Natalya is from the Ukraine. This month she works, alongside me, at the variety theatre in Hannover. She is part of a double act that chiefly involves her partner Sergei ogling various parts of her body, while she catches him. Oh, and somersaults. It's weird, but in a good way, and funny. As is Natalya.
She speaks very little English, but has learned the word "Employees" from the script of our show (I shout it at the climax of a gag towards the end of the show). She clearly enjoys saying this word, and now uses it to mean everything. I walk through the door and she hugs me hello with a happy "Employees!". She catches me going out for a run wearing shorts and lets out a lecherous "Employees!". We have a drink after the show and toast each other with a clink of glasses and an "Employees!". It's very funny, and linguistically seems to completely work.
She comes to me in my dressing room clutching a school type exercise book, sits down next to me and opens it flat on the table. It is full of carefully handwritten words in Ukrainian together with their English translations. She wants me to help her with her pronunciation. Of course. No problem. We go through her list and she's mainly a lot better than she thinks, and is clearly working very hard on it. The more we go through her book the more it hits me. These words are her life distilled. The list is a collection of haiku that describe her life. Her day to day existence boiled down to bare essentials.
write me please
I find it profoundly moving, but , of course, am completely unable to communicate this to her, although I think she understands as she lets me copy the above words into my laptop.
Later on that evening she finds me backstage, grabs me urgently and says - in perfect and careful English - "I like vegetables". I smile broadly and reply that I, too, like vegetables. remembering that the word "Macaroni" was in her book, I ask "Do you like macaroni?", a happy grin spreads across her face, "Yes! I very like macaroni!"
We go bowling. Most of the performers and most of the staff of the venue. We have cocktails and it is fun. More fun, the more cocktails we have. Sven, the be-muscled performing partner of Roma, takes it quite seriously and is, to be fair, very good. He strides up to the lane holding the heaviest ball like a grape, sends it screaming towards the pins at blistering speed, shattering them into broken pieces of whatever pins are made out of. He turns, high-fives some of us (non-ironically - remember, he's German), and sits down as the scoreboard lights up another strike.
Natalya, however, has a slightly different approach. Not having bowled before, her chosen tactic is to cradle the ball like a handbag, run at the lane as fast as she can, before letting it fall in the general direction of the pins. Her first attempt always - always - finds the left gutter. But her second, due to the strange laws of physics and luck that seem only to apply to drunken ball games, usually finds it's target. This is, though, of little interest to Natalya, who seems only to concern herself with the increasingly complex series of celebratory or consolatory dance routines delivered with gusto after she has released her ball. These include, but are not limited to: Kissing her biceps, moonwalking, and dropping into a splits, before realising that her pants are too tight and yelling "Trousers! Employees!"