Context: In the 1930s, Satan appears in Moscow with an entourage. One of them is Behemoth - an enormous demonic black cat. A little earlier, Behemoth visited Prokhor Petrovich, the chairman of the Commission on Spectacles and Entertainment of the Lighter.
Vassily Stepanovich the accountant had two urgent tasks to perform. Firstly to go to the Commission for Theatrical Spectacles and Light Entertainment with a report on the previous day's events and then to deposit yesterday's takings of 21,711 roubles at the Commission's finance department.
The meticulous and efficient Vassily Stepanovich wrapped the money in newspaper, tied it up with string, put it into his briefcase and following his standing instructions avoided taking a bus or tram but went instead to the nearby taxi-rank.
As soon as the three cab-drivers on the rank saw a fare approaching with a chock-full briefcase under his arm, all three of them instantly drove off empty, scowling back as they went. Amazed, the accountant stood for a while wondering what this odd behaviour could mean. After about three minutes an empty cab drove up the the rank, the driver grimacing with hostility when he saw his fare.
'Are you free? ' asked Vassily Stepanovich with an anxious cough.
'Show me your money,' snarled the driver.
Even more amazed, the accountant clutched his precious briefcase under one arm, pulled a ten-rouble note out of his wallet and showed it to the driver.
'I'm not taking you,' he said curtly.
'Excuse me, but . . .' The accountant began, but the driver interrupted him:
'Got a three-rouble note? '
The bewildered accountant took out two three-rouble notes from his wallet and showed them to the driver.
'O.K., get in,' he shouted, slamming down the flag of his meter so hard that he almost broke it. ' Let's go.'
'Are you short of change? ' enquired the accountant timidly.
'Plenty of change! ' roared the driver and his eyes, reddened with fury, glared at Vassily Stepanovich from the mirror. ' Third time it's happened to me today. Just the same with the others. Some son of a bitch gives me a tenner and I give him four-fifty change. Out he gets, the bastard! Five minutes later I look--instead of a tenner there's a label off a soda-water bottle! ' Here the driver said several unprintable words. 'Picked up another fare on Zaborskaya. Gives me a tenner--I give him three roubles change. Gets out. I look in my bag and out flies a bee! Stings me on the finger! I'll . . .' The driver spat out more unprintable words. ' And there was no tenner. There was a show on at that (unprintable) Variety yesterday evening and some (unprintable) conjurer did a turn with a lot of (unprintable) ten-rouble notes . . .'
The accountant was dumbstruck. He hunched himself up and tried to look as if he was hearing the very word ' Variety ' for the first time in his life as he thought to himself: ' Well I'm damned! '
Arrived at his destination and paying in proper money, the accountant went into one building and hurried along the corridor to the chief cashier's office, but even before he reached it he realised that he had come at a bad moment. A rumpus was going on in the offices of the Theatrical Commission. A cleaner ran past him with her headscarf awry and bulging eyes.
'He's not there! He's not there, dear,' she screamed, turning to another man hurrying along the passage. ' His jacket and trousers are there but there's nobody in 'em! '
She disappeared through a door, from which there at once came the sound of smashing crockery. Vassily Stepanovich then saw the familiar figure of the chief cashier come running out of the secretaries' office and vanish, but the man was in such a state that he failed to recognise Vasilly Stepanovich.
Slightly shaken, the accountant reached the door of the secretaries' office, which was the ante-room to the chairman's office, where he had the greatest shock of all.
Through the far door came a terrible voice, unmistakably belonging to Prokhor Petrovich, the chairman of the Commission.
'I suppose he's telling somebody off,' thought the puzzled accountant. Looking round, he saw something else--there, in a leather armchair, her head resting on the back, sobbing uncontrollably and clutching a wet handkerchief, her legs stretched out to the middle of the floor, lay Prokhor Petrovich's secretary, the beautiful Anna Richardovna. Her chin was smeared with lipstick and streaks of dissolved mascara were running down her peach-skin cheeks.
Seeing him come in, Anna Richardovna jumped up, ran to Vassily Stepanovich, clutched his lapels and began to shake him, howling:
'Thank God! At least there's one of you brave enough! They've all run away, they've all let us down! Come and see him, I don't know what to do! '
Still sobbing she dragged him into the chairman's office.
Once inside Vassily Stepanovich dropped his briefcase in horror.
Behind the huge desk with its massive inkwell sat an empty suit. A dry pen was hurrying, unheld, across a sheet of paper. The suit had a shirt and tie, a fountain pen was clipped in its breast-pocket, but above the collar there was no neck and no head and there were no wrists protruding from the cuffs. The suit was hard at work and oblivious of the uproar round about. Hearing someone come in, the suit leaned back in its chair and from somewhere just above the collar came the familiar voice of Prokhor Petrovich:
'What is it? There's a notice on the door saying that I'm not seeing visitors.'
The beautiful secretary moaned and cried, wringing her hands :
'Don't you see? He's not there! Bring him back, oh bring him back!'
Someone peeped round the door, groaned and flew out again. Vassily
Stepanovich felt his legs shaking and he sat down on the edge of a chair--not forgetting, though, to hold on to his briefcase. Anna Richardovna pranced round Vassily Stepanovich, pulling at his coat and shrieking :
'I've always, always stopped him whenever he began swearing! Now he's sworn once too often!' The girl ran to the desk and exclaimed in a tender, musical voice, slightly nasal from so much weeping: ' Prosha dear, where are you? '
'Who are you addressing as " Prosha "? ' enquired the suit haughtily, drawing further back into the chair.
'He doesn't recognise me! He doesn't recognise me! Don't you see? ' sobbed the girl.
'Kindly stop crying in my office!' said the striped suit irritably, stretching out its sleeve for a fresh pile of paper.
'No, I can't look, I can't look! ' cried Anna Richardovna and ran back into her office, followed, like a bullet, by the accountant.
'Just imagine--I was sitting here,' began Anna Richardovna trembling with horror and clutching Vassily Stepanovich's sleeve, ' when in came a cat. A great black animal as big as Behemoth. Naturally I shooed it out and it went, but then a fat man came in who also had a face like a cat, said "Do you always say ' shoo ' to visitors?" and went straight in to Prokhor Petrovich. So I shouted " What d'you mean by going in there --have you gone crazy? " But the cheeky brute marched straight in to Prokhor Petrovich and sat down in the chair facing him. Well, Prokhor is the nicest man alive, but he's nervous. He lost his temper. He works like a trojan, but he's apt to be nervy and he just flared up. "Why have you come in here without being announced? " he said. And then, if you please, that impudent creature stretched out in his chair and said with a smile : " I've come to have a chat with you on a little matter of business." Prokhor Petrovich snapped at him again: " I'm busy," to which the beast said: " You're not busy at all. How d'you like that?" Well, of course, Prokhor Petrovich lost all patience then and shouted: " What is all this? Damn me if I don't have you thrown out of here! " The beast just smiled and said: " Damn you, I think you said? Very well! " And--bang! Before I could even scream, I looked and cat-face had gone and there was this . . . suit . . . sitting . . . Oooooh! '
Stretching her mouth into a shapeless cavity Anna Richardovna gave a howl. Choking back her sobs she took a deep breath but could only gulp nonsensically:
'And it goes on writing and writing and writing! I must be going off my head! It talks on the telephone! The suit! They've all run away like rabbits! '
Vassily Stepanovich could only stand there, trembling.
About the book:
One spring afternoon, the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow. Mikhail Bulgakov's fantastical, funny, and devastating satire of Soviet life combines two distinct yet interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient Jerusalem, each brimming with historical, imaginary, frightful, and wonderful characters.
A revolutionary book, The Master and Margarita became a literary phenomenon, signaling artistic and spiritual freedom for Russians everywhere.
Snippet from Station Eleven
- Emily St. John Mandel
Snippet from The Buried Giant
- Kazuo Ishiguro