domingo, 21 de janeiro de 2018

Ruban wasn't fastidious and never refused gifts: a shabby suit, old boots, he would accept them gratefully, although he could immediately drink them away. He drank every day. In large quantities. Vodka was good, but there were also drinks that weren't sold in the wine sections of department stores. He didn't bother with snacks, but often drank on an empty stomach. He drank with anyone who would agree to it. Some paid this way for lessons, some for blitz games, and others just for the company and conversation of a chess player who had once been well-known. Once he won a prize in Minsk and bought his mother a present, but he never managed to get it home as he drank away the money and the present.

His nervous system was completely worn out, he was prone to mood swings and frequently couldn't control himself. One time he went into the Minsk chess club and started a row, recalling the past and shouting obscenities at a master who had been involved in his disqualification back in 1959. He was already a completely changed, scruffily dressed, filthy, flabby, broken man. This is how Leningraders who saw Ruban in Grodno at the end of the eighties remember him. He could question them for hours about the city where he'd spent his brightest years, and he would reminisce about chess, or rather, his chess acquaintances.

Ruban lived in a small two-bedroom apartment with his elderly mother on her miserable pension in complete, overwhelming poverty. The rumour about his participation in some kind of 'business' during this period is not true, unless you want to use the word to describe his activity of selling at the market utensils that someone had brought from Poland in order to immediately drink away his share of the earnings that same evening. A couple of times he played in some opens in Poland, as Grodno is just a stone's throw away from the border, but his best years were long gone, his health was utterly destroyed, and although he was only a little over fifty then, his life had almost all been lived.

Eventually, drunk, he was hit by a car. They took him to hospital. His condition was critical for two weeks, then he began to recover, but suddenly he died. His mother had no money for a funeral; it was paid for by the woman who had been driving the car that hit him. There was no one to bury him, either. None of his former drinking buddies could find the time, so the coffin containing his body was carried by Vladimir Veremeichik and three of his pupils from the local chess school.

After his death the former director of the local drama theatre came to Grodno. By then he was living in the United States and said that Ruban's play had been published there and apparently even performed somewhere; he wanted to give a royalty to Zhenya's mother, but it was too late. In St.Petersburg the Krylya (Wings) association, which campaigns on behalf of sexual minorities, is now based at a short distance from the Chigorin Club, where Ruban went so often.

Hesiod said he would rather have died sooner or been born later. Who knows what Zhenya Ruban's fate would have been if he had been born in a different country, or in the same country thirty years or so later? Thirty years is only an instant for immortal Kronos, but it's almost everything when you talk about the life of an adult. Would he have been a philosopher, as he had wanted to be all his life? A historian? A writer? A chess player? No one knows. We don't choose our times, we live and die in them. As did Ruban.


Genna Sosonko, "Smart Chip From St. Petersburg and other tales from a bygone chess era"
New in Chess, 2006