Night. A knock at the door.
Two Kyrgyz men in black uniforms and black jackets. The shorter one introduces them both as being police officers, in moderate English.
I ask to see some identification. The guy doing the talking takes out a badge in a wallet. The tall one looks on, silent. The badge is all in Cyrillic and I don’t recognise the insignia. Why would I? He puts it in a pocket before I work out what the Cyrillic says.
He asks if I’m someone else. I say I’m not, and introduce myself. He asks if the someone else lives here, because they need to ask him some questions. I say he doesn’t. I say I’ve never heard that name before.
He asks who lives here. I say just me. He asks what I’m doing in Bishkek. I say what I’m doing. He asks about the two companies I work for. I say what they do. The tall one looks on, silent.
By chance, I’m wearing a t-shirt of the Kyrgyz flag. Smiling deliberately now, I point to this while explaining about the two companies I work for, which pretty much promote Central Asia to the West as a fascinating place to visit, and perhaps do business in. My nondescript Southern Standard English accent mutates into that of an enthusiastically cheerful PG Wodehouse character. It seems like a good idea at the time.
He asks who owns the property, and is the owner available. I say no, it’s just me that lives here. I say the owner is the also the owner of the newspaper – using the Russian word gazeta – I work for. I say I think he’s abroad right now. Smile.
The tall one sniffs and looks at me. He asks when the owner will be back.
So, he speaks English.
I say I don’t know. I say I just sell advertising and write stories and don’t see the owner very much. I hand the tall one a business card and ask him to phone the office in the morning, as they might know, and might have an overseas phone number for him. He glances at it and looks at me.
The shorter one says okay, we go now. I smile and hold out a hand to shake. They aren’t expecting this, and look rather awkward while we shake hands and I say it was nice to have met them and apologise for not being able to help them further. Close the door.
They didn’t ask for my passport.
All Kyrgyz police ask for Westerners’ passports. It’s what they do. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get them back.
With both employers abroad, I phone a friend in the city. He asks about the badge. He doesn’t believe they were police. He tells me not to open the door again at night. Ever. Difficult when the football-obsessed Kyrgyz chap who mops the stairs comes knocking at all hours, wanting a few som in payment while updating me on how Ipswich Town FC, my team, are doing.
A glass of Scotch.
A few days later, a Sunday, I go to Osh Bazaar down the road. A friend had recommended this whenever things look a bit bleak. A couple of hours of tea, terrifying meat and technicolour clothes, while trying out halting Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Turkish and Russian to some amused bewilderment, does wonders.
I go home and even switch on the ancient television set, with its broken controls that limit viewing to a single channel of incomprehensible talk shows stuck on maximum volume.
They never phone the office.