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A True Story of Love, Survival and Freedom

Chapter 24

A Piece of Cake

The sun was up -- probably as up as it was going to get -- by the time I crept out of bed, leaving Elena blissfully in dreamland. I discovered our spartan, ground-floor apartment-hotel's patio, right off our barren living room. It was literally a concrete island in a sea of flowers. I hadn't seen any of this the night before, and assumed that we were in a rocky desert. A verdant world of lush green blew my mind, leaving me wondering where we actually were. Somewhere, beyond a tall, extravagantly blooming hedge, something bloody huge was generating a crazy cacophony, not unlike an infinite number of gamelan players practicing an infinite variety of tunes. Despite the breeze, it was hot -- really hot. My bare feet felt like slabs of veggie-bacon sizzling on the cement. I beat a hasty retreat back indoors, fired up the Dell, and using its Wi-Fi, free-jacked hit-and-miss Internet access from a plethora of insecure, and randomly appearing, wireless networks.

Marmaris, Turkey sea of flowers

The patio, off Meg and Elena's "spartan, ground-floor apartment-hotel's patio ... was literally a concrete island, in a sea of flowers." Something neither of them expected to see, in what they thought would be a desert.

A Web search confirmed what I pretty much suspected about Marmaris. It's a back door to Europe via numerous ferry crossings to the nearby Greek islands. We had come to the right place, or would have, if both of us had passports allowing entry to Europe. Obviously, the Greeks, anywhere within eye-shot of Turkey, were well aware of their shore's backdoor potential. They had ways of dissuading any desperate undesirables -- without free-world passports -- from trying to slip in the back, Jack. Getting through with Elena, would be like breaking into Fort Knox.

Hours of frustrating research, over mercurial open networks, proved that Elena's Turkish tourist visa, valid for two months, was indisputably our biggest, concrete-hard obstacle. Considering the shakedown in Odessa and Mama's obsession with getting back at her daughter, the passport was likely compromised, or would be when Tanya returned to Ivanovo empty handed. Applying for an extension in a couple of months, would surely spell G-A-M-E O-V-E-R for Elena. The clock was ticking. We had to make it out of Turkey before time was up. I didn't need to wait the half hour for Google maps to load, to know that between Marmaris and Canada, lay a lot of seawater. Not only that, but countries that would deport Elena to Russia, and arrest me for transporting her, in a heartbeat, if she came near them.

The few grand we had left in our pockets wasn't going to get us far. We couldn't just hop on a flight to Toronto. There wasn't a commercial transportation conveyance out there that would carry a Russian without a visa. Not only was getting home going to be tough, it wasn't going to be cheap. Passage on a freighter with an understanding captain would be more cash than I had; with an oblivious captain -- getting on as stowaways -- would cost more than that by a long shot. That wasn't even taking into account the risk we'd be taking by paying a rogue crew to literally take us hostage on the high seas. Given the success we had in Odessa, of engaging criminal elements, just getting to a furtive, back-alley business-meeting was a total pipe dream. Hey, I knew all that, but outright panic, desperation and love for this deer-in-the-headlights Russian that crashed into my life, had me tearing at the floorboards, looking for an escape hatch.

Elena Ivanova strolls in Marmaris, Turkey

Elena wanders the streets and canals of ye olde towne exploring the many shoppes of Marmaris, Turkey.

Elena came through the front door laden with food from shoppes that took dollars. "Oye, goss-po-dee, still on Internet!?" She flipped on the lights, smiled -- melted my heart -- rifled through her bags to show me the goodies she'd procured. Practicing her English, she described the ancient town and the things she was bursting with excitement to show me.

I had been sitting in the dark, staring at the Dell, like a crazed fortune teller. I'd totally lost track of time. I hated to rain on her parade, but someone has to be the buzz-killer in a relationship. I spun the laptop toward her, uttering that horrible, ominous phrase: "We've got to talk."

Not being conditioned to the this-is-going-to-suck warning, she didn't change her pace or mood. "Olives! Real, from here. From Turkey, olives, Meg! There are trees, right here..."

"There's really no easy way out of this." I cut her off. It was vital, mostly for me, to go over that afternoon's research with her. "You aren't allowed in, or over, or through any country from here to Canada, and there's a lot of ocean in the way. Nobody's going to let you on a commercial plane or boat without a visa, and when your mother gets your passport tagged internationally, and believe-you-me she probably has by now -- especially knowing you're outside the CIS -- it'll become less than worthless in pretty short order."

Elena pulled a kitchen chair up beside mine, rested her chin on my shoulder, and sighed.

Turkey flag and ancient stonework

The Turkish flag contrasts dramatically with the ancient stonework and lush greenery of ancient Marmaris.

"Another thing, unlike the Turkish visa they gave me, yours runs out in two months, not three. Two months, Elena!" I felt her stiffen, straightening her back. "Then you're going back to Russia no matter what. Your mother doesn't have to do a thing. I suppose she could tell the Turkish authorities about your status, if it expires. If you're not out of here by then, she can sit back, and you'll be delivered right into her waiting arms."

"But what can I do?" She slid her arm between my chair and the small of my back. If she was trying to delay bad news with affection, it was working. "I'm sorry for everything you have to deal with, one problem after the other. I cannot believe you are with me."

"I'm looking for a way out of this." I gestured at the laptop.

"But Meg, we've run out of road. There is only the sea ahead of us. As you say, we have two months before we must part."

"I do not want to part with you!" I slid her arm out from behind me, took her hand. "I am looking for a way out of this with you, or I wouldn't be here doing everything I can think of." Again, I waved at the laptop. "We need a solution."

"I will to go to Russia when you go to home in Canada."

I felt a tear splash on the back of my hand. It wasn't mine. "But..." My throat tightened, words were hard to get out. "But Canada will be home. Home for us both. I will not leave Turkey without you."

"You are prisoner because of me!" Elena wrenched her hands free of mine. She stood, paced toward the patio. "I cannot to go with you! Do not you see!? You are like in jail with me. I cannot make to you this happen. I cannot deny to you home, friends, family." I tried to speak, she turned, stopped me. "No, Meg! I will to Russia go when two months Turkish visa runs out." I objected, she held up a hand. "Ah, ah, ah! Let me to speak. You will, from Canada, arrange for me to come to you from Russia, should this be what you want when you are free of me, when you, as you say, find way out of this."

I was in shock. Elena's words came at me like hornets from a toppled nest. "You want me to leave you?"

"No, I do not want to see you dragged down, harmed so! Meg, I cannot go with you. If you do not leave to your home, but stay here, what then? Ukraine, back in another couple months?" She was sobbing.

It had me fighting back my own flood of tears. "Then Russia! I'm ready to go to Russia with you."

"You cannot to Russia go without visa. You need invitation, visa from Russian Embassy in Canada. You have said to me this. But so what? Russia, Ukraine, Turkey they all will not let us to be together. You are foreigner. You do not know! Why do you think we are here now, in Turkey, running like fox from dogs and horses."

Marina and boats in Marmaris, Turkey

The source of that, "crazy cacophony, not unlike an infinite number of gamelan players practicing an infinite variety of tunes," is revealed in this shot. A breeze sets vertical ropes on aluminum poles (halyards on masts) oscillating, and thus, banging away like crazy against the hollow masts.

"They can't stop us!" I said, knowing they bloody-well could. We would end up living a secret life underground in the CIS, denigrated, denied rights and constantly under threat of physical harm, but we would still be together, there would still be a chance we could find a way out. "We can try..." I sort of spoke my loose-end of thought aloud. I don't even know why. Just that something wasn't right, it wasn't the end, it wasn't an impasse -- I had a solution! I had to have. I always saved the day.

"Try! Try, what?" Elena prompted. "What, Meg? If we go Russia, I will never get out again. Parents will find us. Russia is not Ukraine. Nobody will help us there. Militsia will not listen to you. You are not foreigner there, you are enemy, you are hated, you are sick goma-sek." She used the derogatory slang for homosexual. "They will maybe kill you. They will say that you are criminal, militsia will, they will put you to jail for anything. Put me to mental hospital. There is no way in Russia can we be together."

She was right. We'd been through it, over and over; an endless, grinding, life consuming search for a way just to be safe, equal... ordinary. "Yeah, we have to make it to Canada."

"And if two months runs out?"

"We have to leave for Canada before then."

"What if there is no way?"

"There is, we will find it. I am not leaving you behind to rot in Russia."

"I will run away in Turkey. In desert, I will go. Russia is my death, but Meg, it will not be end of you. I love you too much. I will run into desert and you will be free, if in two months will not be from this place."

I opened my mouth to speak. No sound came out. My throat had become instantly dry. I swallowed hard enough to dislocate my tonsils. "Ah right, then we just have to do this in two months or less."

"This time you say we must do it, but Meg, why have you not told me it is piece of cake?"

Cake, had she finally lost it? Sitting back down she slid her arms around me. "You say, always, things are pieces of cake, but there is no cake from you this time."

"Oh, yeah... I get it. Very well, I promise you a humongous piece of cake when we pull this off." I brought up a spreadsheet on the laptop. "Take a look at this. Here's what I've been thinking."

Elena leaned closer to the screen.

"I can fly a plane, so I looked at buying something I can afford, stuffing it with temporary fuel tanks, some salty snacks, coffee, and you and me, and then, flying from here to Canada -- nonstop. We'd land somewhere, I don't know, maybe Halifax. I'd have a lawyer join the officials waiting to welcome you to Canada with open hand eh-hem cuffs on the taxiway. Then, I'd sell the aircraft and the ferry tanks. Maybe, make back the costs, and we would be home free!"

"Free for to get airplane and to get to home?"

"I meant, piece-of-cake free, not cost free. But weirdly, light aircraft are really cheap here; probably, pick up a timed out MiG for peanuts."

Elena looked at me strangely. "Tak, you buy an airplane. Fly with us across ocean?" She leaned back in her chair. "Do I understand?"

"You do, but it won't work."

"Why tell to me this, 'it won't work?' "

"I need you to know what I am trying to do, and how I am trying to do it. You have to be a part of this. Besides, when I tell you why I think something won't work, or even will work, you might know things that I don't. You might think an idea I have, is crazy, is suicide. If we both don't believe in it -- believe we can make it out alive -- we probably won't. That is why I am telling you about everything I can think of."

"Oh," she sighed, slumping her shoulders. "You say flying plane will not work already. Why tell to me this, then? Why to give me hope only to take it away?"

"Because you might have a way to make it work."

She perked right up at that. "What do you need to make it work?"

"More money than I've got, or can get. Unless you have money, or..." I peered at her over my glasses.

"Or what, Meg?"

"Or... sixty thousand shares of Gazprom, perhaps?"

She looked down at her hands crumpled in her lap. "They won't give to me. Only for to buy apartment, car, to have children, to marry with Dima."

Local fishing boats in Marmaris, Turkey

Local fishing boats tied up for the night in Marmaris, Turkey.

"Of course, it's a dowry. The point is the plane idea won't work without more money. I simply can't afford one that's airworthy, or big enough to carry both of us and all the fuel we'd need to get there. I can't afford anything big enough to not have to refuel in Europe, Ireland, Iceland. If we came down from the sky, you would be arrested. Probably, me too. The plane would be seized. You would be sent back to Russia. Anyway, the regulations for buying, licensing, and especially, modifying an aircraft by adding ferry tanks, are disturbingly complex. We wouldn't have a hope in hell of doing it in two months."

"What's left for us to do?" Elena asked.

"Piece of cake, we go on to plan B!" I minimized the flying-to-Canada spreadsheet and brought up the browser. A familiar website graced the screen: yachtworld.com.

"Alexi's business friend showed to us this site in Odessa."

"He wasn't a friend. He was a store clerk, but yes, that's the site. I used it today to look for boats here in Marmaris. Let me tell you, there's one heck of a lot of them. This town is totally yacht-central."

"You are thinking to buy yacht? Odessa, you said..."

"I know, but I think it's our only chance. There are people here, professionals who sell boats. Not scammers, like Alexi. There are boats here that can cross oceans."

"Cross ocean!?" Elena sat bolt upright, hands up in a you're-freaking-insane gesture. "In Odessa, plan was boat for get to Hungary, maybe Turkey. Black sea, Meg! Not ocean."

"People sail yachts across oceans all the time." I picked up my -- by then, seriously worn -- paperback memoir of solo, round-the-world yacht racing. I shook it in front of her. "Heck, they even do it all alone. All the way around the world, without stopping, just for the sporting fun of it! I can assure you, more people cross oceans in yachts than in small, single engine, propeller planes, like Charles Lindbergh."

"Lindbergh could enter to Europe!"

"Precisely, we can't. That is why I think a yacht is our only hope. At least, it's better than a plane. A plane without fuel comes down from the sky. If that happens in Europe, we get arrested. If that happens in the ocean, we die. If a high-seas landing doesn't kill us, we float around until we get rescued, and then, you get sent to Russia."

She inhaled hard enough to drop the local, atmospheric pressure. "Yacht can go without fuel?"

"Of course!" I slapped the paperback down on the table. She had to see the cover: Close To the Wind, by Pete Goss. "Yachts use wind for propulsion, that way, they can go anywhere without stopping for gas."

Olde shoppe in Marmaris, Turkey

Historic Marmaris, Turkey.

She grabbed the book, stared at it, disbelieving. "Sailboat, not yacht. You saying to sail little sailboat, not yacht, cross oceans?"

"Well, not that little." I had a truly little yacht -- okay, sailboat -- back in British Columbia, so I knew we probably needed something with a little more girth. "Come on, take a look at this website with me. There are definitely yah... er, sailboats, here that can cross oceans. They do it all the time. Believe me, it's a piece-of-cake."

"Really? I must take your word for it. I know nothing about sailing-boats, or yachts."

In reality, I was just about as unfamiliar with yachts as she was. I scrolled through boat listings. Oooing and aaahing at features I knew nothing about, but thought it would make me sound erudite.

Elena scanned along. "The closest to sailboat-yacht I have been, is here, in Turkey. Once, when we, with Dima, traveled to Antalya, I saw, in the harbor, many masts. Never did I think to go on the water on one. But, are they not a lot of money? You can afford such expense?" Knocking my hand from the touchpad, she scrolled through the listings herself. Prices were six figures and beyond.

"I can borrow money against my house. Then, sell the boat when we get to Canada and pay off the loan." I actually had a hard time believing what I was saying. It was like some kind of dare-you game I was playing with myself. Then again, I'd been through it so many times, I was ready to just walk into the desert, myself. Yeah, it sounded risky, but damn, all things considered, what choice did I -- did we -- have: to stay together; to live as we wanted; to deny the hateful bastards their win; and to take back our lives?

The clock was ticking. Spreadsheets on the laptop proved I could carry the half-million dollar line of credit, for a few months, anyway. How long could it take, and what were the chances I would run it all the way up anyhow? It was our only option -- I guess that means it wasn't actually an option at all, but a chance. A nearly impossible, long shot at an apple on Elena's head.

Local fishing boats in Marmaris, Turkey

Local fishing boats in Marmaris, Turkey.


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