a novel

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 unconscious steel.
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 luckier star.
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 never know.
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 armored vehicles.
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 known that…”
“Known what…?”
“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 dancing club.
“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 pleaded.
“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 companion.
“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 the square.
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 Resurrection Gates.
“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 the Duma.
“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 observed.
“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 way…”
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 laughing.
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 few minutes.
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 set.”
“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?”
“I’m sure.”
“And what are they planning to do about all these soldiers, the plain clothed officers, and those nostalgic people who want to help?”
“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 upbeat.
“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 pleased!”
“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 finally leave!
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?”