Thursday 6:40 PM Kyiv, Ukraine
What was Cleo saying? Her words seemed to come from far away, in a different language, in an unfamiliar voice.
Now, Cleo was pulling on her arm, insisting on food, looking cheerful in the midst of Hannah’s disconnected thoughts. She could hardly understand what the young woman was saying to her and only wanted to ask her to slow down or go away or simply stop.
If only Hannah could find the words. Words?
Thursday 6:45 PM Kyiv, Ukraine
Anton joined them for dinner, adding several courses to the meal by insisting on having a smoke between each dish. Sergei, the running man, was not there, and neither Anton nor Cleo mentioned him. Their host, Olga, brought steaming dish after dish to the table. Dumplings, riced meatballs, beet salad. There was a soup that Anton said was ‘green borscht’ with sorrel and sour cream. Cleo began helping herself.
Four guests sat at the opposite side of the room. They had nodded at each other as they settled in. Cleo recognized their speech as something that was neither Ukrainian nor English, but that was as far as Cleo could go in evaluating the language. Well, she thought, it wasn’t Spanish, either. She attempted a conversation with Anton, or more accurately, a search for information.
“Anton,” said Cleo, “are we leaving tomorrow?”
“How long will we be staying?”
“Ne znayu. I don’t know.”
His answers came in a dreamy monotone as he reached for one plate then another. The appeal of food, Cleo understood.
“Am I interrupting your dinner?”
He looked up and smiled.
“Dah. Dah. Verenyki. Very good. Maybe we leave tomorrow.”
Dinner took a surprisingly long time, with two separate servings of tea. Guests seemed to linger over a particularly medicinal brew that had bark floating in the cup.
Olga had promised a cherry pastry that Cleo did not want to miss. She looked at Hannah’s haggard demeanor and decided to postpone their heart-to-heart. She couldn’t imagine any good would come from a discussion in Hannah’s state of apparent exhaustion. Jet lag really did a number on some people. Hannah had eaten a careful selection of dishes, but remained silent. She excused herself before dinner was completely over.
As Cleo waited for the desert, two realizations hit her at once.
The first was that, though she was here for her job, she had hardly thought about her boss or her agency the entire day. She had simply done what she needed to do, and she had done it well. This recognition gave her a warm feeling of self-congratulation. She could do this street work. In fact, right now, she felt like she could anything, anything at all. The thought that no one, not even Carlos, was here to commend her meant nothing to Cleo. It was enough that she could congratulate herself.
The second was that she was still hungry.