11 - Going Dark

I clung to a strap on the packed metro, swinging wildly beside Elena. "Was that some kind of necklace your mother shoved at you?"

"Shto? What?" She stared into space, still in shock from the ambush, her cheeks glistening. Mechanically, she pulled off a glove and dug through a pocket for whatever Mama gave her at the cop-shop. A silver pendant and chain dangled at eye level, swinging like a hypnotic talisman. "Ach, Saint Nicholas." She said, emotionless.

Meg hides in her mastodon hide coat photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-1] Meg hides in her mastodon hide hoodie.

I sang, "Better watch out, better be good--" One of my ninja, mind-deflection techniques is inappropriately timed humour.

"Dmitry gave it to me when we were in Turkey." She let it fall to the carriage's muddy floor.

Somehow, nothing mattered by then. Not even the nostril freezing, choking, intense cold when we surfaced near our flat.

We were free, and impossibly, we were still together.

Globus Mall under Maidan Nezalezhnosti photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-2] One of Kyiv's subterranean shopping malls.

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"It has to be here!" Elena rifled through layers of obsessively well-organised underwear.

"Hey! It was you that told me she took it. Remember anything at all about yesterday at McDonald's? And what about that codswallop at the cop shop?" I dodged a flying drawer."Lenna, enough!"

"No! You, enough. Passport cannot be so easily to, to be, lost." She struggled for the right word.

I tossed her mobile. "Ring her up. Ask if she has it. Maybe it fell from your bag when they beat the shite out of you. Then, for safekeeping, she picked it up, and innocently forgot she has it. A wee oversight, I'm sure."

She dialled. Paced back and forth. "Damn her! She will not answer." Then she was dragging the mattress off the bed. The mobile -- by then, hopelessly buried -- started to ring. More thrashing ensued. "Allo? Da, Mama?"

Mama's opener was, "See how you like it when I ignore your calls!" or something to that effect. To, "Did you steal my passport?" Mama was adamant: "That criminal took it!" But she strenuously reminded Elena that she still had her internal, Soviet identity document, which would get her back to Russia.

I was more than a little hacked off Elena would consider, for one bloody second, I would steal her passport. "Get a grip, smarty pants. You told me yourself. You know she took it."

"She says she did not. Meg, she cried so sadly that I should accuse her of such a thing. She says that you have turned me against her. You have made me hate her, and you have taken my passport."

"Why would I do such a thing? It's absolute bollocks! How can't you ken her nicking it to force you back to Russia?" Frankly, Mama's ultra possessive, borderline behaviour was starting to creep me out?

Window sill disaster area photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-3] The bedroom window sill in the Kyiv flat: A small example of how it had become something of a disaster area by the time Elena was ripping the place apart in search of her passport.

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Returning to McDonald's and retracing our steps, Elena reluctantly accepted the Mama-nicked-it thesis. "So Meg, What do we do now?"

"We go to the police and report it stolen."

"Nyet!" Elena froze. "It was not stolen. Mother took it."

"Taking without permission is technically stealing. At least, it is, where I come from."

"Not where I come from, and not if it is your own mother!" She stopped mid-sentence and yanked me closer. "Don't look. A man by the door is watching. Maybe he follows us. On the metro, he was there also."

Stalker in McDonald's photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-4] Stalker

I had the same feeling, but figured I was wound up. Maybe, a wee bit overwound. I turned. Sure enough, a weaselly, blonde tosser jerked back into the crowd. "That the bloke?"

"Uh-huh."

Nice, I thought. Now we're adding a generous dollop of paranoid to plain-crackers.

Globus mall under Maidan Nezalezhnosti photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-5] More of the subterranean Globus Mall under Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Kyiv's Independence Square).

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The gate guard sprang from his shack. "Ladies, how may I help?"

Elena explained nervously. "My passport might have been lost at the police station. Maybe someone found it?"

Seconds later, Plainclothes Man strode through the snow toward us, his hand extended. "Girlfriends, how nice to see you! I'll show you to my office." It turned out to be just another interrogation room on the second floor, but he'd added his personal touch: ratty chairs, overflowing filing cabinets, dead plants and stinking ashtrays.

"My passport is missing." Elena said.

"You told me this yesterday." He leaned over his desk conspiratorially. "I have learned through channels, your parents have declared you to be insane. There are some here," he nodded toward the door, "that might find opportunity in turning you over to the Russian authorities."

Russian Internal Passport -- what a joke! photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-6] A Russian Internal passport. A Soviet identity document. Useless outside the former USSR.

"Um, OK." Elena said. "What should we do?"

"Certainly, you should trust nobody but me."

"And my passport? Should I report it stolen?"

"Your mother has it, so it is not stolen. It is not missing. You know this. Why must you waste police time?" He flicked at a crumpled pack of fags, extracted one with his lips.

"Why could you not have asked her for it yesterday?"

I knew the answer: yesterday we were lowly shites, until I opened my wallet, that is.

Percherskaya Lavra in Kyiv Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-7] Percherskaya Larva, a religious compound that survived the Soviets.

He offered the pack to me, then Elena. "Smoke?"

"Nyet, spasibo."

"Ach, expensive habit." He looked wistfully at the nearly empty pack, then spent an inordinate amount of time lighting up.

"What can we do about my passport?" Elena asked.

"Nothing! You don't need it to go home. Back to your fiancée and parents. Your--" He oozed the Russian word for a female friend, "girlfriend, can get out of Kyiv before she floats in the river."

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Shopping Mall for the Whole Family somewhere in Kyiv photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-8] English, the language of shopping sits atop Ukrainian. Elena and a bit of Meg are reflected to the left of the frame.

The Canadian Embassy is conspicuous in its artificiality. It's a miniature Canada; with its sterile landscaping, multilingual signage and fetishistic maple-leaf flag. It fits in with the surrounding architecture about as well as a fantasy-golf park in the Roman Coliseum.

An alarmingly insecure security guard -- in a very nice suit, mind you -- greeted us politely in French, English and Ukrainian. The transition from full throttle, brash Ukraine, to stuck-up, solicitous Canada was unnerving.

Detail of Kyiv's Percherskaya Lavra photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-9] Architectural details and outdoor icons at the Percherskaya Larva.

"I'd like to speak to someone in the consular division, please." I said.

"And to what, may I inquire, is this in regard to?"

Good question. "My partner's passport was stolen, and we're trying to get home. To my home. To my place, in Canada, eh?"

He stared at Elena. She was full-on deer-in-the-headlights. "Ah, Miss, your passport is Canadian?"

"No, Russian." I answered for her.

"In that case, she needs the Russian embassy." Visibly relieved, he wrote down the address. "Ladies, will that be all?"

"No, that will not be all." I tried to keep my cool. "I am a Canadian citizen. My friend and I were attacked, robbed, and this woman's passport went missing."

"That, Madame, is a matter for the local police. Have you notified them?"

"Of course! You know they're bent as a nine bob note. Bloody filth let the muggers go with her passport, then shook me down for a back-hander. Then some sleazy sherlock tells us, our lives are in danger from, get this, not only mysterious thugs, but from the police themselves."

"Do you believe your life is in danger? Do you believe you were attacked or mistreated by the police because you are... Canadian?"

That was absurd. "No! Not Canadian--"

"What!? You aren't Canadian?"

"I. Am. Canadian." I quoted the Molsen beer advert. Pointing at Elena, I said: "Her parents beat the crap out of us and nicked her passport."

"It was a hate crime?"

"Hate crime?"

He looked conspicuously at the bloodstains on my coat. Asked me again: "Why did they attack you?"

My cheeks flushed. "Because she left some wanker they wanted her to marry."

Deli counter at Mandarin Plaza photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-10] Elena at the deli counter in Mandarin Plaza.

"What's this got to do with you?" He suggestively cleared his throat. "And why did she come all the way to Kyiv?"

That's when it hit me like a hockey puck at a playoffs match. He was, quite literally, handing me the password.

"Do you think the police were treating you and your..." His hesitation spoke volumes. "... Your, partner that way out of prejudice to your sexual orientation?" He leaned across the desk. I caught a whiff of his cologne, something familiar and expensive.

"Orientation? You mean, like, are we gay?" I hadn't thought about it. Elena and I certainly never discussed it.

"Well, yes." He managed a choked response.

Dead silence.

An old chunk of wall at Percherskaya Lavra photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-11] Love is in the air at Percherskaya Lavra! A chunk of old wall is The go-to chunk of old wall for wedding photos.

My mind raced. Sexual orientation had nothing to do with us. Sex wasn't even a part of the equation. We weren't shagging our brains out; we liked each other. I knew we loved each other, although, we didn't discuss it. Love just was; like air: majorly vital, but rarely quantified; unless, of course, somebody fouled it.

But, the consulate clerk was waving Canada's trademark branding, on a hockey stick taller than the CN tower: How much plainer could it get!? Canadian victims of hate crime get consular assistance. Of course! "They treated us like that because they think we're, gay?"

Ding-ding-ding-ding! Right answer! Alex, show our lovely contestants what they have won on, The Crime is Right!"

Extreme shopping, Soviet style photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-12] Extreme Shopping: usually outdoors, below freezing, dangerous.

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The deputy vice consul's office could have been shipped in from Gatineau for how government-vanilla it looked. I gave her the low-down. She listened, took a couple of notes and then told us, our story wasn't unique. "It's not unusual for parents to attack, threaten, or strongly persuade their adult children." She glanced at her notes, bouncing a biro on a legal pad. "And, as you have seen, society, the legal system, and law enforcement -- if not outright supporting this behaviour -- turns a blind eye to it. In your case, what's unique is that you managed to get away, and something a lot worse didn't happen."

"Worse! Are you saying we're still in danger?"

"I would think so. Paying off the militsia, and concealing your address in Kyiv, is probably what prevented a worse outcome. But, it's just a matter of time before the police, or..." She paused. "... your pursuers find you."

"Or I run out of bribe money."

"That too." She stared at the pad. Checked off a couple of points, then checked off a blank line. She caught me watching her. "The police don't know who you are?"

"Who I am?"

"Yes, your identity: name, nationality."

"Ah shite!" It was out before I could stop it -- the swear, that is; not the end product of digestion. "Whoops, sorry-- but yes, the detective I bribed, demanded my passport."

"So then, they have your passport number and will have likely flagged it. Elena's passport has been stolen, and the police are probably telling the truth about the accusations against her. You've been warned of intimidation -- and do not take that lightly." She waggled her biro in my direction. "You need to get out of Ukraine."

"But she doesn't have a passport."

"You have a valid Canadian passport, and you are free to travel. I strongly advise you to get out of Ukraine. We can provide an escort to the airport and onto the first flight out of the country."

Mandarin Plaza salad bar photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-13] The Salad Bar at Mandarin Plaza. Site of major backbone development by Elena.

"Thanks, but I'm not leaving her." I glanced at Elena. She sat stiffly in front of a colourful, Quebec winter Carnival poster, kneading her mittens, cheeks red as the Canadian maple leaf. "She is unsafe in Ukraine. Her life is over if she goes back to Russia. I'm not leaving her here."

"But all the consulate can do is recommend evacuating. Your Russian acquaintance doesn't fall under our jurisdiction."

"Acquaintance?" I mumbled.

"Your friend needs a police report about the alleged theft, then a replacement passport from the Russian consulate." She ran through the draconian requirements imposed on Russians for a Canadian visa. Crazy hard to get at the best of times, but impossible with her parents holding her documents and assets hostage.

"What about a refugee claim?" I was grabbing at straws, looking for a trapdoor, a loophole, a way out, even just some more time.

"She would have to apply to the Ukrainian government for asylum first, and then be turned down before applying for asylum in Canada."

"That'll take years, and Ukraine doesn't consider forced marriage, domestic violence and rape, or sectioning and electroshock for homosexuality, grounds for asylum. Like the Russians, they think it's a good idea, not a refugee claim."

"Then she must return to Russia. It is her country after all. Russia has a duty to look after her."

"They'll look after her, all right." I whinged, knowing the deputy was well aware of Russia's countrywide, registration database. A leftover, Soviet programme to track every citizen, tourist, visitor and bipedal, non-feathered, air-breathing life form this side of Vladivostok. And which, for a few dollars, can be accessed by anyone. Not only can bent coppers sell information from police or government databases, but for a modest fee, one can plant whatever evidence or accusations they want to.

Nobody said anything. I think the vice-consul was doodling. "But, really." She shook her head slowly. "First and foremost, you need to get out of Ukraine."

"Not without Elena."

"Then, at least, get out of Kyiv, and do it discretely: no identification, no credit cards." The deputy vice-consul stood. "I wish there was more I could do." Near the door, she paused, picked up her biro, and using the top of a filing cabinet, wrote her direct line on a business card.

Downtown Kyiv at night photo elenameg.com

[Image 11-14] A night scene in downtown Kyiv.

[[ updated Apr 23, 15:22 GMT ]]