Mesmerized, Elena gazed at a vast network of lights in the black void below. Her thoughts raced and recombined into one pre-eminent realization; she was flying over Ukraine with unthinkable velocity! She was minutes from Meg!
She had to do something with her excitement. She looked around. A Chinese woman she saw at the gate in Moscow, was playing with her laptop again. Ceiling monitors flashed with soundless images from some action flick. It was no outlet for Elena's restlessness.
Fiddling with the contents of her handbag might help. Black goo squirted from a tube of eyeliner when she opened it. Embarrassed and unable to force the goop back in, she just screwed on the top and dropped the mess into her bag.
The plane landed. Elena was way beyond panicked. Impatient passengers thrashed about in their seats, eager to get off the plane. That meant Elena had to, as well. She had to collect her things and end up in arrivals. But how could she? She could hardly think or walk. This was it, Kiev! She had to face Meg! She had no idea how she could deal with any of it. Her greatest dream was coming true. It was waiting for her to enter it! To start living it!
Everything she saw, took place in slow motion. She was aware of every single thing. From someplace else, she watched herself put on her coat and shoulder her purse. Her legs developed a mind of their own and carried her from the plane.
Inside the airport, one corridor merged with the next, endlessly. Darkened halls blended with bright ones. The passenger procession marched on and on, the wheels of their suitcases making an ungodly racket.
And then, the crowd came to a stop at passport control. That is when it finally dawned on Elena, she was in a different country. This was Ukraine!
When it was her turn, she did what she had seen the others doing. She approached a booth and slid her passport and declaration card through a slot in the glass. A tired-looking man in a blue uniform barely looked up. "Where are you staying?"
Elena froze. What was the right answer? That she was going to stay in a rented flat with another woman. Could she even speak of it? The officer would surely deem it inappropriate; some kind of offense to Ukrainian sensibilities and their moral code.
"Where I am staying?" She muttered, eyes wide in horror.
"Yes. Do you have a place to stay in Ukraine?"
The question seemed simple enough, but only for someone from a place people didn't persecute others for their choice of partner. Factoring in Elena's life-long societal indoctrination and deep-seated fear, the question wasn't simple at all. She had only a few seconds to answer, before the officer found her suspicious.
"I have an apartment in Kiev... Actually, it is my girlfriend who has the apartment. I am only..."
"Right." The officer was getting bored. "You are staying in the Dnepr hotel. I'll fill it in myself."
The man scribbled it in, then slid her passport back. She felt it in her hand.
Elena staggered from passport control. What now? Where did she need to go?
She saw others ahead, passing through sliding doors and disappearing from sight. This must be it, she thought. The last few steps. She could no longer think: only feel, see and hear. Meg was behind these very doors! Scanning every person coming through! Looking for Elena!
The slow motion that Elena existed in became yet slower. She was convinced that everything, herself included, had become temporally displaced. Existing in a reality where time passed at ten percent its normal speed.
The doors slid open. Elena crossed the threshold.
Bright light blinded her. Like she was on stage: exposed, vulnerable, scrutinized by everyone.
Elena just kept walking, pulling her suitcase behind. She was afraid to look at the crowd to her right: Meg was there. She had to be looking at her at that very moment! Meg, the wonder woman she spent months thinking about, was looking at her! Meg was on the same continent with her! In the very same room! They were in each other's lives!
Elena reached the end of the ramp. She could no longer avoid looking at people, they were right in front of her. She scanned the crowd...
It was like she had been hit by lightning. She saw what she had only seen in photos before then. What she yearned to see for months!
Elena wouldn't have recognized Meg, if not for her wild smile. Her hair wasn't dark, like the photos she sent. She was blond, and wore narrow glasses with black frames that changed her face completely.
Elena headed for Meg. The number of meters between them dwindled. Five meters. Three meters. Two.
Elena felt like she crashed to Earth after falling, hanging in a parachute for months. Meg stood before her! Elena had no idea what to say to her. Could she hug her? Should she?
Dumbfounded, Elena just gazed at Meg. After months of thinking of her, imagining her, she saw her in flesh and blood! She didn't expect Meg to act as free and unpretentious as she did. To look so natural and wild. Meg didn't try to appear glamorous or important. She just stood there, in an enormous, suede coat, her unruly hair cascading over the coat's fur trimmed hood, and beamed at Elena. Mesmerized.
Until then, nobody had ever looked at Elena the way Meg did. In her gaze, Elena saw everything all at once, and all of it was real. Unquestionably genuine. It was curiosity. Yearning. Adventure. Confidence. Need. Meg actually needed Elena! Nobody ever needed Elena for her, herself. Until then, nobody had been authentic to her. Neither of them acted in a way they didn't feel! They simply stood there, in the middle of Borispol's arrivals hall and gazed at each other in awe! Thunderstruck that they were finally standing face-to-face!
Meg said something about a waiting taxi. Elena realized, they were ready to head outside.
Side by side, they left the building. Elena could reach Meg! She still wasn't sure that it wasn't all a dream. That she wouldn't wake up in Russia.
It was a nasty winter night. A vicious blizzard had Elena gasping for air. The cold shocked her back into reality. Seeing and hearing in incredible detail, Elena peered into the dark; she was actually in Kiev! This was what it was like. These were their first steps together. In a full blown Ukrainian blizzard, no less!
Elena couldn't help but steal glimpses of Meg. She didn't know what to do about her fears clashing with the cheerful sight of Meg walking beside her. Smiling at her. Her life in Russia was still with her. It lay in wait, demanded her back. Elena was still hurting. The months of intolerable pain, waiting for Meg while enduring Dmitry's arms, hadn't vanished.
On their way into town, streetlights revealed Meg's face for a second or two. Elena was astounded. Meg was sitting right beside her!
A thought crossed Elena's mind. She was in a foreign country, in a taxi with a woman she had only known virtually, with no idea where she was being taken. Elena knew that the woman sitting beside her was the one in the photos she received in Meg's emails, and that they had been communicating for the last several months. But the stark reality was, the two of them had actually just set eyes on each other for the very first time. Their life together was still counted only in minutes and seconds.
Meg noticed Elena couldn't keep her eyes off her. They held hands. It was a strange feeling. Elena was holding the hand of a woman she wanted to be with. Was it a crime in this country, like in Russia? Did they have to hide their affection? What will the driver think, if he sees?
In the dark, Elena couldn't see the ring on Meg's finger, but she felt it with her own. She explored the bold numerals that were a part of its structure.
This was no ordinary ring to either of them. Weeks before, Meg had written to Elena about a golden ring with Roman numerals, from Tiffany's Atlas collection. None of the marketing aspects mattered to Elena, but she instantly grasped the idea of it. She cherished it. They both did. The ring was a symbol of time and space intertwining. Making everything in the world possible! Breaking all the limits and rules imposed by others! Allowing one to dream. To dare. To explore. To strive forward and never look back in regret or doubt!
They did it! Divided by borders and thousands of kilometers of ocean and land, Elena and Meg believed that there were no barriers capable of stopping them from loving each other and being together. They believed, if someone created those barriers, they could break them. That they could overcome anything at all!
On February 16, 2006, Meg and Elena became united, just as they believed they would. Together, they rode in a taxi toward their destiny.
The street lights kept going by. The road seemed endless. Elena felt the ring Meg gave her. She couldn't stop. Its quadrants pointed to every answer and all the freedom she hoped so long for. Elena didn't know where the taxi was taking her. Where she would end up that night, the next day, and the day after that. It didn't matter. Meg's ring in her hand told her, there was nothing to fear. The ring was Meg herself. It was her yearning, her need to be with Elena, and it was the two of them being free together. It told Elena that she was safe now. That she and Meg were invincible together. That from then on, they ruled their lives.
Elena felt then, something she had never felt before: she was losing her fears. One by one, they dissolved like smoke into an evening breeze. She loved her life, and she loved the freedom she had with Meg. This was hers for good, she realized. Nobody could take it away from her. Ever. She and Meg were making their own rules from then on. That was how it was going to be, simply because they decided so.
With Meg near, Elena was at peace. Somehow, she knew then, Meg was it. Meg would never betray or abandon her, and she would stick to Meg, no matter what. It was amazingly simple, and it would never go away. She simply knew it. The two of them, from then on, were each other's world and each other's home.