This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 833 words.
“This time, there was no closed van. They had a lorry backed onto the end of the platform, one of those army-type trucks with a canvas cover over the open back. I had to wait until everyone had left the train, then they hurried me up to the lorry and helped me into the back. One guard got in front with the driver, and the one handcuffed to me sat on the bare foor in the back with me. I was expecting the Lubyanka of course. We had all heard about the KGB headquarters, with the fearsome prison attached to it. I had walked past it on more than one occasion when I had been working in Moscow. But they drove me south-west, past the State University, and out into the suburbs. Pause there please, I need the lavatory”.
Helen was gone for some time, long enough for me to consider knocking on the door to see if she was okay. But as I stood up to do that, she came back.
“That was a part of Moscow I didn’t know. Some light industry, run-down housing, and then we suddenly turned left. I didn’t see the prison until they told me to get down from the lorry. It looked like a prison in London. Large walls surrounding a structure that was probably built before the turn of the century. The soldiers took me though a side gate, handed over some papers to a man behind a screen, then unlocked the handcuffs. The man behind the screen told me not to move, and to look at the floor. Then as the soldiers left, he picked up a telephone and said something I couldn’t hear. I fiddled with the transfer document which was in the apron pocket of my shapeless dress, hoping they would give me something to eat and drink once I got inside the prison. But that was not to happen for a long time that day”.
She lit a cigarette, then poured some more vodka from the bottle. I noticed the label was in Russian, and read ‘Gorlovka’. It was a litre bottle, though I had seen Helen pouring from half-litre bottles previously. I noted that down in my notebook, as I was sure it was not readily available in Britain in twenty-fifteen.
“They put me through the induction procedure. I was taken to the showers, though this time they were hot. The soap was the same though. Then I had to have all my hair cut off. They used clippers, Martin. When I struggled at the sight of them, one of the female guards slapped me so hard it made my nose bleed. After they almost shaved my head, I had to strip for a medical examination by a nurse who was smoking a cigarette as she fiddled with me. And I mean fiddled with me, Martin. In any way of looking at it, it was sexual assault. Squeezing my breasts, fingers inside me front and back, and all the time leering at me, to let me know she was enjoying it. Then the guard gave me a new uniform. No bra was offered, but I got three dresses, three pairs of pants, some rubber shoes, and a scarf for my head. I was overjoyed when they issued me with a toothbrush, tooth powder, toilet paper, and my own bar of greasy soap. Have you ever used tooth powder, Martin? Of course you haven’t. It is abrasive, pink in colour, and tastes awful. But the thought of being able to clean my teeth excited me. How crazy was that? They gave me a towel too, and told me I would get two showers a week, with the towel changed every other week”.
She stopped for a moment to light another cigarette, she was chain-smoking now.
“One of the guards took me to my cell. It was still a bucket in the corner, and I was told that I could not associate with the female Russian prisoners. Fifteen minutes in the exercise yard every day, and I was allowed to choose one book a month from a trolley that was wheeled round. I cannot begin to express my joy at being told I could read a book, Martin. That guard also told me that I had to eat in my cell, and food would be brought to me. Before she had finished speaking, another guard arrived with a big glass of sweet tea, and a plate containing stuffed cabbage leaves covered in some sort of yoghurt, accompanied by three thin slices of rye bread. Hard to believe now, but I thought I was dining at the Ritz that night”.
She sat thinking for a moment before continuing. I had a feeling that she was deciding whether or not to add a detail. Then she did.
“The guard winked at me as she locked me in, and she said this. ‘The nurse likes you a lot. If I were you, I would ask to see her again”.