Thursday, 28 June 2018

Scarlet on the Horizon : a novel

SURPRISED by joy--impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.


Part 1

Chapter 1

Lena got out of the mini-bus that had taken them from Copenhagen and looked around. It was a fine day in early June 1990. Her first impression was pleasant, but more important, she had a sense of arrival. Something would happen here. Here was her chance. Her life could change forever in the next weeks. Here he might find her. Here she might fall in love.

An image flashed through her mind of a young girl looking out to sea, waiting for her destiny to arrive in the form of a ship with scarlet sails. It would be in fulfilment of a prophecy told her when she was a little girl that such a ship would bring with it the man of her dreams.  She had watched the wonderfully romantic film any number of times and knew the book on which it was based almost as if by heart. She wasn’t alone in feeling a little like Assol, the heroine of Alexandr Grin’s short novel ‘Scarlet Sails’. How many other Soviet girls, as it were, sat on the beach and waited for the scarlet silk on the horizon. But eventually most of them grew old enough to realise that there wasn’t such a ship or at least that it wasn’t going to arrive for them, and so they took the best they could get. Lena knew this, too. She was nearly twenty-two. Quite a lot of her friends were already married. Once you were about her age, you pretty nearly married the first reasonable man who came along and hoped for the best. But not quite yet. She still had a chance. Here there was an alternative. Here was a road available to very few. She was excited and not a little afraid. What would happen to her here? She had no idea. Did she have plans? But really she just had to wait and hope and one day… Could it be soon?

She was from Baltiysk, a little town in Kaliningrad oblast or region. It was geographically the most western part of the Soviet Union and home to the Baltic Sea Fleet. It was also a closed region. There were no tourists from the West. Her father was an officer in the navy. Her mother was a doctor. Her life had been pretty good. Their home was larger than average. Their living standards were pretty good. She had been able to travel a few times around the region. Riga was quite close, and it was easy to get the bus there. She’d even been a few times to Poland. Denmark was just across the Baltic Sea, but there was no ferry and no possibility of flying there directly. She instead had to fly to Moscow. She’d spent a day and a night there. There had been a meeting. This was customary whenever someone went to the West. The possibility of her travelling had been raised a year or so earlier, when she showed some promise with languages. Since then she’d received special tuition and advice at the university she attended in Kaliningrad. She thought that her Danish was fairly good, but she’d never actually spoken to a Dane. She’d rarely actually spoken to anyone in the language.

It had been wonderful to actually see Moscow, however briefly. They’d given her a tour of the famous sites, but it had all flown by. Anyway, she had longed to be away. She’d dreamed of Denmark. She’d dreamed of who she would meet there.

There were five of them. They’d first met at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. She’d chatted a bit to Svetlana who was the only other girl. They looked around the grounds as they approached the entrance to the school. The setting was idyllic. Everything seemed clean and well-tended. The buildings were typically Danish, white walls with red roofs. Everywhere they had seen little Danish flags, fluttering outside nearly every house, often just thin triangular slivers, but sometimes the full rectangular red flag with its Scandinavian cross.

“What do you think, Sveta?” said Lena.

“This is Askov?” answered and asked Svetlana with her own question “Pretty. But I’m tired I just want to get to my room and sleep a bit.”

They had been driven there by a man from the Soviet Embassy. He had not been very talkative, just explaining a few things on the way.

“Do you want me to explain to them who you are?” he asked.

“I think, we can manage,” said Lena.

“Well, I’ll come along just in case.”

It was good that he did. Lena talked to the receptionist at the entrance to the folk high school, a sort of college, but she couldn’t understand half of the reply. The receptionist tried English, which she spoke fluently with only a slight accent. Lena understood English very poorly, she had never learned more than a few words and that was some time ago. Soon everyone joined in. There was confusion, but eventually the driver took charge speaking more or less fluent Danish. He left soon after having made sure that they had all found their rooms and knew when to expect dinner.

Lena looked around her room. There was no question that it was very nice. She’d only stayed a few times in hotel rooms in Gdansk or Vilnius. This was much nicer. Everything worked. It was clean, with tasteful pictures and what looked like a comfortable bed. The shower and toilet down the hall seemed to be shared with only a few others. She thought back to the hall of residence in Kaliningrad where she had lived. She’d shared a room there with three others. It was a square grey box with three beds and nothing much else. The single toilet was shared by the whole floor of thirty and was disgusting. You had to book when you had a shower and hope that the water might be hot. But this was nice. She lay back on the bed and dreamed a little. The face she saw was that of the actor who had played Arthur Grey in the film of Scarlet Sails, but she knew that it wasn’t the Soviet actor, the impossibly dashing Vasily Lanovoy, she dreamed of. It was rather of the man who right now was sailing from England towards her. He’d be on a ferry, not a sailing ship and there certainly would not be scarlet sails, but nevertheless, she was waiting for him. In her dreams she saw him arrive.

David Grey had indeed been sailing towards her. But he had never heard of ‘Scarlet Sails’, nor had he seen the film. He had also never heard of Lena. That morning the ferry from Newcastle had docked at Esbjerg. He could hardly believe how long it had taken to cross what he always thought was a rather small sea. He hadn’t slept much.

He’d been learning Danish for less than a year and although he knew the grammar well enough and had a pretty good vocabulary, he had never properly had a conversation. He’d attempted to speak to some Danes on the boat, but they immediately answered him in faultless English as soon as they realised that he was foreign. Anyway, the Danish he could read quite well on the page sounded remarkably different coming out of someone’s mouth. It all sort of ran together in a stream of mumbles. But he wasn’t discouraged. He knew that fluency would come with practice and that was why he was here. He needed Danish for his studies, but he though it wasn’t enough just to be able to read with the help of a dictionary. He wanted to understand like a Dane understood, otherwise it would really be no better than reading a translation. That needed fluency.

It was a short trip from Esbjerg to Askov. He was tired, but looking forward to a new experience. One of his tutors at Cambridge had suggested he come here. He’d said that it was a fun place, that he’d have a nice holiday and learn something, too. He’d become quite friendly with Stig Knudsen who was from Denmark. They sometimes had a pint or two together after a tutorial. They knew each other well enough that they sometimes talked of personal things. It had been a relief for David to have someone a bit older with whom he could share some of his troubles. He remembered how good Stig had been about it when had talked of Gillian, a girl he’d known since school, a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere. Stig had recommended that he go to Denmark where the girls were not so uptight. But David’s confidence had gradually been shattered by his long, frustrating relationship with his best friend. He’d waited for her to change. He’d waited for her to love him as he loved her. He’d got to the stage where he didn’t dare even try to begin a romance with her for fear of being rejected and losing her friendship. But he’d finally had a showdown with a couple of months previously. He’d told her that he loved her and she’d told him that she loved him but that she couldn’t be with him. That was it. Neither had wanted to see each other after that. It had been too painful for each of them. He was still devastated and wondered if he was just useless around girls. What did you have to do to find love? He didn’t have any particular expectations with regard to Askov. There would be girls no doubt, but he hardly even knew how to begin a conversation with one of them. It would be hard enough in English, let alone Danish. Here, in fact, he quickly discovered his error, realising that speaking a foreign language can be quite a liberating experience. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to be direct, because you have the excuse of not knowing how to speak subtly. David thought of himself as some sort of an existentialist, though in a rather self-mocking sort of way and therefore did not believe in destiny, but despite what he believed about these matters, he too was moving towards his fate.

Chapter 2

The little group of Russians sat together in the canteen and spoke Russian. The food was very good if at times a little strange. But much of it was familiar, the black bread, the various forms of sour milk, the cold meats and the cheese they would have called Lithuanian.

Lena had suggested that they try to speak Danish together, but the attempt had been a failure. No one’s heart had really been in it. They had been tired and as a soon as they found a lack of vocabulary they used the Russian word. Within minutes they were talking in Russian again.

“We’ll have lots of time to speak Danish anyway,” said Oleg, a rather tall, striking young man from Sverdlovsk.

“How long have you been studying?” she asked.

“Two years,” he said. “But my main language is French.”

“I suppose it’s the same with all of us.” said Svetlana “Danish is a sort of side line.”

There were nods of agreement. Lena was not particularly interested in this conversation with her fellow Russians. It was not for this that she was here. She could care less what Andrei, the guy from Kalinin had said. She’d tried a mild joke about them both being from places named after Kalinin. But his glance had been one of slight wariness, even disapproval as if she’d said something anti-Soviet, as if he might write it down in a little book. Surely they had gone beyond that. But maybe it was just that the guy was uptight and uninteresting. The others had backed Lena up however, and laughed as well. Petr was from Leningrad, but he continually used the slang form “Piter”. There were, of course, some people who disapproved of such minor rebellions, but actually Soviet life was remarkably free so long as you played the game.

“So we both live on the Baltic, Lena?” said Petr. “What’s it like down your way?”

“It’s not bad. There are some nice beaches and it can get fairly warm in the summer. Some of the small towns are very pretty, but most of the centre of Kaliningrad was destroyed in the war.”

“It’s a bit embarrassing,” said Sveta “but I’m not exactly sure where Kaliningrad is, apart from it being somewhere near Poland.”

“It used to be called Königsberg,” said Lena. “You know the town where Kant lived. There’s another town nearby Sovetsk that used to be called Tilsit, the place where Aleksandr and Napoleon signed some treaty in the middle of a river. There were a couple of battles from that period as well.”

“So you’re a German,” joked Oleg. This got another frown from Andrei.

“You sometimes see German signs on old buildings,” said Lena, “and on gravestones and such like, but you never hear German spoken, they all left.”

She’d touched on a subject that was better not pursued further, so instead she began looking around the room. Was he there?

She supposed that most of the people taking part in the course would have arrived by now as classes began tomorrow. There must have been about sixty people. Most of them looked like students in their early twenties, but there were a few people in their thirties or forties. She played a little game of guessing where people were from. Those people looked like they were from Italy, while those looked like they were from Germany. She got up and wandered around a little as if going to get another cup of coffee, but really trying to catch a word or two of their various languages. Hardly anyone was speaking Danish apart from one group who seemed very serious. It was obvious, however that they were not Danes as the way they spoke lacked the mumbling quality that she had heard earlier.

“I think, it’s very good that you’re speaking Danish amongst yourselves,” she mentioned in passing.

“Thank you,” said one of them. “We want to make the most of the course. Would you care to join us?”

“Thank you,” said Lena. “Perhaps another day, I don’t think I am at your level.”

“Oh, no, you speak very well. Where are you from?”

“Russia. I’m Lena.”

“And I’m Klaus, nice to meet you. See you later.”

She continued looking around. She’d never met him, but she hoped so much that he was here. Could something have happened to prevent their meeting? Where was he? Her eyes scanned the people in the building. People she did not know, but who she would all come to know over the next few weeks. It was as if she already knew them all. There were people here who would become her friends or at the very least acquaintances. There was one who she might love. Which of them was he? Nearly everyone was in a group. But one man was sitting eating and at the same time reading a book. She passed nearby.

“What are you reading?” she asked.

He looked up, but it was obvious that he was confused. He’d heard something but had not understood.

“Your book?”

He looked up and their eyes met. He showed her the cover. In English she read “The Brothers Karamazov”.

“A little light holiday reading,” she said.

It was obvious that he was struggling a bit to understand. She spoke more slowly, more clearly and then he got it. He smiled. She thought it a rather nice smile. His eyes were very blue and they were deep and intelligent.

“I have another book for when I’m tired.” He reached into his bag and brought out another book. She saw a picture of pirates and read “The Sea Hawk” by Rafael Sabatini.

“Do you know what the title is in Danish? My English isn’t very good.”

He told her.

“I’ve read that one. He’s quite popular in Russia. I’m Lena,” she said.


“It looks like you’re probably the only one from England. You came alone?”

“Yes. I got the ferry last night.”

“Well, see you later.”


This was the one. She had recognised him, though she had never met him. The brief moment of contact had been enough. Yes, he was the one she would meet. He would be her ship’s captain. He seemed to be the only one from England. Yes, he was the one to fulfil her dream. But would anything happen in the next days and weeks? How did you start something with someone you had never met? She wondered what if anything she could do to help things along, or if she should just wait for him, wait as she had always waited on her beach looking towards the horizon.

There was something striking about the little Russian girl, David thought sitting in his room later. He was tired as the boat across the sea had not been all that comfortable and he’d been in a large cabin with a group of rather noisy school kids, excited about their trip to Denmark. He sat in his room smoking while sipping the bottle of Coke he had bought at the local shop. Quite a few people had come up to him seeing that he didn’t know anyone. Everyone seemed very friendly. They had mostly spoken English, wherever they were from. He reflected that anyone who chose to learn Danish would probably already know English pretty well. Yet the little Russian girl continued with Danish and seemed to struggle with relatively simple English words like “sea” and “hawk”. Maybe she only knew Danish. What was she called? Lena. It was the only name he could remember from those he had met. He knew rather well a Russian émigré couple in Cambridge, but had only met people who lived in the Soviet Union on one or two occasions. There had been a small group visiting Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he had spent a summer. He’d chatted to them and noticed their odd, rather dowdy clothing. But they’d been dull and he had not got to know any of them well.

He wondered why this Lena struck him. After all, perhaps twenty people had introduced themselves. Was it that she reminded him of Gillian? Perhaps, that was it. Lena was just a little taller than Gillian, but both were very small, less than 5 feet 2. There was something about small girls that he liked. His mind flicked back to Gillian, but he said aloud the Danish word for “no” and sought to dismiss the image. Of course, it would be nice if something happened here. But he had no expectations. He was useless with girls. It was always the man who had to start things off and he just didn’t know how and anyway, preferred to do nothing rather than risk being embarrassed.

He’d had a couple of not very serious relationships with girls who he did not really love. As was the British way, sometimes drunkenness overcame inhibition and you ended up some evening kissing someone. Both of you were then relieved as that meant you were now going out. But it wasn’t much of a way to find love. Gillian had always been in the background and any other relationship that he might have started had always foundered on the fact that in the end he loved only her. He knew what it was like to love someone without being loved in return and so felt guilty at what he had done to others. Things had never progressed very far, but nonetheless, he felt that he had used them and that on occasion he had done damage. There were many things in the last few years he regretted.

He tried to dismiss Lena from his thoughts. He needed this course badly for his studies and, anyway, even if something did happen, there was no way it could continue. But somehow her image appeared in his mind. Strange how he could remember her while everyone else was more or less a blur.
He didn’t like her hair streaked with blonde. But what did that matter? It could grow out. But her slim build and size made him want to hold her and be careful that he did not crush her. And yet he sensed certain strength in her. He wondered what it took to get here from Russia. It surely was not weakness. He saw in his mind her eyes and was able to discern what he had not noticed consciously before that they were greyish blue. She seemed to have a seriousness that was “high, solitary and most stern,” but yet there was laughter too and irony in those eyes. There was a mystery in her look. She’d recognised him. He was absolutely certain that she’d recognised him. But that was impossible. He had never been where she had been. Perhaps, it suggested some connection between them, some mysterious path that had led them to this point. But no, he did not believe in fate. He believed in choice. Anyway, he would do nothing about it. He was resolved. There was no point and even if he tried, nothing would happen. He was quite useless at these things.

Chapter 3

Lena gradually woke up and initially was unsure where she was. But in that half waking, half sleeping state came to realise that she was where she wanted to be, where she had worked so hard to get to. It was as if her dream was still continuing, or else she was remembering and reliving it. Yet her dream was also pointing forward to what might be, possibly, to what must be. Like most Russians she believed in her fate, at least it was a word that she used reasonably often. The image of the English boy was still in her mind. She’d been dreaming of his childhood in a castle in England. He’d been rebellious against his strict and stuffy parents. He’d wanted to be a pirate or Robin Hood or something like that. He’d run away to sea. Of course, it was her favourite story once more. The fantasy was comforting. He was coming for her. She didn’t have to do anything, just wait patiently. After being carried through the surf to the ship with scarlet sails, there was no need to go further or think about what happened next. All of that was consumed in happily ever after. She’d had the dream often. It was her favourite dream inspired by her favourite book, her favourite film. She wondered if it happened involuntarily or if she could somehow choose this dream. She didn’t want to let it go. The bed was very comfortable. But she was becoming more and more conscious and then she was fully awake.

She looked at her watch and saw that there was little time before the morning songs and then breakfast. They had all been encouraged to go to the short sing song which was some sort of Danish folk high school tradition. She would go and see what it was like.

She began putting her clothes away and thinking about what she might wear. She had some nice things she thought, but better to keep the best of them until later. She picked a pair of jeans with a flower embroidered on the back pocket. She’d been given them in Kaliningrad and they were pretty and just about her favourite pair of everyday trousers. There was a white blouse with decorations on the collar and cuffs and some little frills. She looked at herself in the mirror as she combed her hair. She wasn’t sure about the tints, but then her natural hair colour was a dull light brunette. She frowned at her glasses. They were one of the few Soviet models easily available, just ordinary, rather large and functional. She knew that she was average looking. Walking along Leninsky Prospect in Kaliningrad she would see girls who were tall, blonde and strikingly beautiful. She saw how the men looked at them. But she did not envy this sort of beauty. It had its advantages no doubt, but then if a man loved you for your beauty what happened when that beauty faded? She’d known women in their thirties and forties who had once been just as aware of how men looked at them and had used this ability to attract. It had not always meant a happy ending.

In Russia you either lived with your parents or in a university or work residence. There was rarely much privacy even if you were lucky enough to have ever experienced having a room of your own. Girls usually married soon after leaving school or soon after finishing their studies. There just wasn’t much time for romance until then and not much opportunity. School had been tough with endless books to read. She had read most of the classics of Russian and Soviet literature, but they merged together because she’d had to read so many in so short a time usually during the long summer holidays. She therefore had little love or appreciation of a literature she had been made to read. No doubt it was all very brilliant, but racing through Maxim Gorky as quickly as possible was hardly the best way to develop a love of socialist realism.

She had some friends who were boys, one in particular, but there had been nothing that could properly be described as kisses. There just hadn’t been the time, or place, or opportunity for anything like that, let alone anything further. She knew that some of her friends had found a place and an opportunity, but most people still looked down on such ways of living. It was easy enough to get married first and if it didn’t work out, it was easy enough to get divorced. So girls usually married their first serious boyfriend as soon as they reached a stage in life when that was possible. Until that point it didn’t seem as if there was much point letting things get too serious.
She thought of Pavel back home in Kaliningrad. They went to the cinema sometimes and he would sometimes bring her flowers when they did. Nothing much had happened and nothing much had been said. But she knew as well as he did that when they finished university that something could. Like everyone else she would marry pretty nearly the first man she called her boyfriend once she reached that point. Pavel at the moment was her friend and some people talked of him as being her boyfriend, in Russian her “young man”. Lena felt ambiguously about it. She thought of the Danish words for “friend” and “boyfriend”. There was an ambiguity. It was the difference between ‘like’ and ‘love’. She liked Pavel, but there was not much romance in it. Still she could do worse. He was kind and gentle, while she had heard older friends and acquaintances complain of things that were much worse. Men could get drunk and could be brutish. They could be like animals when the mood took them and they got excited and there was little romance in that. Eventually, you had to settle for someone who you thought would be a decent husband and hope for the best. It was best not to wait too long. An unmarried girl in her late twenties was unusual and might struggle to find someone at all.

She knew then that if her life was to be in the Soviet Union, she would probably be married in a year or at most two. By then she would be twenty-two, and her parents and everyone else she knew would be encouraging her. The boy who took her to the cinema would automatically be courting her and that boy would likely be Pavel. She was attractive enough to meet someone else there if she chose. There were other boys at university who had shown that they liked her and would gladly have taken her out. But really what was the difference? It was hardly the fate she had dreamed of. Still she also knew that fully entering the adult world fully meant waking up and putting aside fairy tales. Was that not what her mother kept telling her?

Lena looked around at her room once more as she prepared to leave. It wasn’t so much the fact that it was pleasantly decorated that struck her. It was that it was the first time she could remember sleeping in a room alone. There’d always either been her sister, or other students. She shut the door and thought of what might happen here. Well, she’d just have to be patient and wait for that glimpse of sail.

The day was pleasant though not hot, so she was glad that she had decided to take her pale blue cardigan with her. There was sunshine, but clouds, too and there was a bit of a breeze. She didn’t know the way to the morning songs exactly, but she had a general idea and there were some others going in the same direction. She saw Svetlana and talked to her in Russian.

“It’s that way, isn’t it?” she asked.

“I think so. What do you think they’ll have us singing?” asked Svetlana.

“Probably, like in the Pioneers,” Lena chuckled.

“Where did you go for camps?” asked Svetlana. “I got to go to the Crimea most summers.”

“Only a few of us got to go that far. We mainly either went to Poland or somewhere further up the coast near Riga.”

They sat down together in an auditorium and there was a short welcome speech by the director of the school.

Lena understood most of what he said, but was still struggling to get her ear around some of the pronunciation. The songs were cheery little children’s songs and she quite enjoyed herself trying to sing the words to the tune, trying to get her tongue round some of the sounds that she was less good at, particularly the very strange Danish “d” sound. She spent her time scanning the faces of her fellow students. He hadn’t come. She wondered why.

She noticed him at breakfast still sitting on his own reading his book. She was sitting with the other Russians, and it seemed that quite a lot of the students had gathered in their national groups. She doubted if there would be any other people from England. It was said that they had little time for foreign languages. She thought of approaching him again, but thought better of it. She didn’t want to be too forward, nor too obvious. It wasn’t very attractive and, anyway, in Russia the man was supposed to make the approach and girls were told not chase after men.
She didn’t really know what to do when she was attracted to someone, other than wait and hope that he might notice and be attracted back.

The first morning of classes was spent in doing informal tests to determine which class they would end up in. It was all very relaxed, but quite rigorous. The written side of the test was pretty easy. It just involved reading a short passage of text and answering some questions in Danish. The oral side of the test was just a short conversation with a teacher where she was asked questions about where she was from, what she did and why she was learning Danish. She found this much harder. She could write sentences easily enough, but somehow the process of saying them turned out to be rather different. She found herself tongue tied and forgetting the grammar half way through a sentence. Her pronunciation was poor.

David, too found the written side of the test easy. He was almost entirely self-taught. He’d approached Danish in the same way that he had approached Greek at school. He’d learned the grammar and then had set about reading literature with the help of a dictionary. He knew the sounds which you were supposed to make, but had very little experience of actually making them. The text that he was supposed to read was absurdly easy. He could read 19th century Danish literature with some confidence. The Danish teacher got something of a shock when she saw that David spelled most words as they used to be written before the spelling changes introduced who knows when. It was like reading a 19th century novel the way he used expressions that were hopelessly archaic. But she also recognised that his level of writing was very high indeed. She got another surprise when David opened his mouth and spoke Danish as she had never heard it spoken before. It wasn’t that it was incorrect so much as that he spoke with an odd preciseness as if he were speaking Latin. When she spoke at normal speed, he really struggled to understand, but when she slowed down, he seemed to understand a very wide vocabulary. There was a bit of a dilemma. Where do you put someone who is very good at the written side of the language, but fairly poor at the spoken? She was amused that the same sort of problem covered both the English and the Russians. She could understand why the Russians would not want students to be able to communicate and so only taught them to read and write. But how did that explain the English?

She spoke slowly “How did you learn Danish?”

“I went to the University library and found a book by Thomasine Gyllembourg which I thought might be interesting. It was called “A Tale of Everyday Life”. On the first page I looked up nearly every word in the dictionary, wrote it out on a piece of paper and continued in this way until I reached the end.”

“So you didn’t have a teacher?”

“No. It’s not so easy to find one even in Cambridge.”

She was amazed and had never heard of anyone learning in this way. His level was surprisingly good considering. But both he and the little Russian girl would have to go to the intermediate class.

Chapter 4

Classes began after lunch. Lena looked around the room assessing the faces. She didn’t count, but thought there were about twelve of them. There were no other Russians. Either they were better than her, or worse. But there was David. She knew that she would have to stop glancing his way. Well, she knew how to look stern and serious and anyway, only idiots smiled at people they didn’t know. Still fate had brought them this far and now they would be together in the same room every day. Everything was working out.

The teacher asked them all to introduce themselves and say a little about themselves. She listened as this went on but paid little attention beyond comparing everyone’s level of Danish. It was strange to hear the language spoken by people from all over Europe. Everyone mangled it in their own way. The two French struggled with certain sounds, the Spanish with others. The Germans and the Dutch were the best as Danish wasn’t so very different from their own languages. But she didn’t like the harsh edge the German accent gave to what was being said. Somehow it made every sound ugly.

She looked around for potential rivals. Claudine, the French girl, was surely too pretty and must have someone at home, besides which she was surely too tall. Lena felt she already knew David, even if they had only spoken a few words. He surely would not fall for French charms. Through her mind flashed the various stereotypes she had amassed about the French and their loose morals from reading 19th century literature. Then again weren’t all men more or less susceptible to loose morals? Wasn’t it in the nature of all men to be looking always for sex? How could you trust them then? Wouldn’t they say anything, or do anything just to get you into bed? It all seemed so mucky and not at all according to her dreams. 

The Italian girl Maria was only average looking, but typically southern European. She dressed stylishly, but as if she had made no effort. She seemed studious and mentioned her studies at Bologna. Lena thought she could spot intellect in Maria’s eyes. Here was a potential rival. But there was nothing she could do. She would just have to wait for events to unfold. She could only place herself in proximity. She could only wait on the beach. Her role was not to guide the ship. She felt passive and powerless. She’d come all this way. It had taken almost a miracle to get here. What if nothing happened? She accepted that this might well indeed be the result. There was nothing she could do. She could dream, but she knew that when you slept, you had no control over what you dreamed. So really there was no point reflecting on rivals. There may never come a point at which the question of rivalry might arise.

When Lena’s turn came, she said “My name is Elena. I’m 21 years and come from Kaliningrad, which is a town in the Soviet Union on the Baltic sea near to Poland. I have studied Danish for two years and like it very much, but this is my first time in Denmark. I don’t really know what I will do when I finish studying, but hope to continue speaking Danish.” Everyone seemed to like her introduction. She’d already noticed how saying the words “Soviet Union” made everyone seem to want to show how they were friendly and not at all Cold War enemies. She had begun to feel just a little as if she were of a different race and how everyone was desperate to show that they were not at all racist.

David came soon after. He said “I’m David, from England. I’ve only been studying Danish for a few months. I needed to learn for my studies. Sorry about my rotten pronunciation, but this is the first time I’ve actually spoken. I’ll be staying on at Cambridge to do my doctorate, but I haven’t completely decided what my topic will be. It could go in a number of directions. Nor am I sure that I want to stay in academia. I’m very pleased to be here and very pleased to meet all of you.”

His accent indeed was poor, but not difficult to understand. Indeed Lena found it easier to understand David’s slow measured speech. The Danes just seemed to swallow everything, and sometimes whole syllables got lost somewhere along the way.

The teacher who was called Jens was very friendly and relaxed as if he had no inhibitions at all. In the few hours she had been there she had already noticed this characteristic. The Danes were very direct and seemed to have no masks to hide behind. Jens looked as if he was in his early thirties. The class progressed and she found it quite interesting. Jens would explain some grammar on a white board and then ask questions. The whole lesson took place in Danish, but if someone struggled with a word or a concept, there might be a sentence or two in English. Everyone there seemed to speak English completely fluently except her.

After an hour or so there was another of the coffee pauses. The Danes loved these. There were big thermos flasks with buttons that you pushed to get the coffee. She talked to a couple of girls from the class, but then Svetlana came over.

“Do you have a cigarette, Lena?” she asked.

She produced her packet and they moved off to smoke together. Soon Oleg joined them and then the other Russians. They all smoked. Nearly everyone in Russia did. They dropped the Danish immediately. It was impossible to keep it up all day. She saw David talking to Claudine and one of the German men. They were talking in English. She listened, but only understood the odd word.

David had been pleased that he was in a reasonably high level group. He’d been scared that he’d be lumped in with the beginners, because his speaking and listening were so poor. But he was already beginning to find that he could pick out more and more words. He had a little secret. You didn’t need to understand everything to have a conversation. You just used all the clues available, facial expression, body language and whatever words you caught to guess the meaning. It nearly always worked.

He’d noticed that the little Russian girl was in his class and felt pleased. He’d smiled at her once or twice. But one time she’d looked at him as if he were foolish. Maybe the impression that he’d got from the evening before had been the wrong one. She now seemed rather severe and stern. But why then did she keep glancing at him? Perhaps, he’d misjudged the situation. A pity as she was delightful. He loved how she spoke Danish. It was pretty good he thought and filtered through her Russian accent was adorable. She was just his type. He imagined how he could just pick her up; she was so small and a brief image flashed through his mind of him carrying her in his arms as if on their wedding day. The image transferred into a memory.  It had been some years previously. He always remembered when he’d carried Gillian in that way. They’d had to cross a shallow stream and he’d said that it made sense for only one of them to get wet. She’d expected him to lift her over his shoulder like a fireman, but he had managed to hold her in his arms as if carrying her over a threshold. He’d dreamed of that threshold for how many years? He dismissed the image as the brief fleeting pain became too much to bear.

He was used to disappointment and so thought of other possibilities. He was pleased when some of the others came up to him to drink coffee. He noticed how the Russians had formed a group and wondered if they were discouraged from getting too closely involved with people from the West. But then he thought to himself: surely all that had changed. The Berlin wall had come down some months earlier. The Soviet Union was not nearly as forbidding as it had been some years earlier. He glanced over at Lena. Maybe he’d try speaking to her another day. But he’d not have much chance if she was always going to be a part of that little Soviet group. He hoped his fleeting glances would not be noticed. He didn’t want another of those frosty frowns with her pale blue grey eyes looking through him as if detente had never happened.
Claudine was pretty in a way that reminded him of Michèle Morgan, the French actress from the thirties, only he thought taller. She was obviously out his league and he would not have dreamed of trying to chat her up. But she seemed interested, and there was no harm talking. Gradually he found himself in a little group that tended to sit together at the coffee pause and during mealtimes. There was an Austrian guy Hans, a Danish girl Sigrid, who had always lived abroad and so needed to brush up her Danish, a Belgian guy in his thirties who taught languages, plus Claudine and Maria. It already looked as if Hans and Sigrid were in the process of pairing off. The only problem was that Hans could hardly even pronounce her name, which had both the swallowed Danish “g” and the swallowed Danish “r,” plus the “d” at the end for good measure leaving a peculiar sound that didn’t remotely resemble the way it would be pronounced in English, “sig” as in ‘signal’ plus “rid” as in ‘get rid of’. She told a story of how she had been in America and how when people asked her name they thought she was saying “Secret”, and they kept asking her why her name was secret.

David thought Sigrid also was out of his league and so had no regrets that Hans was staking a claim. She was typically Scandinavian, though not blonde. Hans looked like some sort of ski instructor sporty type. He wondered about the little Italian girl, and glanced between her and Lena. They were only a few feet away from each other.

Maria asked “Have you ever been in Italy?”

“I used to go skiing in the Aosta valley and I’ve been to Tuscany and Rome.”

“Never to Bologna?”

“No, I’ve only eaten the sauce.”

“We’ve got more than that, you know. It’s a lovely town. I’m sure you would like it.”

She smiled as if making an invitation.

“Have you been to England?”

“I went to a language school in Brighton and they showed us around a bit. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to Cambridge.”

“Cambridge is great apart from on damp winter days.”

He glanced again at Lena’s group who were sitting within earshot, but he didn’t know how to bridge the gap that seemed to be opening between them. He just didn’t know how to approach a girl he didn’t know. He didn’t know how to begin.

“I’m sorry,” he said to Maria. “I was miles away. I’m a bit tired. See you in class.”

Chapter 5

Lena watched the groups form over the next few days. It wasn’t something you chose, rather the group chose you. Not everyone ended up in a group. Some just fluttered about between the groups. Some remained more or less on their own. Everyone was friendly, but it was impossible to get to know everyone and so most people you only nodded to. You barely knew their names if you knew them at all. Some groups were based on nationality and spoke German or Spanish, or Russian. Others were international and spoke English. Hardly anyone spoke Danish out of class. The atmosphere was that of a holiday. The classes began to seem like something you got through in order to get back to the important stuff of hanging out with your new friends. She thought of her new friends. Perhaps, they would exchange addresses when the course finished and they had to return to Russia. But she had no reason to write to any of them. She wouldn’t write to a boy unless she was interested in him. What was the point? He’d only get the wrong idea. She quite liked Svetlana, but she already knew that even if they wrote one or two letters, they would not meet again in the USSR unless some chance flung them together again. Her time in Denmark which she had looked forward to so much was going quickly. Days were merging into one another. She had achieved little, other than some practice speaking. She had not done what she had set out to do, had not met whom she had set out to meet. She would go back and she’d be asked about her time here. There would be disappointment. What was the point of sending someone all the way to Denmark only for them to spend all their time with Russians? And yet she had felt the subtle pressure to do so. Whenever she had made even the slightest attempt to break out of the Russian group, when she’d been seen talking too long to one of the foreigners, someone had made a comment. “We’re not good enough for you, is that it Lena?” There had been the pressure to conform. The trouble is that they didn’t understand and, anyway, how could she explain her dream, the path that she had set out on, the fate that was to be fulfilled. They all had probably read or seen ‘Scarlet Sails’. Certainly, every girl in Russia knew the story. But could serious, stern little Lena really explain in those terms, but if not in those terms, what terms? She enjoyed her days. She continued to watch David. She saw how the handsome Austrian had got together with the pretty Dane. They were continually together now, whispering to each other and obviously in the first stages of love. She waited every day to see if David would get together with one of the other girls in his group. She sort of expected it. There were lots of people pairing off. It was June. They were young people mostly in their early twenties flung together with a common interest. It was the perfect situation for starting a relationship. And so she watched with a sense of dread every day to see if something developed. But nothing did. She looked on with a mixture of pleasure and anxiety. But she knew it hardly mattered. She’d seen David climb the Cathedral tower at Ribe with Claudine. She’d seen him pouring over a passage from a 19th century Danish novel with Maria. She’d especially seen how Maria looked at David. It was something that perhaps, only a woman and a rival could notice, for David seemed oblivious. But the reason that it didn’t matter was because the end of the course was within touching distance. In less than a week she would be back in Kaliningrad. She would have waited on the beach; she would have seen the ship’s captain approach. It was as if she could see the scarlet sails on the horizon. But nothing would have happened. She would have to accept that the prophecy had not come true. There would have been no romance and no happy ending. There was only one thing left to try. She would have to let the other Russians glimpse her secret. Tell them about the prophecy. Ask them for their help. The next time she saw them she would arrange a meeting, just like the Komsomol, the communist youth organization that they must all be members of. She would organize a council, a small soviet in a faraway land and they would begin to plot. Her English was not good enough to join David’s group, she understood less than fragments of what they said, but maybe with help she could get him to join hers. After all, he normally sat close to them. Perhaps, he would be interested to meet some Russians.

Chapter 6

David had enjoyed himself in Denmark. He had learned something, too and was beginning to speak a little better. But he admitted to himself that his progress was slower than he had hoped. The problem was that he only spoke Danish in class; and even there it was always possible to revert to English if he didn’t understand something or there was a word he didn’t know. The language of the class was Danish, but nearly everyone used the odd English sentence at least now and again. He had met few Danes, just staff at the school and people in shops. They all spoke English perfectly and were desperate to show off their linguistic skills at the least excuse. The mere hint of a foreign accent and they just answered in their perfect English. He never had a chance to practice.

The lessons themselves had been too high for him or too low. Somehow like so many times before, he hadn’t fitted. The problem was that he could read and write very well, but he was tongue tied. He needed to have a few days speaking only Danish. Most of all he needed to have to speak Danish. He knew that it was only when he had to struggle to find a word or had to explain an idea using whatever words he knew plus whatever gestures he could think of, it was only then that he would get some fluency. This had always been his experience with languages. It was one thing learning grammar, studying a language like it was dead, it was another thing making it live. Only by interacting with someone else could you become fluent and this fluency was the hardest thing of all. Conjugating verbs and noun declensions was easy on paper, like doing a maths puzzle, but doing it all in real time with someone waiting on your answer, speaking automatically without thinking was a far harder task. This is what he wanted, for this made you someone else again. It gave you a new mind, sometimes even a new personality.

He realised that his new friends were really something of a hindrance, but it was too late now with only a few days to go. He sensed that something had gone wrong from the start. It wasn’t that he disliked them. Far from it; and it was better than being alone. He’d even thought for a little while that something might happen between him and Claudine. They’d ended up on their own climbing the cathedral tower at Ribe. They’d stood at the top looking over the flat lands of Jutland. But he never knew how to start anything and so if there had been a moment, the moment passed. The others he thought of more or less as just people he’d ended up with, more or less by chance. He might write their names and addresses in his book, but that would be it. He only wrote to other men if they were really close friends. He’d only write to a woman if he hoped for something more. He’d written to Gillian for years and had always had to wait for her letters. He was sick of such correspondence. He was sick most of all of loving someone and hoping she would change. They never change. Eventually, he realised this and resolved to stop such impossible situations even beginning. Moreover, he was sick of chasing and resolved no longer to do so. Gillian always knew he’d be there. He thought of the girls he had dropped along the way because of Gillian. His hope could be rekindled with the merest hint that he read into a letter she had sent. He’d been her loving friend since he’d been sixteen and had got nothing in return. Now he didn’t even have the friend. He no longer believed in friendship with girls at all. Either something happened within a reasonably short time or he’d let the whole thing drop. He resolved to wait. He could be patient. Let one of them find him.

He’d looked forward to the course and felt he really needed to be getting more out of it than these chats with people he’d never see again when he left Denmark. He knew that he still spoke poorly, and he didn’t understand every word that the teacher said or at least he didn’t recognise it when it was spoken. There had been the occasional sniggers in class. He’d always been vain intellectually and set out to show them. There’d been a class assignment to read a short Danish poem and explain it. Everyone had gone to the school library and a series of ten minute talks had taken place. When David’s turn came, he read a rather old fashioned sounding sonnet. It had some very difficult words in it, but a rather wonderful rhythm with interesting, even surprising rhymes. He proceeded to analyse the style and the themes of how the poet had lost his young daughter and was remembering how they had walked together and how he had been caught himself feeling a sense of happiness, and felt guilty because when he turned to share the moment with his daughter, he realised that she was dead. There were no more sniggers. His pronunciation had not been great, but what he had said had shown a profound understanding of the text.

“Who wrote the poem, David?” asked Jens. “I don’t recognise it, which surprises me. I know most of the famous Danish poets”.

“Well, actually I have a confession to make,” said David. “I thought it would be more interesting to read a translation. The poem was by William Wordsworth. The first line in English starts “Surprised by joy, impatient as the wind.”

“So you found a translation of this poem in the library?” asked Jens. “I didn’t know we had any.”

“No. I worked it out for myself. It didn’t take long.”

Jens looked a bit stunned “But how did you manage it? I mean it was exceptionally good.”

“Just the same as when I translate Greek, the principle is the same.”

From then on everyone looked on David slightly differently. Naturally, there were no more sniggers, but there was also a little bit more distance between him and the other students. He felt the distance outside class also, for the story spread. As ever he found himself regretting how he had revealed himself. His openness as much as his arrogance had scared them off.

He’d hoped for more from the course, but more than that he’d hoped to meet someone. The months had passed since he’d last seen Gillian. The wound was there, but he didn’t notice it so often. Given the chance something could happen now. But looking back on his time there and all the brief conversations, there’d really been nothing apart from once. He thought back to his first day, and what had struck him at the time as the merest possibility of a match lighting. The little Russian girl had recognised him. What sort of recognition was this? Was there an intuition that there could be a spark, a sense that there was a possibility that they could be together? Perhaps, in that sense he had recognised her too, though he had never seen her before.

He saw her in class every day, but they hadn’t exchanged another word apart from the sort of things you say to fellow students in a classroom. She began to drift into the background like one of the many with whom he had once said ‘hello’ and said his name.

Anyway, her group was clearly only for Russians and they seemed hardly to talk to anyone else. By now with only a few days left he had almost forgotten Lena. She had merged into the faces he passed in the corridor or saw at lunch. She was just one more of the many faces he didn’t know and barely noticed. He realised that the next few days would bring just more of the same   and then after a few more days in Denmark he would get the ferry home.

He was sitting in his room reading Dostoevsky when there was a knock on the door. He checked his clock and saw that it was just before 9. He’d decided not to go with the others after dinner and had made some excuse. He opened the door and saw one of the Russian men; he vaguely remembered that he was called Oleg, but he wasn’t sure. He said something in Russian. David shook his head and asked in a bemused fashion:

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Oleg in heavily accented English. “When I heard you were such a linguist I wondered if you might know some Russian. Anyway, the reason I’m here is that we are having a small party. We’re curious about England and would like to ask you if you would, please, come along for a while.”

“Well, I was...” David hesitated. The conversation was seriously weird and unexpected.

“Do, please, come. You might have fun, you know. Anything can happen. We’re not so scary.”

David wondered what to say. He’d have to be rather rude to turn down the invitation, and besides he was curious about these Russians.

“I’d be delighted,” said David.  

Chapter 7

Lena had called the meeting. It was informal. But then again they each knew without being told that each of them had been in the young pioneers and were now in Komsomol. They had all so to speak proceeded through the ranks successfully. There was no way otherwise that they would be here. There had therefore been no need to be formal or to actually describe what was taking place. This was a Komsomol meeting held outside the Soviet Union. They all knew that the meeting could profoundly influence their lives.

“I have a favour to ask,” Lena said.

“How can we help?” asked Petr.

“I want us to pool some of our money, so that we can organize a party.”

“Why and for whom?” said Oleg.

“It will be for the English man, David. I want to meet him. It’s important to me.”

“Look, I’d been planning on buying something to take home,” said Andrei.

“I realise it is a sacrifice. That’s why I asked to talk to you.”

“If you like this guy, Lena, why don’t you just chat to him and see if anything comes of it?” said Oleg.

“It’s not working out as I had hoped. It’s really not working out at all. There’s no need to go into details, but I really need your help. I feel like my fate is involved; and that the next few days will decide things for me one way or the other. Maybe it seems melodramatic, but I’m meant to meet and get to know David.”

Everyone looked seriously at Lena. The idea of fate or destiny is much more commonly accepted in Russia than in the West.

“You feel drawn to him that much?” asked Sveta.

“Our eyes met and there was an understanding,” said Lena. “It was on the first day and even if it was brief, I’m sure I saw a response in him. I feel like this has all been predicted years ago like in Grin’s story. You know the one about the scarlet sails.”

“You feel like Asol and that he is the ship’s captain,” said Petr.

“Yes, something like that. I feel as if someone told me when I was a little girl that a man would arrive in a white ship with scarlet sails and now I’ve grown up I’ve glimpsed the sails, but that I’m going to be left alone on the sand.”

“Isn’t that taking things a bit far?” said Andrei. “It’s only a story. You don’t really believe this stuff, do you?”

“Not literally. No one told me about this place when I was a little girl. But yet the story makes sense to me. This is my chance. I know it. This is why I was sent here.” She looked at them with a face that was unmistakable. It was her Komsomol face. It was hard to reconcile it with the discussion, but there it was.
“I’m asking for your help, comrades.”

They all looked at each other. There was no choice. They didn’t understand, but did not want to press her. Who knew what was behind all this? But it just wasn’t done, turning down such an appeal.

“Of course, Lena. Take all you need,” said Svetlana.

“I’ve got some bottles of vodka that I brought from home,” said Petr.

We can go shopping tomorrow and get the snacks,” said Svetlana.

“It will be good to have a bit of party,” said Andrei.

“You must really like this guy. I hope he’s worth it. What’s the idea? To get him drunk?” asked Oleg.

“Absolutely not. We’ll have to get him something else to drink besides vodka,” said Lena.

“Anyway, we can work out the details later.” She looked at them very seriously. “I want to thank you all very sincerely. I won’t forget.”

Chapter 8

They had all found Denmark to be expensive. The shops had seemed amazing at first. But Lena was already looking back fondly on Soviet shops. There was really no variety at all here. Everything was expensive. She was running out of cigarettes. But the local Prince or American Camel and Marlboro would be out of reach when she had spent nearly all of her remaining cash on the party. It wasn’t that they needed much, it was just that even when they had pooled their resources they did not have much.

She went round the supermarket with Svetlana. It was good to have someone alongside who was sympathetic. Girls were usually like that unless they liked the boy as well. Anyway, she had received some welcome words of encouragement.

“Do you like it here Lena?” aked Svetlana not particularly meaning Denmark, but the West. “I wouldn’t mind staying on either.”

“I thought you had someone in Moscow.”

“I do and he’s great. I’d miss him, but I’d get over it.”

“I sometimes think they don’t think like us and we don’t think like them.”

“Because of politics?”

“In part, but not fundamentally. More because of language. Their languages are too far away from ours. It’s almost as if we’re speaking Chinese. I don’t know if it’s possible for a foreigner to really understand a Russian unless he speaks Russian.”

“This David surely doesn’t speak Russian?”

“I doubt it. But he’s quite a linguist. He could learn”.

“Do you think so? How many foreigners have you met who can speak good Russian?”

“I’d hardly met any foreigners at all, until the past couple of weeks. But if anyone could learn Russian, it’s David. You should have heard how he translated an English poem into Danish. Our teacher could hardly believe it.”

“Maybe he does know some Russian. Some of them do.”

“What! Like those tongue tied Germans speaking Russian like they’re doing arithmetic. Hopeless. Still it might be worth finding out.”


“Well, my idea is that we all gather together in one of the booths just before nine. I’ll send one of the boys to get David. What do you think? Oleg would be best.”

“Agreed. But what if David isn’t there? What if he’s with his friends?”

“Well, if he’s with his friends, Oleg can still ask him. He can say we want to ask him something about England, that we all love Sherlock Holmes or something. You know how the English are: they won’t turn down an invitation if it’s pressed. That would be embarrassing, and above everything else they don’t want to be embarrassed.”

“But what if Oleg can’t find him?”

“Well, then we’ll just have to try again tomorrow. Someone could invite him more formally. It’s just I think, it’s better if all appears a bit more accidental.”

“And you don’t want to seem too keen.”

“No girl does. It’s not very attractive and they just take you for granted.”

“OK. It’s a reasonable plan, but how are you going to find out if he speaks any Russian?”

“Well, Oleg could begin by speaking something in Russian. He could say something about having heard that David was a linguist. It doesn’t really matter. If it turns out he doesn’t understand a word, Oleg can tell me in Russian and then I’ll also be able to let the rest of you know when it’s time you can leave us alone.”

“So it would be better really if he didn’t know any Russian?”

“In a way, only it will still be a bit tricky. My English is almost non-existent and so we’ll only really be left with Danish, and neither of us can speak fluently.”

“Oh well, you’ll have to find a more direct way of communicating,” Sveta laughed.

By the time they had got everything that they thought they would need, there wasn’t much money left. The beer had cost the most. Lena could hardly believe how expensive beer was. But she considered it absolutely essential. They boys would drink vodka and would continue until all the bottles were empty. But if David joined in, he’d be no use to her.

“You’ll help me, won’t you, Sveta, to keep him away from the vodka?”

“I’ve been keeping men away from vodka all my life.”

Chapter 9

David sat down. The only spare seat was next to Lena. He still looked a little surprised, but was very polite. They did the introductions.

“I’ve seen you all around of course,” he said. “It’s good to have a chance to get to know you better.”

“We thought so, too,” said Petr. “Maybe you don’t know, but English culture is still very popular in Russia. The best Sherlock Holmes film is Russian.”

All the Russians agreed.

“Have you seen the old ones with Basil Rathbone?” asked David.

“No. But I’m sure you would agree with us if you saw our version,” said Andrei.

“Perhaps. I’ve seen very few Russian films. Just some Eisenstein and a very long one about an icon painter.”

“Andrei Rublev?” asked Andrei.

“Yes. I think so.”

They asked him about where he was from. And he described growing up in a small town near the New Forest. He told them about the thatched cottages and the pubs with painted signs, like the fighting cocks and the green dragon. He told them about the New Forest, and they laughed when it turned out that ‘new’ meant nearly a thousand years old. He described the wild ponies, talked a little about the place where William Rufus was killed with an arrow. They didn’t know this story, but he was surprised by how much British history they did know, far more than the average Briton knew about Russia. He described how he had gone to a small private school in Salisbury, where he had found himself to be best at Latin and Greek; and how he had gone on to Cambridge where he had continued with classics but had gradually moved towards Greek philosophy as his main love. He was planning to study the Greek influence on a Danish philosopher. He mentioned the name, but none of the Russians had heard of him.

The conversation carried on in an impossible mix of English and Danish. When someone didn’t understand, translations were provided. It was quite a mixture, but somehow there was communication. David was immediately struck by how the Russians had thawed. They treated him now like they had known him forever. Everyone was smiling.

“I thought you were all a bit frosty,” said David. “You know we have an image of Russians as never smiling and always saying ‘Nyet!’”

“We don’t smile unless we know someone,” said Svetlana. “In Russia there’s a saying that only fools smile at strangers.”

“You should tell that to the Americans,” said David. “They are always beaming away at people they don’t know and saying “have a nice day” to strangers.”

“And didn’t you find this foolish? Have you been there?”

“I studied for a while in a college in New England. Come to think of it, I didn’t much care for them always saying have a nice day when they couldn’t care less what sort of day I had. But there’s a lot to like in the States; and I’m not that keen on British reserve and shyness, though I’m probably stuck with it.”

He described life in Cambridge. How he still wore his gown to formal hall and in the streets. How he had gone rowing and played cricket for his college. He described how some of the students were very wealthy. He described punting on the Cam and walks to Granchester. They asked him about his studies.

“I focus mainly on Greek now,” he said. “I don’t know why I picked classics apart from that I was good at it at school. To be honest, I already knew enough when I went to Cambridge and so I haven’t had to study very hard. It’s left me free to pursue my own interests. Do any of you know Latin or Greek?”

“It’s not really taught in our schools,” said Lena. “But I found someone who could teach me a little. Greek is quite important to the Russian language. I had thought once of specialising in Russian and linguistics and there are other reasons why it’s important.”

David noticed the surprise on the faces of the other Russians at Lena’s confession that she knew some Greek. He wondered what the other reason could be, but thought it best not to ask about it. It might be a delicate subject judging by some of the frowns he was seeing.

“Well, maybe if we struggle with English or Danish we could try Greek.”

Everyone laughed.

“But no one speaks Ancient Greek,” said Lena.

“I don’t see how you can understand a language if you can’t speak it. No really,” said David. “You have to be able to think and speak before you can have any sort of fluency, otherwise it’s just looking up words in the dictionary.”

“Can you speak Greek?”

“That’s how I was taught.”

“Say something.”

He spoke a few sentences obviously fluently.

“I didn’t think that was possible,” said Lena. “It’s like you’re going back in time.”

“But how do you know how to pronounce the words?” asked Andrei.

“There are ways,” said David. “Though it can be complex. You look at rhymes. Sometimes you have to guess.”

“Have you been to Greece?” asked Oleg. “Can they understand you there?”

“They can get quite a bit of it,” said David. “But they give you some very funny looks.”

David had been surprised at the vodka bottles. They had caps that you opened with an opener and so once opened could not be closed. He’d said that he didn’t much like vodka and he was wary about getting drunk.

“We have some beer, too,” said Lena.

“I’ll try a little vodka and then stick to beer.”

“We call mixing vodka and beer a ruffe in Russian,” she said.

“Well, I’ll make sure I don’t get too prickly,” said David.

Someone had found a Danish version of Trivial Pursuit and they all began to play. There were some questions that were about Danish television or very specific history that no one outside Denmark would know, but otherwise it was like the normal game with the added challenge of translation. As the Russian men became drunker, they spoke more and more in Russian, and Svetlana began to join in as well. In the end David found his conversation almost exclusively was with Lena. He began to feel pleased that he had found himself here. He saw that she was running short of cigarettes and so offered her one of his. When the game ended, she said something in Russian and soon after the others began to leave.

“David, could you give me another cigarette?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“I wanted to ask you a couple of things. I find it easier to speak Danish one to one. Don’t you?”

“It began sounding like the Tower of Babel back then.”

She looked a little confused and then remembered.

“The story from the Bible?”


“At root we speak the same language you know. It’s just now we’re 10,000 years later.”

“I wanted to ask you about your poem,” she said. “It was very beautiful. Can you say it in English? I won’t understand much, but you could explain.”

He began: “Surprised by joy impatient as the wind. I turned to share the transport--Oh with whom” and continued reciting the rest of the poem by heart. He then did his best to explain each word in Danish and told her of the sad story behind the poem. She didn’t know all the Danish words that he had used in his translation and some he struggled to explain, but by a gradual process of exchange she came to understand most of what the poem was about and felt very touched by both it and by his explanation. 

Chapter 10

It must have been about midnight by now. The passers-by had ceased some time ago. It was quiet and they were alone. Lena thought she had made herself pretty obvious and yet still nothing happened. They had talked of poetry. He had asked her who she liked and she had mentioned what every Russian would mention, Pushkin and Lermontov. She’d even recited something from Lermontov, but couldn’t begin to make any sort of translation.

“I like the sounds,” said David, “the rhythm and the structure.”
He went off on a tangent about poetry when the last thing she was interested in at that moment was poetry. She wanted real poetry, not from a book, but between them.

She waited. She was scared that at any moment he would say something like it was getting late and it had been a wonderful evening, and that he’d see her in class tomorrow. That was what Grin had never thought about. When Arthur Grey in the story went to so much trouble as to buy all the red silk he could find so that he could fulfil the prophecy and arrive in a ship with scarlet sails; still when he arrived in his boat at the beach where Asol was waiting, they were both strangers. There must have been a moment, if the story had been in any sense real, when they would have been like David and her, on the brink of something happening, but before it had happened. There was always the possibility that the moment would pass and that nothing would happen, that the ship with scarlet sails would sail away and she would be left in her home village of Caperna, and everyone there would continue to mock.

She wondered what she could do. She kept asking for cigarettes as if they were the means of keeping him here. She accidentally touched his hand or his leg, on a number of occasions she tried to sit a little bit closer without completely giving the game away. Why didn’t he do something? This really was taking British reserve a bit far. He’d finished the beers some time ago. Yet he seemed only to want to talk of literature.

“I’ve nearly finished ‘The Brothers Karamazov’,” he said. “I don’t think I can remember reading anything deeper. I’m thinking of trying to use Dostoevsky in my studies, but it’s just a possibility.”

“I’ve never read it. Only ‘Crime and Punishment’. We have to read many of these big novels at school. They give you a reading list every summer. It means that most of us are pretty sick of these famous writers.” 

“But there must be some things you like. Some writers.”

“I like Leskov, at least he tended to write shorter things. My favourite is Alexandr Grin.”

“I’m afraid, I’ve not read either. I’ve only heard of Leskov. Didn’t he write ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’? But I only know the opera.”

“I think, Shostakovich is fairly dull.”

Lena looked towards him quickly and he glanced away equally quickly. She thought he had been trying to look down her top. It was rather loose and she often didn’t bother with a bra. It hardly seemed worth it. Well, at least it looked like he didn’t mind that she was flat-chested. She made as if to move her arm a little behind him, so that when he lent back, there would be some more accidental contact. Still he talked of literature.

“Do you remember the bit in Anna Karenina when Varenka and Sergei were picking mushrooms?”

“I read Anna Karenina in less than a week. I barely remember how it ends.”

“It always struck me as very romantic. It’s a while since I read it, but I remember it something like this. Sergei likes Varenka and the feeling is mutual. He has an idea of proposing to her, and while they are picking mushrooms one day he is just about to do so. Varenka waits. But Sergei begins to remember someone who he loved, but who died. The moment passes and they go home, and each of them know that their chance has gone.”

Was he trying to tell her something? Was he trying to say that they should act or that their chance would pass. Was there someone he could not forget? She wanted him to kiss her. But how do you go from sitting talking to kissing? How do you show that you want to be kissed without doing so? She leant against him for a second, then looked into his eyes. Trying not to seem as if she was staring, she tried to make her eyes say ‘yes’. She made a little movement of approach and he did likewise. She tilted her head and moved her arm around him. Now this had to be clear enough. He finally kissed her.

She felt relief mixed with pleasure. This moment was like no other, really better than any other she could remember at that moment. You waited for this kiss to happen, and until the last second you didn’t really know if it would and yet it changed everything or at least it should change everything. She thought kisses thrown away without significance went very low and lay like discarded rubbish in the gutter. A kiss changed a person. It changed you and it changed him. A kiss was the first step on a path that could lead you to being with a person forever. If she had not kissed David, he would tomorrow just be an acquaintance, a classmate, someone who would sail away in a few days. Now that she was kissing him he was someone special. The difference between a friend and boyfriend was a kiss, and a boyfriend if things went well, became a husband. In this she was very old fashioned. She had never been kissed. It was something that you didn’t give away freely. A century earlier a kiss meant an engagement, and an engagement was a promise. Lena understood it in much the same way.

It was all rather new to her, and David’s experience seemed also mainly from books. Somehow the mechanics weren’t quite right as if they were locking antlers.

“Maybe it would be easier without our glasses,” he said, “Let me.”

He took off her glasses and his own and put them on the table. She looked at him through what seemed like a pleasant blur. She could make out his features reasonably well, but all around was just shapes and vagueness. It seemed to focus her attention more, though often she didn’t look at all, but just felt his mouth and his embrace.

It was two in the morning, and they had been kissing for over an hour. How could she describe even to herself that hour? There were no words to describe the acting other than that they kissed. To try to detail the various activities would be absurd and dull, and yet the experience had been far from dull. She’d lost all sense of time, but was overwhelmed with the desire to continue kissing. There was an exquisite pleasure all over her. She’d waited and her waiting had paid off. But she was also a little frightened. She didn’t know this man. Or if she knew him, she knew him hardly at all. Although this kissing set him apart in her eyes, perhaps, he only wanted a fling. She had never met a man from the West, but she’d heard about their loose morals. Perhaps, he would expect.

They finally agreed that it was time to go to bed, picked up their glasses from the table and had a final cigarette.

“I don’t much feel like class after this. Shall we go to the first one and then find something better to do?” said David.

“I’m not even sure I’ll make the first class.”

“Well, we can finish these and I’ll walk you to your room.”

“No, that’s OK. I know the way.”

“In England a gentleman always shows his lady friend home.”

She was a little apprehensive as he took her to her room. What if he should ask to come in? It would have been better if they’d just gone their own way. And yet it was rather nice walking hand in hand in the moonlight. He didn’t even kiss her goodnight, but as soon as they reached the door, just said goodnight and walked off. Lena felt tired, but for a while the events of the evening played out in her mind. The kiss was just a jumble of images and sensations in her mind, but it was delightful. She snuggled up with the image of David. There was nothing to fear. She began to allow her desire and her imagination to mix in vague images, and in her dreams she felt his presence in her arms.

Chapter 11

Lena woke up. She’d already missed the morning songs and the first lesson. If she wasn’t reasonably quick, she’d miss the first coffee pause, too. She looked in her wardrobe and thought now was the time for her favourite clothes. It was Thursday, so that meant there was only today, Friday and Saturday to think about. She made a couple of plans which depended also on how things might work out. There was an outfit she’d been saving for an evening out somewhere. She thought maybe Friday. Today might be too soon.

The feeling from last night remained. She’d woken up with it and for a moment not quite known what she was feeling, but it was only for a moment, for she immediately remembered what she had spent all night dreaming about. There was a sort of all over pleasure and the excitement of anticipation also. But then she realised the difference between life and fairy tales. The lovers from the fairy-tale got into their ship of scarlet sails and the story ended. Were they married from the start? Or did they have to start courting? If so, might it not have worked out? What if they had found that they didn’t like each other after all? But none of this was mentioned.

Lena had no regrets, but she realised that they didn’t have much time. It had taken a miracle to bring them together and a nudge or two from herself, but in a few days she’d be back in the Soviet Union and he’d be in England. There were possibilities. But she could not ignore the difficulties. What she felt now she recognised, as if she’d always known it, but somehow the feeling was also quite new. She thought she could be hurt rather badly if she were not careful.

She was waiting when David came out of his lesson and they sat down together. It was not possible to simply continue as they had done the night before. Or rather the constraint that had begun at their saying goodnight continued. He had wanted to show that he was a gentleman and so had not even attempted to kiss her goodnight. She for her part remembered the slight sense of apprehension as to what he would do next, whether he would want to come in. She remembered also her sense of disappointment that he had not come in. It was this that was so pleasant, this odd mix of wanting and not wanting. She wanted to be kissed again, but she wanted him to start it. Why should it always be her that took the lead? She was already beginning to feel a little unladylike. If she hadn’t arranged everything, they would this morning have been in the same class as strangers. Instead they were sitting here together as what? As people who had kissed. It was a pity that she had not met him this morning when they had been alone somewhere. Perhaps then he would have kissed her. But he could even here have done something not too scandalous. There were ways of displaying affection. But she sensed again his shyness and something else that restrained him. Was that the point of his mentioning the episode in Anna Karenina?

“Have you a cigarette David?” she asked. “I’ve hardly any left and they’re very expensive here.”

“Sure. I think they're expensive, too. Even worse than in the UK.”

She noticed how they were attracting one or two glances. She noticed the displeasure on the face of that Italian girl, what was she called? Yes. Maria. Lena felt a certain thrill.

“You know, Lena, this is what I came for?”


“This having a chat in Danish. I’ve spent the past fortnight talking English apart from in the lessons and even then someone speaks English every other minute.”

She wondered if he was talking only of that when he said this is what he came for. These English people were too subtle and she couldn’t really work out everything that was in his mind. It was like some sort of repression, and they thought that Russians were cold and frosty.

“It’s good for me, too. I’ve been speaking too much Russian here.”

“I’m pretty sick of the lessons. Let’s have our own lesson together.”

Their conversation was fluent enough, but each had their limitations. Lena had been learning longer than David, but he had read considerably more than her. This meant that in certain areas his vocabulary was more complex, but tended to be bookish. They sometimes found themselves not being able to express something and had to help each other out by describing what they meant to say. She would say a word and say I mean to say the opposite of it, and he would either remember the word or say that it didn’t matter, for he understood what she was trying to say anyway. It was like a game and each sentence became an intriguing sort of puzzle. Two people speaking a language they only partly know and know in different respects must have sounded to any Dane like a very odd mix of hesitation, with them going back and forth sometimes to get the meaning. A Dane who observed Lena and David’s conversation might have been horrified by how they pronounced the words. If he had tried to translate what they said, he would have realised that it would have been tedious to mention every hesitation, and so would have smoothed it out as the only way in which he could describe without tedium what they said. The Dane may have been horrified, but Lena and David were delighted.

“I find it much easier to understand you,” said Lena.

“We don’t mumble and swallow all the words,” said David. “It may be not completely correct, but so what? The main thing is that we understand each other.”

The other Russians joined them and immediately there was the mixture of languages from the night before.

David was struck by how he was accepted into their group. They smiled and seemed pleased to see him. He thought it had been a pity that he hadn’t had a chance to kiss Lena. He remembered the night before, and how it had all happened so suddenly and so unexpectedly. It was a little difficult, too. She was the first girl he’d kissed since the thing with Gillian had finally come to an end. Not that he’d kissed Gillian anytime recently, not for how many years. He wondered if it was five or six years since they’d gone out very briefly as sixteen year olds. Those few kisses however had led to nothing but disappointment and anguish. But he had spent the last few years wanting to kiss Gillian like he had kissed Lena. He stopped himself. Why was he thinking of Gillian again? What was the point? He really wanted to recapture that moment of last night, but not here. She seemed a little distant. He couldn’t read her face. Did she regret it? There was that mask again. But then it broke through. Still he’d wait and see what happened.

“They want to go to the swimming pool,” Lena said explaining the Russian conversation of the others.

“Shall we go, too?” he asked. “I’m not much of a swimmer, but I’ll not drown.”

“I’m not that good either,” she said.

She didn’t think it was a bad idea. It was one of the hottest days that they had spent there. She wondered for a moment why they did not go off to be alone somewhere. Why had she suggested the pool? She could have let the others go and make her excuses. But then again you couldn’t start what had begun at midnight at half past ten in the morning. They would have time enough to be alone later. Anyway, she rather liked the idea of seeing David swimming. As she had dozed, her mind had fleetingly approached the point of wondering what he might look like with nothing to hinder her sight. Now she’d see.

They gathered their swimming things and set out on the walk to the pool. It was twenty minutes or so away. The three other Russians went ahead and talked freely. Lena heard them talking about David, just not using his name when they spoke, so that he wouldn’t know what they were saying. She focussed on David and their continuing Danish lesson. She noticed that he had a funny little red star on his jacket.

“What’s that for?” she pointed.

“Oh, I don’t know I was given it years ago. It used to be purple and have a shiny surface, but it wore off and I painted it red.”

“I don’t think I’d wear one unless I didn’t really have a choice.”

“Oh, I thought?”

“People here know little about how we live.”

“But it’s getting better surely. Gorbachev…”

“No, it’s getting worse. Worse than it has ever been.”

“Really? I thought Russian people would be pleased.”

“I think the only place where Gorbachev is popular is in the West. Everyone here goes on and on about him. But he’s made life worse for us.”

“But you don’t think this is the answer?” He pointed to the red star.

“No, of course not. Everyone knows that.”

He unpinned it. It had been a present from Gillian when they were 16 or 17. He had flirted with some political ideas from the left and she had given it to him as a sort of joke. A purple shiny star that later in an idle moment without much thought he’d turned red. He’d kept it on his jacket more out of habit, and because she had given it to him. Now he held it in his hand and flung it away.

“It was rather a silly badge,” he said. “I should have done that years ago.”

The swimming pool was fairly large and modern. Everything was spotless and there were saunas. The three Russian men changed into their costumes and looked rather strangely at his swimming shorts. He had bought them in the States the year before. No one wore speedos there. The long shorts he wore were not much good really for swimming in. But they made you just a little less self-conscious.

Lena noticed how David tried not to be obvious when his eyes moved over her body. She smiled. No matter how a man tried to be discrete it was always obvious. His long shorts amused her. She’d never seen anything like them. How on earth were you supposed to swim with shorts that reached almost to your knees? Maybe the British were still very modest about these sorts of things and expected people who went swimming to not show too much flesh.

“I almost expected you to wear one of those costumes from Victorian times,” she joked.

“We still have those bathing machines you know, so that young ladies can enter the water unseen by prying eyes.”

“You do?” she said playing along but realising that he too was joking.

“This is just what people wear now. Everyone laughs at you if you wear what those Russian guys wear.”

“I prefer those kinds of costumes,” said Lena still flirting. “It’s only fair. Why should you alone be all covered up? While we…”

“Wear as little as possible,” he said. “It must be something to do with national temperament,” he said laughing.

“You should see our banyas.”


“It’s a sort of sauna where everyone gets naked and there’s loads of very hot, very wet steam, and you have birch twigs with leaves and you’re beaten with them.”

“Men and women together? It sounds like Scandinavia.”

“No, we may not approach British standards of modesty, but we haven’t descended quite yet to Scandinavian standards of immodesty.”

“How could you? Russia is also a country of tea drinkers. Am I right?”

“You are. Who knows what else we have in common?” she said with a slightly knowing glance.

Lena knew that she wasn’t the best of swimmers, but she was determined not to embarrass herself. Whatever David did she would try to do likewise. She didn’t know why there should be a competition about it. But she wanted him to admire her in more ways than only one, in every way if that were possible. 

She noticed that Oleg was a very good swimmer and had obviously been trained. The others were average. But it was good fun, and soon she was enjoying the sense of the water on her body and the feeling of the splashes. She didn’t need to be a good swimmer to feel again the wonder of being buoyant. Why was it again that you didn’t sink rather than float? She had no idea. Maybe she had missed that lesson in physics. She could propel herself along well enough with a sort of breast stroke, and she could lie on her back and look upwards at the ceiling unable to make out much without her glasses.

Andrei and Petr had been fooling around shouting in Russian and ducking each other. She noticed a couple of slightly disapproving looks from the Danish staff, but they didn’t say anything. Soon Oleg was showing off. He really was a good swimmer with his fast front crawl and racing turns.

Lena watched from the side hanging on to the rails with each hand spread behind her back. David approached her, and together they watched the boys’ antics. Soon someone had the idea of trying the diving boards. They looked up; it must have been five metres high. Petr jumped, which was impressive enough, but then Oleg, still showing off, actually dived.

“Pretty impressive,” said Lena.

“I’d maybe jump,” said David. “But no way would I dive.”

Lena saw that even Sveta was going to join in. She saw how David’s eyes followed Sveta and felt just a hint of jealousy. Sveta was both taller than Lena and had a more feminine figure. Her one piece costume hugged her contours, and Lena though it was a better choice than her own bikini. Sveta jumped, and she noticed how David had looked on with pleasure and with admiration.

“Why don’t you have a go yourself, David?” asked Sveta gliding up to them.

“Go on!” said Oleg.

“Well, I guess, it doesn’t take much skill to fall,” said David.

He got out and she followed him with her eyes. Yes, it had been a good idea coming to the pool. She liked what she could see, and her mind travelled back once more as it seemed continually to be doing to the night before. He seemed to be approaching the task without much pleasure, but with a certain nonchalance as if the whole thing was nothing much. He just seemed to walk off the board, fall and rise again. She knew what was coming next. David had said nothing, but she knew the others would not let her off.

“Go on, Lena!” said Sveta in Russian.

“You too, Lena!” said Petr.

She remembered a line from an old Russian film.

“Our lives belong to the Soviet Union,” she said.

Most of them didn’t get it and there were one or two frowns, but she knew that she had no choice. It just looked very high and she was scared. She didn’t really like being under water at all. She caught David’s eye.

“Don’t worry,” he said and looked reassuringly. “It’s not a competition.”

She was worried most about what would happen to her costume. She didn’t want to pop up out of the water with her top missing. Why didn’t she have a costume like Svetlana’s? But it was all she had needed on the Baltic, where she rarely did more than paddle. But still she noticed David’s look that seemed to be one of approval together with attraction, and proceeded up the ladder. It seemed high enough going up, but looking down it seemed much further than five metres. She hesitated briefly, but then she was already falling. She almost panicked under water for a second as the world seemed to consist only of bubbles and swirling water all around her, and she ended up not quite knowing what direction was up. But then she kicked a couple of times and reaching the surface checked that everything was where it was supposed to be. Clearing her eyes as she approached David she was rewarded with a look of respect. It was as if he could see that she had really been scared and admired how she had overcome it. She could see that he really liked her and was beginning to like her even more as he got to know her better. There had been a little bit of a barrier between them this morning. She was still coming to terms with what had happened the night before, getting to know this man who suddenly had become significant, but in a way that was hard to define. She was still rather shy around him and a bit embarrassed as if she had entered a room and seen a couple kissing, only she was part of the couple. She wanted to repeat what had happened, but was scared of where a repeat would lead, especially if they were alone somewhere; and yet she looked forward to everything that might happen with some impatience.

She half expected the saunas to be mixed. Thankfully, they weren’t as you had to take off everything. She sat next to Sveta.

“Well, Lena, it looks like things worked out.”

“What do you think, Sveta?”

“I like him. He’s certainly better than Oleg, Andrei and Petr.”

“You think?”

“Sure. You can tell David is a gentleman.”


“By the way he talks, just by looking in his face.”

“You have someone back in Moscow?”

“Yes, but how far are we from Moscow?”

“But you love him, don’t you?

“Yes, I suppose, I do”

“How can you not know?”

“I don’t think about it very much. I have someone who I like well enough. That’s all really. What about you, Lena, do you have someone at home?”

“Just someone I go to the cinema with.”

“You like this David better?”

“Much. But I’m a bit apprehensive, and now there are only two more days after this one.”

“Much can happen in two days.”

“I know, but I’m not sure what would happen then.”

“I’d just spend as much time together with him now and see what happens. Don’t worry about him. I’ve known a few guys, good and bad. He’s a nice guy. You get to the stage when you can tell. They’re rare enough, you know?”

“He’s mine by the way,” said Lena.

“Don’t worry, he’s not my type. I quite like some of the locals. Maybe we could all go to a club on Friday. Who knows, maybe I could pick someone up?”

She laughed, but Lena could see that she half meant it. Still it was good that they had come to an understanding. She didn’t want to have to compete.

“I’m getting too hot,” said Lena.

“What, from the sauna? What you need is a cold shower. I can see you continually eyeing him up.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Only to another woman. Don’t worry. A man would never notice.”

Lena suddenly was very grateful that Sveta was here with her. They might not have been the best of friends and would probably not keep in touch, but it was good to have someone who could give a bit of reassurance and friendly advice.

“Let’s go!” said Lena. “I feel like I’m beginning to cook.”

“What do you think you’ll do with the rest of the day? Lessons?”

“I don’t think so and anyway, I’m talking Danish with him rather than Russian with the rest of you.”

They continued talking as they showered. The cool water was an initial shock, but then delightful.

“Well, let’s all go back to lunch at the school.” said Sveta. “Then if I were you, I’d go for a walk with him, suggest something about you both going somewhere to eat this evening.”

“Thanks, Sveta.”

“What for?”

“You know perfectly well,” said Lena.

Chapter 12

The others quickly forgot whatever attempts they had made at speaking either in English, or in Danish when they sat down to lunch. They had more or less accepted David into the Russian group, but there were five of them versus one of him. Soon the conversation was exclusively in Russian. Lena found herself half listening to a Russian conversation, while trying to listen to what David was saying and then trying to form her own answer. She was tired and she couldn’t do it. Their conversation faltered.

“They keep asking me things,” she said to David “You don’t mind if I speak a little Russian for a while?”

“That’s OK,” said David. “We can continue our Danish lesson after lunch. I wouldn’t mind a little break either. Anyway, I like hearing you speak Russian.”

“You do?”


Oleg heard the Russian word for ‘yes’ and asked “So you know at least one Russian word?”

“I know a few more than that,” said David. I also know ‘nyet’.”

“Well, that’s enough for a good Russian conversation. We can ask you questions and you’ll be able to answer quite well with your knowledge of Russian,” said Oleg.

Lena was a little apprehensive about where this game might go. But she exchanged glances with David and he seemed relaxed about it.

“Are you from Great Britain?” asked Oleg in Russian.

“Nyet,” said David. There was general laughter and David joined in.

“Did you know that only a fool laughs at himself?” said Petr.

“That’s unnecessary,” said Lena quickly. But David seemed happy enough.

“Da,” he said.

“Are Russian girls the prettiest in the world?” said Sveta.

“Da,” said David.

All the boys joined in with a chorus of yeses. Lena felt herself blushing. There was much merriment as everyone tried to come up with a clever question. She thought that some of them were laughing at David. But he was holding his own even with the knowledge of only two words. They might laugh and even mock, but his face showed who were the fools.

“Have you come to realise that England is a small island of no consequence whatsoever?”

“Nyet,” said David.

“Do you speak fluently in Russian?” asked Lena.

“Da,” said David. Everyone laughed again.

“Is that a good example of English arrogance?” said Oleg.

“Da,” said David.
It was all good natured, but it was beginning to get just a little cruel. She was glad then to have him to herself again as they sat outside at a wooden table smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. She noticed the glances again from the other students. There would be quite a lot of gossip about them.

“I’m sorry about the game David.”

“No. We should play it some more. It’s harmless. These games always involve trying to make someone say something foolish. I understood that well enough.”

“Shall we just go for a wander somewhere? It’s a nice day.”

“I’ve hardly seen anything of the area round about. Let’s see what we can find.”

Lena wondered why he did not attempt to take her hand. But then she realised how little she knew about English customs with regard to these things. There had been a discussion in class one day of how American people went on dates and might end up kissing, but the next day go on a date with someone else and treat the girl they had kissed as if nothing had happened. Perhaps, it was like this with him. But then why were they spending the day together? One major barrier had come down. They were together. Yet other barriers had arisen. Neither seemed able to mention what had happened between them the night before.

“I was amazed,” he said “that the vodka bottles were opened like beer bottles.”

“In Russia the men always finish a bottle if they open it.”

“Well, I’m glad I only had a taste. I’d have been on the floor.”

“I’m glad, too.”

“You don’t drink?”

“Just a sip of vodka or some wine. I’ve seen too many men drunk in the gutter or put to bed by their wives.”

“The boys didn’t seem that drunk though.”

“No, and that’s the problem.”

She glanced at him from time to time thinking of the man she had kissed. They could skirt the subject, but words would not bring them to that point again. She could hardly ask him or say something along the lines of now that we are in the open air with no one around and a pleasant rolling landscape all around, with those pretty, clean and ordered houses, would you please take me in your arms and kiss me?

Instead she listened as he described his family and where he lived, what school had been like and university, the sports he played the films he liked. She glanced at him from time to time and realised that she was finding him more and more attractive. She wondered why, for really he was quite average looking. What’s more he seemed to care little about his appearance. His clothes were just a little eccentric, his glasses merely functional. He was not especially fit. The English were not an especially handsome race she thought. They rarely compared in beauty to the Scandinavians: neither the women, nor the men. But there was something about David’s glance she liked. His eyes to her were becoming ever more blue and ever more deep. Sometimes he would go off somewhere in his thoughts and she saw that he had gone away delving into some matter or some memory. Then he came back with a smile, and she was so glad that he had come back to her.

He asked her about films that she had seen, but there was little here that she could share. He had never heard of films like ‘Irony or Fate’ or ‘The White Sun of the Desert’ that were so famous in the Soviet Union that everyone could quote from them. 

“We only very rarely get to see Russian films. Just some of the more arty ones. The popular ones, comedies and such like we very rarely get to see. I remember one though about two girls who go to Moscow and one of them gets pregnant. It won an award, I think.”

“Moscow Does not Believe in Tears.”

“That’s it, I think. What’s Moscow like?”

“I’ve only been once. We had a little tour.”

“A friend of mine went.”

He was careful to use the male form of the Danish word, though it had been Gillian who had gone and brought him back a poster of Lenin. He’d kept the poster on his wall for years just because she had given him it.

“What did he think of it?” said Lena.

“I think, he liked it very much. He gave me a poster of Lenin.”

“And you put it up. I think, it easier to put such things up when you don’t have to live with them every day.”

“It does seem a little decadent now. You don’t seem all that hopeful?”

“About the Soviet Union?”


“There has been chaos in the past year or so.”

“You mean with all the revolutions. But might it not bring something better?”

“I think, it will just bring chaos.”

“You're scared about what will happen at home.”

“I live in a little piece of Russia, but all around are people who are beginning to think of themselves not as Soviet, but as Lithuanian, or Belarusian or Latvian.”

“Have you travelled in these sorts of places?”

“I’ve been to Minsk and it’s fine. They’re happy to speak Russian and if they speak Belarusian among themselves, they’re not nasty about it. Latvia is more of a problem and they sometimes really show that they don’t like you speaking Russian.”

“You know in Britain we barely think of the Soviet Union as being made up of different places. I’ve hardly heard of all these places apart from in history books. Most people just say the USSR or Russia and use the two interchangeably.”

“I think, people in the West have very little understanding or knowledge of us.”

“Maybe that’s why we have such a different sort coverage of these events. Each of these revolutions. The walls coming down are treated as wonderful news.”

“When did Britain last have a revolution?”

“I think, 1690 and it was reasonably peaceful.”

“Well, ours was anything but peaceful, and these revolutions if they spread further, could bring who knows what. Even war. Great news!”

“And Gorbachev can do nothing to help?”

“He’s the cause of it all. The hope is with Yeltsin.”

David had never heard the name.


“He’s an alternative to Gorbachev. But they say he’s a drunk, so maybe he’s not much of an alternative.”

She knew little about Western culture. She’d seen hardly any of the films that he mentioned, though she had recently seen ‘Gone with the Wind’, and enjoyed it. But she’d never heard of the film he described about a singing nun escaping the Nazis with her seven children. It struck her as silly, and it baffled her that he seemed to enthuse about it so much. How could you make a musical film about Nazis? She asked him about popular songs he liked, but here, too, most of them had never reached the Soviet Union. She did know some Beatles songs, and he sang his favourite which began: “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, Tomorrow I’ll miss you, Remember I’ll always be true”.  He translated the words and she wondered if he was using these songs to hint something. Why should that particular song be his favourite? She was impressed though by the fact that he was willing to sing aloud. His voice wasn’t exactly brilliant, but he didn’t seem to care.

“What about this song?” she said and began to hum the melody.

“I think, it’s George Gershwin, but I’m not sure I know all the words.”

“I heard it a few times on the radio. I always like the tune, but I never even bother listening to the words of English songs.”

“I think, it goes something like ‘Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high’.” He spoke the words in English and translated into Danish. She repeated as best she could and they sang together.

“I think, there’s more, but I’m not sure. There’s something your mother being rich, but I never paid much attention to the words.”

They continued in this way as their walk progressed. She sang some popular Russian songs, but she knew he would be unable to join in.

“You know the tune I like the most is the Soviet anthem. Whenever there’s the Olympics, I love listening to it, but I’ve never heard the words.”

She sang the song she had sung hundreds of times since childhood. He seemed delighted. She thought it strange that he should like the song. Maybe he was trying to establish a connection between their countries, showing that he liked where she was from. But what in the end did it matter where they were from.

“Why do you like it?” she asked.

“I really just like the tune, but I like hearing you sing the words, the sound of them.”

“I’m not sure you would like them so much if you’d had to sing them as many times as I have.”

“Well, at least it’s a better tune than ours.”

“How does yours go David?”

He sang the first verse. He didn’t know the second and explained it to her.

“It’s not really about your country at all, but only about the Queen.”

“It’s a bit Louis XIV, I admit, ‘l’etat cest moi’, but I don’t mind her and she probably does us some good. At least, we didn’t have a revolution like the French did.”

“Nor like the Russians.”

When they returned to the school, they were both tired. She wanted to rest, perhaps, sleep a little and she wanted some time alone to think over what was happening.

“Shall we have a rest and meet up later?” she asked.

“It’s a good idea. You want to meet up at dinner?”

“We’re going to have the same problems at dinner as we did at lunch, and it would be rude if we sat alone.”

“And we’d be a bit the centre of attention. Maybe we could go out somewhere. There must be somewhere within easy walking distance.”

“That would be great. Shall we meet in the common room at seven?”

“Sure. I’ll ask one of the Danes about where we could go. See you”.

She watched as he walked away and thought surely tonight he will kiss me.

Chapter 13

Back in his room, David sat drinking coke and smoking a cigarette. It was all very sudden and he was finding it hard to take in. Only a few hours ago he’d ended up kissing someone who was virtually a stranger. Now they had spent the day together. But apart from the mere fact that they were together no one had spoken of what had occurred, and no one had attempted to do anything to repeat it. No doubt it was his job to make the move. But he was scared now of making the wrong move. She’d seemed a bit nervous last night when he’d offered to walk her home. Well, at least he’d shown her that he could be trusted. She’d seemed a little distant today. He wondered if she was regretting what had happened between them. For all he knew she could get into trouble. But then the other Russians had accepted him, so perhaps there was nothing in that. He just wasn’t very confident with girls. Gillian had been one long disaster that had spoiled his chances for years and left him unsure of himself. He was already beginning to feel that he could get hurt again. There was a strength to the emotion that he was already feeling, which he knew would lead to pain when they separated. What hope anyway was there for them? But he had no choice of course. Once you started on this sort of thing, you just had to continue and accept whatever happened. At least he was feeling something again. There had been times lately when he wondered if he ever would again. But what should he do? Well, they would go out tonight and maybe something would happen, just like the night before when it had not been necessary to actually do anything or at least not consciously. Maybe the best was not to plan or to say to himself at this point ‘I’ll do this’ or at that point ‘I’ll do that’, but just to wait and see. He dreaded being snubbed if he made a move and was rejected. He just wished that he could read her better, but she had a face and an expression that sometimes went blank. She was the first Russian girl he’d ever met and he found her just a little baffling. He was bad enough at reading the cues from an English girl. But at least there was a shared experience with someone who had grown up speaking the same language and who lived by the same rules, both those written and unwritten. And yet there was a connection with Lena. The spark that you always look for had happened. All those years he had been with Gillian, and there had never been that spark. He thought of all the time they had spent together and the effort, but without the spark there was nothing no matter how much he wanted her. And here suddenly before he was even really aware that it was happening he’d felt that sense of something that can join a man and a woman together forever. It could happen with a stranger after a very short time, or it could not happen with a friend at all, with someone he’d known for years. It hardly seemed rational. But he knew that it was real and he knew that it was rare. There were second chances, but not too many of them. This sort of feeling you didn’t expect to feel more than a few times.
He lay down on his bed and began dozing. His mind played over how they had started kissing the night before. Who had begun it? He couldn’t remember Lena really doing anything, and he was certain that he hadn’t made a move. It had been clear enough though that something was up when they all left and Lena remained. He remembered trying not to be too obvious as he looked at her. But he’d wanted to look at her as much as he could. The memory of their kissing merged with her image at the pool. Most men would think Svetlana much the prettier of the two, but to David Svetlana had an obvious beauty that he didn’t like. He liked Lena’s petite little body. She wasn’t at all athletic and she really hardly had any curves at all, but he liked her all the more for it. The greyness of her eyes held him to her, and he sensed some sort of secret in them. He knew that there were places where neither of them could go in terms of conversation. It was basic politeness. After all, not so many years earlier it would have been difficult, perhaps forbidden for them even to speak. They could approach certain topics, but circumspectly. He was very tired and on the verge of sleeping, but he wanted to bring her image to him just once more before sleeping. He saw her face once more from the same closeness that they had obtained the night before, so close that it wasn’t entirely possible to make out her features, only she had wet hair and he imagined her body with drips of water falling off as he embraced it. With variations these images merged in his mind as it went off to sleep and their embrace lasted and lasted until a deeper sleep swept away all dreams.

Chapter 14

The walk to the little town of Vejen was through country roads lined with flowers.

“We can get a taxi back,” said David “if we get tired.”

“I prefer walking.”

“Me too. You know I spend my time wandering around Cambridge on my own, it helps me think.”

“Like Kant.”

“Ah yes. I forgot you’re from where he used to live.”

“I’m not sure he’d recognise it. English planes destroyed most of the centre. There’s still the cathedral, and there’s a small monument to Kant.”

“What’s it like there?”

“You mean Kaliningrad? I’m actually from Baltiysk. It’s a small town on the coast.”


“Not very, but there are some nice beaches at Svetlogorsk and Zelonogradsk. They get fairly well packed out in the summer.”

“Is it warm enough to swim in the sea?”

“I normally don’t bother, but lots of people do. People even come from Moscow. There are sanatoria.”

“You mean they have consumption?”


“I thought a sanatorium was for people who were ill you know with,” he thought of another word “T.B”.

She still looked puzzled and he tried to explain.

“In the 19th century there was a disease that affected the lungs, lots of people died from it like Keats and Camille from La dame aux camelias, you know La Traviata and other operas, too. La Boheme. They start coughing, sing a wonderful aria and die.”

“I think, I know what you mean,” said Lena “but our sanatoria aren’t like that. They’re more for people who want a rest and a healthy holiday.”

It had been a pleasant walk and she found herself relaxing in his company. There was a bit of a language barrier, but it added to the pleasure if anything. Their conversations were something of a game. The differences in culture were sometimes confusing. He just did not do what a Russian man would do in the same circumstances. He did not bring her flowers. He did not take her arm. He did not continually pester her to go somewhere where they could be alone. She had heard of such battles with someone who had had a little too much to drink forcing his kisses on her girlfriend Masha back home. She’d heard about the roaming hands and thought of them with some disgust. She’d been told of going to the cinema with someone who had seemed nice. They’d gone to a park afterwards and a bench. It was quiet and rather dark. He’d gone into a shop on the way and bought a small bottle of Soviet champagne and a couple of plastic glasses. Masha drank a little and he drank the rest. She’d been told of the way this nice man had manoeuvred Masha, the way he held her with his strength, turned her head and left her no choice, and how it was this that had left her feeling that the whole thing was sordid. It wasn’t that he did anything so very awful, just the way that he had made Masha feel powerless. More than one of her girlfriends had told similar stories, and it seemed the experience was typical enough. It was not something that she had sought out for herself, not something she could imagine liking, though it didn’t stop the girls she knew continuing with the men who kissed them so and even expecting, perhaps wanting to be held in just this way. She wondered if most men everywhere were rather like that, thinking mostly of their own desire and not much else. David confused her and she did not know what to expect, but she knew that whatever happened between them would be as much her choice as his. She rather wished he would do more. It had been the first time someone had kissed her like that. And it had been nothing like the stories her girlfriends had told. There had been nothing sordid. He hadn’t dominated her in anyway. She hadn’t expected to enjoy kissing. It had always struck her as an odd thing to want to do. But it had been something wholly new bringing to her sensations that she had never properly felt before. And yet it had all turned out to be familiar as if half remembered. Looking back now, it didn’t at all surprise her that she had actually enjoyed the experience. Yet she had not at all known beforehand what to expect and had approached her first real kiss with anxiety not least about if it would happen. He had been gentle and had waited for her response as they began to explore this new world of kissing. His tongue had made the slightest gesture of exploration but had waited for her to show that she welcomed what he was doing. She’d been a little nervous with him especially when he walked her home, but he really had been the perfect English gentleman. She was nervous of him still, but her growing trust was beginning to outweigh her nervousness. She also thought that he could take this gentleman thing a little far. There wasn’t much time, and she wanted more than a polite kiss on the cheek by way of goodbye.

They stopped by a shop, and David went in to buy cigarettes. He bought two packs and gave one to her. She was a bit embarrassed, but her need for a cigarette outweighed it.

“Look Lena,” he said “we’re not going to let money get in the way of things. My guess is that you spent quite a bit on that little party last night, so it’s only fair that tonight’s on me.”

“I’ve been bothering everyone for cigarettes. At home they cost almost nothing. But here…”
“And there’s hardly anything worse than wanting a smoke and not having any left.”

She was a little embarrassed about being broke. Above all, she didn’t want him to be like one of those rich men she’d read about who takes a girl out and gives her presents and such like, and then has an expectation. But he’d been very nice about it. She’d have worried about paying in the restaurant all the way through the meal if he had not said what he’d just said. Did he sense that? How could he? And if he was that sensitive, why did he not know that she wanted above all to feel his arms around her again.

The restaurant was up a side street.

“I think, this is it,” said David. “I found Jens and asked him if he knew of somewhere nice.”

“Was he angry that we missed class today?”

“No, not at all. They’re pretty relaxed about that sort of thing. I told him that I thought it was better for me to speak Danish all day with someone who didn’t speak much English.”

“It was better for me, too. I’ve been speaking far too much Russian.”

“I also said I was doing my bit to make the Cold War slightly warmer.”

“You are indeed, and I hope it will get warmer still.”
“Jens was pretty nice about it, but I think, it would be an idea if we went to the first couple of classes tomorrow and then did something in the afternoon. He mentioned the cinema here. We could see what’s playing.”

She liked that he made their next date even before finishing the present one. 

“Sveta wants us all to go to the club here tomorrow night.”

“I’m not much of a dancer, but I’ll be happy to tag along. Just so long as we only speak Danish.”

“I’ll try. I find that when we talk for a while, I begin to get a little fluency, but after half an hour of Russian it’s as if I’ve forgotten my Danish.”

“I’m the same. I begin to dread people who speak English. Listen, Lena, I’m going to try a little experiment in restaurant. Go along with me, will you?”

They sat down and the waitress came along with the menu. It was an old fashioned sort of place all with pine walls and furniture. She glanced through the menu and everything seemed ridiculously expensive. It was actually the first proper restaurant she’d ever been in.

“Shall we have wine or beer?” said David.

“Oh, I think, wine. But nothing too expensive.”
“Don’t worry, Lena. Let’s just think of today as a very special occasion. It’s what? Our one day anniversary.”

“Well, maybe red wine then. Do you know any of them?”

“I almost know nothing about wine. But Italian is usually fine.”

He nodded to the waitress.

“Can we have a bottle of the Sicilian red?”

“Yes, of course,” she answered in English, “and are you ready to order? I think, we have an English menu somewhere or I could explain things to you.”

David looked confused.

“I’m sorry,” he said in Danish. “My English is not very good.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Hungary, and my friend is from Russia. We’re studying Danish at the school and, in fact, Danish is our only common language.  I think we can manage the menu on our own.”

He winked at Lena and she smiled back.

During the meal they talked about the wine and about the food and of nothing at all. Sometimes there were pauses, but it didn’t seem to matter. She asked him about his studies being careful not to mention Cambridge or England in the presence of the waitress. She told him of how she had been good at languages at school and had gone on to specialise in Polish and Czech.

“So how did you end up speaking Danish?”

“It must have been my destiny,” said Lena. “Otherwise, how could I have met you and how could we now be even having this conversation?”

“You believe in fate?”

“I think, every Russian more or less does.”

“But really, why Danish?”

“No real reason. I was doing quite well at university and was offered the chance to study another language. It could equally well have been Japanese, and then I’d be sitting somewhere in Tokyo now drinking sake.”

“And I’d be Japanese.”

They both laughed.

“What about you?” she asked.

“It’s to do with my studies. I wanted to come up with something interesting to study, not just ancient Greek. Someone gave me a book by a Danish writer that was to do with faith. There was also a connection with ancient Greek ideas, particularly those of Socrates and Plato. I’m looking at exploring that connection.”

“So it’s something to do with religion?”

“In a way, and literature, too. That’s why I’m reading Dostoevsky. I may want to bring him into things as well.”

“Then you will have to learn Russian?”

“Well, if it was your destiny to meet me, it must have been my destiny to meet you.”

He ordered a taxi to take them home. Lena felt very tired and was feeling slightly the effects of the wine. The taxi journey was only a few minutes, but she tried to nestle up to him. He seemed a little nervous. She’d understood his hints of course, but really there was hardly the need to hint. Wasn’t it obvious that she wanted to be with him?

When they got out, he became very conventional again and very polite. It was like some sort of English wall that sometimes came between them. They smoked a last cigarette together and he talked of how they would have a late night tomorrow. She realised that he literally did not know what to do next and was masking his uncertainty with this small talk. She’d heard of men grabbing. She heard of fending off their fumbles. But she didn’t really know what to do when a man just didn’t make a move. Were you supposed to grab him yourself? They stood for a minute rather embarrassed outside her door. She was far from being fearful about him walking her to her room. She was far from being fearful that he would do something. Now she was only fearful that he would not.

“Well, goodnight, Lena,” he said. “It was a wonderful day.”

He kissed her cheek and even shook her hand. She stood there watching his shape disappear into the shadows. How on earth had the English people continued for so long she wondered? It had been a wonderful day, but it had ended in disappointment.

Chapter 15

David was disappointed, too. It had all been going so well. They got on. They could speak easily about all sorts of things. She obviously wanted to spend time with him, but he was going to end up with what he always ended up with, a friend rather than a girlfriend. There had been a pattern these last few years. He went back, as so often, over the old ground. He remembered the years he had spent with Gillian, not daring to do anything in case it should spoil their friendship. People had assumed that they were a couple, and in many ways they had been. For years he had thought that his love was simply not returned. But he knew now that this was not so. She had said that she loved him. What was it then that prevented them being together? Why was he here instead of back home with her? He honestly didn’t know. That was one of the things that had hurt the most. If she loved him, why had he spent the past years waiting for something to happen? He’d tried to argue with her that night when they had broken up decisively. Perhaps, break up was the wrong word for a relationship that had never been together apart from a few brief weeks when they were almost children with some kisses that had turned out to be unwelcome. He’d tried to persuade her with this new discovery of her love. He remembered again his puzzlement at her saying that she loved him but could not be with him. He’d thought of this sentence endlessly. But he knew there was no use delving into meaning. There was a simple inability. Somehow after all these years together the thought of them kissing was too much for Gillian. Perhaps, it was the thought of kissing anyone, but he doubted it. When she said she loved him but could be with him, he knew that it was specifically him that she couldn’t be with. Their relationship had been just as much a hindrance to Gillian as to him. He realised that now. They had spent too long being friends for anything further to develop. It would have seemed somehow unnatural.

The trouble was that this was his only real experience. He’d spent his life taking Gillian out. They’d gone to the pub, they’d gone to the cinema, they’d gone for walks, and they’d written letters. He never brought her flowers, he never held her hand and he never tried to kiss her. He had written between the lines of a score of letters, but if she had got the hints, she hadn’t responded. There had been a sort of romance, but within constraints. At times he had almost enjoyed it. He’d thought of his love as having a purity like something out of a medieval courtly romance. But of course, life in the middle ages had been anything but pure. The purity was just for books. He thought that Gillian had almost enjoyed her love, too. It was a love without having to worry about what would happen next. He was someone to take her out, someone she could share her thoughts and feelings with, but without having to share her bed.

There had been nothing official between them, no words that meant they were together. Gillian might have allowed people to think that he was her boyfriend, but if someone used the word she corrected it. He was just a very good friend. That word “just” was what he amounted to. In college he’d had a string of friends who were girls. These friendships had sometimes been quite intense, but had never amounted to anything more. And now where were they? He was someone girls loved to talk with. He was a gentleman, quite old-fashioned and polite. He never made a move. He just waited. He didn’t really know how, and all his experience told him that he should hold back. How was he supposed to know anyway if a girl wanted to be with him? He just couldn’t read the signs, and so almost out of politeness he did nothing.

He’d seen how the other men behaved. He knew how some of them had contempt for women, treated them poorly and really just wanted sex. Yet such men often had no difficulty finding someone. Perhaps, it was something from human evolution that meant that women were conditioned to prefer brutes. After all, a strong man would have been necessary 40,000 years ago. A gentleman would have been little use on a hunt. Still he preferred being as he was. He would wait. Maybe it would not be this time. Maybe Lena would be another in a long string of friendships that went nowhere, but eventually one of them would recognise his qualities and choose him. He wasn’t going to change. He didn’t want to be someone other than the person his experiences had made. He didn’t want to be any sort of brute even if he’d known how to bring such a being into life. And so without much hope he resolved to wait and see once more.

Chapter 16

There had been some light ribbing from Jens and the other students in class. Lena also noticed one or two jealous looks from the other girls.

“I think we should put romance on the curriculum,” said Jens. “You’re both speaking more fluently.”

“It was the first time I’d ever spoken Danish for nearly a whole day,” said Lena. “We had to.”

“My Russian isn’t quite as good as Lena’s,” said David, “so we thought it best to stick to Danish.”

Everybody laughed at his irony.

“Well, I’ll give anyone the afternoon off who promises only to speak Danish,” said Jens.

They’d had lunch with the other Russians and had then gone to the cinema. It had been a rather silly American film about a prostitute who is hired to act as a rich man’s girlfriend. She’d noticed David’s embarrassment whenever there was any sort of sex even though it was mostly only implied. She’d hardly seen a contemporary American film and had found it rather interesting. Did they really live like that? But it also seemed rather shallow. She’d not understood much of the dialogue and the Danish subtitles were sometimes too fast for her to keep up, but it was easy enough to follow what was going on.

“You’ve been to America?” she asked him afterwards.

“Yes, but only on the East coast.”

“Are they really as rich as that?”

“Some of them are, but not many. It’s mostly quite like here in Denmark.”

“Is England like here, too?”

“It’s not so different. It looks different, but we’re basically the same. What about with you?”

“Of course, it’s very different. You can’t buy as many different things. We’re poorer, but most people have enough.”

“I’d like to see the Soviet Union, not so much the famous places. I’m not much of a tourist, but how ordinary people live.”

“Few people speak English,” she said. “Maybe they learn a little in school, but it’s as if they deliberately teach it badly.”

“Oh, well I’ll just have to find someone who speaks Danish then. Do you get many tourists coming to visit Kaliningrad?”

“We get some people from Moscow and Leningrad. But it’s not so easy for people from other countries. It’s a closed city.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s because of the fleet I think. Foreigners can’t visit. Maybe some people from other Eastern bloc countries can if they get special permission, but we never have people from the West. You’re the first Westerner I’ve ever really talked to.”

She thought she saw a little shock in his face and even a sense that the situation was hopeless, but he rallied soon enough. The real problem though, was that still nothing had happened. They had spent most of another day together, and still she waited. He had made hints about their relationship and even just then had alluded to a meeting in the future in that rather subtle way he had. But there certainly would be no future if they just continued in this vein. There had to be something more between them than to create a bond that could overcome the difficulties that they certainly would face. There would be distance, but much more than distance. He could not visit her and it was highly unlikely that she could visit him. So where was the place where they could be with each other? She did not know. But there was no point planning. The future would have to look after itself. The crucial point was now, today. They had to somehow get over this barrier that was growing between them. Every time they were together and there was no further affection shown, meant that it was harder the next time to show it. She no longer expected him to do anything. What could she do then? She resolved to talk to Svetlana.

Chapter 17

It had been good to have someone to confide in even if Lena was not especially close to Svetlana. They’d been friendly enough, but no more than that. Still she’d needed some advice and she had the feeling that Sveta had more confidence than she did and more experience, too. Everyone knew that people from Moscow were more sophisticated than those from the provinces. She’d shown Sveta her clothing options. There were really only two possibilities. The pale blue dress with the buttons up the front was saved until tomorrow, while Sveta agreed that the trousers and top that her father had brought back from India would be ideal for dancing. It was Lena’s favourite outfit, not only because it had come from her father, but because no one else had anything quite like it. It made her look just a bit exotic. Svetlana persuaded Lena to use just a touch of makeup and helped her put it on. Looking in the mirror she could sense the eastern look had been accentuated just a little, she was pleased.

“You really like him, don’t you?” asked Sveta.

“Yes, but we don’t seem to be going anywhere and tomorrow will be the last day.”

“Have you tried making him a little jealous?”


“You know, get chatting to one of the others.”
“What? Like Oleg or Andrei? I hardly think…”

“I know what you mean and Petr isn’t much better. But you don’t have to mean it. Or I could try to hook up with a couple of Danes and get you dancing with one of them while I dance with the other.”

“Do you think that might work? I’m not so sure. The Danes can be a bit forward, like they still like to think they’re Vikings.”

“Well, it won’t hurt him if he gets a little worried.”

“I don’t know. He’s such a shy English gentleman he might think it impolite to be jealous.”

“Don’t worry. I can always find a moment to tell him how much you like him, give him reassurance and encouragement.”

“That sounds like school. Did you ever send a friend to talk to a boy for you?”

“Sure. Everyone did. What are friends for if it’s not to help each other out?”

“What next? So I’ve been able to make him a little jealous. What should I try then?”

“Have you asked him in here?”

“I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”
“It doesn’t have to go that far you know. I’ve been looking at David and I think you’re pretty lucky. He doesn’t seem the sort to take advantage of a situation. Quite the reverse, in fact.”

“How do you know?”

“You can tell what a man’s after just by looking in his eyes.”

“And how does he look at me?”

“He likes you, but in the way we all want a man to like us. I don’t think you’d be taking too much of a chance asking him in.”

Lena had never been in a nightclub before and the whole experience fascinated her. The five Russians and David found a booth and sat down. He bought everyone some drinks and shared his cigarettes. They were used to his presence by now and he’d been accepted. The conversation was mostly in Russian, but someone would usually try to keep David involved by making a few remarks in English or Danish. But it hardly mattered: conversation was only possible anyway, in snatches between songs.

Lena didn’t recognise any of the music and she wasn’t that keen on it. It was loud and repetitive. She watched how the other girls danced and tried to do something similar, but these sorts of places barely existed in the Soviet Union, and certainly not in Kaliningrad. David seemed to be enjoying himself. He’d told her that they had discos every Saturday in his college. Everyone just did their own thing; it wasn’t really necessary to dance with anyone. This was how he appeared to her now. They were sort of dancing together, but he was paying the scantest of attentions and really was losing himself in the music.

Sveta had found a Dane who was willing to buy her drinks, and she brought him and another Dane with her to the booth. There were some shouted introductions. Lena didn’t care what the Danes were called, but she danced with one of them a few times. She noticed how he looked her up and down, and she could see a faintly repugnant and very direct desire in his eyes. But perhaps it was worth it. She noticed that David wasn’t too keen on what was happening. It wasn’t that he said or did anything, but somehow she could tell. The only thing she was scared of was if David suddenly thought she’d gone off with someone else and far from being jealous just gave up on her. Then she’d be left with this oaf of a Dane and Sveta’s plan would have backfired badly.

Sveta was already snuggling up to her Dane when the music was a little slower. Lena had to admit that she was good. Maybe it was just a matter of confidence or maybe she had done the same sort of thing in Moscow so often that it was now like a trick that had already been learned. Lena was beginning to feel a little jealous herself. When Svetlana wanted to be kissed, she knew exactly what to do.

After a couple of hours there was an interlude.

“What happens now?” she asked Morton who was still entwined with Sveta.

“There’s usually a stripper,” he said.

Lena looked a little puzzled.

“A girl comes on a takes off her clothes,” said Henrik, the oaf who seemed continually to be leering at her.

“Maybe we could go outside for a bit,” said David.

“No, it’ll be interesting” said Lena.
She was touched by his embarrassment, but she really did want to see it. She’d heard of such things, but could hardly believe it. The Danes were strange she thought, even stranger than the English. They had no inhibitions at all. The girls would go into the boys toilets if their own were full. They just didn’t seem to care that all the men were standing there, and the men didn’t seem to care either. They seemed to pair off with barely a thought and couples would go off somewhere after a few exchanged words. She found it decadent and faintly seedy. Perhaps, she and David had too many inhibitions, but these people had so few that they seemed to treat sex as just another bodily function like eating, sleeping or going to the toilet.

She stood next to David as the stripper appeared on the dance floor. The audience was spread out in a sort of semi-circle, and Lena noticed just as many women looking on as men. Everyone seemed to find the whole spectacle exciting, but also completely normal. The stripper was pretty and could really dance, much better than anyone else Lena had seen. Her dance had obviously been carefully choreographed and practiced, and she found ever more innovative ways to remove her clothes. Strangely Lena found herself rather excited by it all. It wasn’t as if she was attracted to women. She hardly knew that such attractions could exist, but the atmosphere all around her was affecting her. The Danish women seemed to all enjoy the show and cheered as another piece of clothing was discarded. The men all stood with smiles watching intently every action. She glanced at David. He looked embarrassed, but she sensed that he was enjoying the show, too. They exchanged looks. He seemed slightly horrified that she, too could not take her eyes away from what was happening. Then they both just laughed and it was a kind of release of tension. She wondered how far it would all go before the dance ended. Surely it could not go much further. The bikini top was removed and a loud cheer erupted round the room. Lena looked round the room at the eager eyes, the women just as much as the men were delighted and she saw that they expected still more. The dance continued, suggestive and lewd. The stripper had on only the tiniest of G-strings. She would stop soon thought Lena. The crowd continued to become more and more excited. The excitement transferred itself to Lena, and she was shocked to find that she, too, wanted the stripper to remove her last garment. She glanced at David and saw that he could not hide his excitement. And then the stripper was completely naked. The crowd roared as she continued her dance for another minute or two. So that was how they liked to live in Denmark.

Sitting down with David she saw that he was stunned as well. Henrik was delighted and continued looking at her lasciviously. She sensed that David was getting a bit overprotective, and she’d have to be careful that this little game didn’t go too far. Svetlana was nowhere to be seen. Lena wondered if she’d gone off with Morton. They stayed until the end and Svetlana did not reappear. Henrik was sticking around and Lena wondered what to do to get rid of him. She got the Russian boys around her.

“I need to get rid of that Danish guy. Can you help?”

“What do you suggest?”

“Well, one of you could tell him that I’m your wife.”

When they got outside she asked them what had happened.

“He said he didn’t mind if you were my wife,” said Andrei. “He suggested a threesome.”

Chapter 18

Lena had invited David into her room. Her fears of him walking her back to her room after their kiss now seemed faintly ridiculous. She only feared that their kiss would not be repeated, that she would not feel what she had felt before, that she would never again feel his arms around her. It was just after one. She realised that it was the first time in her life she’d been alone in a room with a man. Not like this anyway. They sat smoking talking a little about the club. She looked at him and wondered what he was thinking. There was still that distance. He sat at her desk while she was on the bed. He could have sat down beside her. That had more or less been her idea. But he had chosen to sit apart. She sensed his confusion, even his embarrassment. Yet, despite these inhibitions, she knew that he wanted to be with her. He had been jealous.

David finished his cigarette.

“Well it’s getting late” he said. He began to get up and move towards the door. It seemed to be happening in slow motion. Lena saw her chance slipping. If he left like this tonight, he would leave like this tomorrow and the next day. She would return to Kaliningrad, and all they would have would be a sort of friendship with the memory of one evening when they had ended up kissing, something that obviously had turned out to be a mistake, possibly because of drunkenness. But it would not be enough. It had taken a miracle to bring them together and who knows, it might need another to bring them together again. But that miracle if it were to have a chance, needed more solid ground; it needed a foundation of something shared between them that they both would remember when they were apart. Love could be a solitary feeling, but then it was more like a teenage crush. She remembered the actors she had liked who were safe to love because she would never meet them. She recalled again the hour and more that she had spent kissing with David, and how something quite different had been created by that kissing, something mutual, a relationship that required two. Her feelings, these feelings that were coming into her throat now had been created not so much by the time they had spent together, though that had confirmed in her mind that she wanted to spend time with this man rather than any other, they had been created by their embrace. Without that embrace he was just a friend, perhaps a good friend, but it wouldn’t be enough. What would happen in the next hour or would not happen would determine everything. With growing panic she saw him leaving. Must she really do all the work? She had always thought of herself as waiting patiently for her ship with scarlet sails. But she had no more patience. She knew that any more patience would mean that he would be already outside. She wasn’t even sure that she could face him after that. Their last day would be a disaster.

She was scared, too. How would he take it if she stopped him? What would he think of her if she made the move she was going to make? Yet she had come to know him better and realised that he was not only a gentleman, but also a gentle man. Suddenly she saw that there was nothing to fear and all of these thoughts that had flashed through her mind in the space between him getting up and moving towards the door coalesced into a single action. She moved towards him with her arms outspread and they embraced. She took his hand and they sat down on her bed. She removed her glasses and he did likewise. Their kissing began as if it had never stopped.

Was it she that had leaned back a little or was it David? No doubt it had been her. He seemed always to wait for her to move before responding in kind. It was frustrating at times, but it also gave her confidence. Nothing would happen that she did not herself choose. There came a point when gravity made the next move inevitable, and they had to lay down together. It was an altogether new sort of kissing that involved her whole body. She felt his closeness not only in the contact between their lips, their tongues but all down the length of their bodies that merged in an ever changing meeting that she found even better than kissing. She felt the strength of his arms and delighted at how he caressed her. He made no attempt to go any further. She’d always thought that a man would take advantage of a situation like this. But he seemed to know that their embrace was enough for now. She just wanted to enjoy this new experience. She could feel his chest through the thin fabric of his shirt. There was no need to undo any buttons. He too explored a little with his hands and she, delighted with the sensation of his fingers, sensed through the thin fabric of her trousers. She had no need to worry. She had never had any need to worry, for she could sense that he was thinking of what she wanted just as much as what he wanted. He didn’t try to push any boundaries, or take advantage of the situation by making unwelcome fumbles. It was this above all that made their embrace mutual. He knew what she was ready for and what she was not ready for because they had a relationship that was not one sided. She felt desire. She wanted his caresses and because they were so chaste she continually wanted more.  They became more and more welcome, and she wished he would go further while also feeling grateful that he did not. She had a strange sense of anxious expectation about the destination of his fingers as they gradually and very slowly caressed within their self-determined boundaries. She was afraid both that he would step over those boundaries and that he would not. But as his kisses and caresses continued she came to relax completely as she sensed he knew exactly what she wanted and would do only that. She could sense his desire, but her trust continually grew as she realised that this man thought more about what she wanted than what he wanted. It made her desire grow in return. She realised that she had almost lost this moment. But it was the fact that he had out of politeness and inhibition almost walked away that made him the man she wanted.

After a time they had a break from kissing and lay quietly in each other’s arms. She started talking to him in Russian.

“You’re such a silly boy making me chase you like that. You’d have been out of the door if I hadn’t grabbed you. And now what on earth are we to do? Well, maybe we can work something out? But it will be me who does all the work, won’t it? It was you, you know who should have done everything. That’s how the story was supposed to go. But of course you’ve never read it.”

David responded in English. She only understood a few words here and there. He seemed to be trying to speak a sort of slang. Eventually she just listened to the tones without thinking of the meaning.

“I love listening to you speak Russian,” he said in Danish.

“You’ve heard rather a lot in the past few days.”

“I’ve heard even more Danish, and that has been best of all.”

“For me, too. It’s something that’s just ours.”

“I think the way that we speak it is just ours.”

“I can only really understand you, David. I struggle with the way the Danes mangle their own language. But no more Danish for the moment. You must know some more songs.”

He repeated as he had been repeating over the past days snatches of songs he remembered. Often they were from musicals. Somehow he had always liked the Doris Day song ‘Secret Love’ and it was one of the few that he could sing from start to finish. He had cherished it for a long time as somehow appropriate to his love for Gillian which he had always had to hide. The song had given him hope. Now it was as if the object of the song was changing and he sang the song to Lena.

“Once I had a secret love that lived within the heart of me,” he began.

“I love these old songs,” she said. “You know so many.”

“I’ve watched an awful lot of old films,” he said. “Now your turn.”

“I don’t know so many songs, but I know some bits of Pushkin.”

“Go on.”

She started reading Tatiana’s letter to Onegin.

“I write this to you, what more can be said?”

He could not know it; he could not even know what was being said to him. She knew the whole letter by heart as did many, maybe most Russian girls. She said it as if David were Onegin and some of the most beautiful words of the Russian language were directed only at him. She felt relief at what had happened, but she wondered what the future might bring them and if her fate might be rather better than Tatiana’s. Soon after David said goodnight and went back to his own room. But as she slept it was as if he was still there, and she dreamt of holding him still within her arms.

Chapter 19

She woke to a knock at the door and wondered if it was David coming to fetch her. She only had on a short nightie and so called out in Danish.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, Sveta,” came the reply in Russian.

Lena got up and went to the door.

“Did I wake you?”

“That’s OK. I needed to get up soon anyway.”

“I brought you some coffee. You missed breakfast.”

She saw that Sveta still had on the same clothes as the night before. They sat down and started smoking.

“What happened to you?” asked Lena.
“Can we talk?” said Sveta. “I’ve no one else here.”

“Of course.”

“I’m not going back.”


“Morton asked me to stay.”

“Who? That guy from last night? But…”

“I know I just met him last night. But he knows that if I go back, he’ll most likely never see me again.”

“Don’t you think it’s just a bit sudden? You don’t know him at all. Did you…?”

“He’d hardly be asking me to stay otherwise”

“But Sveta?!”

“I know you’re shocked. Sometimes you just have to grab what you want. I like it here. Everything works. It’s cheerful, colourful. You should see his apartment, his car. What’s not to like?”

“And after a week, if he gets sick of you?”

“He’ll not get sick of me. Anyway, he knows we’ll have to get married for me to stay.”

“You’ve already decided to get married after less than twelve hours?”

“I don’t see that there’s another way. He knows that.”

“And your boyfriend in Moscow?”

“I’ll find write him a letter some time. He’ll get over it.”

“But you must have signed guarantees to come back, your parents, too?”

“I hope they don’t get into too much trouble. But what’s to be done? This is my one chance for something better and I’m going to take it.”

“But you know nothing about this Morton.”

“In the end, one man is much the same as another. It has as much chance of working out as if we’d been together for a year. He’s attractive. We had a nice time together. A really nice time. You know.”

“But you don’t love him?”

“No and I’m quite sure he doesn’t love me. But there’s an attraction and something like love may well follow. If it doesn’t, well, I can think again. But by then I’d still not have to go back to Moscow.”

“You may end up on your own in a week. No marriage, no visa, no way to get home.”

“I may, but I doubt it. Still even then I think, I could find someone else.”

“Who could be anyone.”

“I know. There’s a risk. There’s always going to be a risk. And you? How is it going with your shy Englishman?”

“I followed your advice. I don’t know if he was jealous, but anyway I took him back here and we kissed.”

“Do you really think that will be enough? If you really want him, you should take your chance. You won’t get another.”

“Perhaps,” said Lena. “I think if we are meant to be together, things will work out.”

“You and your Scarlet Sails.”

“I can’t help how I am. I believe in romance.”

“Maybe you’re right. Who knows, your way may work out best in the end. But be careful that you don’t look back on what you lost today.”

“I want to keep him special.”

“As just a memory?”

“No. I hope for rather more than that.”

“How on earth are you going to see him again Lena? He can’t visit you and you can’t visit him.”

“I have a plan.”

“Well, good luck with your plan. But just a little bit of advice. Do you mind?”

Sveta reached towards Lena’s neck and with one finger lifted the chain around her neck. There was tiny cross. The style was Russian.

“I guessed as much,” said Sveta. “Well, there’s no need for any secrets between us now. You believe?”


“Are there churches in Kaliningrad?”

“Not officially. But we meet from time to time.”

“Well, I envy you a little for that. Anyway, my advice. Give him just a little more than kisses. You need a miracle to get him back even if you have a plan. You’ll need just a little more that will connect you when you’re apart. No, I don’t mean that you sleep with him. Maybe with a man like that the worst thing you could do would be to sleep with him.”

“I’m not worried about him on that score. I’m more worried about myself. When we kiss, sometimes I feel that I want him. I have to hold myself back a little. You know, I trust him. I know that he wouldn’t do anything that I would regret later even if I myself should seem to want him to.”

“Then you have something very special Lena and you should guard it very carefully. But give just a little something extra.”


Sveta saw the look of disapproval on Lena’s face.

“Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting anything untoward. Your memory of each other can be pure. But it’s important that he thinks of you as a woman who he wants. You're going to be apart who knows how long. You want him to dream of you and think of how it was when you were together. It may be this that will bring you together again.”

“But what?”

“I don’t know. I think, you’ll have to find out for yourself. But wear your blue dress, the one with the buttons and wait, wait for as long as your reasonably can. Don’t take him back to your room too early.”


“Well, it seems to me, Lena, that it is you that is struggling just a little with your desire, and it’s best not to have to struggle too long. If you take him back at ten o’clock, how long do you think you each can restrain yourself? What are you going to do for all those hours?”

“So wait until twelve?”

“Something like that. Anyway, I need to go. Don’t say anything to the boys today. I’m a bit worried that one of them might be, you know…”

“Try to stop you?”

“Or call someone. I don’t know. Wish me luck.”

“Of course. We’ll both need lots of it. Thank you, Sveta.”

“And you. Well, goodbye.”

And she was gone.

Chapter 20

Lena was back in the minibus. There had been some trouble over Sveta’s non-appearance. But there had been no reason to suspect that she knew anything more about it than the others. The driver had phoned the embassy. But even if Lena had wanted to tell anything, there was really nothing she could tell. She didn’t know where Morton lived. She didn’t even know his last name. They each said the same thing, that they’d seen her meet a Dane called Morton at a nightclub on Friday. It was all rather unpleasant. There had been a bit of a delay. But they couldn’t wait too long or they’d all miss their plane. Thankfully David had already gone. He’d left an hour earlier to take a train somewhere. She was glad that this unpleasantness had not spoiled their goodbyes.
The school’s director was called. She caught some words. But nothing could be done. They left. She sat alone at the back. She’d told the others that she was tired. But really she just wanted to have a chance to go over again all that had happened. Her stomach knotted with waves of sadness, and in her mind she kept repeating his name. She remembered specifically a moment that had drawn itself out into less than a minute and felt again the sensations that she had felt then. Her joy overtook her sadness and she snuggled into herself at the exquisiteness of the memory of his touch. She felt very feminine and much loved. Her mind went back over the day, but everything else sort of dissolved into the feeling, this new feeling that was hers.

The last day was supposed to be special. There was a trip to a nearby stately home. She’d wandered with David through the rooms, but neither of them had been interested.

“I’ve been on too many tours, seen too many galleries,” said David.

“I think, I would be more interested on another day,” said Lena.

“I don’t know. Someone tells you everything you could possibly imagine knowing about some tapestry and really I could care less.”

“Be careful David, she’ll hear.”

Somehow his cynicism about it, made her want to follow his lead. She hadn’t been on many tours, nor had she seen anywhere like this. She took in each room and stored it in a place in her memory, which she then never visited again.
Now sitting in the minibus it was all just fleeting images, old pictures, old books, suits of armour, a dummy dressed in XVIIIth century clothes. She remembered though how David had taken her hand.

She sat as usual with David, and the other Russians at dinner. They were a bit agitated.

“Have you seen Svetlana?” asked Petr.


“But where is she?” asked Oleg.

“They’re worrying about Svetlana,” she told David.

“I didn’t see her all day, did you?” he replied.

“She’ll be with Morton,” said Lena

“Do you know that?” said Andrei in Russian.

“Well, what do you think? She didn’t come back with us all last night.”

Oleg said a word that still had the power to shock her. She hissed at him.

“Don’t you dare say such things.”

“OK. I’m sorry,” said Oleg. “It’s just I’m worried that there'll be trouble.”

“Maybe we should call someone,” suggested Petr.

“That would guarantee some trouble and why? She’ll turn up tomorrow,” said Petr.

“What do you think, Lena?” said Andrei.

“How should I know? You all know her just as well as I do.”

There was a long prize giving ceremony after dinner. She had not bothered to listen to most of it. It was all very egalitarian in a Scandinavian sort of way. She found it faintly tiresome. She knew all about egalitarianism and had been taught about it since childhood. It didn’t mean much in the Soviet Union, and nor she suspected did it mean much here. David won a prize for his poem. Jens had got hold of a copy and read it out. There had been cheers and the school’s director had said something about trying to get it published at the very least in the school’s yearbook. She let the whole thing wash over her after that, but suddenly heard her name.

“What was that?” she said to David.

“I think you’ve won a prize, too.”

“Must everyone win a prize? They’ll be giving them to the pets next.”

Jens was standing up.

“I want to give a small prize to Lena, for her efforts at speaking Danish outside class and for her contribution to détente.”

There was laughter all around. She went up and was given a present. She guessed that it would be a book similar to the one that David had unwrapped. Indeed, by the end everyone had a prize and the prize was more or less always the same. There were more long speeches about people coming from all over the world, mixing together and making friends. The director talked of how their love of Denmark and Danish would unite them. There were songs.

When it was all over, she looked at her watch and saw that it was still only ten. She’d already written her address on a piece of paper.
“You’ll have to copy the Russian letters,” She said. “I’ll write them out carefully.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll just make a photocopy of what you write and stick it on the letter”.

“It’s really not that hard. Look, lots of the letters are the same.”

“It’s all Russian to me,” said David.

He gave her his address. She stumbled over the unfamiliar words. Neither of them had said much about their families at home. She wondered what his parents did. But she knew that there were some things better left unsaid. She couldn’t really say too much about what her father did.

She saw that he was getting a bit impatient. He wanted to be alone with her again. She saw how he looked at her in her pale blue dress. It was modest, but she thought it was elegant and the buttons up the front were a nice touch. She saw that he liked how she looked and felt the glow that came from being admired. She too wanted to hold him again. But Sveta had been right. It was better to wait. He might be a bit frustrated, but he would wait. He wasn’t going anywhere.

“I want to say goodbye to everyone,” she said.

They went round the room, mainly talking in Danish. When they came to the group that David used to spend time with, there was a touch of embarrassment.

“Long time, no see,” said Claudine in English.

“Lena doesn’t speak much English,” he answered in Danish. “We just came to say goodbye.”

“You’ve come on a lot,” said Maria. “Both of you.”

“It’s our only common language,” said Lena. “It’s either that or use hand signs.”

“Look, I’m sorry I haven’t seen much of you all these last few days,” said David.

“Don’t be, we understand.”

“I’m pleased for you, David,” said Sigrid, “and for you, Lena.”

She could see that David found these goodbyes dull and pointless, but it was still early.

“Let’s go and find Jens,” she said.

Jens invited them to his rooms for a drink.

“You know, I’m really pleased with both your progress.”

“We’ve been helping each other,” said David.

“It works. The thing that holds everyone back here is that they all just speak English to each other.”

“Or Russian,” said Lena.

They talked on for half an hour or so. Jens talked of how he loved his job, but was frustrated because he rarely saw anyone come back.

“What about you two? What are you going to do?”

“We’re going to write and hope,” said David.
It was nearly time. She could see that he was getting a little nervous as if last night hadn’t happened and might not happen again.

“Let’s just have another cigarette,” she said.

He noticed her cross.

“I’ve not seen that before,” he said. “It’s very pretty.”

“We have to be a little careful back home. I normally keep it tucked away.”

“It looks a bit different to the ones we have.”

“I was given it when I was baptised.”

“So you believe?”

“Yes. Of course. And you? You said that you would be studying faith. Is it just a subject to you?”

“No, it’s not just a subject or I don’t think I would get anywhere. I believe, too. It’s just I’m not very confident about it. I think I should believe more. I think I should be better than I am.”

“You’re lucky that you have churches.”

“I rarely go.”

“What church do they have in England?”

“Anglican. It’s protestant, but similar in some ways to the Catholic church. I’m quite keen on certain bits of Catholicism.”

“What about Orthodoxy?”

“I know almost nothing about it apart from a dispute over something in the Creed more than a thousand years ago. But I don’t think, it really matters, Lena. We believe the same things and want the same things, don’t we?”

His face shone with what he had been talking about. She knew what faith looked like even if it was mixed with doubts. When was there ever faith without a little bit of doubt? She thought of her own faith and her growing faith in him. The two faiths were strangely mixed. She noticed that he was still waiting for her answer and seemed puzzled by her pause.

“I think so, too. I think we want exactly the same things.”

She looked at him intently and got up and they walked the familiar path to her door.

“Now you're not going to go running off somewhere,” she said.
He smiled.

“Sit down. I’ll just be a minute,” she said. He sat down on the bed, and she went down the hall to the bathroom, looked in the mirror. Her dress had one button open. She opened another.

She kicked off her shoes and he did likewise. They now knew what to do, and the practice was making it all familiar. First, they’d take off their glasses, put them somewhere then start kissing until the inevitable happened and they were lying in each other’s arms. For a long time it was a simple repetition of what had gone before. But she began to caress him, stroking his chest, moving her hand down his back, pulling him towards her. He responded by moving his hand to her side gradually ever so gradually moving it so that he had reached the very edge of her breast. She responded by kissing him more intently and shifted her body so that his hand stroked her breast. The material of her dress was thin and there was nothing underneath. She lay back and he traced with his fingers her small contours. She showed him with her mouth and with her whole body that she liked his touch that she welcomed it. They continued like this for a long time. Each had patience. There was no need to hurry.

Her legs became entangled with his. They rolled together and apart. She found herself on top of him and felt his closeness to her. She brushed against him with her arm, with her wrist, with her hand. It was lightly done, almost as if by accident. But she had shown that she matched his desire. There can be no secrets between a couple when they embrace like this. There are ways to communicate desire. Her hand had wandered freely over his body. She let her dress ride up a little. Her hand squeezed his behind and she waited for his touch. He was shy. He was unsure, but he tested what was possible. He asked her by moving his hand up the back of her legs. Very slowly his hand moved higher. She kissed him harder. She shifted her position to show that his hand was very welcome. He stroked her behind through the thin cotton of her panties. He continued in this way for a little until she shifted her weight, just a touch. His hand found her side and touched her hip bone. He asked once more. She said ‘yes’ with her mouth and her whole body. She was lying on her back and she could feel his fingers touch the elastic, but his fingers moved downwards and she felt them through the thin cloth. He slowly, delicately caressed her, and it was all so gentle that she felt a slight tear in her eyes. It was enough. She knew that he felt exactly the same as her. The moment that had lasted really only a few seconds could not have been bettered. Something beautiful had occurred that would only be spoiled by anything else. She talked to him with her kisses and with her body telling him that they would save the rest for when and if they would be together for always. He seemed to understand. She knew that he, too had felt the closeness of the moment and if anything would bring them together again, it would be that.

It must have been nearly four when they separated and he went on his way. Nothing had happened and yet everything had happened. There was a bond between them that just might overcome the distance that was between them. She slept little and the next morning they sat together with nothing to say. There was nothing more to say. No words could justify the significance of what had happened, and so few words were said. She saw that he was all choked up when he said goodbye, and that tears were welling in his eyes. She controlled her emotions as best she could. She had had good practice throughout the years of her Soviet upbringing.

“I love you”, she said in Russian. It seemed for a moment that he understood.

“What was that?”

“Just something from Pushkin.”

They embraced and he got into the bus that would take him and some others to the station. She looked on as he left and had no idea when or if she would see him again.

Now sitting in her own minibus she replayed the day, but really only kept replaying a moment. The closeness stayed with her, stayed with her always even when the plane touched down in Moscow.

Part 2

Chapter 1

Lena received a call to go to the office on Prospect Mira. She’d been there once on her return three weeks ago and discussed matters with Orlov, the man who had been in charge of arranging her trip. She knew him quite well now and she also realised that she would need his help, but the whole thing made her rather uncomfortable now. It had started like a game, with impossible choices about something that would almost certainly never happen. But now it was quite real. There was a letter waiting for her.

She walked along the dusty pavement in Baltiysk towards the bus stop. It was sunny, but the wind from the Baltic never quite left them and so it was not oppressive. It would take an hour or so to drive to Kaliningrad and then she’d get another bus or the tram to Mira.

She glanced over the familiar countryside.  She had made the trip so frequently that she could just about recognise each turn in the road simply by the feel of it. The bus was old and rather dirty, but it was cheap and frequent. Her thoughts returned to David. She was excited by the prospect of reading his letter. But some of the romance went out of it when she thought of the man who would be sitting across the table while she read David’s words. But the place in her memory where she kept the most precious of moments was hers alone. She had written her report and described everything that had happened in Denmark. She had been questioned in some detail. She remembered casting down her eyes and feeling herself redden when he asked her about things that were private. But then she realised that only David and she had been there and so the truth was theirs and theirs alone. So she had told Orlov only what she’d wanted him to know. She gave away generalities, she gave away banalities. The story that she told was true, but full of fiction. She kept what was precious to herself intact. There had been less trouble than she’d expected about Svetlana. She hadn’t been blamed in Moscow, no one had. She’d said goodbye to the Russian boys, knowing that she was unlikely to see any of them again. She couldn’t say that she regretted that fact. Orlov had been quite calm about Svetlana at their first meeting back in Kaliningrad.

“Don’t worry about your friend, Lena,” he said.

“I’m not sure I’d really call her a friend. We weren’t that close.”

“Even so, don’t worry, we’ve already been in touch with her in Denmark. We think, everything will work out well.”

It was a pity that she’d just missed the bus that would take her directly along Prospect Mira. She took the tram instead. It was slow and clunky, but she had time and she rather liked it. Going along Leninsky Prospect she looked again at the massive House of Soviets that they were building. It was extraordinarily ugly. Lena remembered hearing that there had been some sort of castle here, quite badly damaged, but still more or less intact. Someone had decided that there were enough reminders of Germany in Kaliningrad and ordered it destroyed.
She found the office and told the receptionist that she was there. She sat in a corridor waiting and after a while sat down in a rather dull room opposite Orlov.

“Well, he’s written. We have the original and the Russian translation here.”

“Can I have it?”

“I think, it best if we keep the original safely here in your file.”

“It came in a small packet.” He showed her the outside of a brown padded envelope. She saw her own writing taped to the front as the address. These came with it.”

Orlov showed her a brass lighter. She recognised it as the one that David used in Denmark. He had lit her cigarette many times with it. But he had polished it and now instead of being dull it shone. Orlov held it up to her in two fingers.

“It’s rather nice, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to show it to people here. We’ll keep it in your file.”

“But I could just keep it at home,” said Lena.

“You can have his photograph though.”

He gave her a photograph. It was one of the small ones which are made in photo booths, the sort that are put in passports and such like. Still she saw a hint of a smile on David’s face. She was pleased with it. Let Orlov keep the lighter, this little piece of shiny paper was much more important to her.

She began reading the photocopy of David’s letter and then the Russian translation.

“As you know, I don’t speak any Danish, so I would be grateful if you would check that the translation is accurate.”

There were a few words that she didn’t know and she found David’s habit of using old spellings a bit difficult, but she sensed his voice coming through the text. The Russian translation was accurate enough and helped her out with some words, but it missed the poetry. He really wrote very well indeed for someone who had only started learning the language a few months ago. The best thing of all though was that the translation missed all his hints. How could someone translate an allusion that only the two of them would get, because only the two of them had heard it in the first place? He mentioned songs that they had sung and poems that they had read. He used their shared experiences to write of what he felt, but in a way that was subtle, such that only she could understand. She knew that it was his shyness, his reserve that made him write so, but she was so grateful to it for it kept the essence of her letter private even when there had been so many prying eyes.

“It’s a very good translation, comrade Orlov”, she said. “David writes very well and his writing is sometimes hard for me to understand.”

“There were a few things that we did not really understand. Perhaps you can help.”

“I will try.”

“He mentions changing his name to Arthur and having found a translation of the book you liked so much in the library in Cambridge.”

Lena knew that David was referring to Scarlet Sails and the novel’s hero Arthur Grey; she was so pleased that he was reading it.

“We talked about a lot of books. I mentioned liking the old romances about King Arthur. Perhaps, he means that. I don’t get all of his allusions though.”

They went through the letter. She could have spelled out the allusions. She didn’t really understand why Orlov wanted to know these things. But she just didn’t want to be on display. Her love was vulnerable enough without being picked to pieces.

“We’re very pleased with you”, said Orlov. “It’s too early to say what will happen. A lot will depend on this correspondence. So if you could write soon and bring it here, I’ll have a translation made and we can discuss what you’ve written. It might be an idea to include a photograph like his. No doubt he would like one, too.”

“When do you think I might be able to see him?”

“It really all depends. Most of all it depends on him. We can’t make him want to see you. He might meet someone else. You just have to be patient.”

Chapter 2

Lena sat down to write. It was the first time she’d written something in Danish that wasn’t a sort of homework, whether an exercise or an essay. She kept thinking of what she wanted to say in Russian and trying to translate it, which meant she kept reaching for the dictionary. Her letter kept filling up with words that she didn’t understand, words from a dictionary rather than her own words. The copy of David’s letter lay before her. It provided her with some guidance, some places from which to start. He had a long paragraph about her name and how she was called Lena, but that she had written five letters when she had written it out for him. What was this fifth letter? Well, it looked like an “e,” but it sounded like a “ye”. He played around a little on this theme for a little while. She wondered how he could go on about it for so long. It was true that she had never mentioned that her name was Yelena. It hadn’t seemed worthy of mention. She tried in her letter to explain something about how Russian names worked. How there was the name and then the variants on the name that had different senses of informality. She asked how he’d known how to pronounce the “E”.

She looked back over what she had just written and saw the constraint and the lack of humour. She was jealous of David’s fluency. He had a certain style that was his alone. He played with the Danish words and when she read his voice came to her. She saw that he was still very shy and would only allude to his feelings, not declare them. There was no mention of kissing, hardly any mention at all that they had been a couple. Yet the whole letter was full of his feelings, just through its tone and because such a letter could only have been written to someone who he loved. He did not write of them meeting again, but rather mentioned parts of the story he was reading. He described how he had struggled to find it. The author’s name meant “grin” in English but had somehow ended up as being translated as the word for the colour “green”. It was only with the help of some lateral thinking and that he had been able to find the translation that had been made in the sixties; and was grateful once more to the fact that library in Cambridge had everything. He read the story almost straight through and completely agreed with her about how wonderful it was. Now that they had both read the same story, he began to use it as a sort of private language with which he could playfully tease her about what she had said and what they had done together. He started playing the role of Arthur Grey, setting sail, leaving the stuffiness of England behind. He referred to her as Asol waiting for his arrival. But then subtly he inverted the roles and pretended that really it had been he that had been waiting. Had it not been her that had made the romance happen? Was it not you who bought all the red silk in Denmark, he asked her? Otherwise, in my foolishness I would have gone home alone and have never known what fate could bring to me. Now, you will have to pull off your trick once more as I’m still waiting, ever waiting to see your sails on the horizon once more.

She was constrained by the fact that she would have to show all her letters to Orlov for approval. She wrote about how pleased she was that he had been able to read the book she liked. She knew that if she kept mentioning this book much longer, then Orlov would ask her what it was. There was no real secret about it, but she wanted very much to keep it for herself if at all possible. It should be something that only she and David could share like their kisses, like their caresses. She knew that she lacked the subtlety in Danish to play with the story as he had; and so mentioned that, of course, it was she who was waiting, she who had been told long ago of an Englishman who was coming for her in the ship and that she waited still. She did not know when she would see him again, but the old man who had told the story to her as a child had not lied. David had come to her and she had faith that he would come again.

Sitting there writing she knew of course what was fairy tale and what was truth. She loved romance, but she knew what reality was. But then the fairy tale she had shared with David was also grounded in reality. Asol looking for the scarlet sails every morning on the horizon continued to believe even though she was fully aware of the practicalities of everyday life. She just chose to view the whole of life in such a way that it was possible to see the dream in the mundane reality. Lena, too knew that miracles depended on hard work. She tried to share some of this with David, but she knew that she was being defeated by her lack of real fluency in Danish. Then again she was not sure that she could have properly made the point in any language.

She glanced at his photo. She was very pleased to have it. She remembered the first time she had seen his picture. Something had drawn her to it. Perhaps, it had been his eyes. Blue was an inadequate word to describe their unusual quality. They seemed to be able to see her even from so very far away. She’d been flicking through the faces of strangers and it had been as if she had recognised him and that he had recognised her. She’d liked his surname and the fact that he was English. She’d known instantly that she would pick this one. It had hardly been necessary to read the few sentences that accompanied his photograph. She knew at the time that it was just a photograph of a stranger, someone she might meet if a combination of relatively unlikely events came to pass. She’d told herself that it was silly to fall in love with a photograph. She knew that most likely she would be disappointed and that nothing would come of it. This had all been explained. It was just a chance, quite a small one really that sometimes came off. She’d been very lucky. She had met him. What had been the odds? Were they one in a hundred or were they greater still... What’s more, she had not been disappointed with the reality. The photograph that she had seen so long before their eventual meeting had captured something about David in a way that such small photographs rarely do. Even then she knew it had needed a miracle. Love came to them, but it so easily might not have. That, too, had been calculated. She might not have liked him and he might not have liked her. Even if they both liked each other, still nothing might have happened. She thought back of her own shyness and inability to do anything until it was almost too late.

So Lena knew the reality, she knew that there had been a degree of calculation and planning, but it didn’t take away from the romance. She kept her fairy tale because it, too, was true in a way of seeing things. There had been a matchmaker, but she liked to forget about how they had met. After all, the matchmaker cannot create love; only help the couple to meet. After that the miracle of love either happens or does not happen. It’s no less a miracle for having had some help along the way. Fate had brought her together with David even if she had also chosen him. It had needed who knows how many unlikely events to bring them together to the same place in Denmark.

She could say nothing of this to David. Perhaps, one day she would be able to, perhaps, not. Did it matter? Would he understand? Did it matter how they met? The feeling on her part was genuine. She knew that much at least. But the feeling alone was not enough to give fluency to what she wrote. The things that she could maybe tell David years from now if they ever got that far she could not tell him now. Orlov would read everything she wrote translated into Russian. Anyway what really could she tell? But the fact that there was something that she could not write about had an impact on what she could. She wrote a sentence then stared at the paper waiting for an inspiration that did not come. She was reduced to the mundane and the everyday. But she had done nothing worth saying since she had come back. She’d had some meals with her parents and met a couple of girlfriends who kept asking her questions about what she’d done abroad. She’d gone to the cinema with Pavel. She could hardly write about that. She’d had no answers for Pavel either. Not that he’d asked if she’d met someone, though somehow she felt he knew. There was no one she could tell anything but mundane details. She’d been abroad, she’d seen some interesting things, and she’d met some interesting people. But the only important thing that had happened she had to keep silent about.

Thinking of what to write for her next sentence she realised how little she had shared with David. It had all happened in the space of three or four days. They lacked the bank of shared experience with which they could remind each other. This had not seemed to bother David who wrote variations on what had happened and might happen, so that his letter was like a work of fiction grounded in the shared experience that they would have. He talked of what would happen, of meetings in the future without being specific, without knowing when such meetings might be. What he wrote touched her, but she could not imitate it. David subtly alluded to their most precious moments together indirectly, but in a way that she could grasp. But she could not respond by picking up the theme herself and so let it drop. To share her innermost feelings with David would not be to share them with him only, but would be as if someone had been a witness to their kisses. The result though was that she really shared nothing important with David at all, she revealed nothing of her inner life and the waves of feeling that sometimes caught her unawares and left her choking back tears at what she had found and what she had lost.

She mentioned the few things that she had done, the trips to the beach, the walks in the woods, the barbecue, but there were even ordinary things about her life in Baltiysk that she could not mention. After all, it was a naval base, and she could not really go into what went on there. Even other Russians had to get special permission to come to Baltiysk. Not that she knew much about it herself, her father never talked about his work apart from generalities. Above all, she did not want to have to rewrite this letter that was already becoming hard work. It was her only way of being in contact with David, and so should have been a pleasure, but she had not found it so. The result she knew was not much of a letter. She could have written much the same to an aunt. Lena was naturally shy, and the experiences with David had been overwhelmingly new. There were all sorts of things she couldn’t tell him even if he had been here beside her. These were things that she could only show. Her memories of their time together for the moment were for her alone. She could not even share them with him. This would, perhaps, have put a constraint on her letter even if she could have written it without it having to pass through a censor. There was not much in the end that she couldn’t say, there was little room for what she could say and she ended up with a letter that she might have written to someone she had never met.

Chapter 3

She’d wondered when she’d come back if it was fair to continue seeing Pavel. But then it hadn’t really been very fair to continue seeing him ever since she’d realised how he felt, and that was years ago. She’d known him since almost her first memories. She couldn’t really remember her first day of school bringing flowers to her teacher all dressed up in her new pinafore. But if she could remember that day, she supposed that Pavel would have been a part of her memory. He would have been there, too in his smartest clothes. He’d lived nearby and so they had played together. Such friendships did not always survive adolescence but theirs had. There hadn’t been much choice anyway as their parents were friends. If she chose, she could find images of trips and barbecues and meals together. Their fathers were both in the navy and had known each other since officer training. No one had ever said anything, but she sensed that no one would have been surprised if she’d got together with Pavel. It was sort of expected that this would happen one day and both families would be pleased. Pavel had always been her friend, just her friend. He had never said anything and there had never been any romance, but she had become aware gradually from about the age of sixteen onwards that Pavel loved her. She could hardly fail to notice how he sometimes looked at her with hope and longing, and patience. There had never been even a hint of a doubt in her mind about how she felt. It was just something she was sure of without needing to investigate further. She’d always known since the first intimations of knowing what love was that she did not feel the same way as Pavel and never would. This was something she had known as a small child when there was a mystery about love, when she’d had precious little idea of what a husband was, other than a daddy who lived with a mummy. Pavel was her friend, someone who she’d always played with in one way or another, who she was close to, who she liked more than anyone else she knew. But the idea of something more filled her with horror, even with disgust.

By the time it had become absolutely clear that he loved her and there was no changing how either of them felt, it had been already too late to break off the friendship; and because they had never been together even in the most immature sort of romantic sense there had been no excuse. How could she go up to her best friend and tell him she doesn’t want to see him anymore? What reason could she give? And anyway, their families would continue to see each other every other day and do things together at weekends. There was no avoiding Pavel. Still she liked him and at times he was convenient. It was pleasant to have someone to take her to dances without having to worry about what he might expect. She liked going to the cinema, and there was no reason to worry that he would try anything like putting his arm around her, or put his hand on her knee. As they grew up together, as they went out together she thought she saw in his eyes his love growing. She saw how he looked at her sometimes at the beach, and sensed how his imagination saw them together as lovers. It wasn’t altogether unpleasant to realise that she was attractive to a man and yet seeing these hints of his desire disturbed her. She didn’t want to hurt Pavel, but she knew that she was doing just that. That, too she saw sometimes. But she also felt safe with Pavel. He loved her, he wanted her, but she knew he would do nothing about it. He would wait. That was his strategy. What’s more, Lena knew that it wasn’t a bad strategy. It just might succeed. She liked Pavel. She knew that he was kind and decent. He was her best friend, and she could do worse. There might come a point when she would have to marry Pavel, love or no love. Yet she couldn’t imagine kissing him. She chased away the image with a shudder. The very idea was wrong, all wrong in a way that seemed fundamental. She couldn’t imagine the spark that had happened with David happening with Pavel. She just couldn’t think of Pavel in that way at all. Yet she knew that when she left university, and that was less than a year away, there would be enormous pressure on all sides for her to marry Pavel. There was no reason not to, other than that she didn’t love him or feel attracted to him in any way. She’d heard her mother say that anyway, these things come after marriage. But she’d rebelled against this idea and against this fate. It was for this reason above all that she had sought another and had done all in her power to get away.

Chapter 4

There was a small cinema in Kaliningrad that sometimes showed old Russian films. She’d been there many times with Pavel as they both liked such films. Sometimes they had seen a film many times on television, but still it was a new experience seeing it on a large screen. There were many old films, however, that for some reason she had never seen at all. She looked forward to these most of all. She passed the House of Culture often and as usual had a glance at the posters. She knew the title of course, everyone had read the story in school, but she’d not even been aware that there was a film of the Chekhov’s story “The Lady with the Little Dog”. She felt a slight thrill of expectation. She’d call Pavel. But then she realised that it would be better not to call Pavel. It was a pity. She would miss seeing a film she knew she would really like. She could tell just by looking at the poster. What’s more, it was with Batalov, perhaps, her favourite actor. She wondered if she could go alone or with someone else. But she knew that Pavel would be hurt if he found out. There were few secrets in a small town like Kaliningrad. They’d been so many times to the House of Culture that she knew the people who worked there well enough. There were always the kind of short conversations that happen with people you just about know. It would be better just to forget about the film.

But Pavel, of course, saw the poster, too and called her.

“Did you see that The Lady with the little dog is playing?” he said.

“Is it?”

“I’ve never seen it.”

“Me neither.”


“Well what?”

“Well, shall we go?”

“I’ve read it though.”

“Who hasn’t? You’ve also read “A Nest of Gentry”, but it was still good to see the film.”

She remembered the film they had seen soon after she’d got back from Denmark.  It had been splendid, but sitting next to Pavel had seemed even more awkward than all the other times she had sat next to him. He had brought her flowers as he often did whenever they had something that could remotely be described as a date. But they were always an impediment to her, something that had to be carried for the rest of the evening and then placed in a vase when she got home. Her mother would comment on the lovely flowers and ask about Pavel in her subtly investigative way. She never knew what to say, just as she didn’t know really what to say to Pavel now.

“It was a good film. But there’s not much excitement when you know what’s going to happen.”

“What’s wrong with you, Lena? You seem to have lost any enthusiasm since you got back.”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Then you’ll come. I can get tickets for tomorrow.”

“Yes, I’ll come. I’ll meet you there, say, at five.”

She realised that he would never pick up on her hints of reluctance. She knew that eventually she would have to be blunt to get out of such meetings. But after all these years of going to the cinema how could she just say ‘no’ without giving a reason, and what reason could that be other than that she had met someone else when she was abroad. She could meet someone else here, that would give him the message. But the last thing she wanted to do was to meet someone other than David. She could hardly start going on dates with some other young man without that young man expecting that she was his new girlfriend and treating her as such. She could hardly make up a boyfriend in Kaliningrad as everyone would expect to know who it was, and someone would certainly go and talk to him. So she felt compelled to carry on as normal with Pavel.

The film touched her deeply, and the theme of impossible love brought tears to her eyes as she remembered David. She altogether lost herself in the film forgetting where she was and who she was with. She continued sitting as the credits ended, lost in the sorrow of it all, but delighting in the sorrow, for it was the sorrow that someone can only feel who loves. Her love, too, might be impossible. Circumstances might keep them apart, but at least she could feel and still felt what the tragic couple in the film felt. She understood their love and the film reminded her again of her own love, so that waves of it rose from her stomach to her throat and tears flowed, delightful tears that were full of pain and joy.

“Well, are we going?” said Pavel with a degree of impatience.

His words brought her back, and she resented the loss of the moment, the return to reality.

“Just a minute.” She took off her glasses and dabbed her eyes with a hanky.

“You don’t normally cry at films.”


“Well, anyway, let’s go. I can carry the flowers.”

There was a small cafe there and they sat down together.

“We don’t have to go back yet awhile”, said Pavel.

“Oh, I think, I’d rather get the next bus back home,” said Lena.

“If you say so. I just thought we could stay a bit. It’s still early and there’s a bus every half hour until late.”

“You stay if you want. I’m getting tired.”

“You really are upset, aren’t you?”

“No, not really. It’s just I found it all very touching.”

“I thought Batalov behaved badly chasing after a married woman.”

“Perhaps, he did, but he couldn’t help himself. He started off looking for a fling, but it became something more. Love crept up on him and on her.”

“I liked the actress. Very beautiful. She looked something like you.”

Lena had thought of the resemblance as well. They were both about the same size and build, and there was a certain resemblance in their faces.”

“Don’t be silly. She wasn’t a bit like me,” she said.

“Didn’t you feel sorry for her husband?”

“Yes, of course, but it didn’t seem as if they had much love for each other.”

“And what about his family, don’t you think he has a responsibility to his wife and children?”

“Of course. That’s what makes the whole thing so tragic. The lady with the little dog had never really known love before. Her marriage had just been arranged or something like that. The same, I imagine, can be said for Batalov. What was he called in the film, Gurov?”

“Yes, Dmitry Gurov. Who knows how he met his wife. But anyway, they were happy enough. They’d been together a long enough time.”

“But he never loved her, not like he loves Anna.”

“So you think that justifies all the secretiveness, all the betrayal.”

“No. I believe in marriage, they do, too. That’s the point. The tragedy is that they can’t be married to each other, that they can’t be married to someone who they love.”

“It seems more like passion to me than love.”

“I suppose you could interpret it that way.”

“It all seemed decadent to me. The way that man throws spoons on the floor, so that the waiter had to pick them up.”

“Shall we try doing that here?”

She laughed inside at the shock that appeared on his face.

“Lena, what’s come over you?”

“It was just a little joke.”

Walking towards the bus station she glanced at him and realised that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with Pavel. He was pleasant; he was polite, he was good-looking. He was as good a friend as she had. They’d been close, although she felt the distance growing between them. But all these good qualities that she recognised in her friend were as nothing to a man who she had known for, perhaps, three days. The gap between friendship and love was a chasm that could not be leapt over. She had known when love had arrived; the feeling was somehow familiar and wholly new. It was what she had always waited for. She was realistic enough to know that this feeling would not remain constant. A marriage would not remain like the first days of love forever. But there needed to be a spark to light the flames that would then settle into the warm glow of contentment. Without the spark in the beginning there would be no foundation for a marriage. All the time she had spent with Pavel was as nothing, for there had been no spark, and never would be. It was why she could not imagine kissing him, no matter if he was ideal in every other respect.

She had been silent as they walked thinking over these things.

“What is it, Lena? You’re always thinking, always silent,” said Pavel. “It’s like you’ve been someone else ever since you got back. You never used to withdraw like this, into this pensive sort of gloomy pondering even if a film was sad. Not like this.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just I’m a bit distracted.”

“What happened when you were away?”

“It’s really nothing to do with it. I’m just tired.”

“Well, we’ll be starting classes again soon enough. Let’s hope you’ll not be tired then.”

“I’ll be alright.”

“It’s our last year you know, you’ll need to be more than alright.”

“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

“Did you think any more about what you’ll do afterwards?”

“You know very well that I don’t make plans. It’s better not to be disappointed.”

“About what?”

“Nothing in particular.”

“I can’t seem to get anything out of you other than a few words.”

“Like I said, Pavel. I’m tired. The film upset me a bit.”

“It’s just a lot of gushing romance, Lena. There’s nothing real in that. What’s come over you? It’s like you’ve gone back to being a schoolgirl or something. What was that book you used to read all the time?”

“I don’t remember.”

“I do. It’s like you’re waiting for the scarlet sails on the horizon. I’m sorry, Lena, they’re not going to come. Grow up.”

Chapter 5

It quickly became apparent to Lena judging by postmarks that it took about three weeks for a letter sent from Kaliningrad to reach Cambridge. David usually said something like ‘I got your letter yesterday’. Judging from the postmarks his letters took much the same sort of time to reach her. There was a small delay while it was translated into Russian. She wondered what this unknown translator thought of the task of translating love letters. Still it was probably more interesting than translating equipment manuals. She resented that David’s words were read by someone else first, some stranger, but at least it was just a stranger, someone who had probably been on the same course as her and was using knowledge of Danish to make a living. Somehow it was harder to sit in the office with Orlov knowing that he had read David’s thoughts and would read hers. The problem as much as anything was that she liked Orlov.

The meetings to give and receive the letters were a continuance of the series of meetings that stretched back well over a year now. At the beginning he had been formal and business-like but not unfriendly. Over time a sort of relationship grew. Orlov mentioned his wife and children, what they did at weekends. They got to know each other in the same sort of way she had got to know some of her teachers at the university. At each meeting now he smiled, and there were a few minutes of small talk before they got down to business. She knew that it had to be this way. Still she could not help feeling embarrassed as if she were being made to show love letters to her father. 

“Is there no way to speed up the post, Vladimir Borisovich?” she asked Orlov.

“We could probably send your letters a bit quicker, but I’d advise against it. Why suddenly should your letters arrive quicker?”

“I see.”

“Don’t worry, Lena. You just have to be patient. Anyway, it seems you’re still struggling to write now, should I say, with much emotion?”

“I find it hard. My Danish isn’t that good.”

“You want to see him again. I think, perhaps, you need to show it.”

She thought back on the last couple of letters that she had written that had turned out much the same as the first. They had been an impersonal series of descriptions of what she had done.

“I don’t think, he wants to hear about any more trips to the beach”, said Orlov.

“I’ve run out of things to say. We spent so little time together really.”

“It doesn’t seem to stop him. I liked this bit where he imagines coming up to you sleeping and slipping a ring on your finger.”

Lena remembered how she had thrilled at his words and the story they were sharing. 

“I liked it, too, but I didn’t really understand it.”

“Do you think you’re the only one who has read Scarlet Sails? It’s our Danish translator’s favourite story, too. She loves how David is using it to communicate his feelings for you. She thinks, he’s delightful.”

“I wanted to keep the story for myself. I know, I’m not the only one who likes it, everyone does; it’s just I feel its specialness for me.”

“My daughter feels the same way. I’ve not read it myself, though I saw the film. Can’t say it made much impression on me. Maybe it’s a female thing.”

“David understands it.”

“Well, now that the secret’s out, maybe you can explain a couple of things. What does he mean when he describes looking at a picture of a sea captain and someone unknown and invisible coming up to him on his left standing beside him. He means you, doesn’t he?”

“Yes. It’s when the hero is a child. I always thought it was when his destiny was decided, too.”

“Look, Lena, we know each other pretty well by now. You need to try to get some more romance into your letters.”

“I try, it’s just…”

“You don’t like that other people get to see what you write?”

“I didn’t say that. I understand that it’s necessary.”

“Just try to forget it and let the next letter that you write show how you feel. There’s no need for secrets between us, we’ve been working so well together this last year and more.”

But writing romance to order was not so easy. She tried, but the words rang false. His letters, too, became more matter of fact. He described the start of term at his college and some of his old friends who were still there. He described the sports that he did, which more often than not were not played in Russia. He mentioned his studies and how he was trying to find a way to bring Dostoevsky into his account of faith, and that he was trying to find out about the Orthodox Church as he had been so impressed by Alyosha in “The Brothers Karamazov”. He ceased mentioning Scarlet Sails.

She thought of picking up the theme that he had dropped but it seemed too late. For her, anyway, the theme had been reversed. She knew that in some ways she was deceiving David, but she justified it to herself by thinking that Arthur Grey, the ship’s captain in the story, deceived Asol by hearing of her prophecy and making it come true by buying up the scarlet silk to make sails. Well, wasn’t she doing just the same sort of thing? She was making their fate come true. It could not come true otherwise, without her interference. It could not even have begun if she had not set out on the path she had taken. But she could not write about that theme after all. That was something that she would have to keep in her heart, perhaps, forever.

Part of her wished that she could just write and receive letters in return without anyone else being involved. But she was also a realist. Without Orlov there was no chance whatsoever that she would see David again. It was easy for him to get on a plane and travel. He, no doubt, had enough money and could go nearly anywhere in Europe on a whim. She’d seen how the people in the school in Denmark treated foreign travel as if it was nothing. They’d talked of foreign holidays and most of them had been all over Western Europe. They liked travel and it was easy. Why should a Russian girl be any different? She, too, had dreamt of travel and it had been all but impossible. She’d also dreamt of meeting someone special, someone out of the ordinary. She loved learning languages. But what was the point if you never actually used a language to talk to that someone special?

But the guilt remained even as she realised that she needed Orlov’s office. Without it she would never even have seen David’s photo. Without it there was no hope. She could not travel even to Moscow without help, let alone to England. There was no chance David could visit her. It was not a question of money. He just wouldn’t be allowed.

She knew that she was using subterfuge and felt the difficulty of writing from the heart when that heart conceals something vital. However much she tried to romanticise what she was doing, she knew that if she told him, even years from now, he might reject her there and then. He might not understand that she had no choice.

She thought of what he said about the Orthodox Church and realised, too, that he was responding to her confession of her faith. She went back in her mind to that moment when she had shown him her cross. She took it out now to look at it. She sensed that David was responding and showing her his own cross. He was saying that they shared the same cross. But this was just something else that she already knew she could not write about in her next letter.

Chapter 6

It had been seven weeks since she’d last received a letter, but Lena told herself there were all sorts of explanations. Perhaps, the sorting office in Moscow had been even slower than usual in dealing with her letter to him, or his letter to her. Perhaps, there was some matter of research that he was busy with. It was pointless speculating. A week later, however, and it was no use kidding herself that she was worried. What if one of their letters had been lost in the post? It was now nearly six months ago since they had spent those few days together. She wondered how he thought of those days. It was all so vivid to her. She saw his face frequently in her imagination and relived the sensations that he had brought to her. She could feel his touch whenever she wanted to. It was just a question of wishing it and finding a quiet place where she could let her mind drift back to him. It had all seemed so perfect and so perfectly mutual even if they had not always understood each other’s intentions. But had that only been a moment for him, a few days that were now rapidly being forgotten? She could not believe it. She’d been with him. She could tell that what he felt was genuine. Then what was the explanation for his silence? Finally, there was a message from Orlov. And so on a cold December morning she made her way once more to Prospect Mira.

She sat down and waited for him to give her the letter, but he gave her nothing. There was none of the usual small talk. She looked at his face and saw that it was genuinely sad.

“What is it, Vladimir Borisovich? Is there no letter?”

“I’m very sorry, Lena. I don’t think there are going to be any more letters.”

“But how can you know? Maybe one of them got lost. I’m not going to give up.”

“I think, you may have to.”

“But why? What do you know?”

“I’ve heard that he doesn’t intend to write any more letters.”

“How do you know?”

“We have a friend who knows David quite well.”

“But how?”

“He’s been helping us for some time, even since before you first came here. When was it? Nearly two years ago. There’s no need to go into details. I’m sure, you realise.”

“Do you know why?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

Lena hesitated but then looked at Orlov resolutely.

“Wouldn’t you want to know?”

“I think so. I just don’t want you to be hurt. I like you, Lena. I’ve enjoyed our little chats from time to time. My own daughter is just a little younger than you. I’d be quite pleased if she turned out to be a bit like you.”

“Thank you. It’s not always been easy, but I’ve been more than once grateful for your support. Can you tell me?”

“We think, he may have got together with a girl he’s known since he was quite young. She’s called Gillian. Here you may be interested in seeing these.”

He handed Lena a few photographs and she slowly leafed through them.

“Is this her?”


“But how did you come by them. Why?”

“It was part of the matching process. Our friend in Cambridge told us that David for many years had loved this girl Gillian, but that nothing had come of the relationship, and most likely never would.”

Lena looked at the photographs again and a gradual realisation came to her. It was almost as if she were looking at herself. The clothes and the hairstyle were different. There were other dissimilarities in their features and expressions, but the match could hardly have been closer.

“Did you pick me because I look like her?”

“Not entirely. We picked you because you picked David and looked like her.”

“And if I’d not picked him?”

“Who knows? Perhaps, we could have found a match with someone else. Perhaps, you would just have continued your studies as before without taking on another language. These things rarely work out. They rarely even get as far as going abroad.”

“Do they ever work out?”

“Yes, sometimes, and then it’s worth it. But it’s quite rare really.”

“But what’s changed? I don’t understand.”

“Well, a few months before you went to Denmark we heard that David had finally grown tired of loving Gillian and getting nothing in return. He asked her to be with him, but despite saying that she loved him, she turned him down. I can’t say I understand the psychology of women. They broke off all contact. Well, at that point we thought the situation to be nearly ideal.”

“It seems such an unlikely sequence of events that brought us together in the school in Denmark.”

“Was it?

“I don’t understand.”

“There’s no need to. Let’s just say that our friend in Cambridge helped things along with his suggestions and we made our arrangements accordingly.”

“Is David together with her now?”

“We don’t really know. All we know is that Gillian wrote to David and she spent the weekend in his room.”

Lena felt a sense of bitterness growing. Had he learned what to do by his practice with her? He’d spent years with Gillian and nothing had happened, and now after his little interlude in Denmark he felt better able to say and do the things necessary to get a woman into bed.

“Is that all you know?” The tears were beginning to grow in her eyes and her voice was faltering.

“Our friend doesn’t know what happened between Gillian and David. She’s not been back to the college, and there have been no letters or phone calls. David doesn’t talk about her and is touchy if anyone else mentions the girl who came to visit him.”

“Still she stayed with him that weekend.”

“The English are rather strange. It might have been quite innocent.”

“How many beds do they have in these rooms?”

“Just one. But someone may well have slept on the floor.”

“So you think, maybe everything could be alright. If they haven’t got together, if she’s still playing at being his sister, what’s stopping him writing?”

“It changed him. We gather, Gillian’s done this continually. There are people at his college who’ve known David for a long time. She’s broken up his relationships before. Not deliberately. She just has to write to him, or show up.”

“But…” She’d been given just a hint of hope and she wanted to maintain it.

“No, Lena. Our friend asked David about the letters from Russia. David said he didn’t think there would be any more. He thought it was an impossible situation. He mentioned that you lived in a town where he couldn’t go and that it was almost impossible for you to travel to see him. That’s why he’s given up writing.”

“So there’s no hope?”

“No. Not at the moment.”

“What do you think, Vladimir Borisovich?”

“I think, it’s all rather tragic. If this girl Gillian had not intervened, who knows what might have happened? But then again if she hadn’t had a powerful sway over David, you may never have met him in the first place. I’m sure from what you’ve told me and from what I read of his letters that he was sincere. But, my dear, it’s not always enough. I’m very sorry indeed.”

Lena left soon after. Walking down the street she felt choked up and so although it was cold and with a biting wind, she found a place where passers-by would not notice her and let herself cry. There was a feeling of bewilderment. She was angry with David. She felt a sense of betrayal which was no less real even though she would never know if he had really been untrue to her. She felt a sense of loss because this person who she loved had died; at least he had died to her for she would never see him again. That much was certain. The pain and the grief she felt stunned her with its intensity and she was scared of what might happen if she didn’t take steps to contain it. It would take time, but she knew that she had to get him out of her mind, out of her heart. In the following days she allowed her grief to break out for a few moments when she was alone, but trained herself not to show anyone else what she was feeling. She hoped in time, with practice that the mask she could present to others she could learn to present to herself. She fooled no one. Her family, her friends, Pavel all knew that something had happened. But they got no answers out of Lena.

Chapter 7

As the weeks passed Lena found her grief lessening. She fought to keep David out of her mind, but found he kept reappearing despite her efforts. He came to her sometimes in her dreams. In moments of weakness she would even go over their time together. Sometimes she would lay on her bed and go over each detail, and give in to her desire to feel again what she had felt then, recalling in an endless repetition events that she had recalled so often that she sometimes wondered what was true and what was imagination. Had she embellished and changed by the process of memorising? Something that had taken seconds could hardly be remembered as she remembered with clarity, with detail and with the sense of still being there. She felt his touch still, but was it her own fantasy rather than what had actually happened?

What, after all, had happened in those days in Denmark? She felt that she had been reading a story that had been left incomplete. Had it all been without any real meaning for him? Was she just a sort of fling to be enjoyed and then discarded? At times she tried to reinterpret the events through bitterness. It had all been a mistake. The feeling had been one sided. She’d just misread, misunderstood. He’d written a few times out of duty. She tried to find a way to dislike David, thought of the worst possible interpretations for his failure to write. She saw in her mind the photos of Gillian, and made herself think of David spending the weekend with the girl he had loved for so long. So it had all worked out in the end. All that waiting and hoping. He’d got what he wanted and no doubt was happy now. She found herself, putting herself in Gillian’s place, imagining that she had been in David’s room. There was a mixture of the room in Denmark in her mind with what she imagined a room in Cambridge would be like. She thought of the pictures she had seen of a rival she would never meet, of how they could be sisters, more so now than ever as her blonde streaks had grown out to be replaced by nearly the same shade of hair as Gillian’s. It wasn’t so difficult to put herself in Gillian’s place and once more she allowed herself to drift into the fantasy. She wrote the story in some detail for her own pleasure, but also because she knew that she needed to know that this was over. He’d found someone else. He loved someone else. She was never going to see him again. There would be no more kisses and she would have to wait forever for his touch. The ship with scarlet sails was departing over the horizon and she was not on it. Pavel was right. It was time to grow up.

She began seeing a little more of Pavel and sometimes called him up herself. It wasn’t that anything really had changed. But she had begun to accept that if one fate was not going to happen, another would. She didn’t want anything to change between her and Pavel, at least not for the moment. They could go on as before. Their friendship was genuine. His company had been welcome these past weeks that were becoming months. They did the same things as always. They’d go to the cinema or meet at a cafe or a canteen. They went for walks along the frozen shore of the Baltic. Like everyone else he had asked her about what had happened. No matter how well she thought she was hiding things, it seemed that her eyes gave it away. She kept saying there was nothing.

“There’s a sadness in you, Lena,” he had said.

“Is there? I don’t know why you should think so.”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“But there’s nothing to tell. You know that, as well as I do. You see me most days.”

“That’s just it. That’s what no one can understand. I talked to your mother about it.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t. You’ve no right.”

Eventually he had given up probing as she had shown him more than once how she resented it. In the end, everyone had believed her that nothing had happened. After all, they knew that she had not been going out with anyone. They knew that there had been no breakup or anything like that. She knew that her mother had asked her girlfriends if they knew anything. But her girlfriends were as mystified as everyone else. They didn’t know of any boy she liked, who had rejected her attempts to start a romance. So people just stopped asking her. They accepted that there was nothing to tell.

Lena wondered if she should try to find someone she could really love. She looked around sometimes at the boys she knew and at the people she met by chance. But she didn’t want to meet anyone. What was the use anyway? The love that she had felt those few months ago in Denmark had not led her to any happiness. Who was to say that another love here in Kaliningrad would have any more chance of success? It was, probably all just some biological process to trick women into getting together with men. She talked to women who had been in love when they married only to find later that it had been a horrible mistake. At least with Pavel she knew that she’d be marrying someone she liked. He’d never leave her, never treat her badly. He’d always be like the little dog in the movie trotting after her. She could do worse than Pavel. But there was no need to think of that yet. She still had a few months. In the summer she’d talk to him. No doubt it would work out for the best. Perhaps, some sort of love would come later and if not, well, at least she’d be with a friend.

Chapter 8

It was in early March 1991 when she got a message from Orlov. Soon she was sitting down once again in the familiar office. She looked across the table at his face.

“It’s good to see you Lena,” he said.

“Is it, Vladimir Borisovich? Why am I here? Did you get a letter? I think it might be a bit late. Don’t you?”

“There’s no letter.”

“So why am I here?”

“We want you to go back to Denmark.”

“Why ever would I do that? Anyway, it’s out of the question, I have exams.”

“You needn’t worry about that. It’s just a question of having a word with the authorities at the university. I’m sure they’ll be cooperative. I can safely promise you a ‘four’ or maybe even a ‘five’.”

A ‘five’ was the equivalent of an “A” which was a mark Lena had never considered within her reach. She looked at Orlov with disbelief.

“But why send me back?”

“To meet David.”

“Is he there? I don’t think I want to go.”

“He’s not there.”

“So what am I to do there?”

“We want you to send him a postcard, or rather be there when he receives it. Here it is.”

He handed her a postcard and she glanced at the front and then at the back. It had some Danish looking buildings with a Danish flag blowing in a breeze. She found the name Rødding on the back and vaguely remembered that it was a small town quite near to Askov.

“It’s too late.”

“Why, what has changed since the last time we met?”

“I have someone here.”

“Who? Pavel? Don’t be silly, Lena. He’s just the equivalent of David’s Gillian.”

“You know nothing about Pavel and me.”

“Don’t we indeed? We asked around when we first got in touch with you. It’s hardly a great secret that you have been chums with him for years and nothing has ever happened. It’s actually one of the reasons we picked you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It made you a more perfect match.”

“In what way?”

“It was just a little something extra that we thought David would find attractive. Just one more thing in your favour.”

“But I’ve spent the last few months getting over David. It’s been tough, but I’ve succeeded. I don’t love him.”

“Don’t you, Lena? Are you really so sure? It’s not quite so easy to get over love when it’s real. You know that because you’ve felt it.”

“What do you know of love, comrade, with all your schemes? I wish I’d never got involved.”

“I think, you’re failing to understand the nature of what we do. We help couples from all over the world to get together. These schemes as you put it are rather like matchmaking. We help people to meet who otherwise would not. But we never lose sight of the fact that love is the most important thing. Without it we’d get nowhere. Indeed our primary goal is to foster a love that will endure into a lasting relationship and marriage.”

“You make all the schemes sound terribly romantic.”

“Why shouldn’t people who meet with the help of others have romance? That’s how people have been meeting for centuries.”

“You don’t expect me to believe in your sincerity, Vladimir Borisovich?”

“I’m perfectly sincere, and what I say is quite true. It’s why we pick girls like you, Lena. Didn’t you know that?”

“But why now? You told me it was over.”

“We’ve heard that David regrets not writing. He misses you.”

“Does he indeed? And Gillian?”

“We are led to believe that it was all a lot of nothing. He’s not seen or heard from her since. Nothing happened.”

“But they spent the weekend together.”

“I promise you nothing happened, not with her and not with anyone else.”

“How do you know?”

“Our friend succeeded in getting David rather drunk one night in the college bar. David told him everything about how Gillian came to visit, how she slept on the floor and even got changed in the toilet across the hall. They spent a rather strained weekend not quite knowing what to say to each other. But she has a way of getting under his skin. He blames her now because he thinks, without her visit he would have continued writing to you. He thinks she ruined his chances. It seems she makes a habit of doing this, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not. He’s rather bitter and feels foolish. He doesn’t think it would be polite to write to you again now that so many months have passed. He can’t think of a sensible excuse to begin. That’s about the gist of it. He had no reason to lie to our friend. I’m quite sure he’s telling the truth.”

“What makes you think he would come to Denmark?”

“He told our friend that he might go there over Easter. We’re pretty sure he’d respond favourably to a postcard.”

“It’s all very sudden. I can’t just switch feelings on and off.”

“You won’t have to. There will be time. Trust me.”

“I really don’t want to go.”

“I think, you know where your duty lies, comrade. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort on you. No one’s asking you to do anything untoward. It’s just another trip much like the last time. There’s another school. This time there’ll mainly be Danes. I think, there may be another Russian girl there as well, though I’m not sure.”

“Of course, I’m grateful, Vladimir Borisovich, for everything you’ve done for me. I really was very badly hurt. I cried for days. I’m not sure I can bear another hurt like that. It scared me. I’ve spent all this time trying to close my heart to him. Do you think I can just open it again, just like that?”

“No. But I think, it might be worth giving him another chance. I don’t think he’s done anything wrong. I don’t think, he’s betrayed you in any way. It would be as likely as you going to bed with Pavel.”

“What do I have to do?”

“You translate this text into Danish and write it on the postcard. You then go home and pack and return here. You’ll be flying out later today.”

“Today? But that’s impossible.”

“Not at all. We’ve got someone who can drive you home and back again.”

“But why today?”

“There’s a relatively small window of opportunity. Believe me we’ve worked things out rather carefully. Your ticket has been bought. Your place in the school reserved. You’ll be there sometime tomorrow afternoon.”

“My visa?”

“There are ways to fix even that, Lena. Don’t worry.”

“What if he doesn’t write back?”

“Well, then we’ll have to admit defeat. You’ll spend a few weeks practicing your Danish.”

“But what do I say to my family, my friends? Why should I get to go abroad twice in a year? It’s almost unheard of.”

“The man who will drive you home is going to have a little talk with your parents about how we need your presence in Denmark once more on a matter of some urgency, which unfortunately he is not allowed to discuss further.”

“And Pavel?”

“I don’t think it’s really necessary for you to give him any explanation at all. But you can leave him a note if you like. I really wouldn’t go to see him if I were you. Can you manage the translation without a dictionary? We want it to be in your own words.”

“It looks quite easy.”

“We’ve thought carefully about what you should write, so try to reproduce it as accurately as possible. We’ll have someone look it over later, and it will go as quickly as possible to Denmark and from there with the proper markings should be in Cambridge almost immediately.”

Lena began composing her translation. It was all quite straightforward. She began:

“Why have you not written to me for so long? As you can see I’m back in Denmark.”

She gave it to Orlov and looked into herself to determine if possible what she felt about this postcard. What did she want to happen? Did she want him to respond and come to her or did she want him to ignore it? This morning when she had woken up she not even thought of David. The days when she didn’t think of him at all had been increasing lately, though they were still few. Sometimes he still came to her in her dreams, and sometimes she still brought his image to her own mind and renewed their acquaintance as best she could because she still needed his caresses so. But if she had thought of him this morning, she would have known for sure that she would never see him again. In that sense he was wholly gone. He would have had no existence for her at all. She had grieved for him as for someone who was no more. It was therefore with a sense of shock that she found herself contemplating someone who was still living and who she might meet in a relatively short time. It was all too bewildering. It was all too sudden. 

She got into the car and drove towards home hardly daring to explore her feelings because they were all in such a jumble. She sat there stunned. She’d given up. He’d sailed away and left her alone. Yet looking out of the window she seemed to be able to glimpse the top of a mast just visible over the horizon. It was too early to tell where it was heading, but just maybe it was returning to pick up something that had been left behind.

Part 3

Chapter 1

Lena sat in her room in Rødding folk high school. Again she was waiting. But she still did not know quite what to feel. There was excitement. She had learned to judge her feelings by objective signs like the way her stomach would tighten. There was anticipation. There was pleasure. She had asked and he was coming. He wouldn’t be coming if he didn’t still feel for her the way he had. But she was scared of what that might mean. What would he expect? Would he expect them to just start off again as they had last June? But she couldn’t possibly. There was too much time in between, too much had happened or had not happened. She still could not quite forgive him for the fact that he had not written. One letter and an exchange of faxes did not change that.

Her room was much the same as the one in Askov only she shared it with Olga. Lena was rather glad about this arrangement. There was a settee for David, too if he wanted it or he could have his own room downstairs. The director of the school had been quite matter of fact about matters. She’d simply asked him if it was alright for her friend from England to stay for a number of days and been told he could stay with her or have his own room. It seems this sort of thing happened all the time. Everyone was very liberal.

“Would you mind him staying with us?” she’d asked Olga.

“Not especially, but don’t you think it might be better if he had his own place so that there was somewhere you could be alone?”

“I’m not sure.”

“He’s your boyfriend right?”

“I haven’t seen him since June. I don’t really know what to feel now.”

“Do you think he’s travelling all the way from England just to be your friend?”


“You invited him.”


“Why ever did you do that if you don’t want to be alone with him?”

“I do, but I’m in a bit of a muddle. I’ll need some time to get to know him again. For a long time I thought I’d lost him. I was hurt.”

“I understand. Well, we’ll leave it up to him. But if I know men, he’ll choose to have his own room.”

It was good to have Olga here amongst all the Danes. They had already become close. They had already spent a lot of time together in the week that had passed since Lena had arrived. They sat smoking and talking of this and that. There were things, of course, that Lena could not share, but there was a lot that she could. She never asked Olga why she was in Denmark and received no more explanation than that she, too studied the language. Olga had not commented on the unusualness of Lena being in Denmark twice in one year.

Lena was gradually getting used to the situation and getting over the shock of being here. From the point of being told that she would be going to Denmark to actually arriving had been little more than twenty four hours. She’d gone home and more or less flung what she’d needed into a case. Her mother and father had been called so that they could say goodbye. They’d all sat down at the table. She briefly explained that she was going to Denmark. The driver who was sitting down with her said a few words, too. There had been shock, and her mother had cried. But her father immediately stopped any protests developing.

“Will you tell Pavel and anyone else I know?” she’d asked her mother.

“Of course, Lena.”

“Just say I’ve been given a wonderful chance to go back to Denmark. That it all happened very suddenly, and I didn’t know myself before today. Tell him I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.”

She hugged each of her parents in turn. Then her sister arrived from school having been hastily summoned. They hugged, too.

“I’m glad you could make it, Vera,” said Lena.

She saw Vera carefully looking into her eyes. She was much younger, still with some years left in school. But Lena knew that Vera was perceptive. There wasn’t time to say much so she came right to the point.

“Are you happy, Lena?”

“About going?”

“No, not so much that. It’s just I’ve thought you’ve been unhappy lately.”

Lena knew that it had been impossible to completely hide that she’d been holding back tears these past few months. She knew that she had sometimes given way and let what was inside of her show on the outside at least to someone who knew her so well.

“It’s been a strange day. A big surprise and so much has already happened. I can’t really take it in.”

“But you seem happier to me.”

“Do I? I can’t say I noticed.”

“Be happy, Lena.”

“I think you’re reading into things a little much.”

“Perhaps, you’ll at least be able to smile a little more in Denmark.”

“Yes, I’m glad of the chance I’ve been given. I’m very fortunate.”

“Good luck, my dear and only sister,” said Vera. “I hope you get what you’ve been waiting for.”

“I’m not sure I know what you think I’m waiting for.”

“Lena, we’ve shared a room for as long as I can remember. I have eyes and I can sense things, too.”

“I know you can and I’ve always been pleased to have you around. Only don’t worry, nothing bad has happened to me, I’ve just been moping. Anyway, there’s no point going into these things now. I must go.”

“Let’s all sit down,” said her mother.

Lena saw how her mother was silently saying to herself a prayer that she had taught to both her children. She didn’t know which one it was. It didn’t matter, for even if their words were different, the prayer she was herself saying was the same prayer her mother was saying.

They all got up and she was driven straight to the airport. It was a tiny little place, rather decrepit for there were few flights and hardly any tourists. Once more she found herself going to Moscow, but this time there would be no chance to see anything other than the airport and what could be glimpsed out of the windows of the shuttle bus taking her between terminals.

There was someone to meet her in Moscow and so Lena did not even have to worry about where the bus left from or where to check in. When they arrived at the desk for the flight to Copenhagen she handed over her ticket and gave her passport.  The woman looked her up and down and started flicking through the passport.

“Where’s your permit to leave the USSR? Where’s your visa for Denmark? I can’t possibly let you on the flight,” she said.

“Don’t worry about that,” said Lena’s companion, a woman only a little older than she was.

“Don’t worry? How can you possibly think she can travel without the proper documentation?”

“I assure you that everything is in order and has been arranged.”

She took out her purse and gave the woman at the desk a card.

“You’re welcome to call the number on the back if you require any further clarification.”

“No. No. That won’t be necessary. I’m sorry, comrade. I was only doing what I’ve been told.”

“I know and I will make a note in my report about your efficiency and cooperation.”

Lena was told by her companion that when she reached Copenhagen, she was to ask for a Mr Torben Hansen; he was in charge of the border control people at the airport. She handed Lena a business card with Hansen’s name on it.

“Just show this to one of the guards. Don’t worry, Lena. Everything has been arranged.”

It was still early when she arrived on a grey and dull Danish morning. For some reason her plane had stopped in Minsk and had sat there waiting for some reason or other. She was very tired. The excitement of the previous day had worn off so that now she felt deflated. She looked at the border control guards, and was terribly conscious that she didn’t have a visa. She didn’t have very much money either, so if anything went wrong she was rather stuck. Still there was nothing she could do, but do as she had been told. She went up to the friendliest looking guard she could find and began talking to him in Danish.

“Excuse me, I was told to report to Mr Torben Hansen when I arrived.”

The guard immediately said something in English.

“I’m sorry, but my English is not very good,” Lena replied.

“Where are you from?”

“The Soviet Union.”

“Well, your Danish is better than my Russian, which is non-existent. What’s it about?”

“It’s about my visa. Mr Hansen has arranged things. Here’s his card.”

“Are you sure? I’ve never heard of anything like this. How on earth did you manage to get on the plane without a visa? I’ll have to phone him.”

Hansen arrived a few minutes later.

“You must be Elena Fedina,” he said. “Now if you’ll just fill in these forms.”

She saw that the guard was looking on in amazement. He said something in very quick Danish. She only caught a few words of the conversation that followed, words like “emergency,” “special favour,” “unusual circumstances”, and she caught the tone of authority in Hansen’s voice. She filled in the forms as best she could there and then. Hansen guided her when she wasn’t sure what to put, and finally he stuck the visa in her passport.

“Thank you very much, Mr Hansen,” she said. “You’ve been terribly kind.”

“Don’t mention it; we’re always pleased to help our Soviet friends. Welcome to Denmark.”

Lena went through passport control without any trouble and immediately recognised the same man who had driven them all to Askov the previous year.

“Welcome back, comrade Fedina,” he said.

“It’s good to see a friendly face.”

“Well, we can have some coffee and a little something to eat. No doubt you’ll want a smoke, too.”

He passed her his packet of Danish Prince cigarettes. She remembered how she had liked them, and at the first puff she was brought back for an instant to the times when she had shared the same brand of cigarette with David. His image flashed before her mind and for the first time in months it was not accompanied by a sense of pain and loss.

She dozed off a couple of times during the trip through Denmark and was blissfully unaware of the boat crossing to Jutland. When they were nearly there, the driver gave her a shake.

“Do you recognise where we are now?” he said pointing out Askov and the school where he’d driven them last summer.  “It’s only a few more kilometres now. I thought I’d give you the chance to get ready.”

She saw the familiar buildings and the countryside just about coming into spring. Again she remembered being there and being with David, and it seemed closer now, closer in time and not only in space; and then the months between began to intervene and in particular the winter when she had lost him. It wasn’t so easy to go back to the Lena she had been. The months of grief had changed her in ways she could not help and could not undo, at least not immediately.

It couldn’t have been much more than twenty minutes before they pulled into the little town of Rødding. The driver showed her into the director’s office and they said goodbye.

“Thank you for being so kind. It meant a lot to me to see a friendly face this morning.”

“Anytime. Goodbye and good luck.”

“Ah, you must be Lena. My name is Niels,” said the director. “You do speak Danish, don’t you? It’s all been rather sudden and we’ve not yet received all the forms.”

“Yes, I understand you quite well,” she said. “I went to the school in Askov last summer and have been studying Danish for some time.”

“You speak rather well in fact. Well, we’re happy to have you here. We have another Russian girl here. She’ll be along in a minute. I asked her to be ready to help out if you didn’t speak much Danish. Ah here she is. Let me introduce you. This is Olga.”

“And I’m Lena.”

They shook hands.

“We thought it might be a nice idea if you stayed together,” said Niels. “If that’s OK with you.”

“Whatever you say,” said Lena.

“Then I’ll leave Olga to show you around and take you to your room. We’ll no doubt talk again later on. Bye.”

“Will I show you around a bit first,” said Olga in Russian, “or if you’re too tired, I can take you straight to our room?”

“You can show me around a bit. I slept a little on the way.”

Olga told her a something about the town and about the school, showed her where they eat and where they had their coffee breaks.

“What’s it like here?” asked Lena.

“Not bad. There are only Danes here, but they’re friendly enough. I’m quite glad of the chance to speak some Russian. It’s quite tiring speaking only Danish, you know.”

“I remember.”

“You’ve been to Denmark before?”

“Last summer.”


It didn’t take long to show Lena around and soon they were at the door to their room.

“The toilets and showers are down the hall. We only have a sink in here,” said Olga.

The room was quite large with two bunk beds and another one that doubled as settee.

“I’ve been using the bottom bunk,” said Olga, “so would you like the top bunk or the settee?”

“I don’t really mind. Perhaps, the top bunk would be better.”

“The settee is a bit lumpy. By the way, you didn’t bring any cigarettes did you?”
“Yes. I brought lots. The last time I was here in Denmark I ran out.”

“And they cost a ridiculous amount here.”

“I know. Have a pack. Look,” and she opened her bag to reveal a few cartons of Russian cigarettes.

“Just take a pack when you need one.”

“Thanks. I knew we’d get on.”

They started smoking and immediately were on friendly terms using the “tu” form of the Russian word for “you” rather than the “vous” form. But although they were immediately friendly, Lena was wary of questions. Above all, she didn’t want to say anything about David, not to Olga, not to anyone. She thought he would probably write, but she was far from sure. Even if he did write, he might well say that he couldn’t come, that he was sorry but he had already made other plans. She couldn’t bear the idea of announcing to anyone that she was waiting for someone to come and then for him not actually to come. It would be humiliating. She wasn’t even sure in her own mind about what she wanted to happen. She felt as if he had the power to reopen a wound she had found difficult to heal. The pain of the last few months was still with her and couldn’t simply be done away with even if he now regretted that he’d stopped writing. Sometimes she glimpsed what she had felt last June and in the months that followed, but she couldn’t simply recapture what had been lost even if she had been certain that she wanted to. She wondered when David would get his postcard and imagined him reading it. She tried to imagine what he would think and what he would do. In the meantime she resolved to wait as if looking out to sea as she had imagined herself doing so many times. She could do no more. It had needed what seemed to her a series of little miracles for her to be sitting now in this room in Denmark. Now whatever happened next or didn’t happen was up to him.

Chapter 2

When Lena gradually woke up, she began to take in her surroundings aware of where she was, but still feeling as if she were in Russia. She knew that she was higher up than she was used to, but still had to remind herself not to step straight out of her bunk bed onto the floor. She’d gone to bed quite early and noticed as she went down the ladder that Olga was still sleeping. She got dressed quietly, grabbed her cigarettes and made her way out to have a look around.

The building was impressive and obviously quite old. It was typically Danish with a red tiled roof, whitewashed wall and a Danish flag on a flagpole out front. Everything was clean and fresh. She found a place where she could sit and lit up her cigarette. A few other people wandered by, but no one paid her any attention.

It was almost the first moment when she had had a chance to think since she’d left Russia. She was beginning to think it hadn’t been such a bad idea. It looked a pleasant place to spend some time. She’d speak some more Danish. Olga seemed pleasant. But she still couldn’t really work out what she felt about David. She didn’t want to hope that he’d come until she knew that he would. The thought of being disappointed again was too much to bear.

An older man approached her.

“Are you the other Russian girl?” he said.

“Yes. I’m Lena.”

“I thought you might be, as I didn’t recognise you. I’m Christian, one of the teachers.”

“What to do you teach?”

“Oh, this and that. We don’t always teach subjects like in a college. We just find the best way to help our students.”

“I was at Askov last year.”

“You were?” 

“It was a Danish language course.”

“You’ll find this a little different as everyone else apart from Olga is Danish.”

“I hope I’ll get along alright. I can understand pretty well now.”

“I’d say a bit better than that. Did Olga tell you where to go for breakfast?”

“Yes. Is it soon?”

“Half an hour or so.”

“I’ll go back and wake her up then.”

Olga was awake by then and in the process of getting dressed.

“What’s it like outside?” she asked.

“Not bad. A bit grey. I talked to a Danish teacher called Christian.”

“He’s pretty good.”

“How do you find the lessons? Can you understand them all?”

“They not really lessons like you have at university. You’ve got to remember the Danes here are usually not very educated. They get sent here for various reasons.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t really know. It’s something to do with turning them into good little Danes.”

They both laughed.

“What are they like?” asked Lena.
“Friendly enough, but they tend to stick together. Which means I’ve been feeling a bit isolated. It’s not always easy to understand one or two of them. Sometimes they speak very fast and use a lot of slang.”

“So you haven’t met anyone you liked?”

“You mean a boy?”

“If you like.”

“No. Though I’ve been propositioned a couple of times.”


“They seem to treat these sort of things rather casually. It’s hard to keep up with who is with who each day.”

“So, no tall blonde Vikings?”

“Not that I’ve noticed.”

“Shall we go? It must nearly be time.”

They went to the canteen and found a place to sit. All the other students were more or less sitting together, but Lena and Olga chose to sit a little apart and continued speaking in Russian.

“Hey, what’s with the foreign languages?” someone called out.

“Good morning, Poul,” Olga said emphasising each Danish word.

“Who’ve you got with you?”

“This is Lena.”

“From Russia as well?”

“You’re quick this morning, Poul.”

“You know the sort of food they have here, am I right?” Olga said to Lena.

“I imagine it will be like last year. I grew to quite like it. It’s not so different from at home. When’s the first class?”

“At nine. Do you have any gym kit?”

“Like what?”

“A tracksuit or shorts and a T-shirt.”

“I think I can manage.”

“We often start with movement activities.”

“I’m not sure I can quite imagine what that means.”

“It’s the sort of things we did when we were kids. You know you pretend that you’re a tree or something like that.”

“I haven’t done anything like that since the little octobrists.”

“Me too, but it’s quite good fun.”

During the first class Lena was introduced to everyone else and almost immediately forgot everyone’s name. She found the class quite relaxing, though there were one or two embarrassing moments when she hadn’t grasped what she was supposed to do. She found herself looking around noticing the other students in their turn. She was able to lose herself a little in the music and her mind wandered where it wished without her conscious control. The image of Pavel came to her. She felt a little guilty. She had, perhaps been encouraging him a little in the past month or so. He must have got a shock to find she had simply gone. She wondered what he thought of it all. What did her mother and father think? They must have suspected something. It wasn’t possible to just one day decide to go to Denmark and be there the next day. They must have known there was a reason and that important people were determining what she did. But they knew enough not to ask too many questions.

She’d been spending some more time with Pavel. But nothing had really changed. She didn’t feel any more for him than she ever had, but she had become resigned to the idea that they would be together. It wasn’t something that she was looking forward to, but she’d accepted it as inevitable. It was with a certain relief then to find herself here with a reprieve. Yes, it was definitely a relief. She relaxed into the music once more and began to feel herself smiling. It had been rather a long time since she had smiled quite in this way.

At the coffee pause lots of Danes came up to talk to her. It was a bit of bewildering mix and she sometimes had to ask for a sentence to be repeated. They were much harder to understand than the teachers. But they were good fun and very open and friendly. Still after a few minutes of everyone talking at once as fast as they could Lena found herself nearly exhausted. She’d only understood about half of what anyone had said. It was with relief then that she went up to Olga and they sat off to one side smoking and speaking Russian.

“I can’t make out much of what they say,” said Lena.

“I was the same when I arrived. But you get used to it.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Only a couple of weeks.”

“How long are you staying?”

“At least a couple of months. And you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure. How?”

“It all depends.”

“On what?”

“On how things work out here.”

Lena looked at Olga with a look of I can’t really say more and Olga was perceptive enough to drop the matter.

When they were getting ready to go, she asked Olga about where they got their post. Olga showed her the way to the secretary’s office.

“We put the post on this table in alphabetical order,” said the secretary. “What’s your surname?”


“Well, that’s fine so long as it’s not in Russian. Still I suppose if it’s in Russian, I’ll know it will be one or the other of you, won’t I?”

“I doubt you’ll get anything from Russia for a while,” said Olga. “It takes about three weeks.”

“I just wanted to know where to look.”

“Are you expecting something?”

Lena felt embarrassed and she could feel redness appear in her cheeks. 

“You are waiting for something, or is it someone?” asked Olga. “Someone maybe who was also in Denmark last summer?”

Lena tried to laugh it off.

“I’m always waiting. You see when I was a child I met an old song collector who made a prophecy about now.”

“I know,” said Olga. “I read that one as well. Let’s go to the next class.”

Chapter 3 

Lena slipped away each day at around the same time to check if a letter had arrived. She became a familiar face in the secretary’s office, who seemed be expecting her every day saying something like “nothing today, Lena.”

Lena knew that it was unrealistic to expect a letter so soon. Perhaps, he had not even received her postcard yet, but she felt compelled to check anyway. She tried to work out what was the earliest possible day on which a letter could arrive, but she had no idea of how long post took between Britain and Denmark, and she didn’t want to ask. It couldn’t possibly be before another couple of days she thought, going into the office three days after her arrival. But she saw a letter with a British stamp and his familiar handwriting on the envelope. It was a shock to see such a letter again after she had given up all hope of seeing another.

“So, that was what you were waiting for?” asked the secretary.

“But I didn’t know. How could I have known?”

“No one else checks here every day at the same time.”

“I just thought there might be something.”

“Well, I’m just glad it finally arrived. I could see your anticipation every day.” The secretary smiled in a friendly way.

“So am I,” said Lena “So am I.”

She felt the substantiveness of the letter. It felt like more than one sheet. He didn’t need that much to say ‘no, sorry, I’m not coming’. But still she would be unsure until she actually opened the letter. She opened it then and there. It was dated the day she had arrived in Denmark. How, she wondered had her postcard got to him so quickly. She glanced at the first few lines. He said that he was writing immediately and in some haste and would send his letter by the fastest way possible. Then came some words that she didn’t know and in some frustration she realised that she was going to need a dictionary. She went back and found Olga.

“Do you have a Danish-Russian dictionary?” she asked.

“Of course, don’t you?” said Olga.

“I forgot mine.”

“Really? You did pack quickly.”

“Have you got it with you?”

“No, it’s in the room. I’ll show you where. So you got a letter after all.”

She manoeuvred so that she could see the letter better.

“And from England. I’m afraid I don’t have an English dictionary.”

“I hardly speak any English myself. It’s in Danish.”

“You know a Danish person living in England?”

“No, he’s English.”

“There can’t be many English people who speak Danish.”

“I suppose not. He needed it for his studies.”

Lena was impatient with her friend’s curiosity and it was beginning to show in her voice, but more important, she was impatient to get on with reading the letter.

“Would you tell them,” she continued, “that I need to do something just now, so I’ll not be at the next lesson.”

“My, you are in a hurry.”

“It’s quite urgent actually.”

“OK, OK, you can tell me more later if you want to. Sorry if I’m a bit curious.”

“That’s fine, Olga, it’s just I really want to see what’s in the letter.”

Lena began reading again and smoked as she looked up the words she didn’t know. David had retained his strange old-fashioned system of spelling and this occasionally made it hard to find a word in Olga’s modern dictionary. But she had had some practice with this when reading his first few letters and so it didn’t cause her too much difficulty. Nevertheless, his vocabulary often defeated her. It was archaic and complex, and sometimes she wasn’t even exactly sure what a word meant when she’d translated it into Russian. The main thing though was to get to his message, to find out what he was thinking and what he would do. He was contrite about not having written earlier, but gave a reason that was rather too literary for her to guess its literal meaning. He said that her postcard reawakened a hope that had seemed lost. He expressed his pleasure at seeing her writing again and described in a few sentences the process of reading her postcard, and how he knew immediately that he must go and go as quickly as possible. That said, the style of his writing lacked the romance of his earliest letters. There was a shyness about it, and there were none of the endearments characteristic of a love letter. But he had said that he was coming. He had already found a flight and proposed coming for eight days. If she could fax him a confirmation, he would immediately book his flight and would see her in four days, arriving at the school sometime probably in the evening.

A sense of joy spread over Lena. Even if his letter was not so very romantic, it was a terribly romantic act. What did the style of the letter matter compared to the style of the gesture? She could hardly take it in. He would arrive exactly a week after she had. A smile spread over her face, and the familiar excitement spread through her body, especially in her stomach which kept giving little jumps. Her mind travelled back to those very special moments, which they had shared and it seemed that the pain that had accompanied the revisited memories for so long was beginning to lift. Yet a reticence remained. She was wary and she was a little scared. What would he expect after such a journey to be with her? Would he assume that they would carry on exactly as if the past months hadn’t happened? Would he think that their last night together would move inevitably on to the next stage? After all, men didn’t travel all that way for nothing. And so mixed with her joy was some uncertainty about what she herself wanted, some confusion about the real nature of her feelings and some apprehension about being hurt and disappointed again. Nor did she want to hurt or disappoint him. She needed time. After all these months and his long silence she didn’t quite trust David. But more than that, she didn’t quite trust herself or her own motives. She had known him, but only for a short time and it would rather be like meeting a stranger who she had kissed.

It was hard to know what to think. It was hard to take it all in. But despite the confusion in her feelings and the mix of sometimes contradictory emotions she knew from the feeling that had enveloped her, from the smile that wouldn’t leave her face and the special feeling in her stomach that she could recognise from last summer, she knew that she had to act now, this very moment to make sure that he came. She went to the director’s office and asked if she could speak to him.

“Of course, Lena. Come on in,” he said.

“I have a friend who wants to visit me for a few days.”
She deliberately used the Danish word for “male friend” rather than the word for “boyfriend”.

“That shouldn’t be a problem. Does he speak Danish?”

“Yes. Pretty well. We met last summer in Askov. He’s from England and goes to Cambridge.”

“I don’t think we’ve had someone from England, at least not lately.”

“So you think it will be alright?”

“Definitely. The more the merrier.”

“How much will it cost?”

“Well. Let’s see. He can stay with you. There’s a spare bed, I think. Just ask Olga if she’d be alright with that. Or he can have his own room. It won’t cost him much either way. He can come along to the lessons if he wants. We wouldn’t want him sitting on his own would we?”

“But you’d charge him for that, wouldn’t you?”

“Why ever should we? We’d be having the lessons anyway. It’ll be a good experience for the others to meet someone who goes to Cambridge.”

“And the food and coffee and such?”

“I think, we have enough. Don’t worry, Lena. We’ll make your boyfriend welcome.”

Lena noted the word, but didn’t think it was worth correcting. She didn’t know herself which word was correct.

“He’ll be here on Thursday,” she said.

“Where’s he flying to?”

“Copenhagen. He’ll get in quite early and take the train.”

“Then he should be here by evening. Well, I’ll arrange things and tell the teachers to expect someone else.”

“Is there a fax machine I can use? I have to confirm that he can come.”

“You know Helle quite well, I think?”

“The secretary?”

“Yes. She’ll help you send your fax.”

Chapter 4

On Thursday morning when she woke up Lena thought, he’ll be in the air now and wondered what he was thinking. After all, it had all happened rather suddenly for David, too. She had an image of David sitting on a plane having got up rather early to catch his flight. All through the day she thought of the progress he’d be making. Now he will have landed. Now he’ll be on a train somewhere in Sjaelland. Now he might have crossed the Lillebaelt into Fyn. Now he’ll be on the boat crossing the Storebaelt into Jutland. She didn’t know the timings exactly, but still she couldn’t help continually trying to work out where he was, how he was making progress, how he would soon be here. He was coming and he was coming to her. She had never loved anyone other than David. The feeling she had felt, she had known there and then what it was, had been unexpected, unknown, but somehow altogether familiar for she recognised it instantly without having ever experienced it before. It was as much a physical feeling as an emotional one. The absence of the feeling in her stomach when she had been with David showed she did not love Pavel just as much as the absence of any special feelings for her friend in Kaliningrad. She’d missed David and had longed for him. She’d grieved for him when he’d seemed lost in a way she knew she never would for Pavel, in a way she knew she never would even for her parents and her sister. Yet all through the day as she thought of him coming to her she also had a sense of dread and of fear. It wasn’t merely that he had hurt her and she was scared of being hurt again. It wasn’t merely that she had spent so many months trying to kill the love she had felt and that it would take time and patience to resurrect it. She also realised how dependent she was on Orlov and his schemes. She knew how if this second meeting were to come to anything long term, it would depend on a call to Orlov and the arrangements that he would make. It was the fact that she had to go along with Orlov’s plans, that it was her duty, the fact that she was absolutely reliant on this man in his little office, it was this as much as anything else that made her feel passive, waiting for her love to return. She wondered what David would say if he knew. She thought of telling him. But then thought of how he would look with horror. How he would see it all as a deception. Wasn’t that what it was after all? She knew that she could never tell him, that even if years from now she told him he would reject her and would be right to reject her. She felt her love was based on a lie, a lie that had gone back to the time when she had picked his photograph out of a book. It had been such an easy thing to do. It had been done so very light-heartedly almost as a joke, for she had not loved him then and hadn’t really expected to meet him at all. And now soon she would be face to face with this man who she had lied to, and she didn’t quite know how to face him.

Olga had been curious of course, and over the course of the past few days she had told her a little of David, how they had met, the times they had spent together in Askov, some of what they had done together. She had also told Olga a little about Pavel, about how David had stopped writing, how she’d been hurt and not expected to see him again. She had told Olga about how she’d been given another chance to come to Denmark and decided to send David a postcard. She said nothing about Orlov. But there had been no need to tell another Russian that coming twice to Denmark in a year required more luck than was reasonable. They didn’t ask each other about what they each were doing there. They already were quite close friends and it was better not to ask than to have to lie.

“Do you have a picture, Lena?”

“You’ll see him soon enough.”

“You must have a picture.”

Lena got her purse and found where she had inserted David’s picture. Somehow she had left it there even when it seemed she would never see him again. She showed it to Olga.

“Not bad,” said Olga, “What’s he like?”

“I don’t know him very well. We only spent a few days together.”

“But you liked him?”

“Yes, very much. It’s just I tried to get him out of my mind when it seemed I’d not see him again.”

“And you failed?”

“I suppose so.”

“You seem a bit unsure of what you feel, Lena, if I may say so. He’ll be here soon enough.”

“I know. It’s all been very sudden.”

“But he’s your boyfriend, right?”

“I don’t really know. I felt very strongly about him when we were together. But then it was like we broke up and then there’s Pavel.”

“I’d forget this Pavel. Nothing’s going to come of that.”

“I was thinking of marrying him.”

“Why, if you don’t love him?”

“I never said I didn’t.”

“You didn’t have to. I’ve seen you these last few days, Lena. That’s what love looks like. Believe me, I know.”

“We’ll need some time. I can’t just begin again where we left off.”

“Look, we’re friends right? Just say the word and I can clear off for a while. Just say something in Russian and I can go off for a few hours, so that you can spend time with him alone in the room.”

“No, don’t do that. I’d rather you were around. I’m not ready for anything like that at the moment. It’s one of the things I’m a bit scared of.”

“But, Lena, you don’t think a man comes all this way for nothing. He obviously loves you very much or he wouldn’t be coming at all.”

“Then why did he stop writing?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he thought the situation was impossible, maybe he met someone else.”

“And should I just accept that he goes off with someone else?”

“These things happen. They can’t always help themselves.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Sometimes we can’t help ourselves either, you know.”

“Anyway, I’ll need time to get to know him again. Do stick around, Olga, at least for the first few days while I see how things are going.”

“If you say so.”

Now she realised he might even have reached the station at Vejen. He would have to get a taxi from there, she thought. She continued to smoke cigarette after cigarette. Now he could be here. Now he should be here. She had a moment of anxiety. He wasn’t coming. Something had gone wrong. She’d never see him again. The anxiety rose as the minutes ticked by. Where was he? It didn’t matter that it was only twenty minutes passed his estimated time of arrival. It didn’t matter that anything could have delayed him by those few minutes. She felt the doubt, unreasonable doubt. There was a knock on the door. She opened it and he stood on the threshold looking tired with a bag by his side.

“Hello, Lena,” he said.

Chapter 5

She felt that he was about to embrace her and kiss her, but then she remembered how shy he was and how it had always been she who had made the first move. She remembered their kisses and how it had felt to hold him. The feeling she recognised came to her at that moment, the emotion rising, the sense of anticipation the movement that a couple make just before they come together. But she had already waited too long and by that stage anyway they were already in the room and she saw that he had noticed Olga. The moment had passed and the easiest, most natural moment to kiss had gone. She felt a sense of regret and also of relief. There would be time enough later for kisses, but she also sensed something had already disappeared that might not be so easy to recapture, for they had rediscovered the inhibition that so frequently characterises how men and women interact. He was no longer someone she kissed automatically and as a matter of course, as a matter of expectation for each of them. He had been that very, very briefly, but not now. That person would have to be found again, for now he was lost if not irrevocably. But trying to rediscover how they had been together was not going to be so easy. She sensed this even in the seconds that had passed. It was like trying to grab a memory and bring it to the present, as easy as trying to stop time drip through her fingers.

She noticed the slight look of surprise and disappointment when he saw Olga, or was it because he had hoped for a kiss as a welcome or at the very least a touch of her hand?

“This is Olga,” she said. “She’s my roommate.”

“Hi, David,” said Olga.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said. “You’re Russian too?”

“Yes, I’m from Moscow.”

“Come, sit down. Have a cigarette,” said Lena. “I even got you a couple of bottles of beer.”

She lit his cigarette with a cheap plastic lighter.

“I’ve already had a couple of bottles on the train, but I’m tired and I find beer usually helps.”

“It usually puts me to sleep,” said Olga.

“We’d better sort out the room arrangements if you're tired,” said Lena. “You can stay here with us if you like. There’s a settee over there or you can have your own room.”

“It’s not quite the done thing in England to share a room with two ladies,” he laughed.

“Oh, that’s alright,” said Olga. “You can get changed in the bathroom if you're too shy about it. I’m sure I don’t mind.”

Lena saw David blushing.

“Don’t mind her David, she’s only kidding you,” she said.

“That’s alright. But really I’m used to having my own room. Anyway, who knows, maybe I snore?”

“Didn’t someone ever tell you?” said Olga.

“Olga!” Lena said.

“I see, I’m going to have to practice my Danish banter,” said David. “Anyway, you two will probably want to speak Russian sometimes and I remember the games they used to play with me.”

“What games?” asked Olga.

“We’d say things in Russian and make him answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Sometimes we took advantage a little.”

“You also used to jabber away, while I just sat there like some sort of dummy.”

“We did that too quite a bit. We’ll all three try to speak Danish then. Though I can’t promise that we won’t lapse into Russian sometimes even if just to check what a word means.”

“That sounds good to me,” said Olga.

“How are they all?” said asked David.

“Who? The Russians on the course last year? I didn’t keep in touch with any of the boys.”

“And Sveta?”

“She’s living near here. She got married.”

“It was a quick courtship.”

“It was indeed. Do you remember his friend who we couldn’t get rid of?” 

“I think, I can remember nearly everything about those days,” said David.

“What about you? Did you hear from anyone?”

“I got a postcard from Maria, the Italian girl, and some photos from Sigrid, you remember the girl with the Austrian ski instructor, but I didn’t reply. There didn’t seem to be much point.”

There was an awkward silence and she saw that he regretted saying something about not writing. He hadn’t even thought of the connection. She saw his confusion and quickly interrupted whatever he was about to say.

“I passed Askov when I was on my way here.”

“I might have done as well. Only it was dark. Anyway, it’s good to be back in Denmark. You’ll have to forgive my Danish, I haven’t spoken a word since last June. You’ll have the advantage on me. When did you come here?”

“Oh, a while back,” said Lena making a glance towards Olga as if to say ‘back me up’. “But you read, don’t you? That’s why you write all those old-fashioned long words with the funny spelling.”

“I know. It’s a terrible habit. It’s just that’s how I remember them.”

They all continued chatting in a relaxed and friendly manner. She could tell that Olga liked David as she was joking with him as if she’d known him for years. She was enjoying herself, too, and it really was good to see him again. She’d forgotten how his mind always seemed to find an interesting slant on things and so their conversations were never dull.

At what seemed a suitable point she said: “Well I suppose I’d better show you where you’ll be staying and see if we can find you something to eat.”

“There’s no need, I had something on the boat to Jutland.”

“What was that?”

“Oh, a couple of those hot dogs with the strange sauce they have here.”

“I’m sure we can get you something better than that.”

“Really, there’s no need. I’m too excited to be hungry.”

Lena already had the key to David’s room in case he had wanted it. She wasn’t sure what she thought about this space where they could meet alone. Was that why he had wanted his own room? Her mind flashed back to the times they had spent in her room in Askov. She remembered her excitement and her desire, but she wanted the moment to be right. She wanted some time, some romance. She didn’t know quite what she wanted, but she knew that the moment was not yet. She felt joy at seeing him and in some ways it was exactly how they had been, yet something kept holding her back. Part of her was erecting a barrier just as another part was bringing it down. Her feelings were contradictory and insofar as she was aware of them she knew it, but knowing something and changing it are not necessarily the same thing. There remained then a distance between her and this man who had dropped everything to be once more by her side. The problem was that the distance was not a spatial distance. It was like the distance between having never kissed someone and then kissing him. It was as if they had gone back to that point. There needed to be a leap over what now separated them. There were centimetres between them, but those centimetres contained the distance between Cambridge and Kaliningrad, the fact that both of them had given up hope and these many months when neither of them knew what would happen. She needed time.

“There’s no one else staying down here,” she said. “The school’s quite quiet. They’ll not charge you much. They’re actually rather glad to have you.”

“So am I. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to see you.”

“Me too.”

There was a pause. They were in his room. This could be a time when he would move towards her, put his arm around her back and bring her face towards his. She waited for a moment wondering if he would. If she’d made the least gesture towards him, she knew that within seconds they would be in each other’s arms. She felt herself drawn to him, but did not move, did not make any gesture either with her body, her face or her voice. She didn’t want to stay here long with him and yet she imagined with a sense of longing how even now they could have been in each other’s arms sitting on his bed over there.

“You’re no doubt very tired and would like to get settled in,” she said turning as if to go.

“Wait a second, Lena. I brought you a little something.”

He handed her a little black box. She looked at it. He couldn’t possibly have brought a ring, could he, she wondered. She dismissed the possibility although not completely, and so opened the box with a degree of trepidation with no idea what could possibly be contained in such a box that surely must contain some sort of jewellery. She opened the box and saw a little enamel brooch with a crest.

“It’s from my college. I thought it would be something nice for you to have.”

“Thank you, David. You’re very kind.”

“Have you still got my lighter?”

“I gave it to my friend in Russia. He saw it and said he’d always wanted one of those American lighters.”

Lena saw David wince at the word for “male friend”, but she knew he wouldn’t ask about it. Her words had just sort of come out unplanned. Was there a touch of revenge over what she had learned about Gillian? She saw the doubt in his eyes. Perhaps, he would be wondering whether she had meant “boyfriend”, but forgotten the Danish word. She realised that she was being cruel, especially to a man as shy as David. Now he wouldn’t be sure of what if anything there was between them. He wouldn’t know for sure if she had someone waiting back home. But then he would wonder if that had been the case, why would she have invited him to come here to stay with her? She saw the confusion that he felt, but it really matched the confusion she was feeling. They really needed to begin from the beginning and pretend as if nothing had happened last June. She knew that he wouldn’t make any sort of move now, not while there were eight days to go. He’d be scared to spoil things and make them awkward if the move went awry. So she would have time and they would have a chance to get to know each other again.

“Good night, David,” she said. “It was so very good of you to come.”

Chapter 6

The three of them naturally formed a little group over the next few days. All the Danes were very friendly and curious about David. Some of the girls were rather direct asking Lena very personal questions about David and why he was here, how they had met and how long they’d been apart. He was sometimes described to her as her boyfriend, which she neither contradicted, nor affirmed. They spent most of the day with these people and it was a feature of the lessons that they involved continual interaction with others. It was inevitable that everyone would get to know everyone else. But there was also a barrier between the Danes and the non-Danes. The folk high school system of education was not really academic, so much as social. Most of the Danes, who were at the school, had a minimal level of education. They had been unemployed for a while, or had been in some sort of minor trouble with the law, or had wanted a break from whatever mundane job they did. They would spend some months in the countryside and learn about themselves, learn about Denmark, have some fun and then go back to the lives they had left. It was not accidental that Denmark was the sort of society that it was, a place that most people in the world would think of as something of a model of society. The folk high school system had quite a lot to do with it and whatever it cost the government, which was not so very much really, was probably money well spent. But it wasn’t a system of education that had been designed for university students from Russia or from England, and so inevitably the Danes and the non-Danes found that they had little in common.

At one of the first lessons David was asked to introduce himself and describe a little about his life and what he was doing now. He described his home in rural England, his life in Cambridge and something of his studies. The Danes laughed a little at the funny way he spoke and the archaic words he used. They knew little of the world that he described, even in Denmark. They mostly spoke reasonable English, but were more reluctant to use it than was the norm in Denmark. Their schooling had obviously not been without its difficulties, which was one of the reasons why they were in the school now. When David described his investigation of faith as discussed by Greeks living more than two thousand years ago, and Danes and Russians living in the 19th century, he might as well have been discussing higher mathematics to someone who didn’t pay much attention when learning long division.

“He’s quite something,” Olga said to Lena one day when they were alone in their room.


“It’s what he obviously leaves out that impresses me most.”

“What does he leave out?”

“He doesn’t boast. He doesn’t describe the grades that he got or the prizes that he won.”

“Why do you think he won any prizes?”

“Well, I don’t know so much about universities in England, but he talks as if he’s employed by his college, rather than just a student. What was that word he used?”

“I didn’t know it either. One of his old words, “fellowship”, I think.”

“But not only that, Lena. He’s nice. I mean, really nice. He’s the sort of man most of us dream of meeting. Sure, he’s average looking, but handsome enough. But he’s sensitive and thoughtful. I like him very much.”

“I do, too.”

“Then why don’t you do anything about it?”

“I need a little time. I told you the story already.”

“Well, don’t wait too long or someone else might snap him up.”


“Don’t worry, Lena, I wouldn’t pinch him. We’re friends and friends don’t do that sort of thing to each other. But seriously, if you decide that you don’t want him, would you let me know either while he’s here or later?”

Lena had noticed how Olga had become friendly with David. Sometimes they would speak English together if Lena was away somewhere. She would come back and hear a conversation going on that she couldn’t understand. She noticed that Olga’s English was very good indeed. She’d felt a sense of exclusion listening to them, although they always switched easily to Danish as soon as she arrived.

She’d said in Russian to Olga: “You don’t have to speak English together. You should both be practicing your Danish.”

“Sometimes we get tired of Danish,” Olga had said. “We both speak English better.”

“Her English is very good,” David had said. “The accent is almost perfect apart from just one or two sounds and she avoids most of the mistakes typical of Russians.”

“Like what?” asked Lena.

“Like not knowing how to use the words ‘the’ and ‘a’.”

“We don’t have those in Russian,” said Lena.

She’d asked Olga about her studies in Moscow. It seemed she had specialised in English for many years.

“It’s nice to have the chance to practice for a change. I’ve not met many people from England.”

“And Danish?”

“That’s more of a side-line,” said Olga.

“Why did you take it up?”

“Oh, I was offered the chance. My main specialisation was Polish, but I thought it might be nice to know another language. I picked Danish because it was offered.”

“More or less by chance. That’s pretty much how I started.”

When they were alone, they frequently talked of David and what they had done that day.

“Have you noticed how he looks at you when we’re doing the music and movement class?” asked Olga.

“Not particularly,” said Lena.

“I can see his eyes move up and down. I think, he rather likes your little shorts.”

“Oh, Olga don’t be crude.”

“It’s not crude. You should be pleased that he finds you attractive.”

Lena had noticed how David continually glanced at her when he thought she wasn’t looking at him. She remembered how he had looked when they had gone swimming at Askov and she felt the same sensation now. She liked that he was interested, she felt attractive and desirable. She felt her body thrill with the sense that this man who she liked very much was drawn to her, that his eyes sought her out and she wondered about the sensations that he was feeling when he looked at her and the possibilities that he was imagining when his gaze took in her body.  She felt these possibilities herself and she had not been immune to the odd glance herself. He was not especially handsome, not like a movie star or even like some of the Danes that she had seen on the street, but she would not have changed anything about how he looked. He was fit enough without being athletic as if he did sports only for the fun of it without bothering to train in anyway. She often tried to position herself behind him in the room, so that she could look without there being any chance that he would see. Her look was quite natural when she was behind him after all. Where else was she supposed to look? She found herself more and more attracted as each day they performed their movements to the music. It was relaxing and it was fun; and it was better than ever now that she could trace her gaze up his body taking in his legs, his shorts, his T-shirt and imagine and return to the place where they had been where perhaps, they were heading again.

“I find him attractive, too,” she said to Olga.

“Then why am I always around?”

“I wouldn’t like to leave you on your own.”

“I could spend more time with the Danes.”

“No, it’s better this way, at least for the moment.”

“What are you scared of, Lena? Whenever I try to give you a chance to be alone with him, you say something in Russian to make me stay.”

“I just want a chance to get to know him a little better. Get used to being with him again.”

“What do you think he feels, Lena? He’s come all this way, because you asked him and then finds you’re his sister. Do you think that’s fair?”

“No, I don’t think of him like that.”

“Are you sure you don’t want another Pavel? It’s quite convenient, you know.”

“I feel like I’m just starting out with David. Like we never were together but might be. I like him. I find him attractive, but whether something happens is not only up to me. Fate has to bring us together.”

“You and your fate, Lena. You and your Scarlet Sails. How much help do you need? It seems to me that you’ve already had your miracle. It needed something like one for you to be here now. Am I right? Now you want another. How many times does that boat have to arrive? How long are you going to sit waiting on your beach?”

“I want him to do something. Why should it always be me that starts these things?”

“He did something by coming here, Lena. That would be enough, more than enough for most girls.”

“But it’s always been me who kissed him, me who showed him that I wanted him.”

“He’s very English, Lena, and he’s very shy. I’m not sure he’s had much experience with girls, and what experience he’s had has not been very pleasant. His confidence is shot to pieces.”

“How do you know that?”

“We talk. Men sometimes find it useful to talk to the friend of a girl they love. They subtly try to find out things and I have my ways of finding out things, too.”

“What’s he said?”

“He talked of some girl he knew for 6 or 7 years and how nothing ever happened. How he’d waited and waited, hoping that something would, but it never did. He’s hurt way down deep, you know. It’s not something you get over easily.”

“So he loves her still.”

“No. He loves you, Lena. All his hopes are with you.”

“Did he say that?

“No, he barely said anything, but I can read between the lines. I wish you could hear him in English. He’s very romantic and speaks beautifully. You’re a fool if you lose him, you know.”

“I don’t want a fling and I can’t see how anything can come of it a long term. He can’t visit me. You know Kaliningrad is closed to foreigners and I don’t see how I can visit him. I’ve next to no money. That’s why I hesitate as much as anything else.”

“Look, you know why most men chase after women? That’s the reason why most men are looking for a fling. But a man doesn’t travel all this way if he only wants a fling. If he only wants that, he can get it much closer to home easily enough.”

“So you don’t think he wants that of me?”

“No doubt, he does, but he wants so much more. He wants you fundamentally, the whole you. When a man wants you in that way and you want him in return, you must grab him very quickly, because it’s rather rare.”

“And what then? How can we be together?”

“I don’t know, but things have a way of working out. I know that he would do a lot to keep you two together.”

The classes continued and she could see that David was enjoying himself. They began to relax in each other’s presence and they began spending more and more time alone together, discussing the classes and the books they liked and whatever else came into their heads. They referred to their time together in Askov, but generally; and neither of them in any way touched on how they had kissed and held each other and of the caresses that they had shared. Nor did Lena mention about him not writing. He had apologised in his letter and the subject was concluded. But still it was as if his penance continued. They parted each night with a simple ‘good night’. He didn’t touch her and, indeed, she could barely remember any instance when he had touched her since he had arrived. Perhaps, their hands had touched once or twice in the normal course of daily events like lighting a cigarette, but no more than that. When they walked anywhere, she walked by his side, but no one reached out to hold the other’s hand. She had not returned to his room and he had not asked her. They were getting on well, but she couldn’t help noticing in his face a look of disappointment and confusion. She felt sometimes that he was on the verge of saying something. It was if he was building up his courage, but then he would back down. She wondered if he was scared that he might spoil things, spoil the good time that they were having.

The school would be closing for a few days over Easter. David was due to leave on the Friday.

“What are you and Olga going to do?” he asked her.

“There is a Danish family we are going to stay with from Friday night until Tuesday. Then we’ll come back here.”

“Thursday will be our last night. I’ll have to get up very early on Friday morning. It must be your first Easter abroad. It’s quite a big deal in Russia, isn’t it?”

“It used to be.”

“And now? For some of us it’s very important. I’ve been reading about Orthodoxy. I want to understand Dostoevsky better. I like many of the ideas very much.”

“You probably know more about it than me,” said Lena.

“I don’t know. I’m beginning to find theology rather pointless. It’s all just a lot of speculation about things we cannot really describe. I like the mystery at the heart of Orthodoxy.”

“Do you know, I’ve never been in a real church that wasn’t a museum? We have some icons, but we don’t put one of them in the corner where it should go.”

“Yet, perhaps, you believe more than I do.”

“Why do you think so?”

“I just sense it sometimes when we are together. I wish I believed more than I do. I must give up thinking about these things and live more as I should. I think faith comes more naturally to you.”

“How do you know? We have hardly talked of faith.”

“I remember your cross and I could feel how it protects you, and I’ll always remember when you showed it to me. I thought it was an extraordinarily beautiful cross.”

“But it’s quite ordinary,” said Lena.

“I think, every cross depicts a miracle,” said David.

Chapter 7

Lena gradually began more often to seek ways to be alone with David, though always in a public space. The little group of three foreigners continued as before. They ate all their meals together and talked of the sorts of things young international students talked about. This in itself was enough to set them apart from the others, who looked on their conversation insofar as they even were aware of it as dull. Olga seemed keen to get away and give Lena and David some space and would often suggest in a brief aside in Russian that she would go and leave them. Lena still sometimes told her to stay, but less and less frequently and more often asked Olga to go, so that she could talk with David alone. They resumed their habit of walking around with nowhere particularly in to go, just wandering, strolling with no particular purpose, other than to be together and to talk of whatever came into their heads.

David had come to a stop and was looking at a large rock with something written on it. She looked, too and scanned some of the words. It looked like a memorial. It had something to do with the First World War.

“We have those everywhere in Kaliningrad.”

“We have them, too, usually one in each small village and town. I’m rather fond of the one in Cambridge. It’s near the station and the statue of the soldier is somehow unusual.”

“There are a lot of names, but I thought Denmark was neutral in the First World War?”

“You studied it then?”

“A bit, though mainly as how it all lead to the Revolution.”

“Well, you’re correct. Denmark was neutral.”

“Then why would they fight?”

“We wouldn’t have been in Denmark then.”

“Then where?”

“In Germany.”

“But the names are all Danish names?”

“He’s quite right, you know. This part of Denmark was in Germany for over fifty years.”

A new voice was added to the conversation. They each turned and it took a moment to recognise who was talking.

“Jens!” said Lena.

“Hello! Fancy meeting you here!” said David.

“It’s not quite chance,” said Jens, their teacher from the previous summer.

“Then what?” asked Lena.

“I know Niels, your director, quite well and we got to chatting. He told me about two Russian girls and a young Englishman who was at his school. I was curious.”

“Well, it’s good to see you anyway,” said David.

“Are you married then? I thought you might be.”

“No,” said Lena. She realised there and then that she had said the word with too much vehemence as if the very idea was absurd. She had just had time to notice how David had smiled, how his eyes had flashed a note of hope at the mistake Jens had made. As if the mere fact that Jens had thought it, made it more likely that it would be so. She saw his expression change as if she had turned down his proposal.
“I’m just visiting,” said David. “I go back in a few days.”

“I got the chance to come back to Denmark,” said Lena. “It’s great to have a chance to try to become more fluent. I thought it would be nice to see David again.”

“And I thought it was a good idea, too. So here we are.”

“You know, you both speak much better than you did last year,” said Jens. “You still have that rather nineteenth century style, David, and you’re sounding more and more like a Dane, Lena, though I’d try to not pick up a rough Copenhagen accent if you can help it.”

“I think, I’m more likely to pick up a Russian accent,” said David. “I speak most of my Danish with Russians.” They all laughed.

“Look,” said Jens. “I’ve talked to Niels and he’s said it’s alright. Do you fancy taking a trip back to Askov?”

“Why not?” said Lena. “There’s nothing much on this afternoon.”

“I’d like to see the school again and the grounds and where we used to go walking,” said David.

“It’s not so much for that, though we may have time to stop by the school.”

“Then what?” said Lena.

“I thought you might like to see Svetlana.”

“I hadn’t particularly been planning to, we got on well enough but weren’t really close friends,” said Lena.

“You spent enough time with her,” said David.

“I know and I spent enough time with the Russian boys, but I didn’t keep in touch with them. Nor did you with the people you met in Askov.”

She hadn’t intended to have a go at him, but somehow she couldn’t help alluding to the fact it was he that had stopped writing. She never reproached him openly about it, but somehow the pain she had felt all those months bubbled to the surface and had to find its release in these sorts of hints directed at the person she was beginning to fall in love with all over again. She was barely aware of the growing feeling. Falling in love can be more or less instantaneous. Certainly, one look can be enough to establish an attraction, though, of course, attraction, she knew, was not the same thing as love. She was only dimly conscious of how the feeling that she had felt so strongly was returning. The hurt was still with her, she was still in some part of her consciousness angry with him, she had not quite been able to fully forgive him, and so she had not been able to fully trust him. If she had been able to go over these things in her mind rationally, she would have realised how unfair she was being. She knew in the conscious part of her mind that he had done nothing particularly wrong and by any standards had done more than enough to make amends. But still his atonement would continue until that moment when her love could grow again to the point where it had been. And now she waited. She did not plan. She did not organise and she did not take into account the few days that remained. She knew that if he left and nothing more happened, then that would be it. She could not expect a third reunion. But she was unconscious of her love growing or at least only dimly conscious of it, and so felt completely unable to do anything to make the scarlet sails reappear. She wondered how many miracles she would need for that to happen, ordinary everyday miracles, like how two people who hardly know each other suddenly find themselves kissing and then becoming the most important people in the world for each other. It was no less a miracle because it happened every day. Babies were born every day, too, and they were always described as miracles. Well, each baby began with a kiss.

“I know that Svetlana would like to see you,” said Jens.

“Have you seen her?” said Lena.

“She lives near by the school. I see her from time to time.”

“I heard she married. What was his name again?”

“Morton,” said Jens.

“Is she happy?” asked David.

“I don’t think, she’s particularly happy,” said Jens. “She’s pregnant, far from home with little prospect of even visiting or seeing her family. There’s no one she can speak her own language to.”

“Couldn’t Morton learn?” said David.

“I hear, Russian is rather hard. What do you think, Lena?”

“It’s hard to judge if you’ve spoken it all your life. But it’s very different from Danish.”

“Anyway, I don’t think, Morton is much of a student. He’s a car mechanic or something like that,” said Jens.

“But still he must have loved her if he married her?” said David.

“He wanted her anyway,” said Jens. “Unfortunately, Danish men can sometimes be a little too inclined to give into impulses.”

“Has he left her?” asked Lena.

“No, but I hear, he doesn’t spend every night at home,” said Jens. “What do you think, shall we go and see her?”

They drove through the countryside. It only took twenty minutes or so.

“Look, when we get there why don’t the two of you have a chat in Russian?” said Jens. “David and I can talk English, then no one will be distracted.”

“It sounds like a good idea,” said David.

Svetlana opened the door. Lena was rather shocked to see the change that had taken place in the months since she had last seen her. She embraced her.

“It’s good to see you, Sveta,” she said in Russian.

“And you. I thought I would never hear my own language again,” said Svetlana. “Come in everyone. Hello, David! Hello, Jens!” she said in fluent Danish. “I have the coffee and the cakes ready. Morton’s at work.”

They all sat down at her kitchen table and two conversations developed, one in English and one in Russian.

“How many months do you have to go?” asked Lena.

“Just over three.”

“So, it will be just about a year after you first met him.”

“It’s strange to think that a year ago I was in Moscow.”

“Do you miss it?”

“I miss things that I would hardly have considered of any consequence then. Little things.”

“Your parents? Friends?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Did they get into any trouble?”

“Not much. Of course, they were very angry with me. They thought I’d been selfish. I had, I suppose.”

“What happened to them?”

“Let’s not go into that too much. You know how things are. But nothing too bad happened to them. I get letters from them now and again, even the odd phone call.”

“What’s it like living here?”

“They have everything. You know that. You just go into the shops and buy what you want. Everything works, everything’s clean. But I feel like a stranger here. They meet up for dinner, a whole bunch of them and they have all sorts of songs that everyone knows, funny traditions that everyone knows. They have a togetherness, these Danes. It’s quite hard to fit in even if you do speak the language.”

“You speak incredibly well now, Sveta.”

“I sometimes think, I’m going to forget Russian.”

“But he’s good to you?”

“Yes, he’s good enough. It’s just they have a different way of living. Not everyone, of course. I suppose, there must be some who live normal lives like we’re used to in Russia, but the ones I know have a different way of living.”

“Like what?”

“One of my girlfriends has a man who she only sleeps with. They never go out and they don’t think of themselves as being in love at all, it’s just convenient for them to sleep together from time to time. She’s quite relaxed about it. She thinks, it’s totally normal. They even have a word for it. I don’t think there’s a Russian equivalent.”

“And Morton, does he have such a friend?”

“Probably. He’s quite open about it all. He meets someone, they sleep together. It’s not something I’m supposed to mind. He would be shocked if I did mind, would consider it all terribly old- fashioned. He’s quite happy if I do the same, even expects it and was surprised when I rejected the attentions of his friends.”

“Are you sorry then?”

“I don’t know. I felt a mad impulse last June and went with it. I’m here. Who knows what I would be doing in Moscow, who knows whether it would be better or worse. You can’t regret your choices, you just end up regretting yourself and I’m going to have a child who I will love and who I will teach Russian, so that I don’t forget my own language and so that I have someone to talk to.”

“I hope, you’ll find happiness together.”

“Oh, I’m happy enough. Morton isn’t such a bad sort. It’s just a different way of living. Something you have to get used to. What of you, Lena? I see, you’re still with him.” 

Lena proceeded to describe in outline what had happened since last June. She naturally didn’t mention anything about Orlov, but described how it had been difficult for her to write, how she had been unable to find the words to describe her feelings, how her Danish just hadn’t been good enough. She told Sveta about Pavel and how she had known him for years, but how nothing had ever happened, but how she knew if she stayed in Kaliningrad, she would probably end up with him. She described how the letters had stopped, and how hurt she had been and how she had tried to get David out of her heart, but that when unexpectedly she had been given another chance to come to Denmark, she thought why not send him a postcard just in case.

“I always thought he was quite a guy,” said Sveta. “I liked him, too, last summer.” They were careful not to actually use his name for they didn’t want him to understand that they were talking about him.

“I know, Sveta. I’m very pleased that he’s here. It’s just I’ve needed some time. I’m scared.”

“Of what?

“I’m scared most of all of getting hurt, or of finding out that it’s all impossible.”

“You surely know how to make it possible. You could do what I did?”

“But he doesn’t live here. He has to continue his studies and I don’t see how I could get to where he is. There’s maybe a chance.”

“What chance?”

“There’s no need to go into it, but there may be some way for us to be together, but I can’t decide these things; I have no money and no means of travelling to him.”

“Of course, we all need help to get abroad and to travel.”

“You understand, of course.”

“I think, we both understand, don’t you Lena?”

“It’s rather unusual for a girl from Kaliningrad to travel to Denmark twice in one year.”

“Rather miraculous, like a boat appearing on the horizon with scarlet sails.”

“You remember my story?”

“How could I forget? So what are you going to do? Do you love him, Lena?”


“I think, a little more than perhaps. You’re scared and you’ve been hurt and you don’t know what will happen if you fall in love again. But, Lena, think. How many men would travel from Britain to Denmark because of a postcard and then expect nothing? Why do you say nothing?”

“Well, nothing has happened, hasn’t it? Not even a kiss. No, we’re getting to know each other again.”

“And he would go away again without even getting a kiss and wouldn’t dream of being anything other than a gentleman. Am I right?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“He’s terribly shy, you know. I remember. Do you think he’ll have the nerve to kiss you now after waiting these days?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think, you should find a way to remind him that you’re a woman. I think, you should help him a little. I think, this man really is the captain of your ship and if you let him go, you’ll never find another.”

“I think, I just have to keep sitting on my beach waiting for it to happen.”

“Have you forgotten how we got that little party together? How you organised everything?”

“No, Sveta, I’ve not forgotten. I’ve not forgotten any of your advice.”

“I’d give quite a lot to have someone like him, you know, Lena. You’ve a few days left, don’t lose him.”

Chapter 8

Lena found David Englishness amusing at times. There was a massage class and she noticed the look of horror gradually dawning on his face when it became clear that he would have to practice massage on one of the Danish boys. The class was just a matter of learning some relaxation techniques and focused on learning some points of the body that could be pressed to ease tension. She noticed how some of the Danish girls paired off with the particular boy they were with at that moment and thought briefly of pairing off with David. She thought of touching his shoulders and running her fingers down his back in search of points of tension. But for the most part she noticed the pairings were single sex and anyway, by the time she had thought over the matter Olga had already gone up to her. There had been no need to ask if they would be partners. It had simply been assumed. She saw how David looked embarrassed and how he really didn’t want to do this.

“Poor David,” she said to Olga in Russian. “He really doesn’t like the idea.”

“They’re quite strange, aren’t they, the English? Have you met any others?”

“No. I don’t think so. There was only David at the school at Askov.”

“I rather like his shyness. There’s something rather attractive about it, old-fashioned, like something from one of their novels.”

“How’s it going with you two?”

“Well enough. He’s begun to relax more, and so have I. We’re talking more or less like we used to.”

“At least I’m not always around now. That gives you a chance.”

She saw him approaching.

“I’m going to duck out of this class, Lena. It’s not quite my thing. I’m just going to go and read my book in my room.”

“Are you sure?” asked Lena.

“The idea just doesn’t appeal.”

When he had gone, they got down to massaging each other and it seemed natural that the conversation should lapse into Russian.

“Why didn’t you offer to massage him?” aked Olga.

“I thought about it, but I wasn’t given the chance.”

“You could have said…”

“I know, I thought of it and then didn’t think it was such a good idea.”

“There’s not long to go now, two more days of classes. Has he said anything at all?”

“We were smoking yesterday in the courtyard as we often do. We got to talking a little about Cambridge. He said he wasn’t really a student. He was employed by his college. I probed a little bit. He didn’t want to say, but it seems he’s been winning all sorts of academic prizes for years and they’ve already more or less offered him a permanent job.”

“He was telling you he wasn’t poor.”

“Why do you think he did that?”

“I think, it’s very English of him, very old-fashioned. He’s saying he has the means to keep you.”

“No, it was just an ordinary conversation.”

“Have you found conversations with David to be ordinary? I don’t. He’s quite careful with his words and says what he means clearly. I think he was asking you something, a little test, perhaps, if you could understand the question, you would be able to give an answer.”

“So you think he was asking me… No, he hasn’t even asked me to hold his hand.”

“He’s quite subtle, isn’t he, Lena?”

“But he’s funny, too. When we had that blindfold thing last night, I think, he was even a little bit offended.”

“I thought it was crude, too.”

“I was horrified at some of the things they made you touch. I had no idea what some of them were and didn’t want to think what others were.”

“Do you remember the bit where you felt, you know, something that felt like…”

“I wonder about these Danes sometimes,” said Olga.

“Me, too. They are wonderful and friendly and everything’s clean and it works, but for me there’s something, what was it in Shakespeare? ‘Something rotten in the heart of Denmark’.”

“But it was funny seeing David’s face after running the gauntlet of all the things he had to feel while blindfolded.”

“It was funny, but he was good-humoured about it even if he was embarrassed.”

“I think, they did some of it especially just for him. Have you heard how they talk about Lord David?”

“What’s the class this evening? Can you remember?”

 “Transcendental meditation, I think.”

“More mumbo jumbo. And tomorrow there’s a trip somewhere. To an island I think, they said”.

Chapter 9

It was a grey and rather cold as they made their journey towards the North Sea. There was a wind from the West and when she got out of the bus, she had the sensation of salt in the air. It was hard to see anything because the whole countryside seemed so flat. There were just the expanses of grey sky and slate-blue sea. The island called Mandø was a short distance off the coast connected by a sort of causeway. There was a tractor with a sort of wagon and she understood that this would take them the short distance across to the island. The island was barely visible, though not at all far away. It was just a thin edge of green that distinguished it from the beach and from the sea.

As they got into the wagon, there was a certain excitement visible in the faces all around. She had never travelled in precisely this way over a beach, or would it be better to say mudflats. She watched as the seabirds flew overhead with their shrieks. They at least were the same everywhere.

She sat next to David and they talked as the tractor pulled the wagon towards the island.

“You know, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s different about you,” he said.

“Well, what conclusion did you come to?”

“It’s you hair.”

“It’s taken you this long to figure that out?”

“I’m not always very observant.”

“Well, what’s different about it?”

“It’s a little shorter and it’s brown. Last time it was more blonde.”

“I had streaks in it then.”

“I like it better this way,” he said. “It suits you better. I notice it every time we’re in the gym and I think how pretty you hair is.”

She couldn’t help feeling pleased with his complement. She’d wondered what he thought of her from time to time. She’d begun have doubts again as to whether he still found her attractive. He’d done nothing to show his feelings and treated her much the same as he treated Olga. She worried a little about Olga. It was clear that she thought highly of David and they seemed to get on very well. Lena wondered what David thought of her friend. What would it take to transfer his allegiance? If Olga made a move, David could quite fairly look at Lena and say without having to utter a single word that she had had her chance. No, he wouldn’t do that. He’d come to see her and wouldn’t be here at all if it hadn’t been for her. But why was Olga here? Lena began to regret that she hadn’t just taken up with David where they had left off. He had only ever needed a little help. She wished she had kissed him when he first came in the door or when he gave her the brooch that she still kept in a drawer in her room. But she wasn’t terribly good at these things either. She knew that. Just as David was not much good with women, so she was not much good with men. Neither of them had had much experience and so it was always awkward. She doubted what David felt and she doubted what she felt herself. But she doubted a little less thanks to his complement.

There wasn’t, to be honest, much on the island, just grassy heathland, a few sheep and a tiny little hamlet with a church. They went into the church and looked around; it was rather old with the usual things that can be found in such churches, the signs of people who had been there for centuries, tombs and plaques on the walls. It was grey and cold and rather sombre. But somehow she felt a certain presence there. She noticed that David seemed to be praying. He had his head slightly bent and was mouthing some words. He wasn’t at all obvious about it. It was just something that he did for himself. She found herself joining in. Not knowing what he was saying, but knowing that she was saying the same thing though in her own language. It didn’t matter that this church was not Orthodox. The cross she focused on was the same cross. She felt something, some sort of communication. Was it God communicating silently? She never knew, but she felt this connection sometimes. She was very glad indeed that she was sharing this moment with David. She began to feel that he was talking to her, too even as he kept silent. She began to feel the connection between them building once more.

They went out onto the beach and pottered about looking in the pools, hunting for shells and interesting rocks. If she picked her way carefully, it was possible to get about without getting her feet wet. They wandered over nearly the whole of the island, just the two of them.

“It’s rather beautiful in a strange way, don’t you think?” he asked.

“Yes, though it’s hard to say why.”

“It’s just flat and barren, but it has something. I felt it in the church.”

“Did you?”

“I do sometimes, especially in churches.”

“It didn’t matter to you that it was a Danish church, did it?”

“Why should it? I felt the same thing in a church in Vezelay in the middle of France. On the other hand, I didn’t feel a thing in Notre Dame in Paris.”

“And in other places?”

“Sometimes. A feeling comes to me of connection of touching and of being touched.”

She saw the others were beginning to make their way back.

“We’d better go or we’ll be late.”

It seemed that some of them were going to go back on the tractor, but that others had already set off on foot. It wasn’t far back to the mainland, and the water was rarely deep unless there was a very high tide.”

“What to do you want to do, Lena?” he asked. “Shall we walk back?”

“Aren’t we a bit late?”

“Can we still walk back?” David asked the tractor driver.

“You can, but you might get your feet wet.”

“Let’s go,” said Lena. “It’ll be fun.”

She could see a little group quite far ahead. They were too far away for her to make out clearly who they were, but she’d noticed that Olga was not in the tractor wagon, so she assumed that her friend was either in that group or further still ahead.

She could make out some buildings in the distance on the mainland and it didn’t seem far. The path was easy enough and she liked walking. It was good to be walking beside David again, spending time with him alone. They didn’t always talk, but he had a way of noticing things every now and again pointing out a bird or a shell.

“It’s all rather bleak, don’t you think?” he asked.

“I like it. There aren’t too many signs of people and when you look around there’s only nature, sea and beach and land.”

“I wonder how deep it gets when the tide comes in.”

“Is the tide coming in?”

“I think so.”

“Should we hurry?”

“No, I don’t think, there’s anything to worry about. The driver was happy enough for us to walk.”

“He seemed to find it a bit funny though.”

“They have an odd sense of humour.”

“The Danes?


“And the English don’t. It seems to me you have your eccentricities.”

“No doubt. And what of the Russians?”

“Like what?”

“Never smiling.”

She flashed a smile at him. It somehow took over her face without her having any control over it, so that there was the warmth that she had not shown him, not since last year.

“We can smile,” she said.

It began to become more and more necessary to pick their way carefully. The dry path was no longer straight but went like a river meandering its way over the sand. There was absolutely no danger, but they kidded each other about it a little, just to make the walk seem that bit more exciting. Soon they could see the beach ahead and were within a couple of hundred metres of the Jutland coast. But they were stopped.

“I don’t see a way across this little bit,” said David.

Lena looked to her left and to her right. There was no obvious way through. The path had sunk under the incoming sea.

“How deep do you think it is?”

“Not deep, just a foot or a foot and a half.”

“Can you translate that into centimetres?”

“Maybe thirty or forty centimetres”.


“There’s no sense us both getting wet if we can help it. I’ll carry you.”

“Do you think you can manage?”

“I think, you’re light enough. Shall we try?”

“How? Like a fireman?”

“I think, I can do better than that. After all, you’re not a sack of potatoes.”

She laughed.

“Put your arm around my neck.”

She did and she felt him lift her up and hold her in front of him. She felt his hand on her back and at the top of her legs. She shivered slightly at his touch and the whole sensation of being held made her feel warm and safe. She felt herself softening and nestling into his arms. She heard him splashing through the water and looking down she noticed that it was above his calves. His trousers were soaked but he didn’t seem to care. As he moved she felt his fingers adjust in order to hold her securely. It was the first time that they had really touched since last June. Now once more she was in his arms and she wanted the sensations to continue. She realised then how she had missed the sense of his fingers through thin material. Soon they would be reaching the dryness of the path. For a last moment more she sensed the increasing closeness of his presence and then felt herself being lowered carefully and slowly to the ground.

“That wasn’t too bad, was it?”

“Thank you, David, but look at you, you’re soaked.”

“It was my pleasure, my lady.”

He made one of those old-fashioned formal bows like they used to do four hundred years ago. She held out her hand, willing to play the game, too. He kissed it theatrically.

Nothing further was said, but she seemed to feel that something had changed. There was a closeness to them now. It was as if they were a couple again. They were not quite there yet, but they were almost.

When they got back to the school, she told him to get changed and then come up to her room. Olga was laughing at how David had got wet. Everyone had looked on as he had carried Lena over the water and then bowed and kissed her hand.

“They were all talking about Lord David,” she said. “They were making fun, but I could see that quite a few of the girls were impressed.”

David had knocked and come.

“It seems, I’m getting some sniggers now. Any idea why?” he asked.

“You know how they call you Lord David?” said Olga.

“I’ve heard it a couple of times.”

“Well, it seems they found it amusing the way you carried me,” said Lena.

“It was all in good fun though, David. There’s no need to be embarrassed,” said Olga.

“I left my cigarettes in my room,” he said. “Can I have one of yours?”

“There you go,” said Lena and got up.

David started smoking.

“It’s bit rough, but not bad.”

“I’m just going to change my trousers. Despite your efforts I got a little wet.”

David hurriedly got up as if stung.

“Don’t be silly, David, just sit there and finish your cigarette.”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“We’re in Denmark now,” said Olga.

Lena could see David’s embarrassment as she undid the button of her jeans and unzipped them, but he didn’t look away. She removed one leg and then the other and stood up facing him. She felt how his eyes moved down her body and felt excited at how he was looking at her jet blank cotton underwear. She rummaged through some clothes pretending that she was completely unaware of his presence, neither hurrying, nor obviously taking her time. She found another pair of trousers and put them on. It had taken less than a minute. He looked away intent on his cigarette, but she knew that her little performance had stirred him. She could tell that he’d liked what he had seen, which was why she had shown him. She felt stirred herself, and for the first time in many months she felt like a woman. She sensed David’s desire and felt it herself. She saw that he was still blushing and wondered if she was blushing, too. She felt as if her blush went all through her body, but she hoped that nothing was visible.

“Shall we go to dinner?” she asked as nonchalantly as she could possibly manage.

Chapter 10

Lena could see that David was still nervous as they sat together in what looked like the most pleasant small bar in Rødding. He’d been nervous when he’d asked her if she’d go with him for a drink earlier that day, though she saw how he’d tried to hide it. She’d known for some time that he had been on the brink of saying something and had waited for him to say it. She was waiting still, almost longing for him to say what he had to say, what she so wanted to hear. And now they were sitting together. This was pretty much his last chance. If he didn’t say something now, he never would. She wasn’t sure if they would just spend the next hour or so talking of various things of no particular consequence. She wasn’t sure if this moment would pass also. As the minutes passed she wondered if she should say something herself or if there was anything she could say or do that might help him. But she felt equally tongue-tied and also unsure about what he felt for her. Why had he come all this way and done nothing? Why had he not simply assumed that they would carry on as they had been the year before? If he had acted more as a man should, if he had held her in his arms at the first opportunity and kissed her, she would have kissed him back. There had been no need to ask. As she waited for him to say what he had to say, the familiar mixture of doubts and hopes filled her mind. The guilt returned about how she was being false to him, how he would reject her right now or at any time in the future if he knew the process by which they had come to sit in this bar. She felt the familiar feeling in her stomach that told her that her love was real and was growing with every second as she waited for him to speak, but she had no idea how her story would end and knew that there was any number of ways that she could be hurt forever. He was going away on Friday and she had no way of knowing if she would ever see him again. It would depend on a decision that was not hers, no matter what happened in the next minutes, no matter what David said. Someone she had never met and never would meet could decide how her story would end. Some bureaucrat could decide that her romance had gone far enough. She was scared that if she began kissing David again, she would be unable to leave him and so was scared to start. But most of all she was scared that he would say nothing.

“I was thinking of your story,” said David.

“My story?”

“The one you asked me to find last summer.”

“Yes. But it’s not particularly my story. Most Russian girls love it.”

“That’s just it. I’ve talked to a few people at home and no one has ever heard of it.”

“I don’t think, people in the West know us very well at all.”

“You’re quite right, of course. There was an absurd song recently by someone who sang about the Russians loving their children, too. I thought it particularly obtuse as it implied there was some doubt about the matter and so contradicted the point that I think, the man was trying to make. Well, what I liked about your story was how the English captain having heard Asol’s prophecy set out to make it true. It took meticulous planning for him to buy all the red silk and to employ all the sail makers to make it and the musicians to serenade her. None of it happened by accident. It wasn’t fate that brought them together: it was a choice and then doing everything that’s necessary to make it happen.”

“Where I come from we don’t plan. We can’t bear to in case we’re disappointed. Someone sets out to be a doctor and works hard, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Maybe there are enough doctors that year.”

“But if we don’t plan, nothing will happen. I’m going off tomorrow.”

“I know.”

“It’s been a strange few days. It all came suddenly, unexpectedly like a sort of miracle. I’d given up hope. I never expected for us to be able to sit together like this.”

“If fate is kind, we will sit together like this again. If it is not, we won’t.”

“So you’ll just sit waiting on the beach for the ship with scarlet sails to arrive?”

“What other choice do I have?”

“You don’t have to go back.”

“Like Svetlana?”

“Yes, but not like Svetlana. She didn’t seem to be so very happy.”

“She’s not, but she’s making the best of it. She’s accepting her fate.”

“That word again. We hardly use it in English.”

“But I think, your history is rather different from ours.”

“I can come back here. I can try to find a way for you to visit me in Cambridge. There are things we can do, but we have to plan.”

“David, I think, I understand what you are saying and I’d like to say a single word with all my heart. The word is ‘thank you’, she whispered it and felt tears appear in her eyes.

“Then let’s begin to figure out what we will do.”

“No, David we will not plan. I will try to visit you and if fate is very, very kind, I will succeed. In the meantime we will have to make do with writing letters. We will have to hope and we will have to wait.”

“And what can I do?”

“There’s nothing that you can do.”

“Can’t you understand that it’s only if we plan, if we choose a course of action, that we have any chance at all? Isn’t that what your story says?”

“Perhaps, but then it was only a fairy story, not something that we’re supposed to believe. Anyway, it’s boring.”

It seemed as if he had misheard the word.



“What is boring?”

“This talk of planning and choice.”

She saw that he looked stunned and disappointed. But she couldn’t explain further. She couldn’t explain how it didn’t depend on her.

On the way back to the school he took her arm and they walked that way more or less in silence. Her thoughts turned over thinking over the conversation. She knew what she would have to do next and would start as soon as possible, but she had no idea of when if ever she would be able to see David again. He thought he could just act, as if the whole thing depended just on him or on them. But she knew that much more was involved. She wasn’t going to do anything that might harm those she loved at home. It might mean that her sister didn’t go to university, that her father found himself without a job. She had no choice but to continue on the path that she had set out on even if it meant that she lost David. It wasn’t finally up to her.

She freed her arm as they approached the school and looked around to see if Olga was there. She was a little concerned about what David might expect after his rather oblique offer. Her mind went back to how they had kissed for hours and finally how they had lain in each other’s arms. She remembered once more, wondering how often she had remembered his caresses and wanted them again, but not now. However much she wanted to feel his touch, she felt unable to lose herself in his embrace as once she had, not now when she was trying to figure out what to do next, not now when she could not be sure if they would be together again after today. She wanted his touch when she knew that they could be together properly and forever. Otherwise it was as if she was being teased and teasing in return. She felt the excitement of possibility. She knew that she wanted it to be this man who would love her, but she wanted that moment to be special and signify that they would be together always. She wasn’t altogether sure if she could stop holding him, stop loving him if once they should start now. But she couldn’t just leave it at that. She understood fully what he had said. She recognised the courage of a shy man and she was very grateful and full of warmth towards this man walking beside her. She couldn’t just say goodbye.

“Are you coming to bed?” she asked Olga.

“I’ll be along in a bit,” said Olga.

“Please,” she said in Russian. “You’ll not have a chance to say goodbye to him in the morning,” she continued in Danish.

“I can say goodbye now.”

“Come on!” Lena said again in Russian.

“Alright, I’m coming,” said Olga in Danish.

They all walked towards Olga and Lena’s room.

“Well, goodbye,” said David.

“Bye, David, it was nice.”

Olga went to open their door. Lena knew that David would say something. It was almost as if she could see his brain working. She could read his signs so well now and was able to see when he was nerving himself to say something. She found it a little strange that he could not read her, that he could not see how much she loved him. But then she realised, perhaps, she had been more used to hiding what she thought, it had been a necessary habit to learn growing up. The moment grew. She saw that Olga was eager to go, but a quick tiny sound came from her voice.

“Wait,” she said in Russian.

“Would you come down to my room?” David asked her.

“I’ll just be a few minutes,” she said to Olga in Danish.

“I didn’t want to say goodbye in the corridor,” he said when they were inside his room.

“Nor did I.”

She looked at him and tried to make her eyes say ‘yes’. There was another awkward moment when she wondered if nothing would happen, but he made a slight movement and she returned it. His arm reached behind and his mouth approached hers. He paused as if remembering. He took off her glasses and put them on the dressing table.

“I’ve wanted to do that all week,” he said.

“And I’ve wanted to do this.”

She reached for his glasses and set them down beside hers. They sat down on his bed and kissed, and all the feelings from last year rushed back to her as if they had never gone. There was no more pain to be remembered, just as she had been told that a woman doesn’t remember the pain of childbirth. For a little while there was nothing else in the world but their kissing. But it seemed to Lena that he could sense her apprehensions, and his kisses always had a degree of restraint. She didn’t feel that he was hurrying her or pressing her, but rather that he was responding to her, that he would always only ever do what she herself wanted. In those few minutes she felt herself trusting and believing in him. She knew. She knew that this was the man she wanted. She hoped he would be the only man she would ever want. She kissed him with a little more urgency asking for more. He gave just a little of what she wanted and then paused.

“You’d better not keep Olga waiting. She might worry, you know,” he said.

“Just a little more,” said Lena. “It’s the nicest way to say goodbye. Shall I get up to see you off?”

“At four? I don’t think we can say goodbye any better than this. Do you?”

“No. I’ll write as soon as I can.”

“Me, too. At least it doesn’t take long for letters to cross the North Sea.”


“Don’t you mean ‘do svidania’?”

He pronounced the Russian form of “au revoir” as if it was only one word and with a very English accent.

She kissed him one last time and said the Russian phrase, and with a final look opened his door and was gone.

Olga was sitting waiting.

“Well, what was all that business about having me tag along?”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that. I was being silly.”

“What is it, Lena? You look like … I don’t really know how to put it. What happened to you two? Tell me. Do tell me. Just by looking at you I know something has happened.”

Lena struggled for a few seconds to compose herself and then struggled some more to get the words out.

“He asked me to marry him,” she said.

Part 4

Chapter 1

Lena began her letter to David with the relief that only he would read it. She realised that she was now able to write more or less fluently and without the need to translate from Russian. Her speech had become pretty much automatic, and this lack of hesitancy and the need to work things out had translated into what she wrote. It still wasn’t easy to express everything she wanted to say in a foreign language, perhaps, even in any language, but she knew him better now. There was more shared experience to refer to, and her feelings were deeper, simply because they had endured. The fact that she had lost him meant that she loved him all the more than if their letters had simply continued without interruption. She thought that whatever happened this feeling would in some way be with her always.

She began by thanking him for coming and telling him that it had been a wonderfully romantic gesture. She explained how she was so thankful that they had had the chance to get to know each other better. She told him how she felt silly now that they had left everything to the last minute, but that she also loved how he had not hurried her in any way. She wrote of how she was looking into how she might get a visa and come to England, and would let him know when she knew more. She hoped and looked forward to seeing him soon and was so very happy that she had found her Captain Grey. She thought this would leave him with no doubt about his status in her heart. It baffled her now why she had ever mentioned a male friend in Russia. She signed off her letter in that special Danish way that signified the difference between a friend and a boyfriend and felt sure that David would grasp the distinction. She knew that it was her best letter yet. There was still a degree of restraint, not least because there was much that she did not know herself about how they might meet and much that she could not tell him. Even so, she felt for the first time unwatched and free to reveal as much of herself and her feelings as she could. She was still shy of what seemed to her a sort of undressing in front of the man she loved. But she began to enjoy the act of revealing and the removal of layers of clothing that it seemed to her she was doing with her pen.
During the Easter break she had gone with Olga to the home of a wealthy Danish couple Flemming and Mette. While still at the school waiting to be picked up she had talked to Olga.

“Do you know these people we’re going to be staying with?” Lena had asked.

“No. I’ve never met them.”

“Then why did you call them?”

“I was given their address and told to call them if the school was going to be closed.”

“Well, I’m quite glad, otherwise we’d have been stuck here on our own.”

“With no food either.”

“They were happy for me to come, too?”

“Oh, yes! That was assumed.”

“It was good of you to arrange things for me.”

“I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t have an address and a number to call yourself.”

“Well, it was all a bit rushed with me.”

Lena didn’t think it necessary to mention that she had been given the same name and address as Olga.

“I wonder what they’ll be like,” said Olga.

“Do you have any idea who they are?”

“I’ve absolutely no idea. You know how things are. They’re just friends, better not to think about it too much.”

Driving the relatively short distance to their home Flemming and Mette were pleasant and friendly. They looked as if they were in their sixties. The house was impressive from the outside, set in a secluded spot with a good deal of land around. It was even more impressive from the inside with a swimming pool and the stylish design that Danes are so good at. Lena had the usual awkward moment when Mette tried to talk to her in English.

“You don’t speak Russian by any chance?” Lena asked in Danish.

“Only a little,” said Mette. “We’ve been there a few times and tried to learn some, but we didn’t get very far.”

“Well, in that case you’ll have to stick to Danish with me. I didn’t get very far with English.”

So instead they spoke to Olga in English. Lena wondered why they were all so desperate to practice.  

They were treated very well. Lena was given a very comfortable room with her own little TV. They were taken on a couple of trips round about and even to a restaurant. The food was good and they were told they only had to ask if there was something that they needed.

Lena knew that she had to contact Orlov, and didn’t want to have to wait weeks for them to exchange letters. After getting to know Flemming and Mette over the weekend she nerved herself to ask a favour on Monday. They would go back to the school the next day, and so she waited for a time when she happened to be alone with Flemming.

“You’ve been very kind to us,” she said.

“Thank you, Lena. It’s been a pleasure for us, too”.

“Could I possibly ask a favour?” She was embarrassed and didn’t want to ask at all. It wasn’t easy being so far from home with very little money. She was proud enough to hate asking for favours, but she knew she had no choice.

“Of course,” said Flemming. “Don’t look so worried. I’ll do what I can to help.”

“I need to call Russia.”

“You should have said so before. There’s a phone in there.”

“But I haven’t much money and I don’t know what it will cost.”

“Don’t even think of it. You can see that we have enough. We can certainly afford a phone call.”

Lena called Orlov and explained the situation.

“I’m very proud of you, Lena,” he said at one point. “Are you glad I persuaded you to go?”

“Yes. But how can I get a visa for Britain? How can I see him again?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll organise an English language course in Cambridge, they have lots of little schools there, I believe. Something like that should be easy enough to sort out. Then we’ll book your flights and show that you have enough money available to look after yourself while you’re there. It should be pretty straightforward after that. It’s not difficult to get a visa even to Britain so long as you know how.”

“So you think there’s a good chance?”

“Lots of Soviet citizens visit Britain. Why shouldn’t you?”

Lena reflected that she’d never met one, but then again hardly anyone she knew in Kaliningrad had ever been to the West except her.

“Just one thing,” Orlov continued. “There’s a question in the form about whether you know anyone in England. Put ‘no’. They’re liable to turn you down if you know a young man who happens to be in the same town where you’ll be studying. All they really care about is that you go back to the Soviet Union. We’ll fix things this end to make it clear that you will. It shouldn’t be difficult to find a job you’ll be starting in a couple of months and a letter from your employer, explaining why you need a short course in English.”

“Will I need to go to the British embassy in Copenhagen?”

“Yes, certainly. Are you worried about how you’ll get there?”

“I don’t have very much money.”

“Is Fleming there? Nearby, I mean.”

“I suppose so.”

“Can you get him for me?”

“Of course.”

Lena found Fleming and told him that he was wanted on the phone. Flemming didn’t seem to find this very surprising. Lena went back with him and spoke briefly to Orlov.

“He’s ready to talk to you now, but I don’t think he knows any Russian.”

“That’s alright,” said Orlov. “It’s not only you that knows a foreign language. You wait there; I’ll want to talk to you again in a minute.”

Lena sat down and heard Flemming talking in English. She understood little of what he said, but could tell that Flemming was quite happy talking to Orlov. At times he became rather animated and there were some long laughs just as if he was taking up again with an old friend.

After a few minutes Lena was given the phone back again.

“Well, that’s all settled,” said Orlov. “Flemming will give you enough to get to Copenhagen and we’ll arrange where you can stay. I’ll sort out all the details in the next few days and let you know when you should travel. If there’s anything that crops up, you can always get in touch with Flemming and he’ll help you to sort it out. Good luck, Lena, and well done.”

She said goodbye and looked slightly mystified at Flemming.

“Do you know Vladimir Borisovich?” she asked.

“I’ve never met him, but we’ve spoken a few times on the phone. He seems quite a decent sort, always ready to make a joke. You know him I suppose?”

“Not really.”

“But you’ve met him?”

“Oh, yes. Many times.”

Later Flemming came up to Lena when she was alone and gave her a few thousand krone notes. Lena had never even seen one before and looked with curiosity at the pale blue banknote with a very pretty woman’s picture on it.

“These should cover your expenses,” said Flemming. “And if you need any more just give me a call.”

“But it’s much too much!” said Lena.

“Well, who knows what you may need. Better to have enough to cover all eventualities.”

She thanked him and was genuinely grateful for his help. Naturally, she knew that it wasn’t simply because he was kind, but nevertheless, she preferred to attribute it to his kindness. They were driven back to the school that evening and everyone said how pleasant it had been, and she thought everyone meant it. There was some talk of them coming again and of how they were always welcome, but as she looked at Flemming’s car drive away she rather hoped that it would not be necessary to talk to him again.

David’s letter to her was just as warm as his earliest ones had been. He mocked himself for his shyness, but agreed it had been wonderful to spend time together with always the hope of finding once more how they had been last summer. Now that they had found it, he felt sure they would never lose it. He asked her how she could manage to come to England and offered help if she needed it. He said that if there were any difficulties, she was to write and he could be with her again in a few days. He said that if they worked together, they could solve any problem. The key was simply to think clearly. They wanted to be together. Whatever obstacles were put in their way could be got round if they both knew what they wanted and were willing to do what was necessary to reach their goal. One place was much the same as another so long as it contained both of them. He said finally that he had sailed all the oceans and the seas and looked on all the beaches before he had found her, his very own Asol. He would buy all of the scarlet silk in England to bring them together. He, too, signed his letter with love in the same way that she had. Lena thought of the distinction in Russian between the word for a friend who was a girl and a girlfriend. She felt for the first time that the latter word unambiguously applied to her. She had never properly been someone’s girlfriend, not even last summer, would she have quite been ready to use that word about herself, it had all been so fleeting and lacking in permanency. Everything had been so unsure then and in the months that followed. But now the word came to her mind and she delighted in being something that she had never been before. She was his.

In her next letter she described her trip to Copenhagen, how she had travelled on the train that could go onto a boat across the Storebaelt between Jutland and the island of Fyn. She described her impressions of Copenhagen, the strange looking church she’d seen in the distance with the spire that looked a bit like a spiral, how everything was pretty and clean and ordered. She said she’d only had fleeting impressions of some lakes and some old buildings and some pleasant parks. She’d like to go back there, not so much as a tourist, but just to be there in not quite so much of a rush. She described the long form she’d had to fill in and how she’d done so in Danish, which at times was a struggle when she wasn’t quite sure of the meaning of some rather technical words. She described the frustration of filling in such a form and the fear of making a mistake that might deny her what she most wanted. It was the mixture of dullness and care that made the process so unpleasant.

She described the interview at the embassy. Even though she had written her form in Danish, the embassy official began questioning her in English. She wrote of how once more she sat there embarrassed asking if they couldn’t possibly speak in Danish. Lena then found out why her interviewer preferred English as it turned out his Danish was not that good. No doubt, he lived in Copenhagen, but spoke English with his Danish friends and mainly English at his work. He had a horrible accent and spoke Danish without even trying to imitate some of the peculiarities of Danish pronunciation. He became rather embarrassed, too, when he realised that Lena spoke much better than he did, but reacted well to the fact and they had a laugh about it. So the interview had been friendly enough and she hoped that she had answered all the questions successfully. She naturally did not mention how she had been questioned about whether she knew anyone in England and how she had been told to say “no”. When writing she had wondered what David would think of her third foreign trip in less than a year, but she was planning to talk to him of how lucky she had been, of how there was suddenly a need for translators who knew both Danish and English. She knew that he would not be so much interested in why she was in Cambridge or how she had go there, but only in the fact that she had got there by whatever miracle. She signed off her letter by saying in a couple of weeks she hoped with all her heart that they would be together again and until then she remained his, only his.

She hadn’t told anyone at the school that she was planning to go anywhere. There had been some curiosity about her trip to Copenhagen, but she had said something about needing to see someone at the Soviet embassy and this was sufficient explanation for everyone but Olga.

“Are you trying to see David?” Olga asked her.

“Something like that,” said Lena.

“You don’t want to talk about it?”

“What’s the point of talking about it? It will either happen or it won’t, whatever we say.”

Lena saw how they exchanged looks, which described the limits of their speech, and showed that they had arrived at a point that was better not asked about. She knew that each of them had exchanged such looks for years and knew the signs to look for.

“What will you do if it doesn’t happen?”

“I will go back to Kaliningrad and make the best of it.”

“With Pavel?

“You love David.” Lena could hear that it was more a statement than a question.

“Of course, and I’ll love no one else, but what can you do?”

Despite all that she had done, she really did feel fundamentally passive as if waiting to see the first sign of the scarlet silk on the horizon with no way to determine when or if it would appear.

“You can keep loving David, Lena. Don’t give up on him, no matter what.”

“There’s no point talking about it. Don’t let’s talk any more it’s boring. I just have to wait and see.”

“When will you find out?”

“Any day now.”

She’d been told that there was no reason why she should not be given a visa; that really it was a routine matter, but she couldn’t help the feelings of doubt that entered her mind from time to time. She couldn’t count on it until she’d seen it in her hand. A tiny piece of paper that would determine her entire future stuck into her passport was what it came down to. With it she might be with David forever, without it she might never see him again. It might have been a matter of routine, but it wasn’t a matter of routine for her. She tried to tell herself that they had no reason to deny her, but then she realised that they did if only they knew about it.

Chapter 2

Lena was eating breakfast when Niels came up to her.

“Can I have a word, Lena?”

She got up and went with him.

“What is it, Niels? Is something wrong?”

“No, I don’t think so. Would you mind coming to my house? I want to talk to you and we’ll be more comfortable there. It’s not far.”

Lena was becoming alarmed.

“Tell me, please, has something happened?”

“Really, don’t worry, nothing bad has happened. I promise you.”

They walked together the short distance to Niels’s house. Lena noticed his wife and children in the kitchen having their breakfast, but Niels showed her into the sitting room.

“I’ll leave you to it,” he said already in the act of shutting the door.

She looked over towards one of the comfortable chairs where David was smoking and drinking coffee.

“David, what on earth are you doing here?!” she said.

“I’m here to help you get to England,” he answered her in Russian. The sentence was completely utterly unexpected, far more unexpected that his appearance.

“But how?”

“Well, actually I flew into Copenhagen yesterday and got the train to here. Niels was kind enough to put me up for the night.”

It was hard to believe. He spoke almost perfectly. She’d met few foreigners who could speak Russian, just some Poles who always betrayed their origins by making every Russian word sound like it was Polish. David spoke impossibly well. She was bewildered, not only by his sudden appearance, but by his speech.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Do you find my Russian difficult to understand?”

“No. That’s precisely what I don’t understand.”

“So you’re wondering not only why I’m here, but also how I speak your language?”

“Why didn’t you tell me before? Why didn’t we speak Russian last summer?”

“That wouldn’t have been very conducive to our learning Danish, would it?”

“No, but you pretended that you didn’t understand.”

She saw one of his eyebrows raise just a hint and an ironic look appeared on his face. A doubt flickered through her mind. He knows.

“Let’s just say we’ve each had our little secrets,” he said. “I thought it was time that we shared them.”

“But you deceived me. Remember those silly games when we asked you questions in Russian and you had to answer “yes” or “no”, and they made you seem foolish. You understood all of it. You understood when…”

“When you had those little conversations in Russian with Sveta or Olga or one of the others.”

Lena blushed trying to remember all the times she had spoken Russian in his presence because he didn’t understand.

“It wasn’t very honest,” she said, in the act of remembering how he had referred to each of their having secrets. What did he know? How could he know? What would he think if he did know? She felt anger at his deception, but more confused by it than anything else. Why would he hide that he spoke Russian?”

“But what was the point of the pretence? We could still have spoken mainly Danish even if you did know Russian.”

“I’m sorry, Lena, I didn’t have any choice.”

“But why? It’s a silly thing to hide. I don’t understand any of this.”

“Well, why don’t I tell you why I learned Russian and then we’ll see what you make of it.”

“I’d like to hear your story,” said Lena.

“And I yours. I was approached when I started in Cambridge and asked if I wanted to learn another language. It had something to do with my being rather good at Greek. There are certain similarities with Russian if you go back far enough and knowing Greek grammar made Russian grammar not quite such a daunting challenge. Anyway, that’s why they picked me. There are very few English people who can speak Russian well. I was offered lessons with a Russian couple who live in Cambridge. They’re both academics. They left the Soviet Union some time ago for reasons that are not important. It was made clear to me from the start that the condition for the lessons was that I told no one about them, not my friends, not my family. I had to sign some rather official documents promising that I would do this. My learning Russian is covered by the Official Secrets Act. Revealing it could mean I went to gaol.”

“But why should it be secret?”

“The idea was that if somehow I could learn to speak fluently, I could in the course of my future work, going to conferences, academic exchanges and such like be able to pick up information just because no one would dream that I could speak their language. It’s all very new and untested, but some rather important people in my country thought it worth a try.”

“Then you’re a spy!”

“No, I’m a student, but of course, I knew that I was being offered this free course for a reason. I knew that I was connected with people who work in intelligence.”

“You deceived me.”

“Did I? There was something I couldn’t tell you that if I had told you, would have meant I’d wasted three years of hard work. I’m sorry, Lena, I simply couldn’t tell you even if I’d wanted to. Other people depended on my keeping silent.”

“And why are you telling me now?”

“I have been given permission to do so. We both have secrets, don’t we?”

Lena knew that he knew something, but what? Could their relationship survive these revelations? Did he even want a relationship? Had it all been a matter of his eavesdropping on her speaking Russian? She thought back to when they had been together last summer and the things that she had said to him in Russian precisely because she knew he could not understand. She had poured out her heart, revealed her longings, opened herself because the words were dedicated to him, but were only understood by her. She felt exposed, betrayed and felt the anger rising in her.

“So you came to Denmark to listen in on our conversations. Do you peek in keyholes, too?”

“I came to Denmark to learn Danish. I didn’t even know there would be any Russians in the school. I listened a little, but just out of curiosity. The idea isn’t to find out what a few language students are chatting about in Russian. I never told anyone a thing about any Russian conversations I heard. There was nothing that anyone would be interested in. You know that as well as me. Try not to be angry, Lena.”

“What do you expect?”

“I hoped that I would find understanding and that together we could forgive all our secrets.”

“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about, David.”

“Lena, it’s just you and me here. You can trust me. I love you. There’s nothing to worry about, but we’re going to have to be honest with each other.”

She had no way of knowing the truth or otherwise of what he was saying. It seemed to her a little unlikely, but then wouldn’t her story seem a little unlikely to him? What was the secret he kept referring to? What did he know? She had been told many times not to reveal anything. She had neither told her family, nor her sister. She thought of the trouble she could get in if she did. If she went back and they found out what she had said, well the consequences were unknown and rather frightening. Yet she found herself trusting him, believing him. When he had just mentioned the word ‘love’, she instinctively knew he meant what he had said. He did love her. If she didn’t know this, she knew nothing, and as her anger subsided she realised that above all she was scared of losing him because of the secrets she could not share.

“I just don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Why are you here anyway?”

“I’m here to try to get you on a flight to Britain.”

“But that should be just a matter of routine. I have an English course, enough money, the flights have been booked.”

“Your application was going to be turned down.”

“How do you know? Why should they have turned me down?”

Lena felt the door closing. He was here, but soon he would depart and so would she. The piece of paper that she needed was not forthcoming, and so her future was going to be denied and she would have to make do with another.

“Technically they were going to turn you down because you said that you didn’t know anyone from England.”

“But they wouldn’t have given me one if I’d said I had a boyfriend in Cambridge.”

“I know, Lena. Don’t worry. I’m here to help us.”

“But how did they find out?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe they asked someone here at the school or at Askov. I honestly don’t know. Anyway, someone contacted me in Cambridge.”


“It doesn’t really matter, does it? Someone rather important.”

“From intelligence?”

“They don’t mention those sorts of words as you well know, but I imagine so. I’ve been involved with these sort of people since I started learning Russian and you have, too, since you started learning Danish.”

Lena remained silent for a while. She looked long and hard into his eyes. She saw concern, she saw someone she knew she could trust, above all, she saw someone she loved and who loved her back. She knew this in the same way that she knew her mother loved her. It was something fundamental, something purely human. They connected.
“I’m not sure what I can tell you,” she said.

“I know you're scared. Don’t worry, you’re not going to get into any trouble. Nothing has changed.”

“What happens if I can’t tell you anything?”

“I’ll give you back your passport with a visa refusal. I don’t think, you’ll ever get another visa to come to the West.”

“And you?”

“I don’t know. I would be very tempted to go wherever you go. But is there a place for me in Kaliningrad?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Nor here, I’m afraid.”


“I’m not sure the Danes would grant you the right to remain.”

“But Sveta?”

“I know, Lena, but Sveta wasn’t involved in intelligence. She just jumped ship. There are things I can change and things that I can’t change.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

“Yes. If you will allow me, I think, I can work out a plan.”

“What is it, David?”

“I have this.”

He showed her a British passport and she opened it to the photo page. She saw the photo that she had sent to him all those months ago. It was strange to see it behind the shiny transparent plastic. She read the name “Elena Grey”.

“What is this?”

“It’s your passport if you want to accept it.”

Lena looked at him suspiciously. How could he possibly have a British passport with her photo in it?

“Wait. This is impossible.”

“No, Lena. I assure you it’s not only possible, it is”.

“Why would Britain give me a passport? I’ve never even been there. I don’t even speak the language. What are you expecting me to do? What conditions are attached? What do I need to do?”

“You need to marry me for one thing.”

“Do you really think that is possible now?”
“Nothing has changed, Lena, not between you and me. Don’t you think, I could tell if it was all an act?”

“What about your acting?”

“I think, you know that I am sincere. It’s the basic fundamental question you have to ask yourself. Do you believe me, do you trust me, do you love me?”

“And what about you?”

“Yes. What you didn’t tell me, doesn’t affect how I feel about you. The secrets you didn’t share you couldn’t share, and so my trust has not been diminished.”

“What secrets do you think you know?”

“I didn’t go to Askov to meet you. I didn’t know that you existed, but you knew that I would be there? Am I right?”

She sat in silence. For a long moment she carefully took in his face wondering still if he would reject her, wondering if the passport was just a trick and would be withdrawn as soon as she spoke the truth. But she also knew that if she didn’t say anything right now, the moment would pass and within a short time she would be back in Kaliningrad. There was a choice and there were arguments on both sides. But then she found there was no choice at all and she simply spoke without thinking further.

“I’m sorry, David. I’d known about you for some time prior to our meeting in Denmark.”

“But what happened to us there was real, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, what happened was real. I couldn’t have acted any of that even if I’d wanted to.”

“Then it was rather like a matchmaker or a dating agency or if a friend introduced us. The only difference was that only you knew about the introduction. What happened next was up to us, wasn’t it?”

“There were no guarantees that we would get on as we did.”

“None at all,” said David in agreement.  “Just because we had some help at the beginning didn’t make the process of falling in
love any less real.”

“Then you don’t reproach me?”

“Why should I? The only way we could meet was with the help of your friends. How else could someone from Kaliningrad meet someone from Cambridge in Denmark? And I’m very, very glad we did.”

“What now? What else do I have to do? What happens now?”

“You will keep your Soviet passport and you’ll be given a visa. You will travel on it. You’ll go every day to language course in Cambridge. It might just turn out to be useful for you to speak a little English, don’t you think? But you will also be a British citizen and must sign the Official Secrets Act. You must promise to do nothing to harm the UK.”

“And what of my own country? Am I to spy on my friends, my family and my fellow citizens? Am I to betray my country?”

She saw him looking at her in a way that he had never looked before. This man who had so suddenly appeared before her was rather changed. He had lost his hesitancy and become more decisive. There was a fundamental seriousness about him. Still she waited for his answer.

“I promise you that neither of us will betray our country,” he said.

“What will happen then?”

“They’ve asked me to make a deal. It seems they’ve been looking for a situation like this.”

“What situation would that be, David?”

“You’re going to have to help me, Lena. We have to begin to be a little more open and willing to talk about what is hardly so very secret anymore.”

“We can try to talk.”

“Wasn’t it the idea that you would marry someone who might eventually become important in business or politics, or academia?”

“I never was really told the idea, but I imagine it was something like that.”

“Well they’ve offered me a job. I’m to finish my studies after only a year. I’ll get some sort of master’s degree; I’ve easily done enough for one. It hardly matters. I’m to start at the Foreign Office as some sort of trainee advisor. As I progress, you will be given some information.”

“You want me to tell lies to my country?”

“It’s not about lies or truth. The information may well be quite true. It’s not what’s important.”

“Can you tell me what’s important, David? I’d really like to know.”

“We want a way to talk to important people in your country; we want a channel of private communication in case of difficulties in the future. We’ll work together, you and me, for both our countries. It may make a difference. They think, there may be trouble in the next few months. Apparently, there are plans for some sort of coup.  The Soviet Union may not last much longer and in uncertain times we could make a small contribution to how our countries get on together.”

“But what about my family? Maybe we can find a solution to all these problems.”

“Lena, you know as well as I do that the only solution to the problems of the Soviet Union is to leave.”

“Yes, I know this.”

“Then what else?”

“How can I trust your intelligence services?”

“Neither of us can really trust these kind of people. Not on my side, not on yours. But forget them, can you trust me?”

She looked at him. It was unnecessary to scan his face carefully; she didn’t need to wait long before answering with a single word.


“Then trust me when I tell you that I promise, I will do neither you nor your country harm. That’s how I understand our love and that’s how I understand our marriage.”

“It’s all very sudden. How many days have we spent together?”

“Not very many.”

“Are you sure about us? I’m talking about us now, only us. It doesn’t scare me. You see, I believe that marriage is a promise that I must keep no matter what. Otherwise it isn’t marriage at all. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know that I will keep my promise, because I’m not only making a promise to you, I’m making a  promise to me. Would we know more after living together in Cambridge? Not really. I rather prefer it this way.”

“So do I,” she whispered.

“I have a couple of other things, now that we’ve got the necessary business out of the way.”

Lena saw him reach behind the sofa. She saw the small rucksack that he had often carried with him, and saw how he opened it and looked inside.

“The last time I was here I gave you a brooch, but I never saw you wear it. I hope you might like this one rather better.”

“But I did like it. I was going to wear it when I got to Cambridge.”

“You can wear this one instead. I hope you will always wear it.”

He handed her a little box and she opened it to see a little white ship with scarlet sails. The sails sparkled like rubies. She looked at him and could see the delight he was feeling at the expression on her face.

“How did you find it? It’s impossible that you could have found such a brooch even if you had searched all over England.”

“There’s a jeweller in London that makes brooches to order. I described to him exactly what I wanted and he agreed to design and make it.”

“But, David, the cost…”

She immediately rushed up to him and kissed him.

They embraced and kissed for what seemed minutes, but may only have been only a matter of seconds. She sensed how he wanted to communicate with his kisses, but also with his voice and in a pause in their kisses she detected his eagerness to say something else.

“I thought, you liked kissing me,” she said disappointed that they had to stop so soon. “We didn’t get much a chance when you were here last. You left everything to the last minute. Don’t you want to make up for it now?”

“I think, we’ll have a chance very soon, don’t you?”

He reached into his bag.

“What else have you got in your bag, David? You're like some sort of ...”

“Well, shall we find out what sort I am? I want you to close your eyes and if possible, to fall asleep even if only for a minute.”

“How can I fall asleep? I just got up and then there was all this excitement. I’m not sure, I’ll ever sleep again.”

“Oh, I think, you can manage for a minute.”

Lena wondered what he had in mind, but decided to play along. She slumped a little on her chair, closed her eyes and made some slight murmurs as if she was deeply asleep. She felt his hand take hers and something was slipped onto one of her fingers.

“Now you can wake up,” he said.

She opened her eyes and saw a simple engagement ring with a small blue semi-precious stone that she could not identify. She looked at it in wonder.

“Don’t look quite so surprised,” said David. “It must have been even more of a surprise for someone in a story we both know to wake up with a strange man’s ring on her finger.”

“But it couldn’t be more of a surprise,” she said. “I woke up less than an hour ago. How can so much happen in an hour? I’ve spent days, months even then nothing much has happened.”

“There may still be a few more surprises ahead.”

“Such as?”

“You’ll receive another ring tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? But that’s impossible.”

“I don’t want to rush you, but we don’t have much time.”

“Why can’t we be married as soon as we get to England? At least that would give me a chance to get ready.”

She loved David and wanted to be with him, but tomorrow seemed far too soon. She needs time to get used to the idea. She wanted time to look forward to her wedding.

“I’m sorry, Lena. There are things that I can’t change. One of the conditions was that we would be married here.”

“It’s just I always dreamed of a real marriage in a church with a dress and now I suppose, we’ll be in some room and a man will mumble some words in Danish.”

“I think, we might be able to do a little better than that.”

“What more can you have in your bag?”

“One of the things I love about you is your odd Soviet romanticism. I think, you know me well enough by now to realise that I will always try to make whatever dream you have come true. There’s a Russian orthodox church in Copenhagen named after Saint Alexandr Nevsky, we have an appointment there tomorrow, just after three.”

“I don’t see how that is possible, I thought the church had rules, you have to meet the priest in advance, and it’s all very complex. I’m not sure, of course, I’ve never even been in an Orthodox church, but from what people have told me the very idea that we could get married there tomorrow is out of the question.”

“Well, we asked and they said ‘yes’. We were very grateful, indeed, that they granted us a special dispensation.”

“And what about you?”

“Now I have a cross just like yours.”

He pulled out the chain that was hidden by his shirt and showed her his Russian cross. Let’s take it as a sign of good faith of shared faith and shared nationhood.”

“But it needs to be blessed by a priest, when you are baptised, otherwise it’s a…”

“A piece of metal,” said David. “It was blessed when I was baptised in your church. It seems I knew more than enough about Orthodoxy and my expression of faith was taken as sincere.”

She realised that there was nothing that he would not do for her, and she began to feel her own love growing by the second.

“I will always love you, David. I, too, promise. But you must have had some doubts when did you begin to suspect.”

“Some months ago, but I only found out for sure a few days ago. These things confuse us sometimes, make us doubt. But now I know that whatever doubts I may have had were mistaken. I know you have always loved me. All the rest, everything about which there may have been suspicions was just accidental, fundamentally trivial.”

“But, David, what am I to wear? I have nothing even remotely suitable. I can’t go for the first time to an Orthodox church to be married in a pair of jeans.”

David pulled a couple of cases from behind the sofa. She looked again in wonder.

“David, really, what else have you got behind that sofa?”

“This is it, I promise you.”

He opened the larger case and she saw what looked like the most exquisite of old fashioned wedding dresses. There were shoes to match and everything else that would be necessary.

“I’m pretty sure it will fit,” he said. “But we will have time to make any adjustments that will be necessary. There’s a woman here who will help you with a fitting.”

“It’s lovely, David, and the other case?”

“Well, I thought you would need a few things for the honeymoon.”

She opened the case and saw a few pretty outfits: a nightdress, underwear, toiletries and cosmetics. She held up each outfit and imagined herself wearing it.

“It’s all lovely, David, but how did you know what to buy?”

“Oh, I had some help from a woman about your age.”

“I’m going to be very jealous,” said Lena.

“Don’t worry, she was working. I hope everything is alright. We can always get anything else you need in Copenhagen.”

Lena held up some of the lingerie. She felt herself blushing.

“I’ve never worn anything like this.”

“Personally, I rather liked the black ones you were wearing the other day. I wouldn’t at all mind seeing them again sometime soon.”

“Oh, David. I promise you will see them. Is tomorrow too soon?”

“Tomorrow seems a perfect sort of distance.”

“If only my parents and my sister could be here.”

“That I couldn’t arrange. I’m sorry. I’ll try to find a way for you to see them, sometime soon.”

She looked at him. It was all so much to take in, but she was beginning to get used to the whole thing and beginning to feel a sense of profound joy that she was going to be his wife.

“Are you sure, David?”

“I’ve never been surer.”

“You’ll be gentle with me?”

“You’ll have to be gentle with me, too.”

“I’m a bit scared.”

“Who isn’t? But we’ll be there together so everything will be as it should be.”

“Oh, my Captain Grey!” she said.

“Oh, my little Assol, and you like her will also be Mrs Grey.”

Part 5


Looking back twenty years later Lena remembered the church service, which had been performed in Church Slavonic. Her faith had been touched deeply by her first time in an Orthodox church. Somehow she had felt herself transported both in terms of time and place and felt and understood the phrase ‘Holy Russia’ for the first time personally. It didn’t mean that Russia was without fault, but she found her faith deeply and irrevocably tied up with her love of her country. Her dress was beautiful and David looked splendid in his suit. She felt how the priest was uniting them spiritually and the mystery at the heart of the service was the mystery of their coming together. She felt that God had brought them together and this faith was not lessened by her knowledge that God had had human helpers.

She remembered with some amusement how neither of them had really known what to do finding themselves alone in their very nice hotel room where they were due to spend the next few days. She remembered how he had always been able to make her feel at ease and how he invariably waited for her response. It was funny now to think of how clumsy they had been. But she remembered most of all how he seemed to think only of her and how he asked either with voice or with gesture and waited for her answer.

She had never loved anyone else and never would. They had two children, a boy Alex and a girl Sonya. Somehow Lena and David continued mainly to speak Russian when they were alone with each other, but never in public. She learned English, but it was always a bit of a struggle, and so they usually spoke Danish when they were out and about. The children were brought up bilingually speaking Russian at home and English with their friends. Danish remained a sort of private language for David and Lena, and they tended to use it when they travelled. This meant that she never became as good at English as she would have hoped, mainly because no matter how many courses she went on, she rarely got to practice at home.

David progressed well in his work, and from time to time she made contact with someone from Russia and provided him with some information.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, it became easier to travel to her home in Kaliningrad and to take David to meet her parents. Of course, he understood everything that they said, but still she had to pretend to translate everything into Danish. It was strange little charade, and she regretted the necessity of deceiving her parents and her sister Vera.

David gradually became more and more senior and important as an analyst of Russian affairs, and Lena helped him. Her contact with Soviet intelligence was only briefly broken and rapidly replaced with a contact in Russian intelligence. The initials might have changed, but in reality nothing else. Because of this contact she was occasionally approached by someone from the Russian government with a feeler towards the UK government. Her role thus was less as someone who gave information, but rather as someone who enabled contact between David and his equivalent in the Russian government. At various points of crisis this proved vital. When relations between the UK and Russia were strained, she was sometimes asked by David to make contact with someone, meetings were set up at which she acted as a translator. The translation into Danish usually baffled whoever they were meeting and meant also that they had a private means of talking and discussing what to say next. They had to be careful, however, as there was always the possibility that the Russians would bring a Danish interpreter along. Lena wondered if she would meet anyone she had studied with across the table, but she never did.

She heard from Sveta from time to time. She was on her third or, perhaps, her fourth husband, but happy enough that she’d made the choice she had. She’d tried to contact Olga sometime soon after arriving in England, but her letters always had been unanswered and she later found out no one by that name had ever lived at the address that Olga had given her. There were times when she very much missed her friend and wondered what had happened. But there was chaos in Moscow when the Soviet Union fell apart, and no doubt others had lost their friends also. Sometimes it didn’t need the collapse of a country to separate old friends forever. David never mentioned Gillian, and she knew he had never seen her again. Someone from David’s home town mentioned to her that most people there always expected him to marry Gillian in the end. Quite why someone would mention this to his present wife struck her as rather peculiar and tasteless, but she’d put on her best blank Soviet face and expressed a slight interest. It turned out that Gillian had married and was now in Australia. She didn’t think it necessary to mention the fact to David. Perhaps, some kind soul had already informed him anyway.

Her love for David changed over time. It wasn’t possible she realised to love like a twenty-one year old forever. But whatever changed, she knew that she would retain her love for him forever and that the feeling was entirely mutual, just as it always had been. She knew that David wanted only her, and would only ever want her. She found her mind drifting back to their last night in Askov and remembered how he had caressed her and remembered this touch more than all the others combined. Every other touch merged together into twenty years of lovemaking, but she still shivered when her mind regularly drifted back to that first touch that he had shared with her that first summer when they had met.

Lena knew that her story might have been different. Writing it she had considered all of the details, what she had added, what she had left out. It would have made a rather different story if after the first part she had been unable to return to Denmark and ended up marrying Pavel. She’d met him a couple of times. He’d married finally when it became clear she was not coming back. What if she’d allowed David to marry Gillian in her story? She could have written that story, too, though perhaps, she would not have had the necessary experience of England if events had turned out that way. At one point in time it was what David had wanted most in the world. If on that weekend when Gillian had visited David she had shown that she wanted him, if she had given him just one kiss, David would have found what he had been looking for, would have gained what he had waited so long to obtain. Lena had wondered about writing that story, too, and giving it to David as her present. Would he have accepted that gift at that time?

Her story really ought to have ended in Rødding. The whole subsequent part was surely too unrealistic and no one would believe it, all that cloak and dagger added to a simple love story. The fairy tale ending was too much to be believed.

She had written the story in Russian, and David had translated it into English. They wondered if they should both try to translate it into Danish, but although they spoke Danish nearly every day, it was their own private form that had not progressed much since they had been together for those shared days twenty years earlier.

A version of the novel has been out in Russia with only some slight changes for a little while, and has gained a certain success, not much, but a steady trickle of sails.

No long ago Lena received a note from Orlov.

Dear Lena,

Can you tell your husband he can speak Russian in public? It would be easier for all of us. We’ve known that he was learning our language almost since he began. That’s why we picked him for you. We needed a high level contact, too.

With all my love,

Vladimir Borisovich.

Of course Lena, had changed all the names in the novel including her own, but it hadn’t been that difficult for Orlov to recognise himself.

1 comment:

  1. Some interesting points about translation and language acquisition.
    Usual provisos.