Chapter 18 - "The Luckless Visitors"
Maxamilian Andreyevich Poplavsky, Berlioz's uncle, is arriving in Moscow from Kiev after receiving a confusing telegram from Berlioz, stating that he had just been run over. Maxamilian Andreyevich hurries to Moscow not to attend his nephew's funeral, but because he is interested in inheriting the now vacant apartment on Sadovaya in Moscow.
He arrives at the office of the house management of No. 302-b Sadovaya on Friday afternoon, but the man who greets him cannot answer him when he asks for the chairman. Another man enters and the two leave together, so Poplavsky heads up to apartment Number 50 himself. There he is greeted by Koroviev, who feigns devastation at Berlioz's death. Behemoth is also there, in the form of a cat, and claims that it was he who sent Poplavsky the telegram. The fact that he speaks totally discombobulates Poplavsky.
Behemoth demands Poplavsky's passport, rejects it, and calls in Azazello, who tells Poplavsky to leave at once. He throws his valise down the stairs, beats him with a huge roast chicken, and throws both Poplavsky and the chicken down the stairs as well. While Poplavsky sits on a bench on the landing, he is passed by a little old man, also headed to apartment Number 50. Poplavsky runs down to the bottom of the stairs and waits; soon, the little old man runs past with a scratched head and wet trousers.
The narrator explains that the little old man is Andrey Fokich Sokov, the bartender and manager of the buffet at the Variety Theater, who had been curious about where Woland was actually staying. Hella greeted him at the door, completely naked, and when he asks to see the artist, she leads him into the bedroom where Woland is lying in his underwear and slippers. Azazello gets Sokov a stool, but it immediately breaks, spilling red wine all over his pants.
The reason he has come is because the fake money that Woland distributed was used at the bar, and put the bar out a lot of money. Woland informs him that he would have no time to use the money anyway, since he will die of liver cancer in nine months. Sokov is obviously spooked by this prediction. And when he pulls out the fake money to prove his point, it appears to actually be real money. He leaves, confused, and soon finds Behemoth to be inside his hat; the cat slashes his head with its claws.
Sokov runs to the office of Professor Kuzmin, one of the best liver doctors in town, to demand that his cancer be removed. Though Kuzmin does not think he actually has cancer, he sends him to a neuropathologist, Professor Boure, to have tests done. Later that night, Kuzmin discovers that the chervontsy Sokov paid him with has turned into labels from wine bottles. Then an orphaned black kitten appears in their place, with a saucer of milk. He asks Ksenia Kikitishna to take away the kitten and saucer.
All of a sudden, a sparrow appears on the desk, doing the fox trot. Kuzmin is about to call Boure to ask him about the meaning of the sparrow, but soon it leaves a dropping in his ink well and flies away. Instead, he phones the department of leeches and orders some. Immediately a woman appears with a bag labeled "leeches." She is terrifying because she has "a man's mouth, crooked, wide to the ears, with a single fang protruding from it," and she speaks in a "male basso." Clearly she is Azazello, Hella, and Woland combined. Two hours later the professor has applied the leeches to his temples (a common treatment) and is being cared for by Professor Boure.
Maxamilian Andreyevich receives a telegram from Berlioz, stating that he had just been run over. In Chapter 3, Woland called after Berlioz, "Shall I send a telegram at once to your uncle in Kiev?" and Berlioz was confused at how the professor could know he even had an uncle in Kiev. Now it is clear that this was another example of Woland's foresight: he knew about Maxamilian Andreyevich's desire to own an apartment in Moscow, and already arranged for the telegram to be sent.
Throughout this chapter, Bulgakov uses the technique of rhetorical questions. The narrator states that after hearing of his nephew's death, "Maximilian Andreyevich hurried off to Moscow. What could have prompted him to do it? A single reason - the apartment." As Poplavsky runs down the stairs, "It might be asked where he was hurrying. Was it perhaps to the militia, to complain against the bandits who had attacked him so savagely in the middle of the day? No, not at all; that is quite certain."
The narrator is again inconsistent in his knowledge. He states that "No one knows why, but Maximilian Andreyevich disliked Kiev." However, after being confused by the behavior of the house committee, he thinks, "Ah! such a complication! Who would think that they would all... and at the same time..." and the narrator can clearly relate his very thoughts.
Figurative language is used to describe Poplavsky's feelings when he meets Koroviev: "At the same time, however, an unpleasant little cloud darkened his spirit, while the thought flicked like a lizard: what if this good man had already registered for his nephew's apartment?" Fear is again personified when Kuzmin sees the orphaned black kitten: "Kuzmin felt a chill crawling up the back of his neck."
This chapter is punctuated by ironic comments on the narrator's part. When Sokov enters the bedroom where Woland is lying, he thinks "for a fleeting instant that a requiem mass might have been held here for the editor. But he immediately dismissed the thought as patently absurd." It is ironic that this particular suspicion should be classified as absurd, since the actual goings-on in that apartment are far harder to believe. Book One ends with the use of direct address as the narrator declares that, "the time has come for us to go on to the second part of this truthful narrative. Follow me, reader!" It is ironic that he should choose to call the narrative "truthful" at this point, after all the most ridiculous events have taken place.
The theme of the sparrow returns in this chapter, representing the workings of the devil, or the presence of the devil himself. Kuzmin finds a sparrow hopping on his desk, but it is not behaving normally. "The wretched bird limped on its left foot, obviously clowning and dragging it, moving in syncopation - in short, it was dancing a fox trot to to the music of the phonograph like a drunk in a bar, staring at the professor as impudently and provokingly as it could."