Two Women Cross the Planet, in a Fight for their Love and Freedom

 

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20 - Crazy-Stupid-Desperate

Our timing was bollocks. Or it could have been that Alexi's was perfect. Leaving the Londonskaya on yet another wild-goose-chasing, pipe-dream, crazy-stupid-desperate attempt to stay together; there he was. He appeared to be groveling with the doorman. I grabbed Elena, tried to backtrack inside.

Turkish Embassy on Primorsky Blvd Odessa Ukraine
The Turkish embassy, next door to the Londonskaya. Crazy-stupid-desperate and running out of time, they were there, looking for a way out.

"Ladies, what a wondrous surprise!" Damn. He saw us.

"Don't make eye contact." I hissed. "Maybe he'll go away."

Down the stairs. Accelerate right past. Don't look left or right. Kind of like negotiating a four-way stop.

He took up the chase. "Ladies! Young ladies... I have business. Very important business for you!"

Up ahead, less than a hundred meters and closing fast, was the Turkish embassy. Maybe Elena could claim asylum, beg for entry, buy time. As I said, we were crazy-stupid-desperate.

From behind, Alexi sputtered, "Listen to me. I can get you a passport!"

We stopped. I spun around. "Really? No cockamamie boat buying. An actual, real passport?"

"Pravda, a real passport."

"How much?"

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

"Meg... enough games with this man. We must go." Elena yanked me toward the embassy.

"Ah, I see you are busy." The Captain switched back into business mode. "Of course, I am too. Very important meeting in this area. It was a happy coincidence that I should find you here. Please call my office to arrange a meeting. We will discuss this very important business over lunch."

Hare Krishnas on Primorsky Boulevard in Odessa, Ukraine
A walk in the park. Hare Krishnas stroll along Primorsky Boulevard in Odessa, Ukraine.

* * *

Begging a Turkish official to let a couple of women be a couple, in his devote country, didn't really work out. I can hear your sardonic gasps of astonishment. To be fair, the official thought it was for our own good.

"Unaccompanied women can find Turkish customs -- how shall I say it -- difficult. It would be unlikely you would find asylum in my country." He implored Elena to talk to her mother, go home, plan a nice trip to Turkey with her fiance. It was a destination for dream-come-true, Russian weddings after all.

Young couple watch a ferry depart in Odessa Ukraine
A young couple in Odessa, Ukraine, watch a Black Sea ferry depart. An abandoned puppy lies at their feet. Perhaps they too dream of escape.

* * *

Our last, fleeting glimmer of hope: our Internet connection, was in Londonskaya's deserted business center. We scoured immigration and human-rights law looking for accounts of others in similar circumstances. Didn't find any. I seriously thought of buying a light aircraft or chartering one. In Ukraine!? I know, how crazy-stupid-desperate can one get? We were waging war with frustration, fear, depression and ineffectiveness. Both in our own way. Even sit-down, stare-at-the-computer sessions made us feel like we were, at least, doing something.

Elena Ivanova on the phone
Elena during one of the many abusive phone calls she chose to take from her mother. The frequency of these abusive calls tapered off once Elena stood up for herself.

I was so engrossed with that boats-for-sale website I totally missed Elena getting into a rollicking, great row with Mama. From an adjacent desktop, Elena's side of the conversation had become impossible to ignore. I gave her a concerned look. She cranked the volume on the desktop's speakers and glared back at me, eyes narrowed, cheeks bright red. Leaning into the tiny boom microphone, she said, "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've done to me and Meg. Why can't you just let us be?"

Mama's voice, modulated by the familiar rasp of Internet telephony, squawked from the small speakers. "I did it for you, Lennochka. I was so worried. I don't know who she is and where she is taking you. Who else can help you but me? Who will look after you?"

"I'm an adult. I can look after myself and Meg isn't taking me anywhere. I can go where I want with whomever I want. I'm not going to live under you for the rest of my life. I told you, I am happy. Why can't you accept that?"

Wedding photo ops in Odessa Ukraine
A wedding photo op in Odessa Ukraine

"Look what you are doing. You must be insane! That woman, that... that... false friend." Mama refused to utter my name. "She must be a cult leader! She has certainly brainwashed you. Do you really think she likes you? You, of all people?! She wants to sell you into prostitution or kill you for your organs. You must listen to me. You can not see that she is a criminal! You can not do this with your life."

Elena clenched her fists. "Stop this! Meg, her name is Meg, and she is not a criminal. It is you who is a criminal."

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

Elena said nothing. Mama said nothing. There was only hissing from the overworked speakers.

"Well?!" Mama flinched first.

Elena took a long, fortifying breath. Her voice was calm and measured. "You stranded me here. I am sure you know that. I am sure it was what you intended to do."

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

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

An awkward silence ensued. The hissing got louder. Automatic noise suppression is so hard to get right during shrieking, squawking, bombastic conversations. Then, "I did not say that. It was... her! She... that woman, she took it to kidnap you!"

Meg Stone, Elena Ivanova mirror selfie
Elena snags a mirror-selfie in one of the Londonskaya's enormous hallway mirrors.

Calmly, Elena said what she needed to. "By stranding me here: taking my money, my passport. By attacking us, by making me chose 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, if you really thought she was harming me, you would have gone to the police and reported a crime instead of committing one! If you really cared about me and what I think is right for me, you would not have done this to me."

More hissing.

Elena asked again, "Why did you take my passport, Mother?"

We thought Mama had hung up, when the speakers crackled. "To keep it from that... that... that deviant, that criminal from the filthy, depraved West!"

"But Mother, it is my passport, my safety, my freedom. How did you dare to do this? Have you no conscience?"

You betray Dima, such a perfect man. No sane woman would do such a thing for this deviant, western perversion. You are not well in the head. You are ill, misguided, foolish to think of being with a woman. 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 into the tiny microphone. "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, and I want you to give me my passport back." Whew, she said it.

Unmuting the speakers, we heard the tail end of a square-wave modulated shriek. Sounded like a raccoon in the chicken coop. Finally, Elena managed, "If you worry about me, give me my passport and money back."

Silence.

Huge mirror in ballroom at Londonskaya hotel in Odessa Ukraine
Another mirror-selfie in one of the Londonskaya's surrealistically humongous mirrors. This particular mirror is in the grand ballroom.

"Mama?"

Her voice was ice cold. "No, Elena. I will not give anything to you. You don't know what you are doing! You have already taken everything from me. I am destroyed now. Think about my well being for a change? I might need that money. Your father and I, we are not getting younger."

"Then at least give me my passport."

"No! I won't give it to you. You are not going anywhere. I sacrificed myself for you. You have no right!"

"Yes I do! In the real world you would be arrested for this!"

"What do you know about that gay-europa world of yours? Don't be so naive. Whatever she tells you is not true. All you need to know is that father and I love you and know what is right for you."

"You do not care what I think is right for me. You don't care that I don't want to be Dima's wife and have children. You do not see that I am hurt, that I am in pain every single day? I hate this life you plan for me. From now on, I am deciding what is good for me, not you!"

"Elena, I am tired of this, you are definitely not well. God knows what she is doing to you there. I will not give you the passport. Do not ask me again. I am doing this 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 would cost. "I am sorry you witnessed that."

"I'm not. It gives me some idea of what you've been dealing with." The truth of the matter was I was overwhelmed with admiration for how she'd stood up for herself.

Elena Ivanova

* * *

We were wandering around Odessa. No idea where. Probably doing some extreme sight-seeing, or feeding abandoned dogs. Just because everything is going to shit, it doesn't preclude adventure.

Elena wondered if it might be a good idea to call Alexi about his passport proposal. Actually, it wasn't so much of a good-idea kind-of-thing, but an it's-the-only-freaking-chance-in-hell-we've-got.

With my ultra-geeky, totally-cool flip-phone on speaker -- Star Trek TOS communicator style -- Elena called Alexi's direct, ultra private, office line.

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

Elena Ivanova on the Potemkin stairs in Odessa Ukraine
A sunrise shot of Elena on the Potemkin stairs in Odessa. Taken before yet another, terrifyingly ineffective day of exploring and looking for that one way out; that freaking tiny, overlooked, million to one chance of making it out, together and alive.

"Zdrastvootsya, hello, this is Alexis and Natalia. Is Captain A. Laddin available, please?" Despite being taken aback, Elena recited her well rehearsed, plan-B line with aplomb. And yeah, we were still using fake names with the likes of Alexi.

"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 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 phone, slapped it shut. Her overreaction concerned me. When I tried to give her a reassuring hug she was wound up tight as a spring.

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

"Power? It's you that's been telling me, Alexi is nothing but a con-man."

"I mean, they can to make me do things. To have to lie." Elena waved her hands, frustrated.

"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 to them a game, to lie, to hate myself, like to let Dima rape me so he would not tell to Mother about Kyiv and liking women."

"Yeah, Dima was blackmailing you. This is different. This is just a pathetic con-artist. Means nothing."

Pack of abandoned dogs in Odessa Ukraine
Some of Odessa's abandoned dogs. Cast away, like trash on the street, invisible, they wait for whatever castaways wait for. Either that, or they simply exist until they die, get sold as street-meat and ground up for pelmeni (a smaller, savory, mystery-meat, Russian version of the famous, Polish pierogi or Ukrainian varenyky).

"Means, maybe passport. I need that pathos, pathic... what you said, artist man. We need him. Passport means everything. This woman with baby on phone, I do not care, but maybe Alexi is just criminal with nothing for us but to take money. What if to him this is fun game, but for us, lives! What then, Meg?" She told me later -- years later, in fact -- that at the time, every failure, big or small; every locked door; every crooked opportunist; every official throwing a temper tantrum; every asshole's opinion that there was no way we could live as we want and be together; was for her an end.

The phone rang in my hand. Alexi's ultra private number was on the display. "Here, try again." I handed it to Elena.

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

"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?"

"How can you get me a passport?" Elena asked, in Russian.

"Young lady, you are asking me how to do my job. I am a businessman. I make deals. I make things happen. Your part of the business is to tell me what you want."

"A passport, so Mmmeh... ah, Natalia and I can get home to Canada..."

"Correct!" He blurted. "A business plan must be made. It is a mission statement. Very important. We must write this down in very legal terms. There must be no mistake. This is important business. We are forming a limited company when we do business together. We must meet, write minutes, write a proposal..."

Elena was snowed under by his gibberish right from the start. She held on admirably, mind you, until she footballed the squawking phone to me, cheeks flaming, the rest of her face, white as the driven snow. "You speak. Do you know what is, businessman, business-plan?"

Elena Ivanova with unwanted kitten in Odessa Ukraine
Elena holds an unwanted kitten -- raising her dangerously low 'social' level (a SIMS computer-game reference) -- as long as she can, in Odessa, Ukraine.

"Ahhh, right!" I spoke in English, the language of serious business. "Alexi, it's Meh... me, yeah, that's the ticket, it's me: Natalia." The screaming baby was seriously annoying. "El, ah... bloody hell, what's-her-name..."

"It is Alexis!" What's-her-name hissed at me.

"Yeah, okay. Alexis isn't super familiar with all this business talk..."

"Very important to make business-plan..." His attempt to cut me off was drowned out by the baby.

"Tell me what you and, um, Alexis were talking about." I yelled over the din. "And have your, eh hem, secretary take the baby away from the phone!"

The wailing subdued enough for Alexi to prattle on about signing papers and whatnot.

"We'll come to your office at the Port Authority to sign whatever."

"No! I'm not going to be in my office this afternoon. I'll meet you at the restaurant we last spoke at. We can go through the forms there."

"I can't afford the steak and lobster. I'd rather you stiffed me for the bill at the Athena mall cafeteria." I said. "We will be there by 1 pm. Dosvedania!" Snap! Say what you will about them, but flip-phones provide for wonderfully satisfying hang-ups.

Potemkin stairs Odessa Ukraine
The end of another fruitless day. One day closer to "Time's Up" for Elena and Meg. Elena takes this shot of the couple ahead on the climb up the Potemkin stairs back to the Londonskaya.

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