Saturday, 8:50 AM Chernihiv Main Bus Terminal, Ukraine
She had to leave. Leave now. Walk away, with only the clothes on her back and the cash in her pockets. Leave all the trouble behind.
She had to leave behind the things that reminded her of being American, and embrace the things from her early childhood that would bring back memories from that time. No more backpack, no more rolled-up clothes. Then she could take the time to sort things out. Especially now, with this new twist in her life’s story.
She hadn’t planned to be enticed into the computer conversation. Even more, she had not planned to see John Smith. And she had never, not once, not even for an instant in the very, very back of her mind, where other secrets were still hidden, thought that he was a part of her forgotten past.
But she had begun to remember a Misha. The name came to mind after she had accepted who Anton was to her, and later, while she walked in back of her family’s dacha. Misha. It was a part of the cascading memories that Hannah could not explain to herself, nor understand.
They had a connection. It would explain why John Smith had sought Hannah, offered her employment, fostered her career. That connection was in the distant past, though. As a boss, he had been remote, rarely seen. Certainly, the constant pain that distracted Hannah put some distance between them. He must have known secrets about her that Hannah had not known. Misha. He had kept her secrets safe, even from Hannah herself.
For now, though, it was enough for Hannah to deal with the lost memories of her parents, her family’s homes, her birth, and her lost languages. Where John Smith fit into that would no doubt come in its own good time. And the others? The world of Anton and John Smith seemed to have many connections. Hannah would leave that for now.
She placed her fingers against the familiar spot at the back of her left ear, the spot that now held no pain.
She powered down the notebook, looked to the small cubicle store where Cleo was making some sort of purchase. Hannah walked toward Cleo as she gathered up a new package and hefted her travel tote and hand bag. She looked so much at ease, as if she had slept well and traveled in comfort these past several days. Young Cleo had grown into her own during this unforeseen parade of events.
“I will trade you all your Ukrainian cash for the tickets I have purchased,” said Hannah.
Cleo pulled out the cash, handed it to Hannah. Hannah placed the computer, the bus ticket, then the airline ticket receipt in her hands.
“You’re not coming, are you?” asked Cleo.
“This is only the fifth day we have known each other,” said Hannah. “Did you realize that?”
“I have known you for quite a while longer.”
“On paper. In person, I have an idea it has been quite a bit more difficult than you may have wanted.”
“What are your plans? Why did we have to sneak off this morning? So many questions. Did you have any idea about John Smith?”
“No. Not a bit,” said Hannah.
“So. At least tell me where you’ll be. Otherwise I might worry.”
“Young Cleo, I think you are over the worrying. I think you are making your own self-discoveries, and it did not take you to reach 50 years old to get there.”
“You answer questions like no one I have ever known.”
“I’ll tell you my plans,” said Hannah. “I have three weeks more of my vacation. But I have a lost childhood I have to account for.”
“And what will you do after the vacation? I thought all this following you around was to get you to come back to work.”
“It seems more complicated, doesn’t it?”
“For instance, what happened at that non-university in Kyiv?”
“Whatever happened, it has brought me great relief.”
“And why did you really leave your passport?” asked Cleo.
“I think mostly so I wouldn’t change my mind, partly so that efficient Carlos would get distracted for at least long enough to let us slip away.”
“You’re slipping away? Away from Anton even?”
“I think Anton knows what I do before I do it,” said Hannah.
“Yeah. He’s a bit scary, that one.”
Hannah smiled, as if smiling was for her commonplace, and pointed at the waiting buses.
“Number 42. It leaves in five minutes and drops you off right at the airport. Go. Five minutes. You don’t want to make a habit of missing busses.”
Still, Cleo waited.
“You made me change my shoes. I could run to the bus if I had to. It’s just over there. And anyway, there’s only one last thing to say.”
“Good bye,” said Hannah.
“No, not goodbye. Thank you,” said Cleo.
Thursday, 8:45 AM Panamá City, Panamá
Thursday, 8:45 AM Panamá City, Panamá
Cleo walked into her office, poured one cup of distilled water and three drops of cucumber oil into her diffuser, then turned it on.
She looked forward to a day, or perhaps a week of catching up writing her reports. Reports of behavior, reports of people’s backgrounds, reports of where interesting people lived and what they did. She was relieved to be back in her comfortable space. She couldn’t wait to start her day.
“Welcome back, Cherie.”
Sandra stepped into the office, surprising Cleo with her early arrival. And coming to Cleo instead of having her attend to Sandra’s beck and call? Had things changed?
“Good morning, Sandra. It’s so good to be back. Home. It’s a lovely place to be.”
“Well, let’s not ramble. You’ve no doubt got some catching up to do. Work, work, work around here.”
“Speaking of work, Sandra. Are we entirely done with the Hannah episode?”
“Done. Finished. Why do you ask?”
“I just remember JS once referring to ‘them’, someone else who was looking for Hannah.”
“Probably Anton, right?” said Sandra. “And you found him.”
“No, that doesn’t sound quite right. John Smith knew all about Anton.”
“One street-contact and you’re second-guessing everyone? Granted, it was rather extended and you performed wonderfully. But, it’s done, Cherie. And it was fabulous. Everything is fine. Stupendous, in fact.”
Sandra waved from the door as she left. Cleo liked the tone of the conversation. She felt included, equal. But she did not like Sandra’s glib reassurance. Sandra hadn’t been along on the adventure. She didn’t know what Cleo knew.
Cleo pulled up her calendar. At the end of the month, she could take some time off. She logged in to her travel account and booked a ticket to Kyiv.
Cleo wondered what they were having for breakfast at the rooming house, and sat for a long moment remembering the aromas and recalling each wonderful dish that had been placed before her. She touched her hair and smiled.
Question for readers: I wanted to end the book at the last chapter. Is this a better ending, or…..?