Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Thirty-four

Friday, 2 PM Chernihiv, Ukraine

Hannah walked down a pathway heading away from the restaurant. Shouldn’t her mind be spinning? Shouldn’t the numbness be spreading? Why did she feel so calm? Hadn’t she just lost her identity? Why didn’t she feel lost?

So this was her choice. No pain, no language. That was the cost of her effortless, magical ability – constant pain.

But did she really have a choice in it? The pain had disappeared on its own. Why? How could Hannah call it back? Did she want to?

The work she had done for JSA was not a life-and-death issue. Hers was simply a talent, an ability with languages. A rare talent, and one that processed people’s meanings and therefore the lies they so often told. Important, unique, but not life-and-death. Even those rare violent words were simply that – words. Hannah could not persuade life to go on nor end it. She simply interpreted the spoken word. The world would continue, much the same, whether her skill lived or died.

What about Hannah?

What would she do now? She had some level of fluency in nine languages. Wasn’t that enough? She was over 50 years old. She should be old enough to accept life’s changes.

Without pain, would she be a different person? Would she only be without pain and new languages, or would she lose everything, even her ability to judge a speaker’s intentions, their lies? Maybe she’d lost that already.

There was suddenly so much in her life that was uncertain. Her identity had been so strong she had hidden herself away for ten years to find some relief. She had found none. Who would she be if she was no longer the little language lady? Why wasn’t she panicking at the loss of her identity?

She sat on a bench, enveloped in a sheath of green heavy leaves. She felt alone. There were no words around her. The abstract turmoil in her mind quieted as Hannah became more aware of the feeling of calm.

Tiny sprays of fuzz lifted with the slight breeze from the blossom of the tree, each vaporous seed floating away to add to the unending forest.

The bench had been placed in a perfect spot. On a slight rise, it faced a view over the very tips of the multitude of leaves, and then past the river.

There, across the river, was a series of large buildings. Not buildings people lived in, but some sort of manufacturing site. It looked distinctively metallic. From this distance, it seemed made of enormous heavy tin boxes. There was a tall immobile crane, or a mechanical arm that reached into a gap in the side of the largest building near the roof line. The site looked disused, empty, deserted.

Words came to Hannah’s mind – sudden, remembered words: folga, zdaniye, ruka, dom, glavnaya.

Tin foil, building, arm, house, home. Why did she know these Russian words?

Cleo Thirty-four

 Friday, 3:15 PM Chernihiv, Ukraine

Anton had won again.

They were in the car taking a driving tour of this riverside, tree-laden, once-new city of Chernihiv. Anton was pointing to buildings and long walkways and monuments and busy streets. He gave explanations in a curious English-Ukrainian-Russian language that Cleo tried to put into a background of droning noise. Hannah appeared to be listening. She nodded every once in a while, with a foggy uncertain expression on her face.

Cleo wondered where her own enthusiasm had gone. Where was that spark of capability that had been hers in Kyiv? She had come into an intoxicating feeling of self-possession, where she had believed in her ability to accomplish whatever came her way. And more. She had done things she would never before have thought to do in her life.

Follow an unknown person through the streets of a city she had never been to before? Not only had she done that, Cleo had placed the tracking device that had made it all possible. Search the room of a very suspicious-acting Anton? Well, searched perhaps was not the most accurate word, but she had certainly opened the door of his very locked room.

Cleo wanted that feeling back. She wanted to be in front of the action, directing the course of this journey back home. Or at least back to Kyiv.

She looked again to Anton.

He was turned around in his front seat, facing Hannah in the rear seat, explaining the monument of a very large man. Cleo saw his animation, his earnest intensity, his feeling of connection to Hannah. This part of communication, not the understanding of the language, but this expressive, open body language, Cleo understood. And it told her Anton’s reason to bring them here, to Ukraine, was intensely personal.

But Cleo got nowhere past that, and that was just interpretation on Cleo’s part. How could she regain control of this venture? Regain? Who was she kidding? Anton had controlled this outing from the very beginning. It kept coming back to this: if Cleo could understand Anton’s mission, she could make some progressive decisions that might get her home. That was a big ‘if’. Her only other option was just to get up and go.

She watched their conversation. He was investing himself in Hannah. There was a question, a plea, in his eyes. Looking at Anton, Cleo realized this venture would have no set timetable if she didn’t intercede. Personal connections had their own schedule. They defied the calendar Cleo lived by. If she did nothing, she would be along for the ride, which would take exactly as long as it took. No predictability. No rational schedule. No understanding until she understood.

Her job had placed her into an unthinkable mix of employment happenstance. No one had given her a believable reason to follow Hannah. So far, she seemed to be dog-paddling to stay above calm waters. What would happen when Cleo faced the inevitable rapids? How badly did she need this job?

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