Connecting with Irina
The repeated, Knock! Knock! came again, louder, feeling like a blunt force blow to my eardrums, jarring me out of a semiconscious state of sleep.
The pounding headache and stiff neck reminded me of times I sat confined in an economy class seat during overseas flights, suffering from too little sleep and a caffeine withdrawal.
Downing a couple of pain relievers I stared back at my reflection in the mirror. My hair needed conditioning, and the honey-gold highlights, a re-do. Like all else here, it will have to wait until I have the time to go shopping for essential items. My hazel eyes responded to the ice-cold tap water I splashed on my face. The cucumber moisturizer soothed my sunburned cheeks.
Now, I need some of Olga’s sludge. Sludge, a name I gave Olga’s strong “espresso” coffee, complete with the coarse grounds settled like concrete. Two or more cups of her ‘Turkish brew,’ and I was running on high-octane, its effects lingered leaving me more energized than the robotic bunny in the EverReady battery commercials.
“Just a moment, Olga,” I said, impatiently.
It was becoming routine now with Olga bringing me a tray of her ‘sludge’, Russian rye bread, yogurt, fruit and cream; but, I have to admit, one I looked forward to.
It wasn’t Olga.
“Good morning. I see you made it back, safe and sound.”
“Oh, it’s you, Irina. I thought it was… I mean. Oh, crap! I’m so not with it today.”
“Apparently not. Well, you better pull yourself together, and quick .” she said.
“Where were you yesterday when I walked out of the cemetery? I tried to make it back in time, but was delayed. I told you before that those things take time, videotaping gravestones. You didn’t have to take off, leaving me stranded out there, alone. It took me hours to get back.”
“And you should know that when I set a limit on time allowed at sites I mean for that to be kept. I won’t hang around for hours to make things convenient for you. I had to get back to town where the cell signal is stronger, and call the consulate to reschedule our appointment. Cell service is undependable that far out. I hope it was well worth your time and effort the inconvenience cost us.”
Ouch! My cheeks and ears felt the sting of her rebuke.
“It was OK. Just another cemetery with a lot of old stones, but I did manage to extract some good information from it.” I said smiling, enjoying my little metaphor.
“I drove back to look for you, but couldn’t find you. There was an accident on the road that slowed up traffic.”
“Yes, I know. I saw it too. And that reminds me of something else I need to discuss with you. Someone has been tracking me wherever I go around here. Do you know anything about that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Dark blondish hair, scar on his left cheek, medium build, black leather jacket. Do you know him?”
“Well, I think he broke into my compartment while on the train in Ukraine. I am always careful, locking things up. I did some work on my files before shutting down for the night. When I went to use the lavatory at the end of the car, there was a man hanging around outside my compartment. I think it was the same man. When I came back my door key wouldn’t work and my binder and laptop had been moved or searched. Fortunately, he was unable to access anything important. But, not long ago, you said your officials wanted to “compare notes” with the U.S. immigration department’s records, census and registration files. Why is that? What do they need to compare?”
Irina let out a sigh. “During the Soviet era there were no archives open to the public to visit or view files. Most records were disorganized, incomplete, lost, or destroyed. As you know files were classified during the ‘cold war’ so people could not look for displaced, deceased, or imprisoned relatives sent to the gulags.”
“Oh? And, what about the records found on the Jews during the Holocaust when your countrymen betrayed the thousands of victims massacred by the Einsatzgruppen SS. Were they just more convenient for Adolf Hitler to find?” I asked,emphatically.
“Yes. That was another unfortunate story when Russia may have turned a blind eye. But, now that we are a democracy and the archives open we have the problem of organizing, and sorting through mounds of files, declassified documents and dossiers of the Russian people as well as those from the former republics. Your system in the U.S. is more organized and thorough. Ours is not, so our officials just want to view the records, update their own, and utilize the same system.”
“And, for your information, while on the subject, our officials do not steal notes or do room searches. Of course, we want our records compared and matched up with those of the U.S. for the benefit of researchers and genealogists. How else could they be of help to those researching online, if there are errors or discrepancies? Only a sleuth steals what he cannot get legally.”
“Maybe that guy is from customs, just wanting to procure legitimate documentation that you have the necessary identification to be here. Just because we are now an independent country doesn’t mean we can trust everyone who enters our country, photographing and videotaping cemetery graves. There are privacy issues. We can’t assume everyone is really who they say they are. Don’t blame me if you fail to find what you are seeking, Monica, or find a flaw in our system here regarding your stay and assignment. We can’t bury our past; Just live with it, and hope we never repeat it. It is not up to me to grant you more than I’m given permission to allow unless first approved by my superior. But, I will speak with him about your requests and see what I can arrange.”
“Alright. Thanks. I would appreciate it, and so would the U.S. Genealogy Dept. of History and Research, and my ‘superior’.”
“Now, hurry up. I’ll wait outside. I promise not to leave you behind this time. We’ll grab some of Olga’s ‘sludge’ and rolls on the way out. We don’t have time for a leisurely breakfast.”
“Yes, ma’am!” I said, a bit sarcastically.
She walked out, giving me “thirty minutes” to dress.
When I was ready and loaded my equipment into Irina’s car I noticed a man across the road collecting bags of trash, piling them into his pickup bed where shovels and garden tools were laid.
“Irina. Do you know the man over there by the pickup truck?” I asked.
“Sure. That’s Jacob. He’s a maintenance man who works here in Gregoriopol. Why, is he another one lurking around, spying on you?” she said, laughing.
“Well, no. It’s just that I’ve seen him around town and just wondered who he was. He was the other man in the accident on the road, yesterday. But, I’d still like to know who the man was that I saw while on the train, then at the Babi Yar, in Kiev, then at the accident scene…”
“Monica, I’m sure he’s just an official that wants to be sure you are not a threat to our security, It’s nothing to worry about. You’re becoming paranoid.”
“I don’t think so.”
To be continued…
Joyce E. Johnson (2013)