Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Thirty-eight

Saturday, 5:25 AM Outside Chernihiv, Ukraine

It had been difficult to walk away. As soon as she found the back gate, the one that linked the two dachas, she knew.

Anton’s family and hers, as with the small homes on the factory grounds, had been neighbors here in the countryside. She had walked past the edge of a country home where she had lived with her parents. How old had she been when they left? Why had her parents hid all these memories? Who was Misha? That name came into her consciousness as she walked along the back fence. There was so much to know.

Had the homes been assigned to them? And if so, why? Hannah had heard of that practice, made complicated by the break-up of the Soviet Union. But Anton apparently still owned the small, square home. What had happened to Hannah’s family dacha? She had so wanted to open the back gate to that garden, and go retrieving memories in the early dawn.

But it was not yet time for that. First, ensure Cleo’s safe departure. Second, think. Then the decisions Hannah needed to make would be easier. Not easy. But easier.

They walked on. Certainly, in this neighborhood of country living, there would be someone baking and selling bread, someone squeezing fresh juice with some leftover to trade to their neighbors, someone else who may have a taxi service, to the city and back again. Most people did not live here permanently, but there were probably enough that some household businesses had popped up.

“Please explain to me this change of plans,” said Cleo. “Because it looks to me like you are ready to embrace this Ukrainian life, with your gorgeous head scarf and your sensible walking shoes. My heels have been complaining since we started, and I think I popped a blister two blocks back.”

“I don’t like being the one to tell you, Young Cleo, but those heels will need to go. They are stained, they are impractical, and if I am to get you where you need to go, you must be ready for walking. Perhaps a good distance.”

“Longer than we’ve already walked?”

“It’s been half a mile, no more, nothing to complain about. Look ahead. I think I see a sign for a store.”

“It’s too dark to see. If there is a store, let’s hope there’s coffee. So, Hannah. Why did you leave your backpack? I remember you putting all your loose cash into your pockets. So, you are literally walking away with only your cash and the clothes on your back.”

“Ah. I see you’ve thought this over. When did you last see Carlos?”

“Carlos. He was at that restaurant yesterday. He says he will find us wherever we go. Some fancy tracking device.” She paused. “Oh, I get it. You think the tracker was on the backpack. I don’t think so, Hannah.”

“It wasn’t on the backpack.”

Cleo didn’t appear surprised at this, in fact, didn’t appear surprised at the two of them, disguised as Ukrainian women, walking down a country lane before sunrise.

“Why do I get the feeling that each question I ask only opens up a larger issue?” said Cleo. “So, why did you leave the backpack? And, where is the tracker that Carlos uses? “

“Think about it, Young Cleo. What did your JSA give me that they could have manipulated in any way they wanted?”

“Oh. The passport. Too easy. They put the tracker in the passport.”

“That’s what I decided, also.”

“So, you left the passport back at Anton’s. I assume you have your Hannah Black passport with you. That will present some problems at the airport, Hannah. But what about all your other stuff?”

“Look just up ahead. It is a store, and they are opening up. I smell bread baking. I wonder if the owner would know of a reliable taxi service back to Chernihiv?”

Cleo Thirty-eight

Saturday, 5:30 AM Outside Chernihiv, Ukraine

This country seemed to be run by middle-aged women.

Cleo had limped up to the neighborhood store to see a stout woman of about 45 slide a couple dozen bread rolls onto a cooling tray on the counter. The heavy aroma of baked whole wheat and seeds with just a hint of honey made Cleo admire the woman immediately. Then she noticed the brilliant metallic red of the woman’s hair color. She thought she smelled coffee somewhere behind the counter. She may have started moaning with pleasure.

Hannah had begun a conversation with the woman that soon produced two steaming cups – one of coffee and one of tea – and a plate of hot bread and homemade jam. Was that boysenberry? The woman also brought out a plate with a honey comb on top. In the gray of dawn, Cleo saw there were two chairs in front of the counter.

Cleo helped herself to a slice of the bread, dropped a dollop of jam and a dribble of honey on top, and marveled at the coffee with creamy milk. The conversation went on as Cleo sat in one of the chairs, then took her first sip. With so much to comfort her, she could hardly feel the sting from the blister.

The space was quite small, and Cleo tried to move her chair to give room for Hannah. But her chair would not budge. Something was pushed into the corner behind Cleo, just now coming into her vision with the morning light.

Hannah, still conversing with the woman, arranged her own plate as they talked, then sat. Cleo glanced to her right, saw a beauty salon-type wash basin and, out from the chair she had settled in, she saw the hood of a salon hair dryer reach up above her shoulder. Hannah spoke to her in English.

“Natalia here,” she indicated the woman behind the counter, “says her brother-in-law can drive us into Chernihiv, but not until he is done with his morning garden chores. In about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Anton will think we took an early bus. I think that’s acceptable. What about you?”

“An hour and a half. Does Natalia know how to color hair?”

2 Replies to “Vowels, Vodka and Voices”

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