This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 745 words.
Helen relaxed and sat back. She watched as I finished my almost cold tea, then continued.
“By the time Olga came around to her month of night duty, the weather was turning cold in Moscow. I was issued a padded coat, and a pair of big boots made of compressed felt. They are called Valenki, and are really warm. Mine were so big, I could wear the rubber shoes inside them and they still flopped around on my feet. But when I went out for exercise, I was grateful for everything, including the headscarf. Olga came into my cell around ten that first night, after turning on the light from outside. She sat next to me on my bed and gave me a flat packet containing eighteen cigarettes, and a small book of matches with a white cover. She said I should only smoke them at night, then hide them inside my underwear at other times. She also told me that if I tried to use the matches to start a fire in my cell I would spend months on the solitary block. The she opened a notebook and told me to teach her English. I started by translating the Cyrillic alphabet, and by the time she had to leave, I had taught her a couple of dozen basic words. It was getting light when she went, and she reached into one of her pockets and gave me a small bar of cheap chocolate. I broke off a piece and sucked it, but the sugar hurt my teeth so I stashed the rest under my mattress until my mouth had healed. Telling you that has given me a fancy, hang on”.
She came back in the room with a box of Mint Matchmakers. I shook my head when she offered some to me. Then she crammed a few into her mouth and was mumbling as she carried on.
“Olga was bright enough, though she struggled with her accent, which made some words unintelligible. But I persevered, and she was happy to keep going. During that month, I got lots more cigarettes, some dry biscuits, and a carton of pulpy orange juice. She also allowed me two books from the trolley instead of one. When I asked her for some fresh fruit, oranges or apples, she just laughed at me. She said I should know better, that there would be nothing like that in the shops until the end of next summer, and then the queues for them would be so long she would never have time to wait in them. Not for the first time, she said I should ask to see the nurse. She grinned as she told me, ‘she likes you, she will be a good friend for you in here”. The next morning, I asked Alina to arrange for me to see the nurse, and she didn’t even ask why. She did pull a grumpy face though, as everyone else had to be locked in before I could be taken to the medical block”.
More Matchmakers went into her mouth, and she filled a tumbler full of vodka to drink with them.
“It was around four in the afternoon when Alina took me to see the nurse. The woman told Alina to wait outside, then told me to get undressed. When I was naked, she produced a safety razor from a drawer and told me to use the sink in the room to shave my legs. She said I looked like a monkey. No, a chimpanzee, that’s what she said. I used the bar of soap on the sink, and managed to completely shave my legs. I didn’t bother about under my arms. Then she told me to run fresh water, and to wash myself. I’m talking about between my legs Martin, just to clarify. When I had done that she said I should lie on the examination couch. I suppose the best description I can give you of what followed is that she played with me for around fifteen minutes. Then she took off her uniform, swapped places, and told me to do what she had done. When that was over, she asked me what I needed. I told her cigarettes, matches, and fruit. She was very affectionate, and actually kissed me before I left, telling me to ask to see her the day after tomorrow”.
She lit a cigarette, and grinned at me.
“And that is exactly what I did”.