Summary and Analysis: Chapter 18
Poplavsky: Berlioz’s uncle.
Andrei Fokich Sokov: Barman at the Variety Theatre.
Kuzmin: A doctor who treats Sokov’s ailment.
Berlioz’s uncle, Poplavsky, arrives in Moscow hoping to gain occupancy of his nephew’s former apartment. Finding that Bosoy is not in, he decides to head up to apartment 50, where he encounters Koroviev and Behemoth and learns from Koroviev that Behemoth sent the telegram informing Poplavsky of Berlioz’s demise. Behemoth demands to see Poplavsky’s passport and tells him he isn’t allowed at Berlioz’s funeral and that he should go back to Kiev and lie low. Azazello enters, hits Poplavsky with a chicken, and throws his suitcase down the stairway. Poplavsky makes his way downstairs and encounters an old, melancholy man. He tells the man where apartment 50 is, watches the man go upstairs to the apartment, then watches the man run back downstairs and out of the building. This man, Andrei Fokich Sokov, is barman at the Variety. A beautiful, nearly naked woman lets him into the apartment where he meets Woland and Behemoth. He encounters difficulties with them before asking Woland about the fake bills, which have caused Sokov to lose 109 rubles from making change for false bills at the bar. A voice from the apartment’s adjacent room reveals that Sokov has 249,000 rubles and 200 ten-ruble gold pieces, and a scared Sokov finds the fake bills have turned back into real ten-ruble notes.
The voice also predicts Sokov will die of liver cancer next February, and Sokov runs out of the house and heads to a specialist in liver diseases. Believing the prophecy is true, he asks Professor Kuzmin for help. Kuzmin dismisses Sokov as a schizophrenic crook, but when a dancing sparrow flies onto his desk, Kuzmin becomes light-headed and dizzy. After seeing a nurse with a man’s mouth and a fang at his desk, he goes to bed for some much-needed rest.
Poplavsky’s base reason for coming to Moscow is another example of how Woland draws out characters’ inner desires. He, like the theatergoers, is punished for pursuing his desire. The Variety’s barman, Sokov, displays more courage than most of those who have encountered Woland. Perhaps this courage comes from his God-fearing nature, but it does not keep him from being frightened by the exposure of his own currency hoarding, or the prediction that he will die of liver cancer. Sokov, unlike Berlioz, takes the prediction seriously. But the doctor dismisses Sokov’s fears as mere phantasms. Kuzmin encounters the same problem of fake magic show money the taxicabs had dealt with, and he, like Varenukha before him, has a frightening encounter with a dead woman. The meaning of the sparrow’s appearance is somewhat obscure. However, sparrows have already appeared in the novel, and it seems plausible that they represent higher powers, whether for good or for bad. Certainly this sparrow only deepens Kuzmin’s troubles.