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Tanya

American man falls in love with Russian woman who is married to the high-ranking Russian officer

By James Mackintosh

tanya'If you need a break, why don't you go to Yalta for a few days', Deneil said to Robert McCabe. They were in the Caribbean Club and it was half past one in the morning. They had met by chance in the club and were drinking together at the bar. 'There's a flight tomorrow afternoon,' he continued 'and you would be in Yalta by five o'clock. You could stay in the Hotel Ariadne on the promenade. It's a nice time to go. I was there about this time last year. There are not too many people. They call September the velvet season.'

They sat on the bar stools and looked out the small dance floor and the girls dancing to the South American rhythms.
'Everybody in the office keeps telling me I must visit the Crimean coast,' Robert said reflectively. 'I think I'll do it. I'll take Monday and Tuesday off work and fly back Tuesday evening. The flight goes from the city airport I suppose.'
'Yes, and you can buy a ticket one hour before. You'll enjoy the flight.
'Thanks for the hint', Robert said, and shook Deneil's hand. 'Cheers.'
Deneil was pleased. Robert possessed great personal charm and when he appreciated you it was like feeling the sun on your face.

So the next day Robert boarded a rickety thirty-four seater Antonov for the afternoon flight to Simferopol, the nearest airport to Yalta. On the flight he had a table for himself and the stewardesses plied him with Ukrainian salads and cold meats and he had his first taste of Crimean wine and cognac. It was like traveling on a private plane. He enjoyed himself immensely, gazing down through a blue sky at the huge plains and the majestic Dneaprt River meandering its way to the Black Sea. The plane landed in the early evening and as he stepped down onto the tarmac there was a scent of rosemary and oleander in the evening air and he could hear the crickets chirping. 'The south,' he thought, 'why have I been away so long.'

Robert hired a taxi for the seventy-mile journey to Yalta. The road climbed laboriously up through the high mountains of the Crimea, passing vineyards where workers were busy getting in the crop of grapes. At sunset, the taxi reached the top of the pass and below lay the velvet-coloured, mirror-smooth Black Sea. 'That's why they call it the velvet season,' Robert thought, and as the taxi wound down the mountainside, the lights of Yalta came into view twinkling like a string of pearls along the coast.

That evening he was sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Ariadne, looking out across the bay watching the after-dinner strollers on the promenade. There were a few noisy families taking advantage of the uncrowded late season. Groups of newly affluent young men from Kiev trailed girlfriends in the shortest of miniskirts. Romantic couples were holding hands and staring out at the light of a golden half moon reflecting off the sea. And he noticed a rather beautiful, green-eyed, blonde woman in her late twenties. She was wearing a long, cream dress and white summer hat. She was seemingly alone. Later the same evening he decided to walk along the promenade and he passed her sitting in one of the cafes eating an ice cream. She was by herself and he nodded to her as he went by, as if she was someone he already knew.
'She has some style,' thought Robert, 'I would like to meet her.'

Robert McCabe was an American, in his late thirties but still unmarried. He had come to Kiev some five years earlier to open a representative office of an investment bank and despite difficult economic circumstances he had, through his personal dynamism, built up the operation to nearly one hundred people employees. He had arrived in Kiev with his long-term girlfriend. She had also a forceful personality and their relationship was stormy but overall they seemed to suit each other and all their friends thought it was only a matter of time before they got married. But while Robert loved the challenge of building up an investment bank in this frontier of capitalism, his girlfriend found no suitable opportunities and was too restless and ambitious to live the typical, leisurely life of the expatriate's wife. She had begun to pine for the more normal environment of her native Boston. Their relationship grew stormier and it became obvious it would not work out. She packed her bags and left for Boston.

This experience changed Robert. He was not really made for the bachelor life and emotionally he felt he had been cut adrift. When his male colleagues were discussing women in his presence, he invariably contributed some rather cynical remarks. In his experience no woman he had an affair with ever gained his respect. But all the same without the company of women he would have been bored within a few days. With men he was slightly domineering, constantly joking and rarely let down his guard to reveal his true personality. But in the company of women he felt more at ease. In general he felt he could trust them and he knew how to behave with them, when to flirt, when to be serious. Even when silent in the company of women he experienced no feeling of awkwardness.

He was attractive to women and he knew it. He was tall, good-looking, with blond hair and pure blue eyes. He had a presence, an awareness of his authority. Women turned to look when he entered a room. And he had a dynamic but complex personality. They could sense his passionate nature behind the façade and there was something charming, almost little boyish about him. He was aware of his charm and in turn was drawn to each woman who showed interest in him as if by some irresistible force.

Since his girlfriend had left he had gone out with a series of beautiful and attractive 'friends' in Kiev. He had few problems finding them and they remained remarkably faithful to him, tolerant enough to accept that one woman alone would not keep a hold on him. He did not treat them well, did not try to hide his growing lack of satisfaction with their friendship but this only seemed to make them more determined to please him - they allowed him to bully them slightly and express his rather dominating personality and seemed even to take pleasure of his indifference.
And so Robert viewed this newcomer on the promenade through rather cynical eyes - another attractive Russian woman among so many.

*****

The next day in the afternoon he was having lunch at a restaurant on the promenade when the woman dressed in the same cream dress and white summer hat, walked in and took a seat at the table next to him. The way she looked, dressed and wore her hair told him that she was from a good family, well educated, and that she was somewhat bored. He understood it was coincidence that she had seated herself at the table next to him but covertly looking at her, and seeing the curve of her breast gently rising against her cream, muslin dress he was suddenly visited with the tempting thought of a quick, fleeting no obligation holiday affair. The idea took possession of him.

He was wondering how to begin a conversation when the woman started speaking as if to herself, but he saw she was addressing him.
'It's quiet for this time of the season.'
'Is it? I don't know I haven't been here before.'
'Oh, you are not Russian, I didn't know,' she blushed. "I speak some English,' she continued, in English.
'And I speak some Russian,' he said in his heavily accented Russian, and for some reason they both smiled.
'You have been here long?' he continued.
'I arrived last Thursday, and you?'
'This is only my second day.'
They said nothing for a few minutes.
'People always say how wonderful Yalta is,' she remarked, 'do you find it so?'
'It's very beautiful but perhaps I'm a little bit bored being here alone.'

She didn't answer and they continued eating in silence like strangers, but after lunch he suggested they walk together along the promenade and she agreed. And as they walked they fell into a light, natural conversation of two people who have just met each and have no obligation to each other. They talked about the different shades of green of the vineyards and the cypress trees and pine trees stretching up the mountains behind Yalta, and how wonderful it was that the mountains were so high, and the air so fresh and clean. They talked about the little steamers that plied from one village to another along the Crimean coast and how delightful it would be to take a day trip on one of the boats. Robert told her about his position as head of the bank in Kiev, and that he had grown up in Boston and was a graduate of Harvard. She was suitably impressed. From her he learnt that she had spent her school years in Kiev, and her parents still lived there but she had moved to Moscow to study and work. She had met her husband in Moscow and they had married only two months ago, that she was staying in Yalta for a week and her husband was supposed to join her but had been delayed. He found out that she had a master's degree in Physics from Moscow University and her conversational English was considerably better than his Russian, despite the fact that she had never traveled to the west, while he had been working in a Russian-speaking environment for the past five years. He in turn was impressed. About her husband's work she would say nothing except that he worked for a private company. Her name was Tanya.

Later when he was sitting watching CNN in his room at the luxurious Hotel Ariadne, he could hear the sound of the waves lapping against the promenade and his thoughts turned to her. He did not know where she was staying but he felt sure they would meet again the next day and he rather regretted he would leave so soon. As he went to bed he remembered her face in repose, her slender, elegant neck, long, sensitive fingers, beautiful green eyes - and the curiously haunted, slightly unhappy expression she wore when no one was looking at her.
'There's something cold and clinical about her at the same' he thought as he fell asleep.

*****

The next day passed and he did not see her all day. The sun had disappeared and the wind blew dark storm clouds over the mountains, and squalls of rain prevented people from going out of doors. The sea became rough and changed colour to an angry purple. The weather calmed down towards evening and the sun came out over the bay and drew a shaft of light along the still turbulent water.

Robert spent most of the day sitting on the covered terrace of the hotel reading the papers and drinking fruit juices but he walked out to watch the arrival of the little steamer that plied the Crimean coast. There were a lot of people milling around at the pier and in amongst the crowd he recognized Tanya. He greeted her and they drifted together, anonymous among the crowd. They watched the steamer manouvering its way towards the pier. The water was still choppy and the steamer engines were churning madly to avoid being pushed onto the rocky outcrop beyond the pier. There was a lot of shouting and the sailors on the steamer were running back and forth issuing instructions to the shore before they threw the heavy ropes but finally the steamer was secured and the people began to get off it. Robert and Tanya watched the people leave. It was already growing dark and slowly the crowd dispersed. They found they were still watching the steamer when it had emptied and looking around realized they were the last people on the pier. The music was blaring from the promenade cafes and dancing had begun.
'Lets walk a bit in the park.' Robert said. 'The wind's dropped and it's a warm evening. I've been indoors most of the day - I need some fresh air and exercise.'

She agreed and they walked towards the park. Once inside the park, it was darker than they had expected. The sun had almost set and under the shadows of the trees they could barely see the pathway. They were walking slowly and chatting when suddenly Tanya slipped and would have fallen except that Robert reacted quickly and pulled her up by the arm. After that she linked her arm closely in his to avoid falling again and they walked on. The first physical contact between them was electric. When she put her arm in his, Robert experienced a feeling he had never felt before - he felt that the arm linked to his was something enormously important, and that he mustn't let it go and if he did he would be lost, drowned - it was his lifeline, his future happiness, his sanity. He dreaded her taking her arm away and slowed down deliberately to prolong the experience. 'Did she have any idea what he was thinking' he wondered. 'Did she feel something similar?' No, don't be stupid. She was a happily married woman waiting for her husband to join her. This was no time to act like a foolish adolescent with a crush.'

He composed himself.
'Why don't we take the steamer tomorrow morning? We could go to Gorzuf. They told me in Kiev that the bay of Gorzuf is even more beautiful than here and it's only an hour away - we can be back by the afternoon.'
'I was once in Gorzuf when I was a child,' she said. 'Yes, lets find out what time the boat leaves.'

*****

The next day they met early and took the first boat to Gurzuf. It was a clear, sunny day with just a few clouds on the horizon and quite soon they could see the outline of Bear Mountain, the huge rock shaped exactly like a bear leaning forward, its snout drinking from the sea, and shortly after that the steamer slipped into the bay of Gorzuf and docked.

As they walked along the pier, Tanya pointed out a white roof just visible over a rocky outcrop.
'That was Chekhov's house,' she said, 'he wrote his plays here and in Yalta towards the end of his life.'
They climbed up the steep road through the picturesque village and then continued climbing.
'I want to show you where I stayed when I was a child. It was a beautiful palace built for the Tsars called "The Rose Palace" - it was converted into a camp for pioneers, young communists like me,' she grinned. She was looking flushed and her eyes, which had somehow seemed veiled before, were bright and happy.
Soon they came to a grassy bank and below them lay the Rose Palace and beyond that the sea, with two, little rock islands dividing the bay. Tanya was breathing heavily from the climb. She seemed frail. They lay down in the long grass and looked down at the Rose Palace and were silent. White clouds lay motionless on the mountaintops. The bay shimmered in the midday sun and there was almost complete silence except for the murmur of the sea below. And to Robert it seemed as if his life had paused, perfectly balanced between the past and the future, between his youth and the rest of his life - as if by instinct he knew this was the very last moment of youth.

Lying together in the long grass they chatted for a long time like old friends.
'Have you ever been to Italy?' he asked. 'No I forgot. You've never been to the west. Not once?'
'Never,' she said. 'Well, Warsaw once, eight years ago,' she laughed. 'Could you call that the west? It's always been my dream to go to Italy.'
And so he told her about the little cities of the northern plains - Piacenza, Parma, Padua, Modena, Cremona. 'You go into these cities and you arrive at the main piazza with these marvelous, huge, marble cathedrals - you sit in the piazza until two in the morning watching the world go by under the pillars and frescoes of a 15th century building - and with a bottle of good, local wine you feel on top of the world. She sighed.
'And Bologna, Florence, have you been there?'
'Yes, of course - Florence has too many tourists - but Bologna is a wonderful city.
'I would love to go to Italy,' she said dreamily.
'This is more beautiful than Italy,' he replied and they fell silent and lay back looking at the mountains above and listening to the sea. Imperceptibly the sun moved round in the sky, the air cooled and a little breeze sprung up. They sat up, brushed the grass from their clothes and watched the Yalta boat coming slowly towards the pier.
'That's the last boat,' said Tanya, breaking the silence.
'Yes, we better get going.'

They walked quickly through the village and down to the pier and got on the steamer. Soon they were out in the middle of the bay and looking back at the little, white-roofed village nestling at the foot of green mountains, which rose sharply out of the pure blue water to meet the pale blue of the sky. There was something dreamlike about the scene and as the steamer turned in the direction of Yalta, they saw a whole school of dolphins swimming and frolicking behind the boat.
'Look,' Tanya shouted, in the wind and she gripped his arm. The dolphins were leaping and playing.
'It's fantastic,' he shouted back to her and saw her blonde hair streaming in the wind and he felt the same curious effect when her arm held his, as if she was physically a part of him. She turned to face him flushed and excited. 'I've never seen dolphins in the wild before. What a wonderful place this is.'

She held onto his arm as they made their way along the deck past the few other passengers to the front of the boat and they stayed there together watching the dolphins and looking at the coastline as the boat approached the lights of Yalta.
The steamer docked in Yalta as the sun was setting and the restaurant bands were tuning up for an evening of live music. They agreed to have dinner together on the promenade.
'I'll meet you in thirty minutes,' she said and walked away.'
'I still don't know where she is staying,' he thought.
She was late coming back. It was nearly an hour before he saw her walking hurriedly along the promenade towards the restaurant. She was dressed in the same cream dress and white hat he had first seen her in.
'I'm sorry, I was delayed,' she said. 'My husband called me. He won't be able to come to Yalta. Some new business has come up and he wants me to go back to Moscow immediately. I'll be leaving on the midday train tomorrow.'
'Well,' Robert paused, 'let us at least enjoy our last evening together.' And then after some thought he added. 'Tomorrow we can share a taxi together. I'll fly back to Kiev on the afternoon flight. It's time I was back in harness.' He gave a little laugh but somehow it wasn't funny.

They ate together in a rather sombre mood and didn't say much to each other. Robert was thinking - 'don't get involved with a married woman, it always leads to complications and disappointment - why did I bother?'

But as the evening grew dark and the band started playing louder they forgot their mood and began to chat more animatedly. Whatever he talked to her about, she seemed to understand before he had finished, could guess the end of it. What intelligence, what graveness, what sweetness there was in her shining, green eyes. He asked her what her hobbies were and she told him that on Thursday evenings she attended a ballroom dancing class at a private dance school on Novy Arbat, very near the Kremlin. They finished their dinner and he pushed back his chair and said, 'lets dance.'

It was a slow dance and as they came together Robert felt the incredible lightness and elegance of the woman. 'Of course, she's a trained dancer, he thought, 'that explains how well she holds herself.' She leant against him and almost lightheaded from the pleasure of dancing with this exquisite woman Robert brought his face towards her lips - but at the last minute she turned her face down and into his shoulder. They drank and danced some more and chatted during the evening but Robert was too wary to make a pass at her now,
'Let me walk you home,' he said as they left the restaurant and as they walked she again took his arm. Anyone passing would have concluded they were lovers and the serious and solemn expression on their faces intimated a couple who had known each other a long time.
'I live on this street' she said, 'so - tomorrow at the hotel at eight o'clock. Good night,' and she walked quickly off into the darkness.

*****

The next morning Robert woke early and had one last dip in the cold refreshing Black Sea. What a pleasure it was to float on your back and look up at the green, almost tropical mountains. He went back to the hotel, showered and dressed and was fresh and ready when she arrived for breakfast. Tanya did not look as if she had slept well and she seemed reluctant to talk. They ordered a taxi and took the winding road climbing out of Yalta, and then along the cliff with stupendous sea views until the road crested the Col and turned inland through the mountain pass. They asked the taxi driver to stop after forty minutes and they drank strong, Turkish coffee in a little café surrounded by pine trees, resonate with the smell of the pine trees and wood smoke.
'Will I see you again?' he said
'Robert, I think it's not possible, I am sorry.'
'Look here's my number - when you come to Kiev to see your parents - please call me and we'll go out for a meal,' he said lightly, wondering at the ineffectiveness of his words.

They drove on into the dusty plain towards the city of Simferopol, the train terminal and also the airport of Crimea. The station was busy with new arrivals for Yalta and the coast and holiday-makers preparing for the long train journeys back to Moscow, Petersburg and Kiev. On the platforms the vendors were doing a roaring trade selling provisions for the journeys, whole roasted chickens, boiled eggs, nuts, roughly-made salami sandwiches with cucumber and gherkins, salted tomatoes, mineral water and beer. Tanya bought some mineral water. They found her carriage and first class compartment and put her luggage in it. Robert got up to leave, and Tanya also stood up.
'If you're lucky you won't have anyone else in your compartment.'
She said nothing but her white face seemed haunted by some invisible pressure.
'What's the matter?'

She looked at him with her bright green, almost impenetrable eyes and he saw a slight quiver on her red full lips. He was near to her and on an impulse he leant forwards and their lips met and they were kissing deeply, as if they wanted to draw closer to each other, deeper into each other - finally they drew apart.
'It's a good thing I'm going,' she said to Robert. 'Please don't think badly of me. I will not be able to see you again.'
They went down the corridor and he got off the train.
'I will think of you,' she said, 'I won't forget,' and Robert saw there were tears in her eyes.
'Goodbye.'
'Goodbye, Tanya.'

They waved to each other as the train shunted slowly out of the busy station and he continued to wave until her white hand was a blur in the distance. A minute later the train had gone. Standing alone on the platform in the hot midday sun, Robert listened to the churring of the crickets and the rumble of other trains and the cries of the busy holiday-makers. 'What a fool I am,' he told himself, 'to have kissed her and to have got involved with a married woman, who couldn't hope to give me anything. Idiot.' he said disgustedly and idly kicked at a stone. 'I'm getting too sentimental. It's time I got back to work.'

*****

Back in Kiev, it was business as usual. Running the bank engrossed him and he rather enjoyed being a sort of star in the little expatriate world although of course he would not admit to that. Also he was on good terms with some of the most powerful politicians in the country and went to London with a top delegation to renegotiate debt and extend credit for vital infrastructure works. He loved being a banker in these emerging markets and his managers in London told him quite openly that he was a rising star and his future with the bank would be bright.
Returning to Kiev he plunged straight back into the life of visiting restaurants, nightclubs and expatriate social do's. He was a great entertainer and organized impromptu parties in his flat. On Friday or Saturday evenings he would go out with one of his girl friends to Dynamo Lux, and they would expertly swing around the dance floor. Or he would arrive late at the Caribbean Club, not far from where he was living. And there, either he would see a girl he knew already or he would strike up an acquaintance with one and dance the evening with her.

Another month and he thought, nothing but a memory would remain of his liaison in Yalta. He was meeting other girls, well-educated girls in advertising and public relations. They were cool and sophisticated yet rather sexy. Soon he would remember Yalta and his brief encounter as through a haze and only occasionally dream of Tanya with a wistful smile as he had of other girls before her.
But over a month passed and the autumn days were drawing in and he found he remembered each minute of their short time together as though they had only parted the day before. The memory of her arm linked in his, of that unexpected kiss on the train, haunted him. Each time he heard the popular song they had danced to, a sort of tremor passed through him and it all came flooding back - the boat to Gorzuf, lying in the long grass looking up at the mountains, the stillness, idleness, and the pure joy on her face when she saw the dolphins. Some nights he would wake up with the extraordinary feeling that she had been by his side and that they had kissed and that she had been trying to communicate to him - 'it will be alright,' she was saying as she put her lovely, white arms around him, 'you'll see, everything will be alright.'

And then in the street he sometimes saw women who resembled her from behind, with the same long, floating blonde hair, the same slim figure and elegance of manner and he would walk faster and draw near and, his heart beating, he would go slightly ahead, for although he knew it could not be her, he was hoping to see some beauty. But as he turned his head he was always and invariably disappointed - the eyes were common, the mouth was thin, the nose was bulbous, and he walked on faster - until the next apparition crossed his path.

Another month went by and if anything his feelings seemed to intensify. In one sense he was deeply happy because he, who had always been rather cynical about women, was now in the grip of such a strong, true emotion, it seemed to make a mockery of his former thoughts. On the other hand he castigated himself for his sentimentality and tried to interest himself in an affair with an attractive dark-haired advertising executive who was obviously keen on him. They met occasionally but sometimes he seemed lost in thought, abstracted, even sad - and one evening with a flash of feminine intuition she said,
'You've found someone who is very special to you, haven't you?'
It was the first time and only time that she was to see him blush. He turned bright red and then abruptly said, 'what are you talking about?' He was moody for the next half an hour before suggesting it was time for her to go home. She learnt not ask questions about his private life.

Winter arrived and the first snows had fallen and the ground was frozen. One evening Robert was in the Caribbean club when Deneil came in. Robert had drunk a few beers and was in the mood to confide in someone.
'How was Yalta?' Deneil asked.
'Yes, it was wonderful. Thanks for the recommendation. I also went to Gorzuf. Have you been there?'
'Yes I have. I prefer it to Yalta even.'
'I went there with a woman called Tanya I met on the promenade. It was a beautiful time. The ridiculous thing is I can't stop thinking about her - I seem to miss her, even now.'
'She's a married woman, I suppose.'
'Yes.'
'Where does she live?'
'Moscow.'
'Why don't you go and see her?'
'Because she's married and she doesn't want to see me and I don't even know where she lives.'
'What is marriage these days?' Deneil replied. 'A piece of paper. I wouldn't let that stop you.'

*****

After this conversation Robert decided to organize a meeting with the Moscow branch of the investment bank. He also made up his mind he should at least try and see Tanya again. He knew so little about her. She hadn't given him her telephone number or her address. He didn't even know her last name. But he remembered she had said she went to a dance school to learn ballroom dancing on Novy Arbat on Thursday nights. He called in his secretary.
'Could you find out the addresses of the dance schools on Novy Arbat in Moscow, and also find out which ones teach ballroom dancing and which one is closest to the Kremlin.'

She thought it was a strange request, but she found out what he wanted.
The meeting was scheduled for Friday and Robert arranged to fly up on the Thursday afternoon flight. He booked himself into a five star hotel, a stone's throw from the Kremlin walls, and walked out onto Red Square. It was very cold, fifteen degrees of frost at least and not many people were walking around. He consulted the city map and navigated his way towards Novy Arbat. 'Why am I doing this?' he thought. 'What is the point? I have a nice girlfriend, or two or three if I want in Kiev - I am like a schoolboy skulking around here.'

He started walked along Novy Arbat and soon found the dance school. No lights were on. It was six o'clock. 'Well that's it,' he thought - 'go back to the hotel, have a meal, and get an early night,' but then he realized that evening classes would probably start later. He went to the café across the road to read the papers and have a coffee.

Half an hour later he looked up from his coffee and the lights in the dance school on the other side of the road were on. He composed himself, took his time paying the bill and then slowly walked out of the café and crossed the road. He could see the women rehearsing through the window. The room was full and the window was steamed up from the heat inside but he saw Tanya coming in and joining the line of dancers and his heart missed a beat. He realised clearly that this was no school boyish crush, no immature fantasy that had brought him here, but that no one in the world was more important to him than this woman who now filled his whole life, and was his misfortune or his joy. Watching her dance he thought how beautiful she was.

After some twenty minutes the dancing teacher called a break and he walked into the entrance of the school. She was sitting in the corridor talking to another girl and didn't notice him. He went forward a little and said in a small voice and with a forced smile.
'Hello Tanya!'
She looked up at him and her pale skin seemed to turn even whiter as if she would fall down in a dead faint. Instead she slowly rose to her feet. Neither of them said a word. The other girl sensing the drama discreetly left. Tanya suddenly went to the garde de robe and threw on her coat and motioned Robert to go out into the street.
'My God, what a shock you gave me. Where have you come from? Why are you here? I never expected to see you again,' she said still looking pale and stunned and beginning to shiver from the cold.
'Please understand I wanted to see you, Tanya,' he said in a low voice, although there was no one to overhear them.
'I have thought about you so much since Yalta,' she said. 'But I had to forget you. Why did you come?'
'Tanya, it's cold lets go indoors - there's a café across the street.'
They went to the same café he had just come from and sat down in a corner and started to talk in low, urgent voices.
'What are you doing here, Robert?'
'Tanya, I needed to see you again. I know you are recently married. And I don't get involved with married women, but I had to see you. I miss you Tanya. I'm lonely without you.'
'You don't understand Robert, you can't understand, 'she took his arm. 'My husband is a powerful man. He was already a high-ranking officer in the KGB in 1989 and he has done very well since then. He's high up, really high up.'
Robert began to understand. Where had she learnt such excellent English? She had not studied languages at university. How was it she was so well informed, so understanding about his culture when she had never left her country?
'Tanya, tell me where do you work? Tell me more about yourself. I need to know.'
'Don't ask me,' she said, 'please don't ask me.'
But he persisted. 'Is that where you met your husband - at work? And what rank are you? Also senior or just a go-between.'
She was crying now.
'Don't ask me, please don't. I knew my husband for many years before we married. He was so persistent and so strong that finally I just gave in and said yes. I waited a long time but I never met anyone like you. Oh Robert, I am so unhappy. I was happy in Yalta. You made me happy. With you it was perhaps the only time I have been truly happy since I was a child. I love you - you understand that. I felt it from the very first time I put my arm in yours - do you remember, in the park by the promenade? That what is important, to value that feeling - the rest,' she said bitterly, 'is such a mess, and I can't deal with it!'

And they sat there together in the dim light of the café and Robert felt a peace between them. She looked at him and stroked his hair and played with his hands and he looked at her long tapering fingers and marveled at his good fortune, that this dream was here with him, leaning against him, so close to him - like two birds in a nest. They talked for what seemed like a long time until she said:
'It's late my dear, I have to go.'
'Come away with me,' he said. 'Find a way. We'll go to Italy. Come with me for a week or two. We can sort things out. We'll decide what to do.'
'I have to go now. He picks me up from the school. He will be waiting for me.'
'Tanya, how do I contact you? What is your telephone number? I don't even know your last name.'
'My name,' she said, 'that's simple' - and she told him her surname.
'You will be here next Thursday?'
She didn't reply.
'Meet me here. I will come to the school at six thirty.'
She looked at him very intently for a long time still holding his hand and then she gently released his hand and he felt that a part of him was leaving.

*****

Exactly seven days later, Robert was sitting in the same café waiting for Tanya, in the same corner they had talked in. During the week he had done some research on Tanya's surname and he knew exactly who her husband was, indeed he had occasionally seen his face on TV. 'How was he to resolve this situation?' he thought. 'How? But somehow he felt that in only a few minutes when he met her they would find a solution and a new beautiful life would begin.
At six thirty he crossed the icy road and hesitated outside the entrance of the dance school. A girl came out. The same girl he had seen with Tanya the week before.
'You have come to see Tanya?'
'Yes.'
'She asked me to give this to you.' She handed over a sealed envelope.
He tore the seal and took out the notepaper.

'I have had to go away, my darling. I am so sorry but it is for the best. I cannot explain. I just can't. Please forgive me. I am a married woman and I find unable to deceive my husband even in thought. I believe and hope you will understand. You must not think of me anymore. I'm not worth it. You know I love you and will always remember you but we cannot be together. You will never show me your wonderful Italy. I kiss you, my darling.' Tanya.

Robert felt a spasm of pain in his side and leaned forward slightly. As he straightened he caught sight of his face reflected in the window and the gray, numbness of his expression.
'Are you alright?' the girl said.
'You will speak to Tanya?'
'If she comes to the dance class, yes.'
'Tell her,' he pointed to the letter, 'tell her I can't accept what she writes here. I won't accept it. Tell her I will wait for her. Tell her to call me….Please!'
And with that, he turned away and walked slowly along the frozen pavement, and the pain in his side grew worse.

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