‘My mama always took care of her houseguests. Daddy used to work hard, from seven in the morning until seven in the evening, bringing home the bread to our idyllic little family. When he was away and I was home, mama always had a new guest on her mind, the local priest, one of papa’s friends, even a mortician that travelled all the way from Elektrozavodsk when granddad slipped and cracked his noggin’ open. Her ritual was important, dust off the welcome mats, clean the floors, set out a lovely spread on the table, tea, toast, moderate but impressive for a poor family like ours. I didn’t understand why she took such pains to put her best foot forward, not until I was a bit older, but every time I asked, this half-smile would cross her lips and she’d say “it just must be done.”’
Lazy fingers rested on the steering wheel of a battered looking vehicle, grey paint beginning to peel from the exterior, though the interior fared much better, with comfortable looking blankets laid out to conceal the ripped leather upholstery. A lone man, roughly in his early twenties, sat in the driver’s seat as the car slowed up close to a checkpoint, the engine shutting down with a sharp click as torch light streamed through the front window, momentarily blinding him. Quiet voices could be heard, two men it seemed, speaking Russian with heavy accents, deep gruff voices bouncing against the shut windows of the vehicle. The man in the car waits patiently for them to arrive, one on either side of the vehicle, wary of late night travellers. There had been violence in these parts recently, these men would be on their guard.
Tap. Tap. Tap. The guard’s knuckles rapped against the driver side window. Slowly, the driver rolls down the window, leaving it roughly three-quarters down, allowing the guard full view into the vehicle. A wordless glance passes between the pair, before the guard flashes his torch into the front and back of the car briefly. Seemingly satisfied that there were no weapons or contraband in immediate view, his suspicious gaze switches back to the driver. “Travelling late tonight.” The driver nods curtly, before the guard continues speaking, leaning close to the car. “You mind telling me why?” A false smile creases the driver’s lips, convincing but forced nonetheless. “Spent three days in that shithole back there, thought I’d overnight the journey and surprise the wife in the morning.” He stifles a fake yawn, before returning his gaze to the guard, a weariness in his eye that he, fortunately, did not have to fake. “Pass me your identification then.” The guard gestures aggressively whilst the driver fishes a driver’s license out of his pocket, handing it over promptly. A few tense seconds pass, the guard’s eyes scanning over the license, seemingly to gauge the reaction of the driver more than the validity of his identification. “Name?” When questioned, the driver replies in a terse voice. “Ivakin Zakharov.” A raised eyebrow is thrown his way from the guard, as if the change in tone had been noted. “When were you born?” The raised eyebrow is returned by the driver. “May 8th, 1993.” Confusion contorts the guard’s face. “Aren’t you a little young to be married?” Laughing slightly, the driver nods. “You sound like my mother.” After a few more seconds, the guard returns the license and gestures at his partner to move to the rear of the vehicle.
“Step out of the car for me please.” Without hesitation, the door clicks open and the driver’s boots hit the ground, stepping out slowly to avoid invading the guard’s space. He shuts the door again and moves to the front of the car, resting himself against the hood. With one of the guards watching him, the other moves to the rear of the vehicle and pops the boot open, flashing his torch into it with a furrowed brow. Another tense minute passes, then the vigilant duo exchange another glance, the searcher shaking his head slightly. Within a few seconds, the expression on the interrogating guard’s face had changed completely, from once of suspicion to one of relief. With a nod to the driver, he gestures at his partner to return to the front of the vehicle to allow him through. “Everything appears to be in order. Drive carefully.” Without pausing to hear the driver’s response, both men spread out and return to the checkpoint, raising the barrier to allow the vehicle through.
Russia, a back road between nowhere and fuck knows:
The familiar click of the engine stopping graces the driver’s ears as he pulls up on a lonely country road. It was early morning, cold, with near frozen dew mounted atop scant grass in the surrounding fields. Blowing into his hands, he then steps out of the vehicle and moves to the rear of the car, opening the boot with a pressured wheeze from the aged metal. Moving his equipment to the side, some old books and a jacket mainly, he taps on the base of the compartment, popping it up softly. Within the concealed compartment, a young man, roughly the same age as the driver, would be hidden, curled up in the foetal position. Prodding him awake, the driver then turns and looks out onto the rolling countryside. “Get out. You’ll want to stretch, then put on the clothes I left with you.” Bleary eyed and slow from his cramped position in the boot, the smuggled man is slow to do anything. “Thanks for this Bori. I knew you and your people would take care of me.” Squinting, Bori’s gaze remains affixed on the horizon. Bori speaks softly, almost as if he was speaking to someone else present, though only two of them stood on the side of the road. “Well, my mama always taught me to take care of my guests.”