One late summer in Vladivostok I met a man called Emmanuel Yile. He was on placement at the university, researching the properties of a substance he called ‘Vitamin T’. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had been given this assignment for one main reason: it kept him out of the way. I should have known this – Vladivostok is full of such characters; men and women cast adrift from the main stream of life, pushed into the margins: sent into informal exile. I suppose you could say that, all things considered, it isn’t quite a centre of cultural excellence. Then again, you could say a lot of things about Vladivostok, not all of them true.
He approached me in the queue of a cut-price supermarket. I like to think that it was because I possess the palpable aura of a phenomenally remarkable man, but it was probably because I spoke good English. And because I was cradling in my arms a rather large carton of pineapple juice. Why was I doing so? My wife, it turns out, had requested the item in question. Or at least she had asked for orange juice – but, alas, there was none, which explains the recourse to pineapple. Which explains, in turn, the encounter with Yile.
The first thing I noticed were his shoulders. Broad, yet elegant. Powerful, yes, but also graceful. Above all, noticeable. And I speak as a man who isn’t usually drawn to the shoulders of another man. Yile’s shoulders, however, sang loud – they simply refused to be ignored. ‘Here we are,’ they sang: ‘Snub us at your peril’. His was a full figure, granted, but one could never say that he took up too much space. No, if ever a man had earned the right to have an extra pound or two of flesh, Emmanuel Yile was that man. Don’t ask me why – that’s just the way I feel.
From his shoulders I moved upwards, along that noble trunk of a neck to the large and kindly face above. To that soft alluring smile, that charmingly bulging nose and those big sparkling eyes. Wild eyes, maybe, but the kind of wildness that kept you interested, not the sort to scare you off (unless of course you lacked the will to live adventurously). For Yile, it was clear, was not an easy man. And yet he had something that few people have. He had true enthusiasm. That and strangely handsome shoulders.