When it came to meeting Elena, Dmitry was punctual to a fault. At seven AM he stood in her flat, watching her every move. Imposing himself on Elena's final impressions of the only home she had ever known.
She picked up her suitcase and purse and stepped into the vestibule. Looking back into her room, hollowed her out, without her it was empty. Desolate.
"Mum, I’m ready!" Elena called.
Olga stepped into the vestibule. "Be careful out there, will you?"
In her pyjamas, with no makeup or heels, Olga looked humane, homey. Elena knew, her pyjamas were warm and soft; she helped her choose them. She didn't want to feel anything hugging her mother, she needed to be strong. But in that moment, more than ever, she needed her mother's soft shoulders. She fought back her tears, rage, despair. How she wanted to spell out to this woman that raised her, nurtured her, loved her, made her; the truth of all the suffering she inflicted. She wished her mother knew that those very seconds would be their last.
Elena just stood there, watched by Dmitry and Olga. The two of them, and all she saw, was only pain. She knew it had all been a lie, she told herself. The flat was her home simply because she lived there and loved the things in it. Nobody there loved her. She knew, that be it in one day or ten, she would have no reason to return.
Her father shuffled from the common room, a pained smirk on his face. He barely knew Elena existed and came to see her off because Olga expected it of him. He didn't know with whom or for how long his daughter was going to be gone. He and Olga still didn't know that Meg was anything but an acquaintance. That Kiev was more than a distraction before settling down for good. That was the only reason there was any cordiality between them at the door.
Elena reached for her suitcase. Dmitry jumped to it. "I'll carry it." And left to call the lift.
Elena glanced at her parents for the last time, squirming in agony on the inside.
It was right there! Everything she wanted to say to her parents before she was gone! She needed them to know, she never wanted to lie! That they forced her to! That her truth was not awful! That she was happy! That she loved herself and her life! How could they hate her for that? She wanted them to know, their own contempt for her pushed her away. She didn't choose to run! She had no home because they made sure she didn't! What were they trying to achieve by destroying her? She loved them. They were all she had. How could they do this to her? How could they? Mama! Papa! Don't push me away!
Elena said none of it. She just stepped over the threshold. Walking towards Dmitry by the lift, she heard the locks tumbling shut. She no longer had a home.
* * *
Walking to the bus stop, Elena said nothing to Dmitry. All she wanted was to finally be alone. Undisturbed, unmolested. To focus on her trip to Ukraine. To drink in every moment of becoming free!
Twenty minutes on public transit was not a guarantee of getting somewhere. It wasn't as cold as it could be, but it didn't take much to stop old Soviet trolleys. Staff were always patching them up, cobbling together something or other.
The wait was interminable. Not a single bus or trolley passed by in ten minutes. Elena's scarf was covered with frost. Dmitry was hopping from foot to foot to warm up. When a trolley finally rolled up, scratching icy power lines with its two antennae, Elena was, as always, astonished that something that far gone was still in service. The heating didn't work, all of its windows were covered with ice. But twenty minutes later, when the doors opened for the fourth time, Elena's heart jumped. There was the intercity coach station!
It was crowded, chaotic, heartless. Elena knew that everyone, including her, was on her own. She couldn't expect assistance or understanding if something went wrong. Or even if it didn't, nobody cared where she was going or if she got there on time. She was just in the way. Barely off the trolley, she was already being jostled by the crowd.
They found a place to sit in a waiting area. Things are not so bad, Elena told herself. They are, in fact, fantastic. Everything was going according to plan: she was at the bus station. That was brilliant! It was the beginning! If everything went well she would be in Moscow's Domodedovo airport that very evening. She just had to stay strong. Get to that point in time, she was on a bus travelling away from Dmitry and Ivanovo! Blimey, it would happen in less than an hour!
Elena's hands ached from the cold. She peeled off her gloves, trying to warm them. Dmitry noticed, took her hands in his, gallantly rubbing and blowing on them. Pestering her on the day of her departure was his way of gouging a position for himself in her life. Of reminding her, she was helpless without him. Of making a show of his guardianship for the vile lesser being he doted on. Elena, nor any woman, had the right to dismiss such a moral and devoted man.
She placed her hands back on the arm rests. Dmitry engulfed the hand closest to him with his own. "You should be warmer this way."
Completely immobilized under his, her hand was only colder. Common sense didn't matter to Dmitry, but control and confinement certainly did. She would need to ask him to release her, had she decided to move.
Five minutes to eight, and the Moscow destined coach still hadn't arrived. Elena kept her gaze locked on a big, white wall-clock. It was like an ally; counting down her last minutes of agony. A woman's voice chirped and cackled over the station's public address system. All Elena's fears had come true. The coach was late! Not by just a few minutes, but by an entire hour. Still, it wasn't a complete disaster. Nobody was actually out to stop her. Typical Russian neglect: something broke, the driver overslept or just didn't care.
Dmitry gloated. "Your coach is late. Did you hear?"
Elena didn't say a word. Her answer would only prove to him that she was petrified. Vulnerable. That the coach to Moscow was all she could think about. That her life depended on it showing up. She changed the subject. "Are you sure you can spare the time to wait here with me?"
"Oh, I'm not going anywhere. I will see you off."
What joy. Elena sighed and leaned back in her seat, concentrating on the clock and people watching.
Dmitry told nobody but his brother, about Elena being corrupted by a filthy foreigner. He didn't care how it reflected on Elena, as much as it did on him. What an emasculating embarrassment to be left by your girl for another woman! Another man would have been bad enough, but losing to a woman was beyond humiliating. No woman leaves her man, unless he isn't man enough to satisfy, at least, that's the common wisdom.
Elena was sure the clock had stopped. She worked at relaxing into a Zen state to pass the time. As a mantra, she repeated, The coach will come, to herself. I will be in Moscow on time. I will!
Looking for the right loading bay, Dmitry held onto Elena's suitcase, like it was her leash. It bothered her. Her suitcase was all she had left. Yet, Dmitry wouldn't let it go! She could hardly hide her rage.
His time with her had dwindled to mere minutes. He wouldn't take his eyes off her. Glowering, pouting, pathetically overacting.
She knew, he would be back at work in an hour, chatting with colleagues, merry as pie. Elena wouldn't even cross his mind. The show he was putting on was entirely for her. She thought it was embarrassing, so obvious it was. But it didn't matter to Dmitry, after all those months he had invested in Elena, he wasn't about to let her think she was free of him.
"I have something for you." Dmitry handed Elena a white plastic bag. "It's something from me. Something special. Don't look in there now. Open it later, when you are alone."
Whatever it was, another string to yank, some confection or trinket, Elena didn't want it. Did she have to thank him? Pretend, it meant something to her, or could she finally tell the truth? Just this once, before she was gone from his life. How she yearned to unleash a blue streak of her favourite. Russian curses. Let him know what she thought of him. Tell him to shove his pious, self-righteousness up his arse. To get the hell away from her. To never say a word to her again. Be out of her sight, once and for all.
Instead, she took the plastic bag, and surprisingly, saw something in his teary eyes she hadn't before then. It dawned on her, Dmitry didn't have power over her. He didn't have her in chains. She could tell him to get lost, and that would be that. He and others did what they wanted to her, simply because she let them. She even encouraged them. But Dmitry's pathetic display, made her see that they weren't scary. They weren't the foes she had to stand up to. Her greatest enemy was her own fear.
People started to stir. They jostled their bags into better positions by the curb. Elena noticed, turned. And there was her dream come true! A filthy, old coach, wheezing along in its own cloud of toxic exhaust. Her coach actually got to Ivanovo from wherever. She loved that coach! If it weren't for common courtesy, she would have shoved her way to first in line.
Dmitry dragged it out as long as possible. Laying it on thick, he placed her suitcase in the luggage compartment with exaggerated pomp, care and delay. He was the very picture of a destroyed man. His entire being decried that Elena's leaving was his downfall, his end. "I guess, this is it. You are really leaving?"
Elena was the only one not on the coach. The driver and passengers stared at them.
Dmitry ignored them. "I want you to know that I'll be waiting for your return."
The coach's open door was right there! Drawing her in with incredible force. The only thing holding her was Dmitry's pathetic stare!
She hated that she must betray herself one last time, but Dmitry's encore performance and his audience on the coach, demanded it.
She threw herself forward to be done with it as swiftly as possible. She grazed her lips on his cheek. Dmitry didn't make a move to let her go.
"That's it, I'm going." Elena wriggled free.
Dmitry was stoic.
She turned and jumped through the door.
Elena was grateful. It was dark inside the coach, its windows iced up and opaque. She could hardly see a thing inside, or out. It didn't matter. All that did, was that she was on the coach to Moscow!
Bewildered, she sank into her seat. She was in another world: on a coach to Moscow, without Dmitry. How could this be happening to her? It was her way out! Her new life! Her everything!
What if her fellow passengers could hear her thoughts? They would alert her jailers. Would send her back to the dungeon. It was in their power. What gave her the edge, was that nobody knew she was making her escape, and would let nothing stand in her way. That everything in her life, from that moment on, hinged on it!
She noticed a blotch of black through her iced up window. It was absurd. Dmitry was freezing, and there was nothing between them. Why was he doing it?
The driver slammed the door, and the coach lurched into motion. Elena wasn't sure this was her real life. That she was actually Elena any more. Things like this did not happen to her. She never chose her own path! Never! All the decisions in her life were made by others. But now, this journey to Kiev, was her own choice. She effected the kind of change in her life, she thought was impossible. Out of the question. Taboo. She was choosing her own path. She made the decisions that brought her to the threshold of a life that was truly hers!
The coach stopped to join the street traffic.
Dumbfounded, Elena gazed at the blurry shapes they were leaving behind, the coach station, Dmitry, her town, her home, her past. She was cutting it away, like rigging from a wreck, so that she could live; and as it sank below the waves, couldn't drag her down with it.
She sat quietly in her seat, in awe. She swore the coach passed a barrier of some sort and she ended up in a different world. In a dream. She was thrilled. She wanted to live. She loved everything around her. She wasn't afraid of her future! She couldn't wait to see what was beyond! She trembled, thinking that she would be in Kiev in mere hours! With Meg! Blimey!
Elena wondered why people didn't turn to look at her. How could they sit there like stumps: oblivious, disinterested? How could they not know what was happening to her? She felt like the nucleus of an energy field spreading, engulfing everything around. Filling everything with what she felt – her ceaseless admiration for the present moment. For being alive!
Ivanovo's outskirts morphed into woodlands. Elena had five hours of sitting on a freezing coach ahead. She relished it! If this was the way to her life, she was ready to ride the coach forever.