17 - Mama Via Internet

Our timing was rubbish. Maybe Alexi's was perfect, but leaving the hotel, I spotted him shamelessly toadying up to the doorman. I grabbed Elena and backtracked.

Turkish Embassy on Primorsky Blvd Odessa Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-1] The Turkish embassy, next door to the Londonskaya.

Too late! He saw us. "Ladies! I have business. Very important business for you!"

We locked arms and marched past the blethering eejit without setting eyes upon him.

Undeterred, he sputtered in our wake, "Listen to me. I can get you a passport!"

I spun around. "Really? No lunatic boat buying. An actual, real passport?"

"Pravda, a real passport."

"How much?"

"For this, let us talk over luncheon." He smirked.

"Meg, enough games with this man." Elena yanked my arm.

"Ah, I see you are busy." The Captain switched back into business mode. "Of course, I am too. It was a happy coincidence that I should find you here. Please ring my office to arrange a meeting."

Hare Krishnas on Primorsky Boulevard in Odessa, Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-2] A walk in the park. Hare Krishnas stroll along Primorsky Boulevard in Odessa, Ukraine.

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Our connection to the Internet was the only thing keeping us alive, moving forward, or deluded into thinking we had a hope in hell. We scoured immigration and human-rights law. Searched tirelessly for accounts of others in similar circumstances. Didn't find any. I looked into buying a light aircraft, or even chartering one. We were that barmy-stupid-desperate. In the very least, surfing the Net gave us something to do, and it kept us from doing something truly daft -- or fatal.

Young couple watch a ferry depart in Odessa Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-3] A young couple in Odessa, Ukraine, watch a Black Sea ferry depart. An abandoned puppy lies at their feet.

In the hotel's deserted business centre, Elena had gotten into a rollicking, great row with Mama via Internet telephony. I signalled her to keep it down before we got thrown out. She glared back, eyes narrowed, cheeks bright red. Then leaned toward the monitor and carried right on. "How can you do this to me? How can you be attacking me like this? You are lucky I am still talking to you after what you have done to me and Meg. Why can't you just let us be?"

Elena Vaytsel on the phone photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-4] Elena, during one of her mother's abusive phone calls.

Mama's voice squawked from internal speakers. "I did it for you, Lennetchka. Who else can help you but me? Who will look after you?"

"I am an adult. I can look after myself. I told you, I am happy. Why can you not accept that?"

"What? What are you saying? You are speaking in this manner to your mother?! If only your father could hear you."

Wedding photo ops in Odessa Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-5] A wedding photo op in Odessa, Ukraine

Elena said nothing. All I heard from the overworked computer speakers was an electronic hissing. She took a long, fortifying breath, then spoke calmly. "You stranded me here. I am sure you know that. I am sure it was what you intended to do."

"No, it was your uncle! He told me to take your passport!"

"I see. You admit to it, after all your denials?"

Mama was silent.

Meg Aitken, Elena Vaytsel mirror selfie photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-6] Elena takes a mirror-selfie in one of the Londonskaya's enormous hallway mirrors.

Elena went on. "By stranding me here, taking my money, my passport. By attacking us, by making me choose between my own life and what you want. By hating and trying to hurt the person I love, you have made me entirely dependent on Meg. You must know that. You keep doing it, so it must be what you want. If you really believed that Meg was a criminal, you would have gone to the police and reported a crime, instead of committing one! If you really cared about me, you would not have done this." She took a deep breath. "Why did you take my passport, Mother? You robbed me of safety. You took my freedom. How did you dare to do this? Have you no conscience?"

"You are not well in the head. You are ill. You will crawl back to me and beg my forgiveness. You will--"

Elena hit the speaker mute. The silence was golden. Without knowing what, or even if her mother was speaking, she spoke slowly and clearly. "I am not insane. I know what I am doing. I am an adult. I am a person with my own choices and feelings. I have my own life. I want you to give my passport back."

Turning off the mute, we heard the tail end of a square-wave modulated shriek. Crikey, it sounded like a fox got into the hen house.

Elena waited it out. "If you worry about me, give me my passport and money."



Huge mirror in ballroom at Londonskaya hotel in Odessa Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-7] Another mirror-selfie in one of the Londonskaya's surrealistically humongous mirrors.

Her voice was ice cold. "No, Elena. I will not give anything to you. You have already taken everything from me. I am destroyed now. I might need that money. Your father and I, we are not getting younger."

"Then at least give me my passport."

"Elena, I am tired of this. God knows what she is doing to you there. I will not give you the passport. Do not ask me again. It is for your own good. And please, Elena, don't tell your friends about this. Whatever you are doing there, it is such a shame on us."

Elena cut the connection with a blow to the mouse that had me wondering what a replacement costs. "I am sorry that you should see me like that."

"I'm not." Truthfully, I was in awe of her.

Elena Vaytsel at the Londonskaya hotel in Odesa Ukraine elenameg.com

[Image 17-8] Elena at the Londonskaya in Odessa.

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With my mega-cool flip-phone on speaker, Elena screwed her courage to the sticking place and dialled Alexi's number.

"Da, hello?" A woman answered over the squalling of a wean.

"Zdrastvootsya, hello. Is Captain Alexi Laddin available?"

"What! Who is this?" It sounded like the woman was juggling the phone and the screamer. "Captain Aladdin!? Jesus, no. Is this a joke? There are no captains here." She hung up.

Elena Vaytsel on the Potemkin stairs in Odessa Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-9] Elena on the Potemkin stairs in Odessa.

Elena held the flip phone out in front of her. "I'm sorry, Meg."

"For a wrong number?"

"Speed dial. Not the wrong number. It worked before." She was shaking. "I am not used to phoning to people."

I took the mobile, slapped it shut. Her overreaction concerned me.

"For me, it is not easy phoning to people. Especially to men with, how to say, power over me."

"Power? It's you that says, he is a con-man."

"I mean, to people that can make me to need to lie."

"You mean they have something you need, like a job, or planning approval, or a passport. I get it, you are obligated to them."

"Yes," Elena was relieved. "Obligated! I must play for these people, a game. To lie. To hate myself. Like letting Dmitry rape me, so he would not tell my mother about Kyiv."

"Blimey, Len! Dmitry was blackmailing you. This is different. Alexi is just a con-man. Means nothing."

Pack of abandoned dogs in Odessa Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-10] Some of Odessa's castaways.

"Means, maybe a passport. What if he really can find one for me? It means another chance for us! And what if he is crazy, and to him, this is only a funny game? What then, Meg?"

My mobile rang. Alexi's number was on the display. "Here, try again." I handed it to Elena.

She flipped it open, still on speaker. "Hello?"

Elena Vaytsel with unwanted kitten in Odessa Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 17-11] Elena holds a stray kitten in Odessa, Ukraine.

"Natalia, is it you that called? My secretary doesn't usually answer my direct line when I am out. Please accept her apologies. What are you doing? Are you ready to talk business about a passport?"

[[ updated Apr 23, 23:25 GMT ]]