheriffs are also beginning to realize slowly that I am ready to kick up a big shindy now. The gorilla is calling his boss again and I can hear him making my suggestion. Suddenly he agrees. It seems he prefers to get a little amount instead of nothing. I give Rudi the OK, he digs the money out of his trouser pocket. Of course we pay in euro, because these mutts should change the money by themselves.
The gorilla gets a few notes in the hand, so he finally can piss off. He disappears with the three policemen in the elevator and the situation goes up in smoke. With the rip-off premium it will be probably nothing today and the bribe for the cops will become meager too. From the still present people of security I reap appreciative glances and words of praise. I seem to have impressed them visibly. I shake hands with them all, thank everyone for his support and protection. After a hearty farewell, they disappear in the elevator too. Together we stay at the front desk, talk to Kristina, because thanks and appreciation fee mostly to her.
She certifies that I am a difficult person. I answer that I already know it and that the reason is, why every wife is running away from me. She laughs as if I was joking. My direct german manner has obviously caused quite a bit of irritation. In this country, people seem to address such problems rather discretely. I can deal with it, because my method was successful and the situation was solved in the best possible way within the given framework. When I fall to bed finally, it’s nearly five in the morning. The next few days we want to bring some of the todays saved money to the honest people. Most of the ukrainian population work hard and for little money. The thoughts are still in my head for a long time. I have to think about the people which helped us.
Unfortunately, I also have to think about the bad people. I ask myself, if the stupid crack hooker will get the stick now because of the failed rip-off attempt. Tomorrow I will think about the consequences for these people. Because one thing is for sure, I will not take this. Tomorrow the next unsuspecting victims will be carted into this fucking nightclub. By this also all tourist efforts of the Ukraine will be counteracted scrupulously. In addition, I do not wish to anyone this feeling of helplessness. But at least I can’t say that I would have no experience in Odessa. After all, sleep finally overcomes me.
Translation from the german original version by Rabotnik