Our suspicions mounted when male patrons began getting, to put it delicately, rather intoxicated and smashing dishes with no apparent consequences at 7:30 pm. The waitstaff just hurried over, meekly swept up the pieces and retreated. My travel companion, who was, incidentally, a cop, turned to me and said what we were all thinking: the Russian mafia’s in town.
This encounter was a result of a very simple desire: that of four young people, who had just completed a freezing, nauseating, dizzying trip across the Pamir Highway, for french fries. After being dumped at a hostel in Tajikistan at the end of road we felt entitled to a bit of a treat. So, that evening we picked our way down the mountainside to town on a mission.
The restaurant was dark, smoky, intimately sized, and largely empty. However, we were quickly informed that all the tables were reserved. This changed somehow when a woman sitting in the center of a booth of ladies, all perfectly coiffed in western dress, called over the waitress, whispered in her ear, and decided we could stay. We gratefully thanked this Queen Bee, sensing something strange afoot.
After plates had been smashed, mafia-related conclusions drawn, and an escape plan formulated, we got down to the real business of the night: ordering french fries and of course, some vodka.
A few drinks later, our bellies happily filled, the music began. The ladies stepped onto the floor twirling, stomping and clapping to its rhythm. Watching them, I felt transported, mesmerized. Holding out their hands, they invited us to join them and we eagerly (remember the vodka?) did so, despite the fact that we had no idea how.
But, we learned, communicating by smiles. The Queen Bee demonstrated, taking short, light steps in various directions, twirling and clapping with hands at the level of her eyes. At the same time, the Queen Bee used her immense power for good, keeping the drunk middle-aged mobsters from touching us. She seemed able to control their movements with only stern glances in their direction. I followed her movements one beat behind and stepped and twirled and clapped until my arms were sore and my head was light and I had to sit down.
Eventually, it was time to trudge back up the hill to our beds. We smiled, hugged and thanked our new friends and left. That is, after the waitress produced a key for the door which had been locked from the inside. Apparently, the Russian mafia likes to keep their parties private.