Tag Archive | Russia

Kiss the rain

I drove fast, I ran faster and ended up jumping over a wooden fence in order to follow Hector. Sweat was dripping down my spine like a leaking faucet. After a two-hour undercover pursuit I finally discovered where he was hiding all the times he went missing from the hotel.
He glanced backwards momentarily before entering the white beach house that separated him from the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t think he noticed me because I rushed behind a eucalyptus tree right on time. Damn it! Fear made my heart thump and my blood roast. The salty breeze settled onto my dry mouth and there were only a handful of things I wouldn’t do for a glass of cold water. As the wind blew stronger, the eucalyptus leaves dropped all around me while I still panted from running a marathon to get there, in the middle of summer. I sat on the pale dirt to catch my breath and waited for Hector to make his next move. I hadn’t waited too long before I heard a car engine from a distance. I fervently searched for a new hiding spot and, although I hesitated at first, I swiftly moved round the back of the house. I hid behind columns of junipers that were neatly pruned but tall enough to offer me cover. I couldn’t see the front door from this angle but I had a clear view of the driveway. Soon after, a blue E series Mercedes parked near the eucalyptus trees. Phew! That was close.
A tall blonde chick hurried out of the passenger seat followed by an even taller tattooed young man who took his time walking up to the house. He threw his cigarette bud onto the freshly cut grass, which I thought was a rather crass thing to do. I could only see them from the side, but there was something eerie about these two. They were clearly siblings. Twins, perhaps. Their faces were too far for me to tell for sure, but the way they carried themselves combined with their young age seemed to suggest a familial bond of some kind. The woman rushed inside the house as if in panic. I could hear them speak in Russian. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were on about. I understood the words, ‘danger’, ‘pain’, ‘car’ but the rest was spoken either too quickly or in a dialect I wasn’t familiar with. My cell buzzed. Dima was calling. I looked at my wrist-watch and it was already half past two in the afternoon. Shit, I had completely forgotten about our lunch date at the hotel! I had two options, one, to answer and try to explain where I had gone –which on second thought wasn’t really an option if I didn’t want to blow up my cover –or two, to text him briefly a plausible reason for disappearing. A simple dilemma. One, that under other circumstances wouldn’t trouble me much. But this time, I barely found time to consider it long enough My dilemma was interrupted by a gunshot; A single, gut-wrenching gunshot. Fuck!
I slid to the ground again instinctively, and memories of the bloodbath I’d survived in Minsk flooded my mind. I could feel my heart batter violently against my chest bones and my breath was coming to me in tranches. Fear enveloped me in completely, like an intoxicating addiction. I can’t tell if there was mayhem going on inside. I was too busy trying to calm myself but there was also an unnatural silence coming from the house. I made an effort to control my breathing and counted five minutes before seeing the young, tattooed man walk out. I watched his feet stomp across the lawny driveway in a hurry. His trainers were muddy, and I suspected the burgundy-coloured liquid embossed on his soles were blood stains. I stared at his arms thinking what a waste to have them dipped in ink but I soon concentrated on a mark I’d recognised from before. I hadn’t even finished my recollection of the Bratva mark which was proudly displayed at the back of his left arm and he was gone. He sped off in the Merc like a maniac. I crouched up mustering some courage, and observed the house from in between the branches, searching for further movement. I realised how dangerous it’d be for me to make a run for it now. My cell buzzed again. Dima must have been furious with me. I fished my phone out of my side pocket and pressed ‘dismiss’. ‘Honey, I’m soaring under the Cypriot sun’, my text message read. I was trying to buy time, but I should have known my insisting fiancée would take none of it. A second later he started calling me relentlessly. I had to turn off the phone to keep focused.

“Bella, what the fuck are you doing here?”

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Hector Rodrigo Lopez

Dima had a small circle of friends. In fact, there were times I thought it was tiny. That it only included me. But one night we were headed to a birthday party the likes of which I hadn’t come across before. It was extravagant. And though by the time of the party I had been exposed to my share of extravagance, this topped it all. To be perfectly honest, it made me feel uncomfortable. And I’d be lying if I referred only to the money aspect.

Hector Rodrigo Lopez’s birthday party was celebrated in the island of Cyprus, amongst the gems of the Mediterranean Sea. It was late in the summer, August the twentieth if my memory serves me right.The party was taking place at a floating bar of a lavish beach hotel. Dima wore a black linen pair of trousers, a matching loose-fitted shirt with his collar lifted upwards just the right level of messy and tan leather loafers. I felt comfortable in a strapless mini chiffon dress, the colour of the midnight sky. Dima said it complemented my olive skin tone and that I should wear it more often. All I could think of was how long it would take him to peel it off me. As we talked and laughed and slow-danced, I would occasionally lick my lips simply to taste the saltiness; the sea-breeze carried with it salty moisture and I enjoyed how it gently cloaked my skin.

Being deeply and irrevocably in love with Dima didn’t leave me much liberty to admire other men, but it was impossible to ignore the strong presence of Hector Rodrigo Lopez. Tall, with a naturally tanned, wheat-coloured skin tone and collar-length dark hair, his dark piercing eyes, were not only striking but also immensely inquisitive and expressive. While his eyes didn’t reveal what he was thinking, they did reveal who intrigued him. His Argentinian-accented English made him, I suppose, a rather ‘menacing’ male combination for women. I knew then that if my heart wasn’t already taken (conquered, claimed and voluntarily handed over, all together) I’d be in serious trouble.

In his La Martina bright blue polo-shirt snug tightly over his toned biceps and in tailored faded jeans, Hector Rodrigo Lopez moved from hug to hug until he welcomed all fifty of his precious guests at the party. We drank vodka and Cristal and nibbled on caviar, sushi and golden flaked pralines -among the birthday boy’s favourites. Quite a few champagne glasses later, I escaped a rather boring friend of Hector who wanted to discuss the latest fashion trends of Milan, and took cover at the small pier by the edge of the floating bar facing the moonlighted horizon. I was thinking of Dima, of the official opening of the Bella Nars Foundation in late autumn and how incredibly busy I’d be when Hector Rodrigo Lopez brushed past me along the small pier.

“It is magnificent, no?” he said, pointing at the moon.
“It sure is,” I agreed. “Where’s Dima,” I asked him turning round to look for my beloved Russian.
“Oh, he was speaking to Sofia, have you met, Sofia?” he asked, and took a step closer. He swiftly ran his arm over my shoulders before saying “come here, I’ll show you, she’s that tall blonde beauty over there,” pointing at Sofia’s direction with his other arm. I saw Sofia alright, and yes, she was tall, platinum blonde, a real beauty too, but Dima wasn’t there with her. I admit that I felt a bit awkward with this sudden proximity, but I’ve learned not to judge people until I’ve actually had a chance to get to know them. As a precautionary measure, I took a couple of steps on the side avoiding Hector’s embrace discreetly while complaining about the humidity. Before he had a chance to say anything I remarked on how delicious his birthday cake tasted.

“I had it delivered from Laduree patisserie of Paris, this morning,” he boasted.
“Really?” I wasn’t truly amazed. I’d have preferred if he got something local instead. I mean come on Hector, it’s not like we’ve never been to Laduree in Paris. Surely, Cyprus patisseries could accommodate a high-end demand for delectable birthday cakes.

“Come with me,” he said, presumably responding to me petting his ego. I promised myself I’d stop using ego boosts as a manuevre but sometimes it’s too tempting not to.
He grabbed my hand to lead me away from the small pier but I pretended to trip over the foamy plastic nuggets that made the bar float, and held back.

“Something wrong?” he asked. And I guess nothing was wrong, but I sort of wanted to be with Dima. Plus I sort of felt weird having Hector hold my hand. My angel must have sensed my calling because before I had to reply to Hector, I saw Dima walk towards us in his proud stride that made me sigh sigh sigh.

“Of course not,” I eventually replied to Hector. “Let’s go. Dima can walk with us,” I said pointing at my man in the distance.

When Dima finally took hold of my hand – my much coveted hand as it turned out that night- our fingers intertwined and I felt safe again. Thus more able to smile, to laugh, to be interested in a conversation. Dima’s soft kisses on my forehead and my hand while he spoke with Hector made me realise that he felt comfortable with Hector, to show him this significantly personal side of his. It was the first time I met Hector, but already I knew that he was special to Dima. The more I listened to both of them speak, the more it became apparent that they were like brothers. I wondered what could bring a Russian metal tycoon so close to an Argentinian retail mega-magnet. What was it that they had in common other than their mythical fortunes?

The night I nearly lost it all (Part 2)

I hadn’t realised how sick I’d grown of these club-rituals until I found myself struggling to walk in through the main entrance. Dima held my hand as we paced along the red carpet, but it was hardly the two of us on it. There was Joe on my side, Igor on Dima’s side and another two buff men whom I didn’t recognise walking close by keeping their backs to us. Another stark reminder that I was engaged to Moscow’s most sought-after businessman. They say that women have a sixth sense and I can attest to that. Only because, as we were striding along, I could have sworn my eye caught a glimpse of someone who didn’t fit well with the crowd.

An insistent photographer broke Dima’s man-chain and managed to take a picture of us up close. I felt sorry for him when Joe grabbed his camera and elbowed him away. Only because Joe’s elbows are not like the average man’s. The photographer fell on the ground like single card from a deck and his camera landed next to him a second later.

“Are you OK, Bella?” I wish he didn’t treat me like a baby, but Dima’s worry over my well-being was the only thing that could make him stop and turn amidst the crowd.

I nodded ‘yes’ and then we resumed our walk and finally made it inside. It was right on time too, because drizzle had began and I’d have hated to mess up my hair, which I had only hours ago fixed back at the mansion.

Joe led us to our usual spot inside -people like Dima have their usual spots which are nothing like spots really, more like studio-sized areas where they can lounge in privacy. I noticed Mr. Colson opposite us, sitting comfortably in a velvet armchair, and nasty-Cassy dancing away so out of beat right by his side. I watched them from a distance and I found it hard to believe that all this time the two had been an item. He caressed her behind, and she would occasionally lean in to give him pecks on his nose. Yuck! I mean, he was probably old enough to be her dad for heaven’s sake. I was about to turn my attention to more deserving sights, when I noticed Mr. Colson stand up to greet a man, whom I’d recognised from before. In fact, Mr. Colson and nasty-Cassy were privileged to be in the presence of well-known Argentinian businessman, Hector-Rodrigo Lopez. Hector was a sight for sore eyes, if I must speak the truth, and more importantly, he was part of Dima’s small circle of friends. I met him a couple of months back at a birthday bash.

“Honey,” I turned to Dima, who was checking his BlackBerry -much to my dismay since I’d told him time and again to give it a rest when we went out but he never listened- “what’s Hector doing with Baldy and nasty ehem, Cassandra?”

There were but a handful of Dima’s gestures which I instantly recognised as demanding my undivided attention. When he pulled me so close to him that I could barely breathe, I was positive he wanted just that.

“If I tell you, do you promise to keep it to yourself?” He whispered these words and I could feel my blood boiling instantly.

“Your lack of confidence in me, is a little insulting, honey. Now, tell me, what is Hector doing over there?”

As always, Dima was one step ahead. Of me, of Hector, of everyone who was around him. And in retrospect, he was right to have asked me to keep it to myself. I wouldn’t. Only because telling, would have been the right thing to do.

What Dima revealed was degrading for Mr.Colson, to say the least. And it was too much information that I wished -later- that I hadn’t become privy to. But as though an invisible power wanted to take revenge for Dima’s revelation, that night out at our usual club, became the night I nearly lost it all.

It was a single gunshot. I’d survived more. It ran past me. I’d survived more. It hit Dima. I went into shock.

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.

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 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.