Saturday, 8:15 AM Chernihiv Main Bus Terminal, Ukraine
Hannah had made all the purchases. One bus ticket to Kyiv’s airport. One air ticket to Panamá City that flew to an unreasonable amount of stops between here and there, but still the least connections available.
She wasn’t as concerned about that as she was concerned about explaining it all to Cleo. Five days she had known her. It shouldn’t be that difficult to break away.
Hannah walked toward Cleo, who was faced away from Hannah talking to her notebook computer. A call to her boss, no doubt. Hannah would give her a moment to finish up, but time was getting short. She stopped a polite distance away, not quite close enough to look over Cleo’s shoulder.
But the voice on the screen had caught her attention. Unbidden, without meaning to be, Hannah was drawn in.
The woman on the screen spoke. Hannah watched, listened and lip-read. There it was. The first lie she had heard since arriving in Ukraine.
Of course, there had been countless small infractions – the daily hubbub of vocal inconsistencies and white lies of social living. But Hannah had not observed the type of lie that drew her attention until now. Maybe she had been too jet-lagged at the university to notice, but since then, not one piece of verbiage had pulled her attention like this. The thought made her consider Anton, but just for a moment.
If only she could hear the voice on the screen clearly. She stepped just a bit closer, enough to begin hearing the complex tones in the words. The close-up voice always gave the conversation texture and depth. Hannah recognized the lie, and not just the lie, but the intensity of its telling. Was there also a violent intent?
Hannah focused on the woman speaking. Seated in an office setting, thin, stylishly dressed, speaking to Cleo in English with a forced French accent and repeating ‘Cherie‘ as if the word had no significance. But other words were important beyond the usual. Those were embedded in the lie.
“It will all be fine,” said Sandra. Because this woman had to be Sandra: comforting Cleo in an off-handed way, treating her as if Cleo wouldn’t know a thing about evaluating intense situations. “You’ll see. Everything will be fine.”
The lie reached out to Hannah and held her. But violence? There was none in the speaking of this conversation. Would Cleo know? Would she revert to the prior Cleo, the one who accepted whatever she was told as truth? Or would the lessons of the past several days stay with her?
Saturday, 8:20 AM Chernihiv Main Bus Terminal, Ukraine
Lies. She was getting tired of the lies.
She had known for a while that Sandra would give her half-truths. She would be casual with details and give false assurances. Cleo understood that was part of Sandra’s job. None of it mattered when Cleo’s job had been safe in her clean, predictable office, and her work product had been in written form. Now, Cleo was in the real world making judgements that changed with the accent of the person speaking. Cleo herself had pulled up self-protective half-truths without a thought. Maybe Sandra’s lies were necessary for work, but they were aggravating on two hours’ sleep.
“Sandra, I can handle it from here,” said Cleo. “Just tell me that you’re fine with me coming back. Hannah seems to be safe and as happy as I have ever seen her. She can make her own decision about coming or not.”
“Of course, Cherie. Everything will work out. You’ve done a perfect job in a tough situation.”
Sandra was fiddling off-screen again, and appeared to be glancing to the side of the computer screen. Cleo suddenly felt the conversation was words without meaning. Where had the urgency gone? Why had she needed to follow Hannah half way across the world if she could simply up and go home upon a whim of travel weariness?
“Well, I’ll text or email my travel details,” said Cleo.
Now, Sandra was looking beyond Cleo’s shoulder and then to something off-screen in her own office. Her facial expression did not match her words.
“It looks like you’re busy, Sandra.”
“Not at all, Cherie. Give me just a moment.” This was aimed over Cleo’s shoulder.
What was going on? Cleo turned around in her chair, and saw Hannah standing a short distance behind her, focused on the screen of Cleo’s notepad.
Hannah’s eyes went wide; a smile came to her face as she looked past Cleo. Another smile? Cleo wondered what was going on with the odd little woman. Hannah stepped closer, placed her hands over her heart.
“Now I remember. I know who you are,” Hannah said to the computer screen, soft words filled with adoration. Cleo would never have expected to hear such words spoken in Hannah’s voice.
Cleo turned back to look again at Sandra, but Sandra had disappeared. John Smith’s face was on her notepad screen, smiling at Hannah.
“Dobre utra, Khanna malyshka,” he said.
“Dobre utra, Misha.”