The night I nearly lost it all (Part 1)

I had this terrible dream the night before. We were sitting at a restaurant with colourless walls but tall walls nonetheless. He was browsing through the menu, and I was pre-occupied with my twitching eye. It felt like a rock was trapped into my eye (as one tends to feel when fluff gets stuck onto a contact lens) and no matter how many times I pet my eyelid, the itchiness remained. As time went by, Dima continued to stare at the menu, unable to decide what to order, and I grew blinder, unable to fix whatever it was that irritated my eye. Suddenly, I felt restless. I looked around me and one by one, the fixtures and fittings of the restaurant kept disappearing. First gone, were the paintings hung on the colourless walls. Then, the chairs and tables followed. Scared as I was, I nudged Dima with my elbow and asked him what was going on. He ignored me and kept staring at the menu. It was as if I wasn’t there. I pushed my chair back and stood in front of him, urging him to look at me, but nothing. He was stupefied, staring at that damned menu.

“Dima, look at me,” I yelled. In vain. I used my finger to caress his face but it was cold and lifeless. He was frozen in his seat.

I must have cried in my sleep forcing me to wake up because that’s the last scene from my dream which I remember. The next thing I was in Dima’s arms. Tightly held in his warm, homecoming embrace.

I wanted to warn him that something was going to happen, something not necessarily good. But I was reluctant. The role of a modern-day-“Casssandra”-prophet didn’t sit well with my usual positive and upbeat personality. But everyone has a dark side, and although well aware of mine, I wasn’t keen on revealing it to Dima just yet. In retrospect, I wish I had. It could have saved him the trouble that followed.

On Sunday afternoon when Dima asked me to get ready for a night out, I didn’t think much of it. He regularly called me at the mansion at the last minute to get ready for a night out. Usually, it was for things he was obliged to attend like charity events or informal business meetings. This time though, there was an urgency in his voice, mixed with hesitation or a faked calmness that I identified but chose to ignore.

So, like a good wife-to-be I was ready to go by 10:30pm. I waited for him at the lobby, dressed in a long, blood-red chiffon dress, wearing my hair on the side. I had the usual flutters in my stomach because I hadn’t seen him since early that morning. As I took my seat next to him in the car, he gave me a quick kiss on the cheek followed by a heavy sigh. Instantly, I was alarmed. Something fishy was going on.

“Is everything, OK?” I took his hand in both of mine and it was cold. He must have been outside shortly before meeting me.

“Of course,” he lied. I hated that he lied to me. I made a mental note to address this point at a later stage.

“Then what are you so anxious over, Dima?” He twisted in his seat, revealed a bitter smile and turned his face away from mine. He ran his fingers through his hair, messing it up ever so slightly, and then spoke a couple of swear words in Russian.

“When we arrive at the club tonight, I need to you stay with me at all times, Bella. Are we clear on that?”

“Of course. Where else would I be?” I pointed out the obvious but I remained curious as to what brought this on.

“You may see people you know there, and you may think it’s safe to stay with them rather than me.”

“People I know, Dima? Are you for real? Who would I know so well at a Russian club, that I’d leave you to be with them?”

“Bella, Mr. Colson will be at the club tonight.” He spoke slowly and I sensed that he was preparing me for more interesting information.

“…with Cassandra.”

“Really? Baldy is in Moscow? What is he doing with Nasty-Cassy in Moscow?”

“It’s not surprising that you haven’t heard, Bella. It’s been a secret for quite a while…”

“What is?” This story was taking turns which I did not anticipate.

“They’re together, Bella. As in… dating. For many years, now.”

“You’re joking!” I was stunned. Mr. Colson and Nasty-Cassy a couple? This is ridiculous. The guy’s happily married.

“I think you’ve got it all wrong, Dima. Mr. Colson is happily married to Mrs. Colson and I’ve been to their recent, well, it’s been two years, but fairly recent vowels re-affirmation party.

“Not sure why they throw these parties, especially when they clearly know they’re shams, but I wanted you to know before we go what the deal is.”

“Thanks, honey. I mean, it is surprising but it’s not really my business so if he wants to fool around he can do so. I don’t even work for the guy anymore.”

“Thank heaven’s no, sweetheart.”

There was more to the story than he let on. Dima couldn’t care less for Baldy’s alleged affair with Nasty- Cassy. Before I could elicit more relevant information, his phone rang and soon he was lost in another conversation I could barely understand. His hand was now securely holding mine and he stroked my palm with his thumb. I couldn’t wait for this silly outing to be over and for us to get back home. There was only one way I could stop missing him and it entailed stripping.

Advertisements

Winter break done the Dima P. way

Our winter break to St. Petersburg was unforgettable. The luxurious chalet that we stayed in had little to do with it. Mostly it was the fact that I was spellbound with Dima whilst we were there. We hadn’t seen each other for three weeks before that. The longest we’d been apart since we got together.

Dima had returned from a long business trip to China and I’d interrupted my classes at the Moscow University to meet with him in St. Petersburg’s airport, in mid February. As I waited for his plane to arrive, I thought my heart was going to burst. Our eyes met just on time. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed him until he was meters away from me.

I stood in the crowd and watched him stride across the aisle in his dark blue jeans, his azure shirt turned sleeve-side-up to the elbows, a matching scarf wrapped messily around his neck. He was simply magnificent. Still managing to take my breath away with every step he took, every movement he made.

“Welcome darling,” I whispered the moment he approached me, mostly thanking God for bringing him to me safe. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my grin. It ran the distance from one cheek to my other.

“My love,” was all that escaped his composed face. He leaned in and kissed me on the lips before I could muster a reply. I was overwhelmed by his imposing, masculine disposition that my legs turned to jelly. I’d take this toe-curling look from him anytime.

I had to really restrain myself from jumping on to him in front of everybody there. It was one of the few sacrifices I was happy to do for him. Besides, this only made my longing for him hit the roof. I knew I’d have my way with him, one way or another.

I walked alongside him to the car, in silence. He opened the door for me, and as I took my seat, I instinctively searched for Joe. He was nowhere to be seen. I sighed grateful for this moment of privacy.

“It’s kind of funny you know, Bella,” Dima murmured and I turned to face him instantly.

“What is?

“That you haven’t seen me for what? Three weeks?” He ran his fingers through his ash blond hair and groaned gently.

“That’s right, three weeks,” I added, curious as to where he was going with this.

“Yet, here I am sitting right next to you…”

“Yes…”

“And all you can think about is finding Joe?”

“Oh my, aren’t we jealous…” I sank deeper in the leather seat and turned to the window as a sinister smile escaped me. If only he’d known…

“Hmm no, not jealous,” he lied. He leapt over to my side of the seat and made sure I understood, exactly where he was coming from.

I spent the whole two hours to the chalet, feeling love-struck dizzy.

As our car drove inside the gates of the chalet, snow began to fall. The flakes fell serenely on the old snow, piling up the white magic. The cloak of darkness covered the village and the only visible lights were those of our chalet.

“Wear this,” he said and passed me a white fur Ushanka (hat). “It’s freezing outside, and this matches your coat,” he added. The moment I finished wrapping up like an albino crab, he took a good long look at me and started chuckling.

I stared back at him blowing off the particles of fur that stuck onto my lip gloss.

He kept on laughing.

“Am I funny enough for you?”

“Oh, you’ve no idea, my darling.” He took my hand, blew a kiss in my palm and then brushed his cheek with the back of my hand.

“You’re mean.”

“I am crazy. For you, Bella. That’s what I am.” It sounded like an accusation.

“That too…”

He got out of the car, came round and opened the door for me, helping me step on to the snow. It wasn’t slippery or anything, but definitely deep.

By the time we got to the chalet, Joe and the boys had finished with the regular checks. It was safe for Dima and me to enter. The reality of the danger we ran every time we moved away from his mansion, nearly spoiled all the fun.

“Sorry about this honey,” Dima said. Holding my hand he led me through the lobby to the living room.

“Oh wow,” I gasped when I entered the dim-lighted living room. It was roomy but cosy, cutting edge modern but still nostalgic. A mix of dark wooden beams with steel rods and black granite. The fire place was lighted and the only addition I wanted to make was to spread a puffy carpet by its feet. Before making this suggestion, I remembered my aching back. I’d been sitting in the car for way too long that day.

This place was unbeatable. Every corner was inviting. And I RSVP’d all of them. But right now, I had other priorities.

“So, where’s the bedroom?” There was no point in beating around the bush any longer.

Dima raised his eyebrow at first but the crooked smile that followed proved he was in sync with me all along.

He pointed upstairs.

He took his heavy coat off, tossed it on to one of the brown leather chairs following me with his gaze as I made my way up. Then, he climbed the stairs to the bedroom, right behind me.

The master bedroom swam in a sea of ivory and beige. I found it too calming and monotonous. It was in serious need of deep hues of red or orange. But, it would have to do.

“Strip for me.”

And this is how it all begun…

 

Dima’s secret study

I close the door behind me, quietly. The size of his secret study is astounding. Perhaps, for some reason I expected this to be smaller. Denser. A crypt. It’s not that but it certainly is dark. No windows to trap any sunrays. Carefully, I take a step to the side. I take advantage of the glimmer of light piercing through the keyhole and let my fingers trail along the wall, the one adjacent to the door, for the switch. I quickly turn the light on. In front of me, spreads a long, long corridor. I am not sure where it leads to. It’s too dark to even discern what that large shadow is, at the end of the corridor.  An object. A piece of furniture, maybe. Possibly a desk. I gape at the floor, watching my step. It is wooden, a light, caramel colour. The walls are painted white, but a trace of brickwork shades from beneath the paint.  I can see why they’re painted. The white walls give an air of openness in this otherwise suffocating room. They make it falsely welcoming.

I cross the corridor leaving the entrance behind me. Along the way, I pass a wooden, dainty-carved table to my left and a fifties-style armchair of pistachio-velour on my right. As I am nearing the end of the corridor I am bathed in darkness once more. I walk towards the nearest switch and turn it on. Soon enough I can see the desk, but not only that. A tall, wide, wall-mounted bookcase reveals in front of me. Its shelves occupy the walls that surround the study, rendering the seating area in front of the desk something of a hearth. The desk itself is a mocca-brown colour and the chairs are a match. Light-brown leather pillows, too puffy for my liking, are placed neatly on each of the five chairs assembled in front of the desk.

I keep trying to think what this setting reminds me of, and for a second there, I nearly miss my favourite memory of them all. My Law School Library. Dima’s secret study reminds me of my Law School Library. This place could easily be mistaken for a library. After all, the bookcase covers up all of the walls in this room, if we exclude the ones along the corridor. And the shelves are dressed with books from the ceiling to the ground.

Books? I never thought Dima a bibliophile. Intrigued, I pace quickly towards the bookcase, unease building up inside me. There is something odd about this room. For one, there’s no direct sunlight coming in or air circulation for that matter, and I can feel my claustrophobia twitching its claws at me.

I gaze at the books and realise how difficult it is to understand what they’re all about. First, there’s so many of them and second, a lot of them are stacked so high up the shelves, way beyond my reach. I couldn’t read them even if I could get hold of them. As I come closer to this potent bookcase, with a bit of struggle I manage to pick up one of the books, which is, in hindsight and a broken nail later, stacked a tad too tight with the rest. Once I manage to take it out I can’t help but stare at the cover. The book is a dated hardback and the title is pressed against it, in burgundy letters. Right there, at the very centre of the book. The cyrillic writing makes it difficult to read. I turn it over in search for the writer’s name. Again, the name is in cyrillic but it is shorter and I just about comprehend the second letter “E”, the third “Z” and the final two letters, “EN”. “Herzen,” I mouth. I put the book close to my nose to sniff it -strange habit but I’ve had it forever – and to my surprise it smells only of paper. There’s no trace of dampness, no iota of dust. Someone is taking care of these books. I eye the rest of the books and I am tempted to pull them all out. I wonder the kinds of stories these books can tell. When you know how to read them, that is. I turn to look at the desk and I am surprised again to find that it is in immaculate shape. Clean, polished, well preserved.

I am making my away along the bookcase when, suddenly, I hear a rythmical thumping noise. Toum-toum-toum. I’m startled, obviously. I think about the turned on lights and contemplate switching them off, but I am too far away from the switches for that. Definitely for that first switch. And if anybody comes down here, they’ll realise someone’s in Dima’s secret study, well, because I’ve left the entrance door unlocked. The thumping resumes, this time closer to me than before. I follow the sound, taking small, soft steps alongside the room. And then it stops. Someone is snooping around Dima’s sacred territory. Who else is home apart from me, his mother and Joe the Giant? No one should be home, apart from us. And no one should definitely be in here. Not even me.

It was supposed to be an ordinary board meeting

“No, Yuri, that is not what I am saying. Can you please look at the projections? How can we possibly cater for thirty hubs of the BNF if you let go half of the staff?”

“Sure we can. The remaining staff will simply need to put in some extra hours, Bella. I can’t see why you won’t get this.”

“А что такое “девушка” предлагаешь?”

“The ‘girl’ isn’t suggesting anything but the obvious, Malmo, which is to keep the staff and do some internal re-organisation.”

“Bella, forgive me, my English is not good. That is only reason I speak to Yuri in Russian.”

“That’s quite alright, Malmo.”

“И она могла бы узнал некоторые русские, а, Мальме. Почему, черт возьми, она хочет здесь жить, если она не научится любой русский?”

“Well, thanks for your addition, Yuri. I am sure it’s colourful.”

“Bella, it’s only something to help Malmo understand your suggestion.”

“Why, thanks for your support, Yuri. But do you think you understand what I am saying?”

“I do. You want to be a host to your guest and a host to his dog, too, as they say in Russia.”

“Is that what they say here?”

“Ah, that is old Russian proverb, Yuri, where you remember that?”

“Malmo, are you so old that you’ve forgotten that it was you who said it first? To Dima?”

“Ah yes. When Dima was only just starting.”

“What a lovely trip down memory lane, guys. Shall we focus on the hot topics instead of wandering down a path which will only waste our time?”

“Sure, Bella. We’ll cut down the staff by just a few. We give them good compensation. But they don’t work very good anyway. Trust me, Bella. I am older, I know.”

“No doubt you do, Malmo. So, what do you suggest we consider before you cut the staff?”

“What do you mean, Bella?”

I mean, Malmo, who and on what grounds will you be cutting down?”

“Она означает, что причин для увольнения, Мальме”

“хорошо, Юрий”

“Yes, thank you Yuri, now I understand. Bella, we say they work poorly.”

“Were they given any notice of their poor performance, Malmo?”

“We give them. We write letters of one month ago and give them now.”

“Magnificent. And don’t you think they’ll find it odd that the letters are dated a month ago but they only just received them, Malmo?”

“Ah Bella. No need to worry. We’ll arrange. They will say not a thing. Trust me. I am older, I know.”

“Yuri. Do you agree with Malmo?”

“Listen, Bella, Malmo has many years experience of dismissing employees when they perform poorly. Sure, I listen to what he has to say.”

“хорошо, Yuri. And the rest of you, what do you say?”

I watch an array of nods, from the three other men of the BNF board. Olya the only other woman in this board apart from me,  isn’t nodding in agreement. She’s raising her brows at me, and I don’t know if I want her to feel explosive with anger or if she actually feels that, after what’s been said at this meeting. I move my head to the side prompting her to speak her mind. She takes a deep breath closing her eyes and then exhales as she opens them up.

“Yuri, you are a bigger fool than I thought you were at the beginning of this meeting. So, Malmo has experience and we should all listen to him, right? Are you forgetting how many times he got us into trouble with his stupid decisions to let go people on a whim?”

She takes me aback. “Olya?” She darts her eyes at me and keeps her lips pursed. I prompt her to go on. I am pleased, naturally, but her direct, vicious tone, takes me completely by surprise. She seems like she has a lot more to say to these two.

“And you, Malmo. The only host whose dog Dima, took along is you. Are you forgetting that you were a drunken unionist and Dima only took you along because you were a distant cousin of his mother’s? So, not because of your expertise on employment matters, but out of the goodness of his heart. Or rather, his mother’s heart.”

And what was the reason again that Dima thought these people should be on my BNF board?

I lower my eyes, because if they meet Olya’s blazing ones, there’s bound to be hell on earth in this room. It’s not a women against men, thing. There’s another three of them sitting here watching Olya speak with their ties in their mouths, not even murmuring a single word. No. I like to think of it as an old guard against new guard kind of thing. A board bullying went wrong. Because that is exactly what those bastards were doing. They were trying to bully me, and Olya and whoever else spared more than just half a brain in their heads. Because evidently, Yuri and Malmo have none in theirs combined.

I thank Olya for her input to the meeting and keep the decision reserved. There’s more than one decision to be taken here. It’s not only a matter of rendering the BNF more equipped to do the job it was created to do. The root of evil is deeper than I had imagined. It’s not just the youth who need to be cared for -which is what BNF is aiming at. BNF itself needs to be cared for and protected from the danger of ending up a bureaucratic institution that exists simply to nurture board bullying. Well, I’ll be damned if I let this go on.

“My love, how was your meeting? I called you several times, why didn’t you pick up?”

“Are you kidding me, Dima?”

“Come again?”

“Do you think that was a board meeting?”

“It wasn’t?”

“No, it wasn’t. Do you think I’m some kind of an idiot, Dima?”

“Here we go again. What have I done to hurt you this time, Bella?”

“How exactly are Yuri and Malmo, especially Malmo, qualified to participate in the BNF board, Dima?”

“Oh. Listen…I’ll explain over dinner, tonight. Can you bear with me until this evening?”

“I’ve got an hour and a half’s drive until I make it home. Is that enough time for you to explain to me?”

“But baby, I wanted to explain this in person. It’s kind of complicated.”

“Kind of complicated? How?”

“Not over the phone. In person. How else am I supposed to know what you’re thinking? I won’t be able to see you. You have me at a disadvantage.”

“That’s the wrong way of looking at it, darling. I am so mad at you that, I think the distance is working wonders for you right now.  Now, tell me.”

“Can’t you just wait for a couple of hours?”

“No. I can’t. And I’d appreciate it, if you didn’t call me ‘baby’ when we’re discussing work.”

“If I must. OK so, it was a bad board meeting. Well, if you must know, Bella, I did it for you. Yuri and Malmo are indeed the biggest a**holes around, they work half as much as they should and they get paid twice as much as they should. I could have them sent to the factories in Belarus, but it would make my mother sad.”

“And so you thought, let’s throw them over to the BNF and have Bella deal with them, right?”

“Not exactly. I thought, let’s give them the opportunity to show their humanitarian side, Bella.”

“…you are mocking me? Is that what this is? A game to you?”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Bella. Here you are getting all paranoid with me… This is exactly the reason I wanted to have this conversation face to face.”

“…humanitarian side, Dima? Really?”

“OK, so they haven’t got a humanitarian side. But you see, it was important for you to meet them, as well.”

“Do you think BNF is joke? Is that what BNF is for you?”

“Certainly not. And you know it, Bella. Think of it as ‘training’.'”

“You think I need you to train me? What gave you that impression?”

“I can see that you’re upset. So, I say let’s leave it at that, and speak when we get home. You misinterpret all my good intentions.”

“….humanitarian side… you just wait. I’ll show you exactly which side of theirs they showed me at the meeting. It had nothing to do with humanitarians. Other kinds of neanderthals? Yes.”

“Bella, I wanna see whatever it is you want to show me, honey.”

“Nop. I assure you, you won’t like what I have for you. I can’t believe you, Dima. You had a problem and the solution to it was to pass it on to me? Is this the chivalrous, Dima I met?”

“You think I’m chivalrous?”

“I used to, Dima. After today, I think you are a degenerate.”

“Ouch, that hurt. You’ve got a foul mouth, young lady. We’ve got to do something about it. I think we’ve got some soap at home, right?”

“Don’t give me any more ideas on how to make you suffer for messing up my board, Dima. Please.”

“Arh… OK. So…”

“Goodbye, now. I’ve got another important call to make.”

“No, Bella, wait!”

The home to Keele’s aspiring lawyers is a lovely place to visit, read and educate.

The old lady at the farmers’ market…

The other day I came across this old lady at the farmers’ market, who nearly made my heart break. She had a stall full of cheeses and cured meats and I could tell that her products were well cared for. On the centre of her two by three table laid a large, round basket, hosting a red and white checkered square cloth. The four ends of the cloth were hanging from the basket’s rim.  Inside the basket were an array of cheeses, all stacked neatly according to their kind. There were the white cheeses, the yellowish and the yolky ones there.

I’m not sure if I was drawn there because of the eerie presence of this old lady -she wore a red and white bandana as a halo – or because of the musky, peppery smell that whistled out of the stall. There was definitely something about this stall, this old lady, that made me stop and look and drew me close.

Dima had his hand in mine, our fingers interlocked, and I moved my thumb over his, nudging him out of his trance -he was on the phone, again, listening in at what I perceived to be a long and boring metal-related conference call. I urged him follow me as I approached this old lady’s stall. He made two steps along with me but eventually, Dima let go of my hand, brought his index finger to his mouth gesturing me to hush and glancing at the stall, he gave me an approving wink -like I needed it. He moved the opposite direction at a quieter area, a safe two metre distance away from the stall.

I watched him walk away and then made my way closer to the stall. The old lady was standing behind the table alone. It was just the two of us, there.

This old lady had the most piercing blue eyes I’d ever seen. Clear, crystal blue. The colour of the summer sky. Her nose was long and thin and her cheeks were the colour of strawberries. Her skin was fair and immaculate. She wore a red apron that covered most of her black, flowy long dress. The sleeves of the dress were puffy and hugged neatly at her elbows. Her icy, blonde hair was wrapped in what I guessed was a bun at the back of her head, away from her face, and her red and white checkered bandana framed her face. Her smile was sincere. Her look was clear and proud. She couldn’t have been older than fifty.

She began to speak to me in Russian and naturally I gave it my best shot at trying to understand what she said. I got that she spoke about cheese and ham -after all she was trying to sell her products -but I in the end I gave up trying to pick each and every single word. Right about the time when I felt mesmerised by the way she spoke. What she said made little difference to me. It was how she said it that intrigued me.

A soft, calm voice. She spoke unhurriedly. Her eyes, such kind eyes, never left mine. She gestured me to try the cheese and the bread in fact all of her products, doing so with her inviting smile. I didn’t stand a chance.

As the first cube of cheese was making its way into my mouth, I heard Dima call my name and I had to stop and turn.

“Bella, what are you doing?”

I  frowned.

“What’s the matter?”

“What are you doing?” he repeated with a low yet intense voice, covering his mobile phone with his palm.

“Trying out food.”

I stated the obvious rolling my eyes at him. Then I turned back to the old lady who regarded us with a confused look on her face. And a tad embarrassed. Or was that just me?

“Don’t,” Dima said. He walked closer to me, still covering his mobile phone with his palm.

“You don’t know how long that cheese’s been out in the open, or if it’s safe to eat.” He whispered annoyingly.

I suspected that the old lady couldn’t understand English, and boy, was I glad.

I apologised in Russian for his intervention and quickly shoved the little piece of cheese into my mouth, turning my back at Dima.

“Harosho,” she said, her eyes dropping to the ground but her smile lingering on.

By the time we left her stall, Dima, Joe, and the rest of the marine-cut beefs all had a bite of the old lady’s products.

When I finally made my way into bits of all her products, I felt a pang in my stomach and realised it was time to stop.

And so we left. Dima still speaking on the phone -well participating I should say, seeing as he said very little.  Joe savouring a piece of Kulebyaka pie and me, having bought three paper boxes of products to take home. I felt justified for some reason. Justified and at peace.

When the old lady finished packing the third box, she placed all of them in a brown paper bag, cut a blossom from her peonies pot and handed them all to me.

“Oh no,” I told her.

She  raised her eyebrows curiously, still smiling warmly.

“They’re beautiful, it’s such a shame to cut them.” I gestured my words.

She gestured back that it’s no problem.

As I waved goodbye, she gave me a gleaming smile, tilted her head on one side and wished me a good day. I watched her wipe her hands on her red apron before waving back and then turn round and lay out on the table some more pieces of cheese, bread and ham. She kept her sparkling smile throughout this ritual. Like a modern-day Kirke.

In a state of emergency…

The phone rings and my worst fears are verified as quickly as the popping of the cork from the bottle of Chablis red last night.

“It looks like I’m grounded, honey.”

“I’m just glad you arrived safely,” I mutter, lying coolly. My true feelings break the richter scale of one to ten and settle in an uncomfortably intense twelve. We begin with, relief for having arrived prior to the storm, anxiety that he’ll be in midst of the scariest hurricane to hit the US, sadness for having to share him with business associates abroad, eagerness to finally spend some time alone and investigate The Incident further, fear that I’ll be nestling in the lion’s den on my own -save for Joe the Giant- and ultimately emotional and physical deprivation for as a matter of fact I shall be spending a whole bleaming week away from him. And who the fuck’s gonna make my worry ease away when he’s stranded -hardly, but still – in bloody New York, miles and miles away from me when such a cataclysmic event is about to unfold?

I cough and swallow down a knot of stress, fear and panic.

“So what are your plans for this evening?” His voice is rushed.

“You’re staying in with Joe and Tamara, yes?” He continues breathing heavily. I can trace worry in his words, even amidst the war of pretended nonchalance that he so elegantly deploys. “Oh yes. My babysitters have increased from one to two, recently. Have you no worry master. I shall stay put.”

“You make me laugh…” Indeed, a tiny chuckle escapes him that I can only barely discern from the background noise.

“Erm… Dima, what is this noise?”

“Ah yes, I’ve been meaning to tell you about this and I’ll do it in a hurry ’cause as far as I can see…”

“Dima? Hello?”

“…I’ve not got much time.”

“Time for what? Dima?”

“It’s rather stupid but listen, they’re…”

“Dima, you’re breaking up…”

“…safehouse?”

“A what?”

“OTT Americans, Bella. What can I say. Anyway you know where I’m staying, right?”

“The Plaza, yes, I remember.”

“OK so I’ve got to run. Try to remember what I asked you before I left.”

“Erm, where I packed your favourite Boss socks?”

“Bella, are… you insane?”

“Right, not the socks, silly, silly me. Erm, you asked if I had planned a trip for March.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t a trick question, Bella. Have you?”

“Well… we’ll talk when you get back, Dima. What the fuck is this noise?”

“I think it’s the wind…”

Wind? Not by a longshot. That was a gargling sound enriched with heavy thumping and violent glass-breaking. Oh no. Where has he got himself into this time?

“Dima? Hello, are you still there?”

The phone goes dead. His silence and my guilt join hands as they hook their pointy spears all around my neck. How could I have misjudged his acuteness? How could I have been so blind? All I know is that I’m missing someone and that he’s stranded in a state-of-emergency-New-York. Hardly my cup of tea.

I hope he stays safe. Please let him stay safe.

And the million-dollar-question, is:  when you’re in the eye of the hurricane, what is your first thought?