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The system loaded unbearably slowly. Elena was afraid to breathe. She went straight to her social network. A couple of men left invitations to get acquainted. She ignored them, thought about checking her email. Two of her friends had email accounts but they rarely wrote. Still, Elena opened her inbox. She sneered at one new message, surely a trite missive from one of them.

The subject line wasn't in Russian, but in English. Elena glanced at the name of the sender. She couldn't believe her eyes. The letter wasn't going to be trite after all! It was from Meg, Elena's pen pal from Canada!

She could barely think straight. The Canadian opened her eyes to an entirely new world, in her previous correspondence. Now, with two months having gone by, it had to be something yet more thrilling. Elena was afraid to open the letter. She knew it would shake her up. Make her question her world. Make her want freedom she didn't think she had any right to.

Breathless, she saw it was three paragraphs long. She wondered if she should translate it now or leave it until later, when she was home alone. No use! She was already scanning the letter, snatching the meaning of Meg's precious words.

Elena recognized Meg's writing immediately. She was diplomatic, even delicate in how she addressed Elena. She was excited and candid in everything she spoke about. As it turned out, Meg was as flummoxed with the silence between them as Elena was. She sent Elena an email long before, but for some reason it ended up being stuck in her outgoing box. That didn't matter to Elena. What was important, was that Meg had returned, that she reached out to her again. That there was a connection between them that filled Elena with curiosity, challenged and toppled her fears, her doubts and conditioning of her world.

Meg wrote that she hoped, Elena would forgive her for disappearing and would keep writing to her as before. She went on describing her days. She had been sailing. Elena could hardly imagine what that meant. She mentioned photographs Elena had sent her and was wondering why none of them had Elena. At the very end of her letter, Meg signed her usual dear Elena and waiting for your email. Nobody had ever addressed Elena this way, with genuine kindness and concern for her. Nobody was interested in what Elena thought or had to say. Meg was the very first.

Elena finished reading Meg's letter. She stared at the screen. She remembered the photographs she sent. Sharing her life with Meg, an alien from another world, was a big occasion for her. Last August, she and Dmitry had gone on an all-inclusive to Turkey. It was the very first time Elena had been outside of Russia. She sent Meg photos of Turkish sights and ruins, because she couldn't conceive of anyone being interested in her. She had been indoctrinated to think herself worthless by default. That her value was only as a vestige of a man, as a trophy. Meg's words, that she wanted to see photos of Elena and know her better, knocked down the house of cards Elena had lived in all her life.

Trying to sleep was pointless. How could she plough a straight course to a hopeless future now, as if she was blind to what was happening to her? Meg's letter made her see so much, to question her life, her world and its doctrines.

Elena looked out the window. None of what she saw spoke to her. Her mind was too far away, already seeing possibilities, opportunities and experiences.

Under the covers, Elena realized happiness did exist! Happiness was just that, what she was experiencing now! It was the freedom to think, to want, to love herself and the world around her. Elena was full of joy. Her mind was racing. She started to see a completely new image of the world and her future. It didn't have to be awful. It didn't have to destroy her. Her future could be what she wanted it to be. She had the means to determine it! She was an individual, and she was capable. All of it was in Meg's letter!

Elena lay in bed with her eyes wide open. Her life hadn't changed yet. The very next day she would have to keep acting her part, faking someone she wasn't. Elena didn't know where she would find courage to change her life, alter its course. She didn't even know where to start. What was clear to her, was that she was already changing. That a snowball was rolling downhill, becoming bigger, becoming an avalanche. No one could stop it. Not even Elena.