This strange day. Joanna's Page 1

Yulia Ivanova

This strange day. Joanna's Page 1

The day happened to be strange, Bulgakov's, from the very beginning. Before she had something to do in city. Overnighting in her Moskow's flat, she on her way to her cottage passing the church decided to come in.

Along the church fence beggars were sitting right on the asphalt among whom Uzbek or Tajik was noticeable; he was in a crimson-green striped quilted robe and in boots with galoshes despite the heat. On his knees a skullcap with coins was lying; one of his eyes was bandaged with a transparent woman's headscarf with lurex. When she gave alms to him, an old man look asquint at her with his other weak-sighted washy medusa's kind eye, begin to bow down, smiled showing his widely spaced decayed teeth and mumbled something unintelligible in his own language.

The service just began, there were few people at the confession, and she approached recollecting that she hadn't confessed for a long time. After standing at the liturgy she didn't stay for a public prayer and hasten to her car. An old man with his eye bandaged with a headscarf was still sitting at the fence. He glanced at her from the lurex with his healthy eye, and now it was bright yellow like a warning signal of a traffic light. But the strangest thing was not this eye but the fact that an old man suddenly pronounced in an old-fashioned and ceremonious manner and in perfect Russian like a merchant from Zamoskvorechye,

"Congratulations on the Memorial Day of the saint and the most Orthodox martyrs Boris and Gleb, mother'!

Being perplexed she put into his greasy skullcap all coins left in her purse and ran away. Suddenly her surprise changed to a discovery that today was really 'Boris and Gleb', and it was a strange southern old man who told her about it, and she herself standing the service somehow shut her ears to it. And now she must phone Varya if she was in Moscow and convey her congratulations to Gleb; today they were surely getting in touch on the phone. And of course let Varya give her regards to Ganya...

Varya turned out to be in Moscow and told Joanna to come in any case, because today Yegor and Iris would be present; they would celebrate Gleb's name day and then tonight they would see Iris to an airplane to the USA to give birth to a baby. Her parents insisted on it, and Yegor ("you know what the use of him is in this regard; he is always too busy) consented to it. So they would sit and celebrate together, hearten Iris and pray for everything to be all right.
Varya told Joanna to come immediately in order to help her to set the table. Though the regulations of the Gold Mount didn't encouraged eating delicacies, Joanna dared to buy a teacake and some fruit for Iris and future baby.

In Zlatov's flat everything changed: two adjoining rooms where children once lived with the separate entrance from the corridor were filled with computer desks. Some clever boys worked there; something continuously peeped and screeched. Varya explained that now the press centre of the Gold Mount was there. To the question about icons, library and pictures she assured with a mild smile that everything was taken out and reserved i.e. it worked and brought profit and benefit, and now they had their own exhibition hall, reading hall and so on.

About the cake Varya told that it was a dissipation and 'white death' but very beautiful; she gave instructions about setting the table and informed that Yegor brought Iris out of city to the priest Andrey to get his blessing before her long way and childbirth. What was surely known was that there would be a baby-girl, the science was progressing, and it was decided to name a future girl Maria - the most honored name in both sides of the ocean - Mary.

The entrance door banged, it was Yegor.

"Mom, I have some things to do here; I must contact some people; could you accompany Iris? She is downstairs in the car; it is difficult for her to go upstairs one more time... Vladik and Nikolay (the driver and the bodyguard) are there with her; let them go for a ride; I don't need them here... My regards to father Andrey and come back as quickly as possible. Hello, Joanna. It is so nice to see you here..."

Joanna immediately understood that something had happened. She had an intuition for such things. She opened her mouth but Yegor hushed her. And only when the lift with Varya went down, he carried Joanna to the kitchen and closed the door behind himself.

"What's happened"?

Blond-brown and dark-eyed Yegor, 'lightweight', wore shabby jean cloth; all their life such people are being addressed as 'young man'. Yegor was a person of dominant influence, a liberator of souls and leader of that mysterious 'Association of the Heavenly Law Confessors', a knight on a white horse.

"How now?" she almost yelled.

"First of all, hush", he spoke in his ordinary tone which was commanding and imperative, "Are your wheels here"?

"It is there on the embankment like a grey mouse. What next?"

"I see. It's very good. Now you will go downstairs, get into your car and read a newspaper. Is there any newspaper there"?

"It seems to be so. I have 'The News World '".

"That's fine. You will read "The News World" as if you were waiting for someone. Put the mirror so that it can be seen what is happening in front of the house. If you notice something, let me know," he offered a mobile phone to her.

"What will I notice"?

"Wait... Maybe it only seemed so. Well, you know that we have endless shakedowns, threats, and recently it happened very often..."

"What do they want?"

"They want us to disappear, close your almshouse' as they say... It's normal; it means that the process began... Simply it seemed to me that I had seen them. They bent down but I saw them. Three men with submachine guns having caps with cuts on their heads like gunmen a la russe. I saw them at a traffic-light then one more time. Something hindered them, I even know what... It's Mercedes-600, a dark blue one; its number is stained, a dark blue almost black one. They need me... I doubt they followed the car with my boys; they are watching me. They will be hanging about somewhere here until I go out... If you notice a commotion at the entrance door, phone me. Wait for our people and follow them; the boys will replace you."
"Oh, and what about..." she perplexedly looked at the table filled with food and immediately understood that she blurted out a stupidity.

"Go, I will do everything. And another thing: their Mercedes has different headlights: white and yellow ones.

The unsmiling maximalist Yegor chattered very seldom. She understood that everything was very serious.

She exactly performed Yegor's instructions but no matter how she gazed at the vicinity of Zlatov's house, nothing could be seen. She leafed over all the newspaper and completely calmed down for a while. "It has different headlights - white and yellow ones. Well, they are different and what of that?" She thought that something like that already happened today. "They are different: white and yellow ones. O Lord, the beggar! An Uzbek or Tajik with different eyes and zamoskvoretsky accent. It's nonsense; what does an old man have to do with it?"
But it was he who directed her to Varya; she would long ago have been at her cottage and walked with her dog Anchar...

Unpleasant chill ran across her back. But at this moment Yegor's car drove up. Iris and Varya without any problems went into the entrance; the boys duly stayed downstairs at their post. Nothing happened...

Joanna followed them and exchanged kisses with Iris who became noticeably roundish and without usual tan (doctors forbid her to get a tan). She admired at the professionally set table, thinking that a talented person was talented in everything. Yegor again hushed her and she humbly listened to undeserved compliments to her address about table appointments.
Some more guests came from 'the press department' and sat down to the table. They tried to get Gleb on the phone bur there were some problems with the telephone line. For every case Varya dictated a telegram and said that tonight (the plane was departing about midnight) she would try to call again.

Sitting at the table they soon began to talk about businesses and problems of the Gold Mount, and Joanna, saying goodbye and going down to the car, planned to go to her cottage but for some reason changed her mind. "No, it's better to watch for an hour or other but then her heart will calm down. She will make sure that they left, that nothing happened and cross Yegor and Iris on their way."

She had no specific action plan if case of emergency; she returned the phone to Yegor.

Ten years passed since the time when her country where she grew up and spent her life and which she loved was captured by a many-headed dragon. He tore the country into parts, by a piece for every head, ruined, defiled, defamed and befouled all things around. He gorged one and all: warriors, adult bread-winners, old people, virgins and children. He gorged not only bodies but souls, forcing them not to serve high ideals but making them food for his insatiable many-headed lust. The dragon infected the country with his bloodlust and people gladly snatched up leavings of bloody food from the master's table, not supposing that it was blood of their neighbors. They even gorged these neighbors by themselves.

It was only an act of complacency.

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