Elena was bursting with excitement. 2006 was here! She had only a few weeks left to wait, until the moment she and Meg were scanning the crowd searching for each other in Borispol airport!
It was inconceivable to Elena. Too good to be true. She couldn't believe, it was happening to her! She lived with the assumption that life was tedious, dismal and awful. That there was no way one could be happy with her life. What was happening with her, was showing Elena just the opposite! It was way out of the ordinary. It was phenomenal! She felt elated and alive. She wanted to experience everything there was. She discovered, she was curious about the world. To top it all of, she didn't doubt herself any more and she loved herself. In Elena's world, how she felt was inconceivable. She was breaking all Russian rules of self-hatred and self-denial. Loving Meg, loving herself and making steps towards her own happiness turned her into a radical.
Elena was finally free of Dmitry! He was no longer in Ivanovo. The first week of January was her time to heal. She was safe for the moment. Olga left her alone. With Dmitry out of reach, there was nothing else Elena could do, but wait for her sweetheart's return.
Those were great days. Elena ate the treats, the cake Olga baked and enjoyed all sorts of liquor they bought for the holidays. She installed the artificial fir-tree their family had for years and decorated it with her favorite ornaments. Her father gave her his New Year's present -- a flat screen monitor. Elena was touched. She needed the new monitor badly. The old one was a small and ancient CRT. Writing letters to Meg and reading her emails became way more pleasant.
Still, Elena knew, she couldn't get comfortable. She had to buy a plane ticket for the flight from Moscow to Kiev and arrange her time off with the boss of her department. Most importantly, she had to remain strong in spirit and she couldn't make a single mistake. Any accident, miscalculation, or underestimation of her enemies led to her downfall. Elena had to keep up with the acting. People around her had to believe, she was planning her life with Dmitry and her female pen pal from Canada was her destruction from boredom, at best.
Elena could hardly think of the plane ticket to Kiev, so much the idea of it thrilled her. It was her very first step to making her trip to Meg real! With the ticket in her hand, she also would be presenting Olga with the fact, not asking her for approval of the trip. So far, Elena succeed at convincing her mother, that Meg in no way threatened her ownership and control of her. Her, actually taking steps towards her meeting Meg, would certainly trigger Olga's alarms, but there was no way around it. Elena had to do it. She had to be standing in Borispol airport in just six weeks!
Life of a subversive made Elena a good judge of character. Her future depended on it. Tanka, one of the two girlfriends she was going to skate with on the day she was buying her plane ticket, she knew, was dangerous. She had no respect for Elena, though her a dork and would be only happy to blab her secret to the world. Elena had to be especially careful with that one.
"So, how are things with you and Dmitry?" Tanka asked Elena on the ice.
"You know..." Elena had no idea what to say. "We are fine."
"Oh come on! Did you set the date already? When will I be partying at your wedding?"
Elena couldn't believe, Tanka was so blind. Why was she so sure, that Elena wanted to be with Dmitry? Aside from her reluctant dating Dmitry, Elena showed no signs of interest towards him. She was as excited about him, as she would be about her teeth being pulled out.
Tanka was surprised to learn, that Elena wasn't tying the knot with Dmitry. She was convinced, their wedding was just a matter of time. In her eyes, Elena had no reason to fail. Unlike Tanka, she was slender. She had all the resources needed, to secure herself a man.
They were done with skating. It was way too dangerous. The place was an open area, that some crook filled up with water and charged people money for skating on it. Huge potholes in the ice and goofy teenage boys constantly crashing into each other made it impossible to skate.
The third girlfriend went her way. It was just Tanka and Elena walking.
Elena thought, it was ironic, that she, the one who couldn't stand the idea of doing anything with young men, had one perusing her. While Tanka, who craved men's attention, wasn't getting it. If only she could, Elena thought, she would gladly pass Dmitry on to Tanka. Had he stuck by her, she, likely, would marry him without a question.
"Where are you going from here?" asked Tanka.
"I need to buy a plane ticket. I'm going to Kiev soon."
"To Kiev? Why on Earth?"
"I have relatives there."
"What nonsense! You don't have any relatives in Kiev. You never spoke of them."
Tanka was nasty, but she wasn't stupid. She could tell, Elena was lying. That was dangerous. Elena did her best to sound indifferent.
"So what if I didn't? There was nothing to tell."
"Right." Tanka sneered.
"Well, that's it, then. I'm crossing the street. See you." Elena saw the flight booking office, she needed.
"Go ahead. Buy your ticket." Jeered Tanka.
They parted ways. Elena was unnerved by Tanka's attitude. She didn't know, if it was her being her usual condescending self. Or she suspected something and was now a threat. Elena had no time to speculate. The booking office was right before her.
* * *
Her trip to Kiev she planned, was beyond extraordinary for Elena. She was going to travel alone. On her own. And for her own good! She was going to be unsupervised and untouched by Olga, Dmitry or Tanka. It was unthinkable. It had never happened to her before. It wasn't Meg being a woman, that irritated people around Elena so much. It was that she was doing something that was right for her. Something that was making her happy! Elena was growing a back bone and breaking free!
Elena had already seen, what her being free might be like. In 2004, she traveled the Volga river with one of her colleagues. She knew, Olga was hoping something would work out between them. It was a river cruise, it was romantic. Elena had to return with some kind of a good news for Olga. Elena disappointed her. On their arrival to Ivanovo, there was no signs of Alexei being anything but a colleague for her. Olga reprimanded Elena, when she picked her up. Elena wasn't friendly enough with Alexei. Throwing away a chance of her having a husband.
Elena saw Alexei with his bag on the sidewalk, as they were pulling away. She was angry. She felt she'd been shoved into a bottle, having no way to escape, no way to breath. Alexei and Olga had no idea, that she didn't want any of it. She didn't want to go back home. Didn't want to see Alexei again and think of him as her admirer. She wanted to be back on the boat she got off of! To never stop traveling up and down the Volga. To keep stopping at towns. To keep learning and being free.
Elena was crushed, as Olga drove her to their apartment. She couldn't stand the idea of slipping back into her life, the way it was. On that cruise, she discovered, that she didn't have to be fucked and be afraid of the future. She saw, she could live as she liked and be who she was. On her Volga cruise, Elena came across what for her was the first hint and the embodiment of freedom. She had never seen anything like it before and she didn't know it was possible. Her world simply didn't have it.
It was just a woman. In her own world, she would be seen as quite unremarkable. She was a low-key, plain-looking woman. Men, likely, would find her terribly unattractive. But Elena spotted her immediately. The foreigner blew her away. Elena had never seen anybody like her.
The woman was dressed in slacks and a loose sweater. She had short curly hair. Her face was beautiful, it wasn't disfigured by makeup. What astounded Elena most of all, was that the woman was completely composed. Confident. She was comfortable with herself and she loved what was happening to her. She was tranquility itself. A part of nature, as a rock or a tree were. Her own inner world was the law she lived by. Those around her weren't a factor. She didn't seem to care, what they might think of her!
If Elena had to pick the most amazing moment of her life, that European woman would be it. There was nothing else Elena experienced that thrilled her more. She had to speak to the woman. As shaken as Elena was, she managed to address her in English.
Elena offered the woman her binoculars. She responded! She was even kind and curious about Elena.
"Alexander, there is somebody else, who speaks English here."
Elena couldn't believe her ears. The wondrous woman by the railing spoke about her!
The foreigner had a companion traveling with her. A soft spoken and courteous Russian man acted as her interpreter. The two exchanged a few words with Elena. What was happening after that, was a blur to Elena. It was simply a miracle. Something that she couldn't have in her life. That she had no right to have. Elena saw the alternative! She saw what she could be and the kind of life she could have!
Elena couldn't shake it off. As she and Alexei were drinking the woman's liqueur in her cabin, she was trying to figure out what she saw in her. The rebellious thoughts bombarded Elena. She too could dress as she wanted. She too could have messy hair. She too could sit on the bunk completely relaxed, unaware what body position she had. She could have people in her life who respected and loved her for who she was. She too could travel the world. Not with a boyfriend. On her own!
Elena didn't know what to do about any of this. She wanted to take the woman's hand. To tell her how much she wanted to escape her life. How badly she wanted to be herself. To stop pretending. To quit playing the part, she hated. She wanted to never come back to Ivanovo. It would be back to jail for her...
Elena didn't dare to tell any of it to the European woman. She couldn't express herself in English and there was nothing the foreigner could actually do for her. No way Elena would become instantly free. Untangled from her world and her own conditioning. Elena crashed into the wall. Freedom existed. She saw it with her own eyes. The proof of it was sitting right before her. But that freedom wasn't for Elena. She was doomed, Elena decided. Cursed. Her destiny was to suffer. Only women from the West could have freedom.
Elena remembered Ivanovo. Remembered how she felt there. She hated all of it.
It was wee hours of the morning, when Elena and Alexei return to their cabins. The foreigner didn't want them to leave making Elena's anguish yet more pronounced. Had she had more to drink, Elena probably would drop on her knees before the woman and beg her to listen to her, to save her, to liberate her.
Her Volga cruise eventually came to an end. Elena was back in Ivanovo. Olga picked her up, drove her to their apartment. Elena recovered only days later. The seedling of freedom, she had growing in her after her encounter with the European woman, eventually died. Elena's world simply wouldn't let it live. It could only trample it.
It was back to the primary law for Elena: she had to submit.
* * *
When Elena was approaching the flight booking office, it wasn't the building she was approaching. She was entering the gates with supernatural powers. The plane ticket to Kiev was going to move her beyond a geographical location. With it, Elena was going to travel to her true self and the life she always wanted. She was weak at the knees when she opened the door.
Elena expected things to go wrong. The office would be closed or there would be a huge line. It was nothing like it. The office was empty and quiet. Elena, breathless, walked to the counter.
When a woman behind the counter listened to her and started booking a ticket on her keyboard, Elena thought, she was in a different reality. Things were working out for her! The electronic signals were running trough wires at this very moment. Making her trip to Meg real!
A few minutes later, Elena held a slip of paper in her hand. She stared at it. She couldn't believed her eyes. The words flashed before her. MOSCOW. And a few lines below, KIEV. Elena saw the time of departure and arrival and her name! Everything was correct. The ticket wasn't an illusion or a fake.
Elena glanced at the old woman, who handed her the ticket. She had already forgot about Elena. Returned to the things she was doing. She had no idea, what she just sold to the awkward young woman. Seeing the clerk and the office around her, Elena was hopeful for the first time ever. It was happening! Her trip to Meg was taking a shape of reality. She will be safe! She will be on her way to Kiev. She will leave this woman and the whole of Ivanovo behind. She had the proof of it in her hand!
Elena was in awe. On the trolleybus, heading home, she kept thinking of the ticket in her purse. She was getting used to the idea, that she could be outside of Ivanovo. That she could make interdependent steps and choose her own way. Her name printed together with KIEV on the ticket was a magic incantation to her. The ticket not only made her getting to Ukraine possible, it made her see that it was possible. That it was happening! She had never been as close to living her life her way, as she was then!
Elena hid the ticket in her desk. Olga wouldn't find it there. A few days down the road, Elena was going to tell her, she got it. She knew, Olga will ridicule and humiliate her, but it didn't matter. Elena had the ticket. She was going to Kiev.
Elena fell asleep without effort. She was at peace. The future, she was horrified of, might not get her in the end. She had the ticket to Kiev in her desk. It had her name on it.
11 - Pieces of the puzzle
2020 © Elena Ivanova