translated from Italian by Katherine Pheasant
Suddenly Red Square began to vibrate and the
earth shook with the forceful entrance of the tanks. All of Moscow
felt the tremor. Will there be new and drastic demolitions? Or will
everything remain as it was? Few people had faith in the latter
possibility. Who will be left standing? Who will be left licking
their wounds? Who, through their tears, will search for their
loved-ones beneath the rubble?
Dr. Alfio Bonadei hastily applied a Nitroderm bandage to his chest
and tried to remain as calm as possible. He was a doctor of long
standing and could calmly treat his own wounds by now. Beneath his
sweaty shirt his heartbeat seemed to cause another small tremor. His
blood pressure must be above 170, he thought, based on the blurry
images that his eyes managed to capture and by the noises that
entered his ears as though from far away. Dr. Bonadei was hungry for
air: could it be pathological suffocation or was his shortness of
breath being caused by the tank’s exhaust pipes? Damn hunks of
But who made me to come to Russia during this troubled time?
And that damned Georgian, why hasn’t he shown up yet? Did he know
something about what was going on, or is it simply by chance that I
find myself in the middle of this pandemonium? What if I tried
calling him again?
The doctor had tried many times to get in contact with his Soviet
colleague, but to no avail.
Bonadei ran to the nearest phone booth and redialed the number. He
was greeted by the usual beeps. No one picked up the receiver, even
after a dozen tries.
In the meantime Red Square had already been invaded by tanks. They
were everywhere, blocking all of the entrances to the historic
square. By blocking the entrances, they also managed to block the
exits. He risked being trapped there in the hellish August heat.
The Italian glanced around, looking for a possible escape route. All
the routes he saw were impossible. The tanks were omnipresent; their
huge diesel engines were suffocating everything, from
Aleksandrovskij Sad to Kitay-Gorod, from Tverskaya Ulitsa to the
Moscow River. That thick cloud of exhaust gas, carbon dioxide,
unburned hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide and the other byproducts of
combustion which hadn’t come to the doctor’s mind, obscured Lenin’s
Mausoleum, choked Ploshchad Revolyutsii, asphyxiated Saint Basil’s
Cathedral, and caused the Kremlin to shudder.
The heavy artillery weapons were enough to make it feel like hell.
In addition, a mob of people dressed in both military and civilian
clothes penetrated the Square from every possible direction. Of
course, Alfio Bonadei deduced, they won’t be unarmed civilians. He
wanted to understand the motives behind this demonstration of both
machine and man, but how? It was possible that he was the only
Italian present, surrounded by people whispering in a language that
he didn’t understand. The Italian loved learning foreign languages,
but his attempt to learn Russian had been a failure. Maybe because,
as of late, he had been hearing about crimes being committed by
those who preached a revolution in that language. His mind had
simply refused to retain even a few words of the “russkij jazik”.
And now, that lack of knowledge might prove fatal. He had heard that
there were Italian RAI journalists in the area. Where the heck were
they hiding? They could at least explain what is going on! There was
always the Italian Embassy, but he preferred not to contact them.
Even if Bonadei had wanted to, in order to get to the Villa Berg in
Denezhnij Pereulok, he would have had to have been born under a
Dr. Bonadei decided to stay and wait, though he couldn’t predict for
how long. It wouldn’t hurt to at least learn the name of the
location of this pandemonium in Russian: Красная площадь, Krasnaja
ploščad. Would it be better to learn it in the Cyrillic or Latin
alphabet? What if he took a picture of the marble street sign?
Better not, you can’t predict the reaction of the military or the
plain-clothed agents. Even for something so insignificant? You just
The immense space of Red Square suddenly became very crowded. There
was no room for the Italian to walk, even if he had wanted to. He
was smashed between the phone booth and the curb. Bonadei watched
the cobblestone crumble beneath the tanks and stopped trying to dial
his Muscovite colleague’s number.
Bonadei repeated to himself, for the umpteenth time, the only phrase
that was running through his mind: But what made me do it? He could
have opted to spend this scorching August in the mountains, resting
his eyes again on Lake Carezza, admiring the love between the wild
goats on the Passo dello Stelvio, spying on the prairie dogs who
played and hid just a step from his house in Bolzano. He also could
have gone to his other house in Durres, letting his stress fall on
the coquettish waves and tracing the intermittent drowning of the
moon and the sun in the watery abyss. Or, he could have stayed at
his home in Milan. Bonadei would have been better off choking on the
fumes of cooking asphalt in that half-deserted Milanese city than to
be strangled by the overdose of noise and gas from the Soviet
He shouldn’t move from the small space that he had garnered. It was
the place where he had arranged to meet his colleague and this would
be his only opportunity to meet with him. Dr. Bonadei confirmed his
location. He would have been better off distracting himself by
determining his distance from Lenin’s Mausoleum and then from Saint
Basil’s Cathedral. He must still be in the correct place, it has
been chosen by the person he was waiting for. His only wish was to
get through this inopportune moment unscathed. In the end, even if
Alfio Bonadei could move from there, he shouldn’t, so as not to miss
this very important meeting.
The tide of people continued to undulate under the pressure of those
who could no longer breath. He was no longer aware of the clamor of
the tanks. Even the smoke and the smell of the gas emitted from the
exhaust pipes seemed to have dispersed.
The heat remained the same, though. People unbuttoned their shirts
and blouses. In contrast to the rowdy demonstrations the doctor was
used to seeing in Eastern countries in those days, there were no
slogans; no one screaming at the top of their lungs. He only heard
timid whispers, which were incomprehensible to him. The anguish of
the unknown, on the other hand, was visible, it hovered over the
heads of the people in the crowd like a crow. Uncertainty over
recent events and the lurking panic over how they would wake up the
following day lay ready to ambush them.
Alfio Bonadei was losing his patience, and maybe his mind too. The
sweat dripped down from his eyebrow and clouded his vision. When the
limits of his fragile body had finally been surpassed, he felt a tap
on his back and a slightly upset voice said: “Hello doctor, I’m
sorry I’m late, but just look at this mess!”
It was Otar Kutaisi, his Muscovite colleague, just the man he was
waiting for. The Italian scientist sighed with relief, freed from a
nightmare that was massacring him.
“You have suffered, I imagine” continued Kutaisi.
“Quite a bit, look at what I have been reduced to!”
“You Westerners are impressed by some things. You forgot them a long
time ago while we are all accustomed to it. All of this was expected,
but no one thought it would get to this point!”
“You knew all about this mayhem beforehand, right?”
Alfio Bonadei forced himself not to get angry.
“Of course I knew. Here, nothing happens by accident. And if I hadn’t
“Did you forget that I have been their doctor for a long time?”
“I knew that you were a military doctor!” Bonadei said.
“Yes, but for the KGB,” responded Kutaisi, confessing this
information, which was of utmost importance to his colleague, with
the calmness of someone who had agreed to participate in a ballroom
“Were you a medical spy?”
“Spy wouldn’t be the right term. You could say that I considered
myself one of them. I visited them where they worked, as well as in
their houses. I could see and hear the good and the bad. Everything
that had to do with their lives, their work, their intimacy, their
diseases, their sexual strengths and weaknesses was State secret.
The doctors who cared for them had to be trustworthy.”
“And you confess it so easily?” Bonadei asked, taking advantage of
the moment to release some of the tension from a vain discussion.
“There is neither value nor danger in talking to an Italian
colleague about facts that, by now, belong in my past. I am retired,
what can they do to me? We are not as cautious as you westerners, so
scrupulous and careful not show you Achilles' heel. Maybe one day we
will be, but today we must make do. You brought the money, right? I
have the stuff you wanted, but I can’t do it alone. Without those
acquaintances from my past, I wouldn’t have been able to help you.”
“But did all of this have to happen today?” Bonadei asked, returning
to his argument.
“That is precisely why I chose today. It is easier to catch eels
when the water is murky and turbulent, don’t you think?”
The Italian didn’t respond. He preferred to glance around. The
people in the crowd continued to push each other in the vain attempt
to situate themselves near the largest concentration of armored
vehicles. Alfio Bonadei’s mind mixed the impenetrable mystery of
what was happening around him with the confession that his
collaborator had just made. He had met the man at one of the many
international conferences about embryos, stem cells, and the cloning
of mammals. They were introduced and became friends immediately. The
Georgian’s last name reminded him of Mayakovsky, the famous Russian
poet. Bonadei had jokingly asked him about it and the Georgian, also
smiling, confirmed that his hometown was near the poet’s birthplace.
They had maintained a close correspondence ever since and had met
many times at international science lectures. Kutaisi was brilliant
in his field and his research had caught the attention of some of
the most celebrated scientists. Many of his ideas could be found in
specialized magazines but credited to other, so-called researches.
There were those who claimed that Kutaisi’s ideas were stolen from
his previous research. Or, had Kutaisi sold them himself? After all
Bonadei had heard from Kutaisi’s mouth, the later could well be true.
From their left came the thunderous retort of a gun being shot. It
was followed immediately by another. And then another.
“Can I at least know what is going on, if it is not a secret?” he
“What secret, can’t you tell that thousands of people know what’s
going on? Didn’t you see the TV last night?” the Georgian asked.
“In the hotel where I spent the night I didn’t even hear so much as
a radio. There was a television in the lobby, I heard something
about Gorbachov, I even saw him speaking, but I couldn’t understand
a damn thing between the noise and the Russian commentators!”
“Oh, friend,” Otar Kutaisi began to explain, “we are between the
hammer and the anvil right now. The hammer is red, I don’t know what
to tell you about the anvil. Do you see all of these people around
us? The majority of them are pieces of the anvil. They are peasants
and it is difficult to extradite them. They are the ones who have
taken Gorbachov hostage.”
“Your president has been taken hostage?”
“Maybe hostage is an understatement. Actually, he is being held
prisoner at his dacha on the Black Sea in the Crimea. There’s a
nostalgic coup in place, my friend, who wishes to extend the Soviet
dream indefinitely. The hard-liners have come together around the
Minister of the Interior Defense and the head of the KGB. They have
already prepared the list of sanctions, which means another river of
blood!” sighed Kutaisi.
Alfio Bonadei was all ears. This coup d'état was incomprehensible,
above all because it was against a president who the whole world
admired, who, only a few months prior, had been awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize. He wanted to say all of this to his colleague, but
decided that it would be puerile. Bonadei was thinking like a
Westerner, ignoring the place where he now found himself, its
history, and its men who had done something important and now wanted
to preserve it at any cost. As for Kutaisi, it was immediately clear
where his sympathies lay. It was insinuated from his sighs, from the
terror in his eyes, from the contempt with which he pronounced the
words “anvil”, minister, KGB…
The Italian wanted to know more about the subject and asked: “And
now, how will it all end? Is there no hope for the president?”
“There is one, an important one: The White Raven!”
“Yeltsin? I would have thought that he was part of the ‘anvil’!”
“No, no, he was on the top of the list of the ‘undesirables’. By now
he is barricaded in the Parliament, surrounded by tanks.”
“Then he is a prisoner too!”
“We will see what happens. Just now my acquaintances, who know more
than the devil, have told me that among the armed forces surrounding
the Parliament you can find some armed rebel units. Even many
democratic activists, who obviously support Yeltsin, managed to
penetrate the forces. Our soldiers are incredibly young. Against
their nostalgic superiors’ wishes, they are already preparing
oppositions to the probable command for a bloodbath in the name of
defending the victories of the revolution.”
From somewhere undefined Dr. Bonadei heard shots ring out.
“Oh God, have they already begun bombing Yeltsin?” he asked his
“I doubt those are shots from the tanks, it’s probably just some
fool with firecrackers. Today is a tempting day for the misfits too.
There is no need to panic! Let’s get out of here, we can go into a
bar in Kitay Gorod.”
“What about the procedure?”
“I wouldn’t think of doing it personally. There will be a Colonel, a
guard, and two spies, is that enough for you?”
“And everyone will know everything?”
“They don’t care very much. They are only interested in the money,
the rest doesn’t matter. If I had paid a little more, they would
have carried off the entire mummy on a day like today,” Otar Kutaisi
reassured him. “We should try to get out of the square, just look
for a narrow gap in the crowd. It’s going to be tough, but we will
manage. Let’s get a coffee! You never know what is going to happen
here, it would be best to get away from this chaos.”
“Will the bars be open?” Alfio Bonadei asked, exhausted.
“Of course they will be, it’s not like coffee is forbidden today!”
Kutaisi stepped forward first, using his elbows like oars to propel
himself ahead in that sea of heads, backs, and human arms which
appeared to be single solid mass. Bonadei followed close behind,
ignoring the complaints from those who received an unexpected jab in
the ribs, those who cried out as their fingers were crushed, and who
asked with a note of surprise: “What the hell do these two cowards
think they are doing, escaping at the moment of truth? When will you
get another chance to be a part of history in the making?”
“Can’t you see that they’re exhausted? Leave the old geezers alone!”
retorted another, raising the stakes even more.
The Italian wanted to escape that open air oven at any cost and he
cared little about being a part of history or resembling an old
geezer. His top priority was saving his own skin, then the specimen
that he had come for. After that, his only desire was for a cold
bottle of water and a relaxing coffee.
He cast one last glance at the pyramid-like mausoleum. It appeared
redder than usual. Everything is red here, he thought suddenly, just
like the square’s name. Maybe it was true that its name was taken
from the Russian word Красная which means both “red” and “beautiful”
and that the adjective, in its original meaning of “beautiful”, was
applied to Saint Basil’s Cathedral and eventually the square in
which it stood. The doctor, like so many others in the world,
connected the epithet “red” to the symbolic color of Communism. He
could only hope that name wouldn’t become linked to blood spilled in
Eventually the two made their way out of the eye of the storm and
Bonadei sighed, slightly liberated from his thousands of doubts and
the suffocating nightmare.
Kitay-Gorod, the historic merchant’s quarter, surrounded by medieval
walls, seemed a world away from the overheated reality only a few
steps beyond. Once inside its walls, despite its position between
the Red Square and the Kremlin, life seemed calm, at least in
comparison with the turmoil so near by.
The many bars and stores were still open, as though all that was
happening had nothing to do with their business or their many
customers. “There they are concerned with politics,” the managers
seemed to be saying, “While here we are concerned with money and
satisfying our patrons, like nowhere else in the world. And this is
our true capital, not that other one, the one of coups and of
explosions, of screams and of tanks that don’t dare to shoot. Sooner
or later even the people around the Parliament will come to
understand our indifference to politics. Here, anyone, more or less,
can make money, there, only those who have made it to the top. The
others will be like the white of an egg, they only will serve to
give life and strength to the embryo of the future leader.”
The two doctors entered the first bar immediately past the
“That’s unusual” Kutaisi said, “there is an empty table! It’s your
lucky day, my friend.”
All around the two doctors, men and women seemed to be immersed in
the taste of their coffee. Alfio Bonadei had been expecting to see
the red sympathizers quarreling with those who had not yet chosen a
color. There was none of that; everyone appeared to be having
perfectly reserved and amicable conversations.
The television broadcasted, on low volume, the most recent clips of
Gorbachov at his dacha in the Crimea, interrupted occasionally by
commentators in the studio or short, incomplete video segments of
Red Square and the streets that flow into it, especially in front of
“Did you know who designed the walls of this masterpiece?” Otar
Kutaisi asked his companion who was sipping his coffee and keeping
his eyes on the saucer.
Alfio Bonadei appeared slightly calmer, he was breathing normally
and didn’t even ask for another bottle of water so that he could
take some pills.
“No, I didn’t know, and I still don’t” he responded.
“It was an Italian architect, a certain Petrok Maly”
“What was his name? What kind of Italian name is that?”
“That’s what the chronicles say at least; I’m not sure. That might
have been his actual name or it could be that his name has been
butchered as it passed through the centuries, I can’t say for sure.
Either way, he was your compatriot.”
“So I’m not the only Italian in this strange story!”
“No, but practically. There are sure to be some journalists. I have
seen one drinking coffee in this very bar every once and awhile. He
speaks perfect Russian. If he is still hanging around Moscow, he is
sure to be in the crowd by now.
The TV continued to show unusual images. In one such image, which
also served as a background screen, Boris Yeltsin is seen climbing
on top of a tank and speaking franticly to the mass of people
surrounding the Parliament. Bonadei tried in vain to distinguish the
RAI journalist that even Kutaisi had known in the first row of
people, which was occupied by journalists thrusting microphones,
video cameras, and tape recorders into the air. Behind the White
Raven a team of bodyguards, many of his collaborators, and a Russian
flag could be seen.
“He doesn’t seem the least bit frightened, on the contrary…” Bonadei
“He can’t be frightened, or, if he is, he can’t show it” responded
the other. “Optimism is imperative if you want to attract even those
who are undecided. Also, our Boris knows his opponents shortcomings
all too well, he also knows that no one would dare to use force in
front of all of these journalists. He is relying on a good bit of
help from the army and the Secret Services. Don’t worry, no one will
shoot, not even the defiant military, or if you prefer, the
insurgents. As you can see, the majority of the protestors for
Yeltsin are Muscovites who, looking for a change, have responded to
a call to defend the democratic future of this country. It seems
like many of those who want to maintain the USSR, even if they are
not supportive, are at least not contesting it.”
“There won’t be a bloodbath!”
“So it seems, at least not today. And this can mean only one thing:
bye-bye to the Soviet Union”
“Do you know how little I care about the Soviet Union?” ridiculed
Bonadei. “It has always just seemed like a Great Russia to me. In
fact you always controlled everything, your language was mandatory,
even in the satellite countries, your mandates were law. It was too
bad for those who wanted to dissociate, like Prague, Budapest…”
“That is not completely true. I’m Georgian and I have come a long
Bonadei was teasing. This discussion was doing him good. His
headache was gone, his heartbeat had returned to normal, and, except
for a few lingering thoughts about the main purpose for his trip to
Moscow, he wasn’t doing too bad. He continued mischievously: “Stalin
came a long way too.”
“That’s true, as you know, he was also Georgian. If the Soviet Union
had been a Russian domain, that could not have happened…”
Otar Kutaisi began listing names, many of which were of former
Soviet leaders buried within the walls of the Kremlin, and who were
by no means Russian.
Alfio Bonadei continued teasing his friend: “If the USSR is
dissolving, as it appears to be, there won’t be anymore Soviets.
What will you be, Russian or Georgian?” The Italian burst out
His companion didn’t get angry. The Western scientist was friendly.
He would never dare to argue with him. In the end he was just joking
and some teasing in that tense situation did them both good.
Therefore, Kutaisi answered with a smile: “What can Georgia offer
me? If I return, I won’t even be able to secure a job as a guide at
the Mayakovsky Museum. Naturally, I will stay in Moscow. My children
were born here and they consider themselves to be 100% Russian. This
is where my house and my friends are, I am known here and doors open
for me everywhere” Kutaisi said wisely. “However,” he continued,
“although I have never been a huge fan of the Soviet Union, I am a
little sorry that it is being dissolved. There will be a great
imbalance in the distribution of power in the world. Up until now
there have been two major powers, us and the Americans. It will take
a long time before Russia will once more be a world superpower. The
Americans will be able to mold the world however they wish without
any true, strong opposition. Who, besides us, would be able to make
them think twice before creating worldwide chaos? No one. And the
world will begin to look like our country did: one-sided. Then you
will see for yourself the danger of totalitarian states.”
Although the Italian scientist was making eye contact, it was clear
that he wasn’t paying attention to what his partner was saying,
though he occasionally nodded his head.
The TV screen flashed images of armored vehicles stationed around
the Parliament and the nearby streets with names the Italian couldn’t
decipher: on Kemlevskaya Naberezhnaya there were people pushing to
get closer to the “scene of the crime”; on Moscovoretskaya
Naberezhnaya they seemed rebellious; on Ulitsa Varvarka enegmatic;
on Ulitsa Ill'inka, indifferent; on Mokhovaya Ulitsa…
Otar Kutaisi didn’t seem as interested in the television broadcasts,
as though he wanted to reiterate to Bonadei that he already knew how
it would all end. Fiddling with his coffee cup, he lost himself in
his impenetrable thoughts and his companion left him in peace for a
The silence between the two was interrupted by the polite waiter who
told the Georgian that the bartender wanted to talk to him.
“I’m sure I am wanted on the telephone,” he explained to Alfio and
immediately slipped into the small phone booth next to the bar.
Kutaisi came out a few seconds later and told Bonadei: “We’re all
“Do we need to leave?”
“Not immediately, finish your water,” advised Otar Kutaisi.
Dr. Bonadei felt like he was on the set of a Cold War era espionage
film. He got goosebumps at the thought that everything he had
planned and rehearsed in his mind day and night during those long
years of study and hypotheses was coming to fruition. From this
moment on, his entire professional life, and that of his wife Nevia
Antei: his partner and colleague since college who also specialized
in genetic engineering; would be changed forever.
While Kutaisi slipped a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and Bonadei
took the last sip of his water, the television screen was filled
with red headline in Cyrillic letters, which the Georgian translated
immediately into Italian: “Breaking News”. The other patrons
remained as indifferent as before as though to say: “What could be
so remarkable? All the news is ‘breaking’ these days!”
The feature this time was Lenin’s Mausoleum, they showed images from
the video library of the mummy; close-ups of the head, images from
the entrance, still more close-ups showing the details of the
mausoleum, again, Lenin’s mummified face, detailed pictures of his
beard, mustache, his hands resting in front, eyelashes, eyebrows,
the entrance door closed, the entrance door slightly ajar...
“Have they violated the mausoleum? Have they contaminated the mummy?
This isn’t just violence against a symbol, but against the entire
system. What do you expect to happen to a wax corpse? Is it really
wax? No, no, it just has a layer of wax, beneath it you will find
the actual mummified flesh, the wax was only a way to protect it
from chemical agents, smog, humidity, or what have you. What are you
so worked up about, what’s the big deal if they have touched the wax
or whatever? But who could it be, who could be interested in two
bits of wax, illustrious embalming though it might be? Who knows? I
don’t know any more than you do. "
The two doctors left without drawing attention to themselves and
starting walking along the periphery of the center of the city.
“Couldn’t you have asked the driver to come a little bit closer?”
Alfio Bonadei complained. He walked with difficulty from the
air-conditioned bar out onto the sweltering streets. Sweat blurred
his vision, but, unlike earlier when he was trapped in Red Square,
he did not suffer from shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat, or
dizziness because of rising blood pressure.
“How could they manage to get a vehicle through here?” Otar Kutaisi
replied after a moment. “It is hard enough for us to get through on
foot. My dear doctor, your trials are coming to an end. The purpose
of your journey will soon be realized. Just have a little bit more
patience and everything will turn out for the best, for both you and
me. For them too…”
Bonadei wasn’t in the least bit interested in who “them” referred to.
He asked his companion: “Will it be easy to leave the area? Isn’t it
already blocked off?”
“No, no, don’t worry.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“And what are they planning to do about all these soldiers, the
plain clothed officers, and those nostalgic people who want to
“It has all been worked out, there won’t be any surprises. The
military won’t be a problem, they have bigger fish to fry today.
Contingencies may arise from the Service or some nostalgic zealot.
Which is exactly why you want two or three of them. Today, our money
has more influence than ideals or a sense of duty, so calm down and
walk a little faster. We need to get to the airport before anyone
thinks to cancel the few remaining flights.”
“Couldn’t we have taken that nice metro next to the bar?” Bonadei
continued to bemoan. “I only mention this because look at how I am
dragging my feet”
“Oh, my dear New England Puritan, the metro is already
malfunctioning, we could get to the airport faster on foot,” replied
Kutaisi, trying not to lose his patience.
He wasn’t as fresh as ripe fruit either, yet he was not complaining.
When all was said and done, he got involved in the Italian’s project
because he was fascinated by the proposal and not simply for the
money, which, in the end, would not be able to solve his economic
woes. Kutaisi didn’t scold Bonadei, but, instead, tried to keep him
“The car is the fastest, safest, and least traceable mode of
transportation. You will see, everything will be over before you
know it,” he said to his colleague as he bought another bottle of
cold water from a pedlar. Bonadei poured the water over his head and
apologized for being such a complainer. “Don’t worry about it,” the
Georgian responded, “The important thing is that you feel better and
we get to the airport in time, everything else is inconsequential.”
As soon as the Italian saw the taxi he threw himself into the
backseat as though someone had shot him in the neck. The taxi was
air-conditioned and he started to feel better. He wasn’t paying
attention to the road, though he wouldn’t have recognized the
streets. While the adventure that was ending was calling to him, it
was also tearing him apart. When the car stopped Bonadei saw before
him a concrete building that did not resemble an airport entrance.
In fact, it was the front of a stadium. He didn’t even have a chance
to read the name over the entrance before another car pulled up
beside them. It was a black sedan, the kind that, until recently,
was given to members of the Politburo.
Otar Kutaisi got out of the first car and into the fantom car for a
few seconds. He got out in a hurry and said to the driver: “To
Vnukovo airport, fast!” Then he slapped his colleague on the back,
saying softly: “Don’t throw away those two cigarettes and the pack
that I put in your pocket! Bring them to Dr. Nevia, she will be very
“I will,” promised Bonadei.
During the final 15 miles to Moskva-Vnukovo airport neither opened
his mouth. When they arrived at the airport only Alfio Bonadei got
out of the car. He said good-bye for the last time to Otar Kutaisi,
who lifted his right hand to the window and pointed towards the
terminal for international flights. He passed easily by the border
police, emptied his bag and pockets at the security area, put
everything back calmly and headed down the corridor that would lead
him to the gate for his flight from Moscow to Milan.
The Italian was not stopped again as he walked with apparently
authentic tranquility. He did not bother glancing behind him because
he knew that nobody would be following him.
He walked down the corridor which separated the chartered and cargo
flights from the other scheduled flights, boarded the plane headed
to Milan, easily found his seat and breathed freely. He could
The Flight Attendant told the passengers that they should prepare
for takeoff, and he put everything away, very mechanically, but
precisely. They spent countless minutes waiting for takeoff. He
decided to take a look outside. To help banish the foreboding
thoughts that began to plague him, he began to look at the company
names written on the airplanes. Bonadei tried to determine the
manufacturer or model of the planes he saw: Airbus, Boeing, Dassault
Avviatoin, Falcon, McDonnell Douglas, Ilyushin, Yakovlev, Tupolev,
Antonov...My goodness! So many planes manufactured, so many people
flying. And those there, that appear to be stopped and asleep? Ah,
those are the Rossiya Airlines, they only carry the Russian Prime
Minister and members of his government during their travels. Ah,
yes, they come and go strictly on the national airline. Is it them
or their ghosts? Why don’t they close the boarding door? Will there
be another security screening on board? I wouldn’t think so. But
this delay is becoming excessive. Could the police have received a
tip? By whom? For whom? Or is this just a routine delay due to the
large influx of takeoffs and landings?
The window shade shook softly even though the small window was
closed. It is said that in Moscow there are ghosts in the air. Could
it be the Lenin’s ghost? There was much talk of his existence, but
far from there. And if he was on the plane, what was he looking for?
Ultimately he and Kutaisi had done it for Lenin too. When he was
alive, Lenin had always wanted to be immortal. Everything that he
and the Georgian had done had contributed to Lenin’s plan of
immortality. Bonadei felt a chill. They had turned on the air
conditioning. This a good sign, it means that the boarding door has
been closed we are ready for takeoff. He saw the other passengers
fastening their seat-belts. Then he heard a TV broadcast in English.
The news regarding the situation around the Parliament took up the
majority of the broadcast. The segment that closed the broadcast was
on a different subject: Lenin’s mummy had been damaged, his beard,
to be precise! No one knew who had committed the act of desecration.
How had they managed to get around the guards and the security
system? How did they escape from Red Square; all of the exits were
closed immediately after the dramatic crime, as soon as the entrance
guard resumed his post after an unexplained dizzy-spell? It is
assumed that they fled by the Metro Two. The screen showed images of
cut iron bars and abandoned crowbars, a stairwell sectioned off by
crime scene investigators with red and white striped tape, a plastic
folder with scrawled papers and official seals.
What was the Metro Two? Otar Kutaisi never mentioned that to me!
He heard the sound of the engines. After the final announcements
from the Flight Attendants, Bonadei felt the familiar butterflies in
his stomach that he always felt before takeoff.
He closed the window shade. He was overcome by a desire sleep. For
the first time during those frantic days Alfio Bonadei missed having
his beloved wife Nevia by his side. The noise from the engines
gradually vanished. He saw Nevia Antei who was waiting for him with
open arms at the exit of the Lombardian airport, the two ran to
their car parked directly in front of the exit. He sat beside his
wife and while she put the car in drive he asked: “What do you think
about taking a business trip to Shanghai?”