“WOMAN, LONGING TO LOVE”.
by EKATERINA GRAFF
“A woman may be weak nor strong, commit folly,
do dreadful things, be all or be nothing, and be – Lady…”
(Thomas Tryon, “Lady”).
“And she herself had learned the greatest lesson of all:
that we learn not through happiness, but through suffering”
(Thomas Tryon, “Lady”).
In the spring of the year 2000, Elizaveta Galitch is once more in Greece. When she came there for the first time ten years ago, she fell in love with this marvellous country, breathtaking in the beauty of the mainland landscapes and islands gleaming white under the sun, for the first time she experienced plenitude, peace and harmony in her questing soul. She felt she had found the liberty she had so long awaited, she felt wings growing at her back – that she could fly. The words of Honoré de Balzac on his beloved Mont d‘Or came to Lisa’s mind about Greece: “Nowhere else can such a agreeable combination be found of water and sky, mountains and earth. Only here can one find the healing balm for all life’s adversities. This place would conserve the mystery of sufferings, would relieve them, would silence them, would give to love some special significance, and, therefore, here passion would be deeper and purer”.
But this time her stay in Athens is longer than her previous visits and full of dramatic events. Six months ago she had married a much older man, whom she had known for many years, but whom she came to loathe. Dimitris Zagos, tyrannical and abusive, became her third husband, although he was ever her enemy and whom she will never be able to forgive or exculpate. He died suddenly, leaving not a penny to his wife. His sons from his first marriage wait impatiently to inherit Zagos fortune, which includes a great deal of money stolen long ago from Lisa and her family. Lisa herself in not interested either in his money, nor in his property: her marriage to Dimitris Zagos had been a complicated combination of compromise, necessity and hatred, and his death was not exactly the natural result of his long illness, but her revenge. A very expensive car, furniture, valuable paintings and chinaware belong to her by law, but she has no intention of claiming any of these unimportant material things. She had sought her revenge and she has fulfilled her aim.
That day, at the end of April 2000, Lisa returns from her husband’s funeral to the apartment that Mimis rented the last few years before his death, where they lived together for only eight months. At the funeral, once again she was the target of spite by Mimis’s relatives, whose hatred is provoked by her youth and beauty, and the erroneous suspicion that she will inherit Zagos’s money. She will stay in the apartment only till morning and after packing her belongings, her paintings and some unfinished canvases, as well as the potted plant under which she was hiding the little cash she was managing to steal from Mimis, she will go to some hotel.
She does not blame herself for the death of Zagos, but the circumstances of his death, of which she was a part, are terrifying to her. She feels very lonely and wishes she had someone with whom she could share her fears. In her effort to calm down, she takes a sleeping pill. She needs to sleep, even for a while, for she will spend one last night in this apartment with the memories of her life, of the last hateful eight months, she will burn Mimis’s letters and once again remember all those who still owe to her. She falls asleep and, in her dreams, escapes to her childhood, where she felt safe, where she existed in the warm cocoon into which no evil could penetrate. That cocoon was love. The unique, unconditional, all-embracing love of her parents and grandparents, which she was addicted to in her childhood and which she was doomed to chase after all her life, in the futile attempt to experience it again, giving it to a child, awaiting it from a man. This is what makes her the woman, longing to love.
She was named Lisa after her great-grandmother Elizaveta Homenko, the descendant of a noble family from the province of Kharkov. Besides her name, Lisa inherited from her grandmother her beauty, rebellious character, sharp mind, and her pride. Lisa was born in Ismail, in the Delta of the Danube River, close to the southern borders of Ukraine, in the very beautiful house of a former Turkish consul, enclosed by an old garden. She had the good fortune to grow up there, surrounded by her beloved, without experiencing Communism, its levelling and poverty, for eight whole years.
She went to a school sheltered inside the walls of a large mansion built in the early twentieth century by a rich Greek merchant who had been ennobled and once lived in Ismail with his family. On the fine mosaic floor of the biggest room of his house, he ordered to be written the name of his only son, who was born a cripple. While running on that beautiful mosaic floor during breaks between lessons, Lisa never paid attention to what was written on the floor. Yet there her future destiny was written. But of course, she could never imagine that one day, life would bring her together with the grandson of that Greek merchant, that she would love him and marry him and become a Countess. Even less could she imagine that shortly after their wedding, Adam Eratinos would mysteriously disappear.
In the meantime she grows up acutely observing the adults, in the embrace of the love of her grandfather, grandmother and her parents.
Anna, Lisa’s grandmother, is a descendant of a noble family, in turn, in her mother’s line, but in the late fifties, only some years after Stalin’s death, in the small town of Ismail nobody boasts of such things; on the contrary, antecedents of nobility have been purposefully forgotten or intentionally lost in the cause of revolutions, repressions and wars. Nevertheless, when Lisa is born, Anna was reading a book about Catherine the Great, dreaming that one day her granddaughter will become the same strong and remarkable personality. Anna has her own story: being the youngest, the thirteenth child of Elizaveta Homenko, she was orphaned at the age of three. Anna’s mother died of typhus when she was forty-two. In depression after the death of his wife her father takes to drink and dies one year later. Little Anna is taken into a family where her adopted mother is a woman of promiscuous behaviour and in whom her husband, a doctor, who loves her against all odds, tries to arouse maternal feelings by bringing a child into the family. When doctor is at work, Annushka goes hungry most of the time, and has to witness drinking orgies and sex taking place in front of her eyes. She runs away, living in the street until her much older sister Anastasia decides to take care of her. Anastasia is married to a Red Army officer. Anna lives with her until she is sixteen when one day, at a party, her brother-in-law introduces her to a dark-eyed, dark-haired, tall and extremely handsome officer. Yakov is a Ukrainian Jew, who, for fear of repression and pogroms, conceals his nationality. Anna, eleven years younger than he, falls in love and marries Yakov. Lisa’s mother Alexandra was born of that marriage. At the end of the ‘30s, Yakov is put under house arrest by the Stalin regime. While imprisoned in his own house, he wears the uniform of the Tsarist army, paints and writes a book about a young fellow, a Mormon, who is forced to serve in the Red Army. Anna understands that the uniform and the book are suffice for her husband to be executed and lives in dread every passing day and especially at nights, when the ‘cherny voron’, ‘black crow’, a car that goes the rounds at night collecting people from their houses, would appear in the yard in front of their house. Anna prays only that the life of Yakov should be spared. And indeed, by a miracle he escaped execution, but finds his death in military action at the beginning of the second World War, in August of 1941. After the war, Anna marries again. This was Nikita Yartsev, who replaced Alexandra’s father and became Lisa’s adored grandfather.
Nikita Yartsev – a provider, who guarantees that all the whims and needs of the whole family are satisfied, occupies an important post as director of the Danube Trade Fleet in Ismail and introduces his beloved granddaughter to a way of life only a position in power can provide. But Nikita himself, whilst enjoying the responsibilities, opportunities and benefits deriving from his elevated status, loathes his environment, which includes his fellow high-ranking members of the Communist Party, and refuses promotion to an even higher position in Moscow. He is unable to forget what the regime he is now obliged to serve has done to his family. His parents had four sons and a daughter. Having worked their way up, through hard manual toil on their own land to middle class prosperity and, collectively with other farmers, having restored the country’s agriculture that had been ruined by the Civil War of 1918-1920, one day they found themselves declared the enemies of the state. The families of successful farmers such as they, the entire class of the society, were named Kulaks (‘kulak’ meaning ‘fist’, that is metaphorically he who lets nothing go from his tightly closed fist, who keeps everything to himself). Stalin ordered the class of kulaks to be exterminated and poor villagers instead to be organized in kolkhoz, thus establishing in the Soviet Union a ‘symbol of fraternity and equality for all the deprived of the world’, the new form of slavery, for the membership in kolkhoz was a lifetime ‘privilege’. Nikita’s parents and his three brothers were massacred in their own house, and his only sister was raped and then murdered by the Reds. Nikita by miracle managed to save his life. That morning he was not at home, and being warned by the neighbours, he ran away to the nearby village and was saved by one of the peasant families. He found work wherever he could, and at the beginning of the 2nd World War found himself at the front. For five long years he fought to defend his Motherland from the Nazis, hoping that everything would change after the war. Together with the Soviet troops he reached Berlin without a single scratch and, for his heroic deeds, which were many and great, he was awarded the Golden Star of Hero of the Soviet Union. After the war they sent him to study in Leningrad at the Institute of Economics and Commerce and, upon graduating successfully he was appointed Director of the Commercial Fleet of the Danube river. This was when the whole family moved to Ismail, to the house of the former Turkish Consul. There, Nikita was made boundlessly and indescribably happy by the birth of his granddaughter Lisa, not having had the chance to enjoy children of his own from his marriage to Anna. He takes care for Lisa to have a good life, he brings her beautiful presents from Austria and Hungary, he spoils her in every possible way but never forgets to teach his granddaughter that a good life has to be taken with gratitude, humbleness and dignity.
One thing only spoils his happiness: after the war ended and there was no change in the Soviet regime towards democratisation, Nikita is constantly afraid that one day someone will find out about his past, that he is from a kulak family and that the life of his present family and most of all, of little Lisa will be inevitably damaged. Haunted by his fears Nikita passes away early. He is not given to enjoy his life in full. When he is only fifty, he dies of cancer of the pancreas.
Alexandra, Lisa’s mother, is a woman who constantly suffers from health problems. She is an example of the ‘lost generation’ of the sixties, when the hope for freedom came and went with the reforms of Khrushchev and his forceful removal by Brezhnev. She survives decades of a life of difficulties and emptiness with her husband, Vasiliy Tropinin, a naval officer, in several military cantonments all over the Soviet Union. She married Vasiliy without loving him, thus sentencing herself to a lonely life with him. Especially lonely are seven long years among the snowy hills of Kamchatka, where next to a tiny military village, in the permanently cold waters of the Pacific, like big whales, the submarines lie in a semicircle along the coastline. It is there that Vasiliy begins to drink heavily. Alexandra is a highly educated, sensitive, beautiful woman, who has lost her self in her own passivity, weakness and disappointments. She has not really lived, her existence is one of empty and futile efforts to grasp some meaning for her life under communism, a life without love. As Alexandra is someone generally incapable of passionate love, she is aloof towards her daughter too, seeing in the little girl a rival to her beauty and a personality too clever to submit, like everybody else in the family, to the whims of her weak and capricious mother. The excellent education she had at the Leningrad Institute of Foreign Languages, her fondness for novels and beautiful things and her egoism, is what keeps her going through all the empty years of her life, and not sink into insanity, or turn to drink like her husband. Very often her life shrinks to a single maddening conjecture: whether Vasiliy will come home today or will finally drink himself to death, among the boundless, hateful snows of Kamchatka. When Lisa is sixteen years old, having failed to save their marriage, Alexandra and Vasiliy divorce.
Vasiliy Tropinin, Lisa’s father, is a naval officer, but especially a very talented self-educated painter. Service in the navy oppresses him, diminishes him and ties his hands. Born in a Siberian village, he inherited his talent and good looks from who knows who. His wavy dark hair, his patrician curved nose, his huge grey eyes with long black eyelashes and his gentle and sensitive heart conquered many women, but did not earn him Alexandra’s love. This is the reason why he is so anxious to see his daughter born. Vasiliy has spent his childhood in the midst of the harsh Siberian nature, a dangerous, overwhelming wilderness, which has made him a sensitive and imaginative person. It is he who entertains Lisa with fairy-tales and with toys made with his own hands. He teaches his daughter to paint, to go hunting and to live a free life, full of adventure and pleasures. He is himself like a fairy-tale character, elusive and, unfortunately, unreliable. Unable to come to terms with the stupid and very often abusive and dangerous military service, where human life means less than a verbal order from some drunk or insane commander, he finds an escape, at first in his imagination and painting and then becomes an alcoholic. After his divorce from Alexandra, he will forever erase his daughter from his life, probably willing to punish her, because in court during the divorce hearing, Lisa, too young to judge, unhesitatingly sided with her mother.
But all these tragedies were still to come. The town of Ismail was joined to the Soviet state at a late date, only after WWII, signifying that the way of life, the traditions and mentality of its inhabitants were not yet crippled by the ideology. The Ismail house, with its tall walls also protects the family from the communist infection, which little by little crept into the city. Lisa grows up in this house knowing nothing of fear, of poverty, or of the obligatory obedience to the rules of the system.
When Lisa is nine years old, Nikita dies. Her happy life shatters to pieces. Her childhood, spent in a house with a garden where goldfish swim in the pond, comes to an end.
Lisa wakes in tears, as the last vision of her dream was of Novodevichje cemetery in Moscow and the open mouth of the crematorium oven sucking the coffin with the body of her beloved grandpa into its roaring flames. She thinks of Mimis and that once she had been willing to trust him as she could trust only Nikita. Mimis has brutally betrayed her naïve and innocent trust, stepped on her like on a vulnerable and oversensitive bloom, cultivated in the isolated greenhouse of a closed society. Yet, he failed to break her spirit, as the adventurous character and the dignity inherited by Lisa from three generations of women of her clan, helps her to survive and pay him back. She goes to the fireplace and starts burning Mimis’s letters. He has been writing to her over the years, begging her to come back every time she left him, making renewed, and false promises, unable to forget her Botticelli body and referring to himself as a ‘stag’. Wondering why she still has these letters, Lisa remembers how it all began with Zagos.
In 1974, Lisa entered Kiev University, as a student in the department of Romano-Germanic languages and literature. A year later she was admitted to the Intourist course, at that time very prestigious, as it was a Soviet monopoly for the organization of domestic travel for tourists and visitors from abroad. Although Lisa had the opportunity to meet interesting people, at the age of nineteen she married Alexis Galitch, the son of a Party official in one of the key positions of the State Planning Committee. She thinks she is in love with this handsome and promising young man, sure of a successful career as well as a prosperous life, because of his father’s position. Lisa longs to live in the sort of comfort that she lost at the death of her grandfather. Following her parents’ divorce, the three women, Anna, Alexandra and herself have practically been starving. With her marriage to Alexis Galitch, Lisa hopes to improve the situation of her own family.
But her hopes are not realized. Alexis’s father considers his son a grown man who, having decided to marry, has to provide for his wife himself. He denies his son any help or material assistance. Alexis loses self-confidence, turning out to be a weak husband, envious of the achievements of his young wife. Lisa earns enough money to cover the needs of both of them, as she promised herself to safeguard the family against all odds, but not to divorce as her parents did. One year after the wedding, she gives birth to Ignat, her son who, as he grows up, becomes the person she is closest to, sensitive and responsive personality.
After some time Lisa had worked for Intourist as an interpreter, she was recruited by the KGB, with whom Intourist was very closely connected. A KGB officer supervised every Intourist language department. On the top floor of the nineteenth century European Hotel, housing the premises of Intourist, there was a room frequently visited by a certain Captain Belov. His duties included observing the young interpreters of both sexes, paying the greatest attention to young, intelligent and beautiful girls.
From the days of her childhood, Lisa loved it when something happened in her life, and she was always on the alert for some kind of adventure. She cannot bear it when her days go on monotonously and uneventfully, like the mechanism of a well-tuned watch. In January 1980, melancholy possessed her adventurous mind and restless soul. She was depressed, realizing that her marriage to Alexis had become a rather dull, boring routine – Alexis had failed to grab the tiger of life by the tail, reducing himself to a narrow-minded existence. But worst of all is that he is a bad father, with no interest at all in his little son. Lisa is unable to forgive him his indifference. In the professional sphere there was the same stagnation: after the invasion of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, foreign tourists avoided visiting the country-aggressor and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games. The only worthwhile adventure, from her point of view – albeit a risky one – was her conspicuous disobedience to rules of discipline established at Intourist, including spying on the tourists and reporting on them to the KGB supervisors. Once Lisa was helpful to a young American in a tourist group escorted by her to the other republics of the Soviet Empire. He was thought to be an American intelligence agent. Lisa not only risked her career and freedom because of her desire to disobey the system, she also managed to fall in love with the attractive spy.
After this risky but inspiring episode, she sees a new possibility for her love of adventure in becoming a spy herself. More than once, Captain Sergey Belov invited her to the small room on the last floor of the European Hotel, insisting on recruiting her into the newly opened department of the KGB, so, eventually, seeing it as a challenge, she finds herself in the Organization. Elizaveta Galitch is given the rank of lieutenant, thus becoming one of the few women officers in the KGB. But as soon as she becomes an officer, it is also obligatory to become a member of the Communist Party. Lisa however refuses to join the Party.
While recruiting her to the Organization, nobody tells her the truth about exactly what she is going to be engaged in. Instead of reading and analysing the foreign Press as promised, Lisa is used in a different way: listening in to the telephone and private home conversations of the so-called ‘suspects’, i.e. ‘unreliable’ -- from the ideological point of view -- citizens. Lisa loathes what she has to do. Besides, the usual practice among the officers is to report on one another to the higher-ranking officer. This Lisa will never do. Very soon, she is known as a rebellious officer and once, during a conversation with her in a high tone, her superior, Colonel Pesnevskiy, threatens to punish her by sending her to Afghanistan, where according to him, she will either be killed or kidnapped and tortured, or will become an army whore. Lisa does not flinch. Looking him straight in the eye, she asks when to start packing. Realizing that Lieutenant Galitch is not afraid of him, the colonel decides to get rid of her. He assigns Lisa on a very dangerous mission, in the hope that she will never return. She is transferred to one of the Western Ukrainian settlements and ‘planted’ in the attic of the house of a ‘traitor’, where a meeting between the members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, OUN, and their ‘guests’ from Canada is going to take place. Settled in the attic (the owner of the house can do nothing but agree to her presence, as his wife and children are held as hostages by the KGB), Lisa must, without making the slightest sound, renew the tapes of the recorder. As the lonely hours pass, Lisa thinks back to her memories of her grandfather, his hopes for a better life after the war, for the justice deserved by the warriors who brought the country to victory. All those hopes were wiped out with the second wave of the repressions instigated by Stalin, who, in the post-war days, felt the threat to his power from the war heroes – officers and generals – who had the nationwide recognition, acclaim and gratitude. Nothing changed in the system. Systems never change; they manipulate peoples’ minds and lives. Lisa decides at that moment that she wants no part in the political games. She refuses to take sides. And she therefore reveals her presence in the attic. The ‘guest’ from Canada points a gun at her, but at the last moment Lisa is saved by Captain Belov, who has been in love with her for a long time by now.
Yet another unpleasant episode happens to Lisa while serving in the KGB. There are annual shooting tests, which have to be passed by the officers of her department. To obtain her credit, she visits a basement of one of the gray buildings of the KGB main quarters. The vast space of the basement is turned into an underground shooting range. One day Lisa is left alone with an officer in charge who, exemplifying the silent rule of the KGB, according to which its men are kings, and women disposable material, who have to obey orders, any orders, tries to rape her. Lisa knows how to shoot, her farther taught her shooting, taking her to shoot empty cans and bottles in the uninhabited hillocks of Kamchatka. Lisa is ready to shoot her assaulter and spend the rest of her life in military prison. She shoots in the air, frightening him to death, and thus saves herself. Colonel Pesnevskiy, who is eager to acquire material compromising rebellious Lieutenant Galitch, on occasion has been following her. This time he had followed Lisa to the basement, and finds her with her clothes in disorder and with a gun in her hand, the shooting instructor on the floor, with his hands up. Colonel Pesnevskiy helps the officer to his feet and, both of them staring at Lisa, start laughing, loudly and mockingly. Lisa asks herself why, since Nikita’s death, the men in her life willingly or unwillingly, more often willingly, try to hurt her. After the divorce, her father disappeared without a trace, her husband, on their first night together, inflicted so much physical pain and humiliation on her. And here, now, her superiors, officers, men again, laugh at her, or is it at themselves, trying to disguise their own humiliation and even fear? Clever, sensitive, a woman of rare beauty, she cannot find a place for herself, in her own country, among her fellow-countrymen. In the best of cases they use her, in the worst they try to get rid of her as of some alien species that violates the integrity of the system. She is longing for love, men fear to love her and, by hurting her, make her pay for their own fear. It is after this incident in the basement that Lisa decides to quit the KGB at any possible price.
She goes to Captain Belov and asks for his help. Though Belov wants to do his best, he is unable to do anything for her. He loves Lisa and suffers from guilt, for it is he who some time ago challenged her to try and to pass all the tests in order to join the KGB. He explains things to Lisa that she knows perfectly well by herself. There are three ways out of the KGB: to declare insanity, which has to be certified as an illness by the KGB doctors; to be fired for not being qualified for military service and specifically for service in the Organization, i.e. the person must be certified as unreliable, inefficient and fully incompetent (this article exists only on paper, as it is very rare that someone should be fired from the KGB. As a rule, people in possession of state secrets serve until they retire. It is safer to keep them under one roof and under one eye); and, finally, simply to die. Lisa understands that she is trapped.
Adding to all the unfortunate developments taking place in her life, there is one more – the poor health of Ignat, Lisa’s son, who is five. A year ago a gypsy fortune-teller, using well-known gypsy tricks while foretelling the future, took an expensive ring from Lisa’s finger. Lisa, having realized that she will never see her ring again, threatened the gypsy with the police. The gypsy woman threatens her in turn, saying that if Lisa goes to the police, she will find her little son seriously ill. Not believing in curses, Lisa went to the police but received no help from them. Some months later, Ignat, who was always a very healthy boy, started suffering from a lung infection, which the doctors described as the onset of tuberculosis. Lisa then submitted her resignation, explaining in a report the necessity for her to stay at home as she was needed to care for her only child in his precarious state of health. Lamentably, this was not a good enough reason for her KGB bosses, and her report was ignored for over a year. Nevertheless, Lisa manages to stay home with Ignat. An old woman doctor, a pediatrician, provides her with the required sick leave. It is only after Brezhnev dies, in November 1982, when the corrupt higher echelons of the KGB, anticipating Andropov’s reforms, resign in their hundreds, someone also signs Lisa’s resignation. From that moment she is free.
While in the KGB, Lisa meets Margarita Bulgakova, or Margo for short, who becomes Lisa’s closest friend. Margo’s father is one of the deputies of the KGB chairman in Moscow, where he lives with his wife and a son. Her father’s position gives Margo the possibility to be one of the few privileged officers in Kiev. She helps Lisa more than once in difficult situations and it is thanks to her efforts that Lisa can once again work for Intourist after resigning from the KGB.
In March 1989, as an Intourist interpreter Lisa takes her first trip abroad. She accompanies a group of Russian farmers on holiday to Egypt. After the first impressions of the ancient culture have settled in her mind, she looks further – beyond the splendor of the Nile, the desert and the Pyramids. Lisa starts watching people; she watches them closely, with hunger. Not the people from the streets, but the people in the hotels. People from another world. People on their vacations or business trips. People who came with money to spend, who can afford a good dinner or piece of jewellery for a wife or a lover to remember the trip to Egypt. Most probably, some of them worked all year to collect money for this trip, but they earn enough not to look like beggars. Their relaxed and self-assured appearance mesmerizes Lisa, she admires the way these foreigners absorb and enjoy the culture, the way they move, the way they speak, how it is natural for them to embrace their lovers or spouses in front of other people. The tourists from the Soviet Union, the country of prosperity and equality, have arrived in Egypt first, without their spouses: couples are not allowed abroad, for a couple could defect easier; second, loaded with electric irons and packs of cigarettes to sell, in order to have some extra money. They try to save money on everything, drinking water included, the problem of lack of money is constantly drilling into their minds, they are deaf to the stories about generations of pharaohs and blind to the beauties of the Nile. The aim of their trip is to buy a cheap tape recorder and a pair of jeans – things that cannot be found back in their Motherland, the country that launched the first spacecraft. Lisa understands that an average person, from whatever country, is first of all a consumer and then a patriot. If a given political system is able to satisfy the first, it will always have the second. The Soviet Empire has never seen it this way, and the result is known.
Lisa thinks a lot and compares the two worlds. She came to Egypt prepared: she has not been touched or influenced by Communism. She has accepted Communism as a way to survive, she lives on a parallel course with the regime, neither participating nor being involved, having established a sort of vacuum around herself, where she nurses some of her imaginary personal freedoms and dreams. Her parents and the grandparents, as well as the house at Ismail gave her the opportunity to grow up a free and independent personality. She values beauty most of all, not only the exterior beauty of things, but mostly the beauty of a human mind. The mind strong and capable of independent judgment, the mind that cannot be manipulated, that will never become the part of the crowd. Such a mind can be developed first through understanding what beauty is, then from the desire to differentiate beauty from ugliness, and then such a person would start reading, appreciating the inheritance left to us by other beautiful minds, thus educating himself and then he would start thinking, becoming an independent and mature individuality, who would never hurt an animal, another human being, who would never burn a book, destroy a city or a country. He will be the one who would never destroy the planet he lives on. It is exactly what Dostoyevsky meant, when he said, “ beauty will save the world”. Lisa has a strong aesthetic sense -- she is often taken for a foreigner in her own country -- and is often accused of not knowing ‘real’ life, where predominate poverty, indifference and the despair of the drunkard, political games and ideological oppression. The fact is that Elizaveta Galitch does not want to know anything of all these; she waits to fill the vacuum around her with other, worthwhile things.
Through Egypt Lisa sees other countries, another world. Anticipating this other world through her analytical mind, she understands that there she would fit in perfectly, and not in her own country, where the joys are different, naive and superficial, where in spite of free medical care, education and guaranteed minimal salaries and pensions, there is always fear that something can go wrong and turn back to the terrible times of repression, when people were being executed by the millions. People in Lisa’s country are still careful of what they say and of what they think. The greater majority of them, as if deaf and blind, still follow the course and in the way of the Communist party, whose leaders are bogged down in corruption. Behind is the genocide, during which 70 million lives were eliminated, ahead is a horizon concealed behind huge slogans of the utopia of Communism, one of which says that people should strive for equality. Lisa is aware that people cannot be equal, the human being is in essence a very competitive animal. It is true that the free education of soviet- type socialism guarantees a more or less equal start for young people but unfortunately, the equal start is followed by the same equal middle and the very equal end, which means that a person under the utopic ideology of Communism simply cannot develop either his ambitions nor his talents, if the latter do not coincide with the concept of socialist realism. Not being able to develop one’s ambitions is fatal, above all for the nature of the male of the species. It is not accidental that all men in the Soviet Union are like Lisa’s husband, Alexis – without drive, without ideas, without a future, unsexy, unromantic males, who fight neither for the ‘territory’, nor for the woman.
Nevertheless, there is something in the Soviet Union that allows the Soviet people to remain a live society, not completely deadened under the blows of Communist ideology. This element is books. Churches were closed, but not bookshops and libraries. The Soviet people are not only not deprived of the Russian classics by authors of the nobility, such as Tolstoy, Turgenev, Lermontov and others, they also have broad access to the latest novels published in France, England, the United States, Germany, Spain, Portugal etc. Perfectly educated translators do a perfect job and the novels, stories and plays of Fridrich Durrenmatt, Tennessee Williams, John le Carre, James Joyce, Bernard Clavel, Doris Lesing, Gore Vidal, Max Frisch, Tom Sharp, James Jones, Robert Ludlum, Michelangelo Antonioni, Truman Capote, Franz Kafka, Irwin Shaw, Salman Rushdie, E.L. Doctorow, Aldus Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut, Stefan Zweig, Lajos Mesterhazi, David Herbert Lawrence, Henry Miller, Iris Murdoch and Herman Hesse appear in the monthly magazines. The aim of the communist ideologists is to demonstrate through the novels of the foreign writers, how individuality and families suffer in the tough and ruthless world of imperialism, whose aim is endless and merciless exploitation. Instead, Lisa, like the majority of her countrymen, sees in these books a very attractive world, in which the human being feels more normal, more natural and simple.
Although it’s the last thing she expects, during her trip to Egypt Lisa falls in love. She meets Fahri-al-Fahmi in the bank where she changes money for her tourists. He is from a well known and wealthy family, highly educated, enchanted by Lisa. He takes Lisa to the most beautiful places of Cairo, to the best shops, to the noisy and crowded markets, to the nicest restaurants, to the historic sights unknown to the broader public. Between Fahri and Lisa there are no intimate relations yet, theirs so far are platonic though romantic, but her intense feeling for him, provokes the birth of the woman inside her, the woman who is very much responsive to any kind of beauty, attention and kindness. She understands how wonderful it is to love and be loved, to have money and feel safe, to have children by the man you love and to know that besides a secured future and the limitless love of their parents, these children will have all the toys and dresses they could need, and books, and even disposable diapers. In other words, the freedom to love that Lisa is missing so much, is when your own love, the feelings of your beloved one, your future family is important, but not the coming congress of the CPSU. The huge place that the coming congress of the CPSU occupies in one’s life, does not signify his or her choice because he or she is interested in politics but force-feeding brainwashing. In Lisa’s country not love but abusive ideology penetrates all pores of a human body. Leo Tolstoy said ‘love is life’ and Lisa desires to love exactly this way – freely, and fully, in other words making love her life. She likes the way Fahri treats her, the way his eyes speak, the way he kisses her, the way he attends to her least desires, the way he talks to her. The overwhelming attention Fahri pays her is part of courting a woman, habitual and even somewhat banal to men and women in the West, but a complete novelty for Lisa. She finds it lovely and exciting to regress from the emancipation of a Soviet woman to the femininity of a normal woman. Although, sadly, this love affair lasts not much longer that the trip itself, it has nevertheless evoked in Lisa some questions, other than musings on the essence of love, that she finds difficult to answer. One of them is: if she decides to marry a foreigner, would she be allowed to choose where to live?
The trip to Egypt in many ways becomes therefore Lisa’s Awakening.
After her return to Kiev, Lisa realizes that all her life, she has lived in the created by her space with her imaginary freedoms, but in constant dissonance with her inner freedom, unable to achieve harmony in connecting her dreams and her needs in one whole. Yet it is not political freedoms she seeks, she is looking for love, for she thinks that true love can liberate her as a woman, giving her strength and wisdom, to give her an identity in the world. Besides, at the beginning of the nineties, after the Soviet Union has collapsed, literally in three days, Lisa anticipates that ahead lie bleak years of uncertainty, political mistakes and tragedies. Aspiring to secure the future of her son and to protect her mother and grandmother from misery, she decides to marry Fahri and to leave the country.
Fahri-al-Fahmi proposes to her. All the relatives of his father’s family have been living in Paris for a long time by now and it is there, in Paris, that he is planning to settle with his new family. Lisa accepts, understanding that she will be obliged to convert to his religion, after they have discussed it. Fahri is not a fundamentalist – he is rather of a secular disposition -- religion for him is more a tradition, which he wants to share with his wife. He comes to Kiev and they consider themselves officially engaged. Lisa starts planning to divorce Alexis. After three days in Kiev, Fahri goes back to Cairo, where he announces to his parents his decision to get married. But then he suddenly disappears. Weeks and months go by but Lisa has no news from her beloved. She is depressed, she dreads every single day that might again pass without his phone call or letter. She is in such anguish that she falls seriously ill. After enduring unbearable pain in her ear and head, she understands that half her face is paralyzed. One day, out of this void, a letter arrives bearing Fahri’s name. Lisa is so overjoyed at the sight of the envelope that she immediately feels better. The letter, though, is written by someone unknown to her, informing that Fahri was in a car accident, that he is still in hospital and in a plaster cast. Then silence falls again. Lisa cannot comprehend such behavior, she suspects that Fahri’s silence conceals something else. She is incapable of forgiving him for such a betrayal. Though she understands that what has happened is not his fault entirely, she tries to forget him and to move on.
During the months of Fahri’s silence, Lisa starts writing a diary. The pages of the diary are full of her love and memories. In the same way a patient records the daily state of his health and improvement, Lisa records the condition of her soul and of her mind. This diary saves her from madness. Besides her love for Fahri, she writes, with profound insight, about the country’s political situation, about initial changes which will inevitably bring about the collapse of the system, she writes about her son and his future, about her husband and her inexplicable affection for him, about new and daring film directors, about forbidden before books and sources of information, about religion.
She tries to bury herself in her work, but she gradually understands that work is not a solution to her problems. In her dreams, while waiting to marry Fahri, she lived the life of a woman in comfortable circumstances financially, beloved wife of a prosperous man, mother of happy children. It is through this prism that she now sees her life, her work and the routine of the Soviet environment.
Lisa divorces Alexis, who, having developed an attitude of indifference to everything, due to his inability to progress anywhere in his life, doesn’t mind the separation. He does not fight to keep either his son or Lisa, easily admitting that he has failed to make her happy. That’s too bad, but so what? He wishes her all the best. It takes him a long time to find a place to live elsewhere after the divorce is pronounced, but eventually he leaves. Lisa’s marriage lasted thirteen years and she asks herself what happened to all those years? Were it not for Ignat, who is her pride and her reward, she could say that she just gave away thirteen years of her life as a present to Alexis Galitch. To an Alexis Galitch who never appreciated nor valued her gift. Lisa rejects alimony or any other help from Alexis, but does not change her name because of Ignat, who has his father’s family name.
After the divorce, Lisa starts openly looking for a husband. Now though, her practical mind advises her that not love but money is the only solution to all problems. If love happens as well, that’s fine, if not, she will have to learn how to live without love.
She becomes one of Intourist’s best interpreters, they entrust high-positioned visitors and official delegations to her. She meets a lot of people, who hold important posts in their countries. Men fall in love with her easily, but she keeps her distance. She decides that this time for her own sake and for the sake of her son she will pursue not love but the status of wife of rich and respected man.
And it then happens that she is asked to interpret for a group of Greek businessmen. Among them is Dimitris Zagos, who has been brought along as a friend for company by a ship-owner. Mimis is a retired pilot of the Greek Air Force, who has lost his wife and after some years of loneliness is looking around again. He is much older than Lisa -- she could be his daughter. Falling in love with Lisa at first sight, he promises to satisfy all her needs and wishes, asking her to accept his love. When he returned to Greece, Dimitris doesn’t allow Lisa to forget him, ringing her up several times a day, pressing her to come to Greece for a holiday, promising her she will see the most beautiful countryside, feast on the best food and wine, have her own private apartment, but above all, if she should decide to stay, promising her a job as teacher at the private foreign language school he owns. What could possibly suit her better? She will keep her independence and dignity, for in Mimis she sees only an older and hopefully wiser friend. As time passes, Lisa feels rather intrigued, and even comes to be attracted by such aggressive persistence in a retired airforce pilot.
Eventually Lisa, tempted by the kindness and the insistence of that far-away voice, overcomes the impossible, for, as a former KGB officer, she does not have an internationally valid passport and permission to travel, and finds herself in Athens.
It is the beginning of February, and Lisa is instantly enchanted by Greece, where all is coming into bloom and looks so lovely and inviting under the blue skies and warm sun of the Mediterranean. After the cold gray days of the Ukrainian winter the warmth of the climate, the brightness of the streets and shop-windows, comes almost as a shock to Lisa. Watching the nature, she has the feeling she has already seen all these plants, flowers and birds before. But, of course, she has seen it all in Ismail! Feeling instantly at home, Lisa recognizes in Greece the only place on Earth where she would like to live. She falls in love in Greece immediately and forever. But she is in the company of Mimis, who now seems a different person. Now that she is on his territory, he feels confident, blatantly demonstrating to Lisa the superiority of a person who lives in a free society, treating her as some undereducated provincial, a pretty but simple woman, whose great disadvantage is her origins – she was born over there, behind the barrier that separates people into good and bad. He takes Lisa to an apartment which, he explains, belongs to his son, who uses it for his illicit rendezvous. With surprise and disgust, observing the old furniture covered in dust, dirty windowpanes and worn carpets, Lisa somehow understands, that she is not the treasure this old man has been insisting to possess, but his trophy. He has brought her here not as a friend, not as an equal human being, a woman he claims he is in love with, but as a future lover from the third world.
She goes back home to Kiev. It is 1990, the Soviet Empire is in the last months of its life. Ukraine experiences utter economic disorder, with money which overnight has become worthless paper, there are no medicines or milk and long bread queues in cold winter dawns.
Intourist is still in operation yet, foreseeing its future, Lisa decides to quit. Intourist will very soon cease to exist, for neither official delegations nor tourists will any longer visit the country, which has lost its way in the chaos. She also has in mind the teaching job, which Mimis firmly promises her in his letters. This is the only way for Lisa to support her lonely mother and grandmother, widow by now for many years. She looks into the eyes of Ignat, who understands that he is the only man in a family of three single women, but is too young to take responsibilities and she sees the fear in his eyes. Mimis writes beautiful letters to Lisa, begging her to forget and forgive his rudeness and arrogance, saying he is going mad with longing for and loving her. He asks both Lisa and Ignat to come to Greece for their summer holiday. Mimis has summer house by the sea on the island of Aegina, where he offers to welcome Lisa and Ignat.
Lisa knows that she cannot trust Mimis, though she is lulled by the beauty and sincerity of his letters. In his letters, Mimis is somehow transformed into another person – poetic, understanding, with keen insight. And once again Lisa tries to convince herself, that it is not a lover she is looking for, but an older and wiser friend, a person, who will be willing to share responsibilities with her and will win her heart by taking care of her family and then, of course, she will find the way to show how grateful she is. Mimis’s letters reinforce her in this trend of thought. Lisa prefers to forget the first two weeks of her stay in Athens, in that small, dirty Piraeus apartment, she hopes that Mimis, afraid of losing her, has changed, that in place of the stinginess there will be generosity, and lust will be replaced by love. She nurses her delusions that Dimitris Zagos will love her as his daughter, being, mostly supportive and protective, in other words, the way her grandfather used to love her…
So, she decides to follow her impulse as argued in her mind and, with Ignat and a painting she has bought as a present to Mimis, once again she travels to Greece. Mimis brings them to the same apartment in Piraeus, where he announces to Lisa that the foreign language school has been sold, as his younger son is in need of money to continue his education abroad. The trip to Aegina will be the reward for Lisa’s ‘good behavior’. After some hours of restraint, he demands that Ignat should go and play with other children in Piraeus Square, and if he won’t, he may as well go to hell, because he, Mimis, needs to be alone with his mother. He pushes Lisa onto the bed, crushing her with his body, spitting saliva all over her face, trying to tear her clothes off her body. Ignat, witnessing this brutal scene, at first cannot move, but then, trying to protect Lisa, hits Mimis with a broken golf club he finds among a pile of old things.
That night Lisa and Ignat sleep in the room with the door locked.
Next morning Mimis makes an attempt to apologize and offers them, in spite of everything, to go to Aegina. Lisa agrees, for she has no choice. She has no money to buy return tickets to Kiev. The Soviet state, after the Iron Curtin has dropped, permitted its citizens to travel abroad as often as they want but allows them to take out a certain amount of money only once (this strange regulation originated from the practice adopted at that time, obliging a soviet citizen before going abroad to change the amount of money he intended to take with him in the special bank handling foreign exchange. The explanation for this nonsense was that many foreign countries did not recognize the rouble as a monetary unit, and it was therefore not subject to exchange. As soon as the permission to travel abroad was granted, lots of soviet people started travelling extensively. In order to avert a currency shortage, the Soviet state decided not only to limit the amount of money taken by its citizen abroad, but to allow this only once a year). On the way to Aegina Lisa promises Ignat they will soon leave, but she needs time to figure out how. Once they are on the island, they are waiting for something, for anything, for some opportunity, which will help them to find some money to escape. Mimis controls his ‘prisoners’ at every step, but does not touch Lisa any more and even proposes marriage. If she will marry him, he says, her life will be dedicated to satisfying his needs. Ignat would go to a low level but free school for immigrants. Lisa is speechless, as Zagos has broken all the promises he made to her. At the same time, she is aware that he is crazy for her youth and beauty, mad with desire to possess her, so why then is he so ungiving?
Mimis has his own story: since adolescence he has been dreaming of having lovers. Yet he never dared to because of his fear of it being a fiasco. He was also afraid that the society in which he circulated will begin gossiping about him and judging him. He married an educated, clever, calm and sensitive schoolteacher, which was a wrong choice, of course. All his life, Mimis has been dreaming of women of free morals, sexy and even a bit depraved. He has always wanted women, but was always hesitant in his approach. Straight after the birth of her two sons, his wife, Sue, refused to have any more intimate relations with him. She used every possible excuse as a good reason, even that they were going to church on the next Sunday. Sue died in her late fifties of cancer. After he buried her, Mimis had been waiting for one year. And now God had answered his prayers, giving him what he always dreamed of – a goddess, a beauty with the body only a Botticelli could create on his canvases. Here is a woman, young, modern, free, and sexy, who has as well the advantage of coming from an underdeveloped country, which means she is not aware of laws and her rights. And, of course, she does not have any rights here, in Greece. If she starts complaining, who will listen? The only thing that upsets Mimis, is that this Botticelli beauty has character and courage, dignity and pride, and brains too. Twice he has managed to tempt her into the trap, but so far without results. Somewhere he has miscalculated.
One evening, sitting with Ignat on a rock by the sea, watching a yacht all lit up, anchored in the small harbor of Suvala, Lisa says: “Trust me, we will leave and nothing will ever make us come back to this person again. Except, perhaps, a war…”
That night Lisa cannot sleep, she goes to the window of her room and looks at the yacht. The beautiful vessel is barely visible in the morning mist, but suddenly some hope begins to creep into Lisa’s heart. Very clearly she understands that all will be well, and who knows why, she feels she is falling in love. There is nobody to love, and only to hate, but she feels a warm and sweet feeling clasping her heart. She experiences unbelievable joy and excitement, and she can’t keep it to herself. Very carefully, in order not to wake Ignat, she slips into Mimis’s bedroom and makes love to him. This is her revenge for all the wrong and the evil he had done to her. For all his arrogance, and rudeness, and all his lies to her. He will never be able to forget her fleeting love, he will be bewitched till the end of his life. From this moment begins the stand-off between two people, Lisa and Mimis, the outset of a period of ten years that will bind them, that will become their damnation. They will not be able to lose one another, a merciless destiny will be bringing them together again and again, until the moment when Mimis will die, begging Lisa finally to yield to his desires.
On the deck of the yacht anchored in Suvala harbor, this particular morning while Lisa is looking at it from the window of her bedroom, George Aliagas is thinking about his life. He is almost fifty, but so far his life has not yet shared with him all the fruits it promised earlier. He has his own company, he is married, and he has children -- maybe more children than he knows. George loves women and knows them, he has had the best, but he has failed to meet The woman. A very special woman of his own stamp, adventurous, brave, clever, unpredictable, with whom he could risk and win, and enjoy the rest of his life. In the cool sea air, through white clouds of the morning mist, he sees the face of a very beautiful woman. George laughs at his vision and goes back to his cabin.
Next morning, for the first time during their stay on the island, Mimis goes to Athens to see to some urgent matters. Before he leaves, unable to believe to what had happened to him the previous night, he begs Lisa to “love” him, to be nice to him, promising her in return all the riches of the world. Lisa is not interested, as she knows that all Mimis says are lies. Last night was the punishment, the revenge, not love, and the fulfilment of this revenge is still ahead. She and Ignat, while they are alone, take the opportunity to go for a swim. The big sailing boat is still there, in the small harbor. Suddenly Lisa takes a decision: she will swim to the boat, will tell her story to the people there, to someone who will listen, and will ask for help. Most certainly, they will refuse or they will call the police, but somehow she feels that she has to use this chance. She asks Ignat to wait on the rock, takes her flippers and starts swimming. Her bright-yellow swimming suit, like a piece of gold, shines in the emerald waters of the sea. She has swum half way to the boat, when she catches the attention of some people on deck who are watching her, trying to guess where she is swimming to. When Lisa reaches the boat she is almost out of breath, “ I need to talk to someone”, she shouts from below. The people hesitate – she might mean trouble, be one of those Scandinavian girls, who get themselves drunk in the night to such an extent that in the morning they do not remember where they are staying. But the face of this young woman, turned up to them, is serious and sober, her huge eyes beg for help. Lisa is taken on board and given a towel. Now that she looks at all these men, who stand around her in a circle, a question, surprise, irony and distrust in their eyes, she hesitates to tell her story. She is ashamed. For the first time the sufferings Mimis caused her are overpowered by another feeling, merciless and biting: shame. Here, on the yacht, she asks herself how she has allowed herself and her son to fall into such a situation. Keeping silent, searching for the right words, she notices a man, who is watching her. He has peculiar face and especially peculiar eyes that remind her of the eyes of a wild animal, a predator. To compare these eyes to the eyes of a lynx or a tiger is too easy. No, these eyes are of a human being, who knows how to communicate his thoughts and his power through them. It was him that Lisa has been waiting for for so long, it was only him that she has wanted to love.
Eventually Lisa tells her story. She tries to make it simple: one of their fellow-countrymen has invited her and her son to come to Greece for a summer holiday. He is not a complete stranger; they have been corresponding for over a year. He has also offered her a job at his tutoring college. He is much older. She has trusted him. She thought he wanted to be a friend. She has made a mistake, she has trusted someone she shouldn’t. He has behaved badly towards her and now he keeps both of them, her and her son, as if they were prisoners, in his summer house on the island. She needs money to buy two return tickets to Kiev. Nothing else. Though the story sounds pretty banal, something in her tone and in her posture has made the men, who have been listening to her, believe her. Later, thinking of this, Lisa would come to realize that she was lucky. This was 1991, and not yet 1995, when the Ukrainian women would be rejected by their country en masse, because at that time their country, as a snake changes its skin, had been changing its political orientation. In times of difficulty the country gets rid of the ballast. Usually it is something that can be thrown out. So, in the Ukraine at the times of great changes, hundreds of thousands of women lost their jobs, having become waste cargo. Finding themselves on the streets, not knowing how to feed their children, for many of them were single mothers, stripped of the guaranteed soviet salaries, they followed the demand from abroad. The demand was primitive and brutal: cleaning ladies and prostitutes. There are times, when there is no choice, aren’t there? So, in the mid-90s, Ukrainian women arrived in countries like Greece, Turkey and Italy to offer themselves in order to save their families. In 1995, by which time Lisa had her own companies, she will be ashamed to hand her passport at hotels, knowing that any clerk behind the reception desk would think without fail that she was one of them.
After Lisa has finished telling her story, the man with the predator’s eyes writes a check on an Athens bank. Two young men volunteer to accompany Lisa, take her ashore in a dinghy, then put her in a jeep and, picking up Ignat, drive them to Athens. Lisa and Ignat are accommodated in a hotel on the coast. That night Lisa sleeps peacefully, seeing in her dreams the dark slanting eyes of the man she met on the yacht.
This time Lisa returns to Kiev psychologically traumatized, with no money and no prospect of a job. Fortunately, a letter from a friend awaits her. This is a Canadian, a government minister, with whom Lisa became acquainted several years ago in Kiev during the official visit of the Canadian delegation. Since then they have been exchanging warm and friendly letters. This time, in his letter, the politician, showing that he is aware of the situation in Ukraine, invites Lisa to consider his suggestion that she should emigrate to Canada permanently, for it will be no problem for someone with Lisa’s qualifications to find a good job. She jumps at the opportunity and replies affirmatively. A few days later a letter from the ambassador himself comes from the Moscow Canadian Embassy, with the forms for Lisa to fill in. She is ready to go to Moscow for the interview, but she must previously have a difficult and unpleasant conversation with her ex-husband. She has to obtain from Alexis the permission to take Ignat with her to Canada. He says that he will give such permission only under condition that he will go too. As soon as they are in Canada, he will leave Lisa and Ignat alone. During the interview at the Canadian Embassy, Alexis, who does not speak English, shows himself to be arrogant, and at the same time a fearful and useless applicant. After absenting himself for half an hour, the embassy employee returns to announce the rejection of their application. It is clear to Lisa that nobody in the Embassy has expected that she, the Minister’s protégée, who was to emigrate under privileged conditions, would bring her ex-husband in tow. Once she is back in Kiev, she writes to the minister, apologizing for what happened and explaining it was the only way to get the permission from her ex-husband, Ignat’s father, to take her son with her. The next letter from the minister, arriving after some delay, is very formal, informing Lisa where and how he and his family are going to spend their winter holidays. After that he never wrote to Lisa again.
Lisa feels an invisible door slamming shut in her mind: she can trust nobody and the world around her is threatening to disappear. She experiences a strange sensation, which she is unable to explain: she is not feeling suicidal, she never forgets that she has a child to live for, but it is as if someone else has decided that she must disappear, making her, with every passing day, weaker, less confident, more confused, bringing her to the point where she would definitively give up fighting. Lisa understands that she needs help.
Alexandra, who has been nursing hopes to improve her own life through a better position her daughter might secure by marriage or otherwise, feels very disappointed and gives in to her numerous diseases, real and imaginary. She finds physical suffering less threatening than the psychological, making of her diseases her silent friends, taking care of them on a daily basis, demanding of Lisa that she finance her expensive courses of medication.
Lisa’s friend of many years, Margo, whom she had met while serving in the KGB, and who stayed with the Organization after Lisa left, now holds the rank of major. Her father, who had been in a very high position in Moscow KGB, passes away. Margo feels completely lost without him. The protective walls he has built around his daughter’s life have collapsed. She is on her own now; nobody treats her with any respect at work any longer, and she discovers that whatever she thought she had achieved so far was due to her father’s position. Twelve years older than Lisa, she has to face the truth, the inescapable fact that says that without her father she is nothing. She has to learn how to start her life from the very beginning, but this time without her father, without exclusive shops, hospitals and rest homes in the Crimea for the KGB elite, not reinforced with guaranteed respect at work, without a cushion of privileges.
Margo’s daughter Nina, thinking of the material comfort provided by her late grandfather, presses her mother to reunite with Gennadiy, Margo’s ex-husband. Besides, Nina is now grown-up and wants her mother’s studio apartment to herself. Margo divorced Gennadiy some years ago. The reason for their divorce has been kept secret, but Lisa knows it: Margo cannot tolerate any intimate relations with Gennadiy. Not seeing a way out, feeling guilty toward her daughter for not being able to secure for her the comfortable life to which Nina, who has been spoiled rotten has become so much accustomed, not being able to cope with the loss of her dearly beloved father, Margo decides to move in with Gennadiy ... only to commit suicide there. Unable to face the reality, she jumps out of a window.
Lisa feels responsible for her mother’s sickness, considering it her fault, and for the suicide of her friend, Margo, with whom she had long talks over the telephone, but whom, as she thinks, she has failed to save. Anna, Lisa’s grandmother, devotes herself totally to Alexandra’s illnesses. Ignat’s schoolmates laugh at him, calling his mother a whore, who has failed to offer her services abroad and returned with empty hands. Lisa is isolated and filled with feelings of guilt. The economy of Ukraine, torn out of the economic circuit that had connected all former Soviet Union republics before Perestroika, no longer exists. Factories are closed down; the shelves in the shops are empty. People cannot even find electric bulbs and steal them from the elevators and the doorways of their own multistoried houses. Everything is gradually plunging into darkness. Lisa is going mad, she feels helpless. The world closes around her and becomes a trap.
Then she meets a psychoanalyst, an extremely intelligent woman, the daughter of a famous Ukrainian heart surgeon. She takes Lisa as a patient and after a brief treatment understands that antidepressants are not suitable for Lisa -- they make the situation much worse. She decides to start analysis with Lisa. In Ukraine in 1992, the notion of a ‘shrink’ has never been heard of. Patients who do not respond to the specificied medication are consigned to lunatic asylums. Once again Lisa is lucky. Sukhova is determined to save this young woman she likes so much, who is suffocating in the thick net of her depression. She discerns that it is not a passive and confused mind behind the pall of illness, but a fighter, and together they try to identify the reason for Lisa’s depression. Dr. Sukhova is not allowed to spend more than fifteen minutes with each patient. But Lisa needs hours of therapy, and Sukhova risks her position in the hospital, finding ways to spend all the time she needs with Lisa, and very soon discovers that Lisa is possessed by monstrous guilt feelings that are slowly destroying her. Having assumed the role of the head of the family, Lisa feels guilty toward her son, her mother, her dead friend, for she has failed to change their life to better, in other words, she has failed to be as perfect and strong as her grandfather.
Among other things Dr. Sukhova asks if Lisa is baptized and having received a negative answer, asks why? Lisa gives a very strange answer: “As long as I am not baptized, God is not able to see me. Not seeing me, he will not take me”. Sukhova understands that Lisa is pathologically afraid of death, but smiles, saying that God sees Lisa anyway and he wants to help, but cannot, until she herself allows him to do so, admitting his superiority and power. Lisa hesitates, but the word “power” triggers something in Lisa’s consciousness. Having overcome her fears, she is ready to admit the existence of some superior power, but she refuses to accept the institution of the Church in the way it has been presented through the centuries. So, one snowy February day, she and Ignat are baptized.
In order to earn some money, Lisa starts giving private lessons and soon her name becomes popular. She teaches four classes a day and though she is still fighting depression, the fits of despair occur more seldom. It’s the beginning of 1993. In February she receives a letter from Mimis. He is travelling in Italy and regrets that Lisa is not with him, that he cannot share with her the beauty of nature in spring and the splendor of medieval architecture. The same, familiar metamorphosis is happening again in his letters – Mimis appears as a kind, thoughtful and understanding person albeit somewhat forgetful, pretending that nothing has ever gone wrong between himself and Lisa. He recalls Lisa’s beauty nostalgically, always comparing her body to Botticelli’s Primavera. In closing letter, he confesses that he has done a lot of soul-searching and has decided that he cannot afford to lose Lisa.
Many more letters follow, in which Mimis never forgets to express his concern for her. This time, though, it is not only words, but deeds as well: he sends parcels to Kiev full of items of basic necessity – vitamins, butter, toothpaste, coffee. Sukhova suggests that one of the reasons for Lisa’s confused state of mind is hidden behind the fact that until now Lisa has failed to create her own home. A home with a complete family, but, as Sukhova sees, Lisa again cannot decide where and with whom finally to settle. To make the decision is however of crucial importance, and moreover, once having decided, to start working on implementing this decision in her life. Lisa, dispirited and weakened by her depression, makes up her mind: she will marry Mimis who, during the last months, has been so caring and supportive. This time though she will do everything right. They will get engaged and then be married. This will make them both take life seriously and be responsible toward one another.
Mimis comes to Kiev to be officially engaged to Lisa. As an engagement present, he gives her a very beautiful ring with thirteen diamonds. A little later Lisa, Mimis and Ignat leave for Athens. For the duration of almost a month, Lisa tries to behave like a wife, but she cannot bear so much as his presence in the same room. She urges herself to feel gratitude for his letters and parcels, and she is indeed grateful, but he is the wrong man for her. They both make an effort, for their own reasons, but neither has changed sufficiently for them to become a couple. Mimis demonstrates the same arrogance, stinginess and selfishness toward Lisa, and feels terribly embarrassed in front of his petty-bourgeois friends to whom he is obliged to announce his engagement. He cannot come to terms with his dilemma: he wants Lisa but he does not want to appear with her socially. To introduce a beautiful, educated but much younger wife around, without being buried under the heaps of evil gossiping, one needs three things: love to this woman, money and self-confidence. Mimis has none of those, he is petty himself, an old man obsessed with lust and jealousy. Lisa realises that she cannot become a kind of a wife she was dreaming of – a respected wife of a respected man, because Mimis is not respected by anyone. One morning Lisa returns the engagement ring to him: but this time she is not going to allow him either to hurt her, nor to control her life.
She suggests to him that they become business partners. Knowing his constant thirst for easy money, Lisa explains to him that business in Ukraine is developing by the day and it would be a pity for them to miss the opportunity. The majority of industrial real estate, including plants and factories, changes hands – state enterprises turn to private ownership. In order to develop the enterprises, the new owners sign contracts with suppliers all over the world. Lisa feels that she is recovering her spirits and energy and is ready for something new and exciting. Huge amounts of money, as Mimis himself has heard can be made in Russia and Ukraine literary overnight. This satisfies his greed, arouses his interest and he agrees. He registers a Greek export-import company in which Lisa is an equal partner. She goes back to Kiev, opens an agency representing their company, learns the basics of commerce and, with great enthusiasm, undertakes her first deal.
Her first assignment is a contract for a Greek ship-owner. She spends a night on the train to Odessa and the next morning, in the heat of the southern sun, walks through the steppe to the factory, which looms in front of her all the way through, disfigured by the heat ripples like a mirage. Armed with the request from the ship-owner in her bag and pirozhki baked by Anna in case she feels hungry, Lisa picks up her courage and steps inside the gates of the factory.
‘… She had spent much time and had carefully studied entrepreneurial axioms to know them by heart, and had been most careful in her selection of this plant, but she was totally unaware that during her illness with depression, and her engagement to Mimis the state of the country had changed in an unostentatious but nevertheless impressive manner. Particularly altered were the relations in the sectors of production and the economy. In record time, in a number of light and heavy industries with prospects for development, and whose products were in demand abroad, both the managers and the conditions had changed. Without causing any commotion, managers with different work habits, another sort of background and capabilities had taken up the reins. As if they had been born with the know-how of how things were done, making no mistakes and wasting no time, they began to make profits, and become rich in a matter of hours, not days, whilst the class of bureaucrats who had not yet emerged from the womb of the new epoch were still mulling over laws and regulations, codes and a variety of rules and amounts of tax charges. These newcomers had entirely novel concepts and mushroomed unexpectedly, perfectly prepared and equipped to undertake ambitious ventures. How and when they had learned to administer significant businesses, with no untoward entanglements whatsoever, and how they succeeded in marketing their products and shipping them to their destination, at a time when the whole country was submerged in chaos was a mystery. Could they have attained such maturity in the ironworks of the planned Soviet economy? In such case we had wrongly been accused by capitalist critics of not having the faintest idea of how to operate a business in the framework of a free economy. Not only were these people capable of trading, they also established an organizational edifice of steel, holding their partners in an iron grip. They resembled an invisible horde, a sort of fifth column, of thousands of modified genes that for decades had been internally devouring the body of the state until, once the entire interior had been eaten up, they burst to the surface, strong and well nourished. Instantly, they spread in all directions, taking over enterprises, public funds and remaining property, allocated in trifling shares to their idiot compatriots, and were soon firmly established at all levels of power. Within a few years they became legislators and businessmen. We are however still in the year 1992, which marked the outset of the great seizure’.
‘In silence, Lisa looked at the men sitting round the table. They were all smiling, not bothering to hide that they did not take her seriously. This is what it means to be a woman, a businesswoman, in Ukraine. You may have thought of starting your own business, you learnt to qualify yourself as a businesswoman, you formed your image and established it in your imagination. You are alone in this; it’s simple: even if your status is admitted in appearance, it is denied in essence. This new sort of woman does not exist, she has no right to exist. This woman was not found amongst the modified genes devouring the organism from the inside, for those had only male chromosomes. That is why at the moment of dealing out, she was not considered. It was however bound to be so, for in the period of socialism women were praised to the skies in speeches only and on the posters, whereas in actual fact it was merely a cover for filling quotas and allocating positions. The Supreme Soviet had to comprise a specific number of females, so did big enterprises, and so on. It goes without saying that these women had no part in administering the nation, were merely seen to be attending congresses and conferences for the sake of appearances. The reality for a woman under the Soviet regime was that her only possibilities were to become a pediatrician or teacher, which is the reason for her absence in the business scene now’.
‘Lisa restrained the urge to rise to her feet and make a speech in the style of the suffragettes, when half a century ago they began the struggle for rights equal to the other, male, portion of humanity, something like: “Gentlemen! I comprehend your male chauvinism, it is justified by the course of prior history. But just you wait, in a few years you will be substituted here by women sitting in your seats, for we are just as capable of making a success of a business venture!” Fortunately however, she was able to bite her tongue. Firstly, she brought to mind what Sukhova used to say: “Lisa, you do not have to prove anything to anybody. Live with a rainbow in your soul.” And secondly, the intuition sprouted within her that she was in front of a well-structured new order, which, albeit just emerging in the bosom of Soviet society, had its roots in the southern Italy. And this is precisely why her preaching feminine equality, in this particular framework, would be laughable nonsense. “I have simply got to make a deal with them,” Lisa decided.
Lisa bluffs, saying that she knows she is arriving with her contract late in the season, in the middle of the year, yet she is sure they have some surplus of needed product. The men at the table try to guess how she knows this, because it is a fact known only to them and the big boss, that there is a surplus, which is put aside for ‘special’ clients. Unsure who might have sent her to them, they name a price, at one dollar higher than the current rate; it means that Lisa and Mimis will be deprived of their commission. Nevertheless, Lisa signs the preliminary documents. After she has said good-bye, with mixed feelings of pride and shock that she survived the ordeal, she retreats to the toilet and, suddenly feeling hungry, wolfs down her grandmother’s pirozhki. She also starts crying. Fat tears like transparent worms are crawling down her cheeks, she is shaking, but her first assignment has been carried out.
As time goes by, she becomes one of the first top businesswomen in the brutally male and risky environment of free enterprise in the Ukraine. But in no way is the course ideally smooth – Lisa masters the world of business through mistakes and even bigger mistakes. Sometimes, though, she is rewarded with hard-earned success. She learns to drive a car, Ignat can go to the elite high school, and her life has found its rhythm and meaning. Yet Lisa is alone, missing true love. Thinking of a man, she could love, very often she remembers the man from the yacht. Mimis visits Kiev from time to time, pressing her as always to become his lover, saying she is under obligation to him for her success, and she could be ‘kinder’ to him. Lisa ignores him, but Mimis finds a way to tie her hands. He proposes to Lisa to deposit her money in a joint account in one of the Greek banks. “This way is safer”, he says. It is true, as the banks in Ukraine in 1993 are the least reliable of all state institutions.
During one of his visits to Kiev, Mimis brings some Greek businessmen along with him. It is agreed that Lisa will represent their interests in Ukraine and will organize their visit to a lumber-processing factory. She comes to the hotel to meet them and the first thing that she sees is the man with dark slanting eyes of a predator. She immediately recognizes George Aliagas. From the moment they see each other again they understand that they are in love. Lisa doesn’t hide her feelings, which makes Mimis jealous to such an extent that one late night, he turns up at Lisa’s home, threatening her that if she does not put a stop to her affair with George, he will have her jailed, by informing the tax police about her ‘activities’. Lisa knows that this is not an empty threat. She is not the only entrepreneur in Ukraine who avoids paying taxes which, if they are paid in full, very often exceed the profits of a company. Lisa has been avoiding paying exorbitant taxes for their mutual benefit. Mimis knows very well what the punishment could be for those involved in private business in Ukraine, he knows there are no laws protecting these pioneers, which makes them an easy prey for any state official, trying to extort bribes. But Lisa is not afraid; she refuses to be blackmailed by his threats. Then Mimis warns her that he will appropriate her money from their joint account, leaving Lisa and her family without a cent. She takes the box, full of packs of printed business cards of their company, and showers them onto Mimis’s head. She laughs, feeling relief that finally she will be rid of this old satire forever. Lisa kicks him out of the house, the business collaboration between them – the only thread connecting the two of them -- is broken. George, who has joined their company as a partner, helps to dissolve it and registers the representation of his own company in Kiev. Now Lisa represents the interests of George Aliagas. George and Lisa work together, hoping one day to be united in life.
That same night, after Lisa and Mimis have broken up, upon leaving the house, Mimis drops a strange but prophetic hint: “When you are completely broken, and such a time will come, you’ll remember me. You will come to me begging for help”.
The next day Mimis informs on Elizabeth Galitch the tax police, as general manager of the representation of a foreign company, who deliberately conceals profits in order to evade taxes. Worst of all, she has abused the rights of himself, Dimitris Zagos, as a foreigner, and his interests as a businessman and partner in the company. He accuses Lisa of fraud. A criminal case is initiated and although Lisa finds ways to avoid the consequences, the case is not closed. One day it will be reopened…
Four years go by however, and Lisa’s relations with George have not led anywhere. For all this time, Lisa has been waiting for George to leave his wife but he has never made a step in that direction. She realises that neither she herself, nor their love was good enough reason for George to divorce. He is waiting for something else – Lisa has to come as a package with a thick wad of money. But, then, if this is so, why he is not trying with her? George is very often distracted and failing Lisa with clients, obligations and contracts. Lisa’s situation both in business and in her private life is very indefinite. Eventually she decides not to wait any longer, preferring loneliness and independence to eternal indecision. She registers her own company – her own travel agency. This time she is doing what she knows best and likes the most, besides, she does not have anybody over her, she is the owner and the boss. In one year only, her agency is a real success and becomes the third largest travel bureau in Ukraine. Her name is known and her pictures often appear in the glossy magazines. Lisa’s interests cover a wide range of activities: she finances special programmes on a TV channel, covering haute couture shows in Paris and Milan. She supports orphanages, among them the one under the patronage of the church where she and Ignat were baptized. Lisa is now a glamorous and successful woman, she has built up her career again, and this time she is careful not to jeopardize her triumph.
It is 1996. In the three years from 1994 to 1996, people have been given the opportunity to earn money, starting their own businesses, and this partially revives the country’s economy. One family opens a bakery, another a grocery, yet another a brick factory. For the first time since the revolution, Ukrainians are proud of themselves – they haven’t forgotten how to bake bread, how to build houses, how to grow flowers but this time they are doing it for themselves. They satisfy the needs of a small community, of their neighborhood, earning enough money to extend their business, to give their children a better education and to see the world. They begin to live lives with some dignity. And this time Lisa doesn’t want to go anywhere, she wants to stay, to live and to work among her countrymen, and achieve financial ease together with them, along the road of independence and prosperity. It is the moment when Lisa, like her grandfather Nikita Yartsev fifty years ago right after the war, sincerely believes that the life of the country would turn to better and freer prospects. Nikita was wrong, and Lisa ... too hasty with her conclusions.
Lisa has enough money to fly to Athens just for weekends, to see George. She hasn’t broken up with him for good -- they see each other whenever both of them feel like it. Without the pressure of common business obligations, being financially independent, they feel much freer. Yet, in the best taverns on the islands, after some glasses of ouzo, Lisa asks herself why her feelings are not the same and why their love needs more and more ouzo to be revived?
Passing through Greece on a business trip to Portugal, in Athens Lisa meets Adam Eratinos. He is young, easy-going, comes from an old family and is the heir to a title. Lisa remembers that some years ago they were introduced to each other in George’s office, but Lisa had then not paid him much attention. Adam proposes a visit to the Acropolis. Lisa is not enthusiastic, she has been there so often, but Adam insists. Having brought her there, he entertains her with stories, legends and anecdotes. He makes Lisa laugh. She feels as if a heavy cloud of her consuming passion for George dissolved in this splendid evening. Suddenly she finds pleasure in the company of someone her age, even a little younger. Adam shows himself enchanted as well. He is proud to have such a beautiful and successful woman by his side, and has a further reason to be pleased: he has stolen Lisa from George, taking his revenge for the pain George’s daughter caused him when she left Adam some time ago.
Adam lives with his mother, who owns extremely valuable property in the smart quarter of Athens, Kolonaki. A university graduate from college abroad, Adam has neither a permanent job, nor a career. He is instead the friend of a lot of young and wealthy Athenian men, among whom he is known as an amusing and kind but slightly superficial personality.
It is precisely because of his kind heart that Lisa says “yes” to his proposal. She mentions that she was born in Ismail, Adam tells her that his grandfather, who was a grain merchant in Odessa, moved to Ismail and built a house there. It was there that his father, a hunchback, was born and whose name was in the mosaic floor of the main hall. This was the very same hall Lisa had been running in during breaks at school, stepping with her small feet on the name she could not read. Lisa understands that she and Adam are brought together by something greater than chance; destiny itself has interfered.
Lisa knows very little about Adam, but what she does know pleases her. Their first night together, lying in front of a fireplace, turns out to be magnificent and unexpected experience for her. Unlike George, whose love has been always full of wild, sometimes uncontrolled passion, Adam is tender and almost feminine. Holding Lisa in his hands, he tells her a fairy tale, bringing her back to her beloved childhood, making her feel as if good, almost forgotten times, are back once more. George has always been telling Lisa that strength and financial independence is her only protection. She feels very tired of being strong; for so many years she has been supporting her family. It’s a refreshing novelty for her to show weakness and still to be loved. Ignat, who has never liked George, recognizing in him a strong man and a rival, feels comfortable and at ease with Adam.
George watches Lisa and Adam, masterfully hiding his feelings. No doubt he is hurt but he simply steps aside and disappears from Lisa’s life. He knows that both of them, though they really like each other, find satisfaction in hurting him; he realises as well that he himself cannot offer Lisa marriage, although she has been waiting long enough; he also understands that Lisa is stepping into a trap, that this marriage will be a disaster for her and he does not want to witness it.
Although lacking the money, Adam insists on having a ‘royal’ wedding. Lisa is enchanted with the preparation process, which reminds her of a Hollywood movie, and follows his whim. Adam says that he wants a really unforgettable marriage for her and she is touched. The wedding ceremony takes place in the fourteenth century church in the center of Kiev, the reception is held at the mansion of the Philharmonic Concert Society. The last time this palace was used for balls was before the Revolution. Ambassadors, businessmen, members of the fashion and artistic circles of Kiev, journalists, are among the guests. Next morning photos of the wedding are in all the newspapers; glossy magazines compete to cover the event.
Adam moves to Kiev permanently, working side by side with Lisa in her office. He follows his own projects but his efforts do not bring results. Lisa, who watches her husband, is gradually disappointed, seeing that he does not have enough experience, his business intuition leaves much to be desired, very often he takes wrong decisions. Besides, he is soft, often, when he ought to be tough and persistent, he loses his nerve. The couple starts arguing in front of their employees, which is very bad. Then Lisa takes a wrong step: she sacrifices her successful career in order to remain a wife. She abandons the office and puts her company in the name of her husband, whom she chooses to trust blindly. She persists in non-interference in company matters, even when there are visible signs of trouble….
One day, after a year and a half of being married, five day before Easter, Adam disappears. For several days Lisa searches for him or for his body in hospitals and morgues. After futile attempts to find him, she goes to the police. Nothing belonging to Adam is touched. Before issuing a missing person’s notice, policemen come to Lisa’s house and turn it upside down, suspecting that she has killed her own husband. Later, Lisa discovers that one thing is missing since Adam’s disappearance: valuable ring of his father, which makes her think that Adam has planned his escape. He has not only left Lisa with no money for her everyday needs, he is deep in debt and the company is ruined. Creditors threaten to kill Lisa, the tax police remembers her criminal case based on the charges pressed by Zagos. To prevent Lisa from leaving the country, the investigator confiscates Lisa’s passports. Lisa faces a possible prison sentence. She becomes an easy prey to all those who have envied and hated her. The main enemy among the others is a certain Evgeniy Iezuitov, a Ukrainian businessman and a former Party official. He is involved in the construction of Kiev’s biggest hotel. Adam became acquainted with Iezuitov some time ago and, wishing to be involved with organizing credits for the future construction, as a favor to Iezuitov invited him to become an equal partner in Lisa’s very successful travel agency. Lisa, following Adam’s insistent request, had reluctantly accepted Iezuitov as her partner. When Adam suddenly vanishes, Iezuitov informs Lisa that her husband owes him huge amounts of money, and that to prove it he has papers signed by Adam, acknowledging the debts. He exerts insistent pressure to be reimbursed, with any sums of money at all, for he has problems of his own. Iezuitov has taken in millions through his ‘friends’ in the city administration -- the mayor of Kiev being involved -- in order to finance the construction of the hotel but has spent them otherwise… He demands Lisa’s property in exchange for the receipts with Adam’s signature. If not, he threatens to inform the military commissioner of the whereabouts of Ignat. For some time by now Lisa has tried to spare her son from military service. There is a war in Chechnya and a lot of young soldiers have been killed there. This war is unjustified from any point of view, it hugely compromises Russia, but what is much more important than any compromised image of a country or a political leader, is the young lives which are being fed into this war.
Ignat is studying for his ABM in France. As soon as he finds out what has happened, he interrupts his studies and returns to Kiev to be close to Lisa, who is desperate. In the months following Adam’s disappearance she has been literally hunted, living through a nightmare of accusations and constant threats. Her reputation is irrevocably ruined, people who were dying to be among her acquaintances, turn their backs on her. Lisa is forced to sell her jewellery, for which in the best of cases she gets half price. People mock her openly, buying her jewellery just because they have seen it on the photos in glossy magazines. She is again alone, absolutely broken and frantic, not knowing her husband’s whereabouts.
Two weeks before Adam vanished, out of the blue Lisa had a phone call from Mimis. For some years now she hasn’t known what has been happening to him. He is old and very ill, suffering from failure of both kidneys. All of a sudden, he invites Lisa, alone, without her husband, to spend some weeks at his summer house in Aegina. Lisa refuses. But now, betrayed and penniless, she calls Mimis back herself. Everything has happened the way he had predicted: she is destroyed and needs his help. Like a vulture, he has been waiting all these years for Lisa to be mortally wounded, so that he could feast on her body. Lisa needs money to bribe the policemen, to get her passports back, to close the criminal case Mimis had initiated. This time Mimis feels generous – his prophecy has come true. He sends Lisa the necessary money. He insists that Lisa should spend a holiday with him, and says he will put her up in the best hotel at the seaside. Not being in the least surprised at Adam’s disappearance, he advises Lisa to forget him.
Eventually, Lisa traces Adam: he is in Athens, living at his mother’s. She writes him several letters but he never answers. This makes her believe that her husband is nothing but an ordinary crook. She wants to find him, as she needs to comprehend whether his departure was forced, or whether there is no drama behind it, and he just left her, his wife, following his own will, mercilessly and cruelly. She cannot allow any man -- or any human being for that matter -- to treat her this way, to throw her away like something used up, to drop her without a single word. Lisa’s pride is hurt. Her heart is burning for revenge.
She accepts Mimis’s offer of a holiday with him, as a chance to find herself in Athens, and perhaps make contact with Adam. Having ‘bought’ her passports back from the police, she flies to Athens. Mimis meets Lisa at the airport. Looking at her, he cannot hide his lust, revived in the debris of his mind and now flickering in his otherwise glassy and half-sane stare.
A month has passed, but Lisa still cannot contact Adam. When one day she visits Adam’s mother, she knows that Adam is at home, but his mother will not let her in. Lisa sees that she needs more time, she needs a roof over her head and, of course, she needs money to hire a lawyer to talk to Adam on her behalf. The only way out Lisa can think of, is to make Mimis marry her. She promises to be a ‘good’ wife to him and fulfil her conjugal obligations. She has of course no intention of keeping her promises. This time it is Lisa’s turn to play his beloved game of false promises. She uses Mimis, hoping after marriage to have access to his accounts in order to pay a lawyer. Mimis agrees; he is not dreaming of better health or more money, these things are out of his reach, but Lisa is here, teasing him every day with her stunning beauty. Mimis does not love her. He wants to see her in agony, to belittle her, to dissipate her dignity in some sort of humiliation, to bring her to his own level. Mimis nurses the hopes to implement all of this after their marriage, which is easy to register, for Lisa’s marriage to Adam has been legalized in Ukraine but not in Greece.
Mimis and Lisa become husband and wife. Lisa denies to fulfil her conjugal obligations. Mimis is not sharing his money. Lisa proposes to him to fire a cleaning lady, and starts cooking, cleaning and washing instead of her. She collects every dime and sometimes she steals money from Mimis, for she needs money to bribe a military commissioner, who promised to free Ignat from military service, to pay the lawyer, who is having a go at Adam, and to buy paints, brushes and canvasses. Stealing is terrible, Lisa disgusts herself, but she cannot do otherwise. Besides, the man from whom she is stealing once stole all her money. She is only retrieving a tiny part of what he stole. Lisa and Mimis, both disappointed with the results of their marriage, often quarrel. After one of the rows, Mimis says he will pay Lisa a salary, deducting from it the cost of telephone calls to Kiev and expenses for heating in winter. He cannot hide his satisfaction: the woman he has been after for more than ten years is his cleaning lady now. He thinks that her pride and dignity do not exist any longer. He celebrates his victory.
Months pass in futile attempts to make contact with Adam. Trying to escape from the insanity of her existence, Lisa starts painting. Remembering her childhood, her father and his lessons, timidly at the beginning then more and more freely, she expresses herself, making vibrant paintings. She discovers that God has blessed her with a gift.
One day she picks up her courage and calls George Aliagas. He is happy to hear her voice and in half an hour is ready to pick her up and take her out to lunch. They start seeing each other often, almost every time Mimis is absent from home. Lisa realises that she has never been able to forget George and sympathy revives in their hearts once again. As they do not have a place of their own and every meeting of theirs is limited in time, they do not have a chance for physical intimacy. Somehow they don’t fancy going to hotels, as if being afraid to waste their love, replacing it with sex. They talk, and talking is enough, for it enables Lisa to spill out her loneliness, her despair, her dreams and her overwhelming anxiety about Ignat. Sometimes she brings her paintings to show George and he truly admires them. Sometimes though Lisa wonders why George, who knows the ghastly conditions of her existence, has never offered to help her. On her part, she knows that if he would ever offer such help, she would reject it. Somehow, in front of George, she has always wanted to show herself strong and independent, capable of coping with her own problems. She would never wish to be the girl again who swam to the yacht and to whom George gave a check. If she has managed to screw up her life again, she will find the way out by herself.
At home, with Mimis, inside her prison, other than her everyday chores of cleaning and cooking, Lisa constantly experiences his abusive sexual demands. Mimis plunges deeper and deeper into insanity, partially caused by his illness, and at the same time becomes more and more addicted to his obsession. When his desire comes to life in him, something else dies, probably what is left of his mind, and he turns into a monster, a personification of lust. His body rejects his consciousness and when he is in such a state, he becomes a killer. He is surprisingly strong. It appears that Mimis has no wish to come to terms with the only viable compromise there can be between them: that Lisa should take care of him in return for a roof over her head and some money to solve her problems.
She also realizes that for the past ten years of her life she has been spinning around in the circle of the same men, who deliberately hurt her, and whom she cannot get rid of: Mimis, George, Adam, George, Mimis, Adam. This carousel has become her trap. She needs to clarify her relations with each one of them completely, to understand how and why is she connected with each of them. There is no love or, at least there is none of the passion behind love, which makes love a really great feeling. At one of her meetings with George, Lisa asks him to leave everything behind and begin his life again with her. She knows that he exists in the stagnant environment of his life, which includes the wife to whom he has been unfaithful so many times and his office, which does no longer brings in any profits. George says that it is not wise to change something without good reason. What he hasn’t said is that there is not enough money to afford changes. Lisa asks Mimis the same. They talk only at rare moments and once she asks him why he doesn’t sell everything, buy a boat, hire a nurse and, before he dies, go round the world, to see people and other countries. Or, at least, why not to start reading books, to be touched by the wisdom of others, to start thinking? Mimis will not listen, saying that he’s ‘perfectly comfortable as he is and does not need anything else before he dies, except Lisa’s ‘kindness’.
And then Lisa gives up. She clearly sees that there is nothing to fight for. George and Mimis want to have her in their lives as a supplement, as something auxiliary to their bleak existence. She is no longer for them the heroine to be admired, but a failure for whom it is not worthwhile changing their lives. So, she decides, it is about time to become again the hero, the main character in the narration of their life.
So one day, when Mimis insists again, Lisa agrees to satisfy his wishes. He has been begging for that for almost a decade. But she will have her own way, because from now on it will be only her way. Mimis goes to his bedroom and waits. Lisa enters his room and stopping at the foot of his bed … starts dancing. She wears dark-blue pyjamas tailored like a suit. At the start her movements are jerky and seem forced but then her body awakens and finds its own rhythm. Behind her closed eyes one picture follows another: her first visit to Athens, the dark room in the small Piraeus apartment and herself standing naked in front of Mimis, who does not dare to approach her; her second visit to Athens and another room in the same apartment, and the bed onto which Mimis is pushing her and yelling to Ignat to go to hell, and the eyes of Ignat; she is swimming to the yacht, hoping to get help; she is in the Kiev police department, trying to prove she has not committed fraud; Mimis staring at her with hatred and his words “when you are destroyed, you will beg for my help”. This kaleidoscope of bitter memories infuses more passion into her dance.
Mimis, fully possessed by the monster of his obsession, his gaze empty and his chin dropped slackly, saliva dripping from his mouth, makes an attempt to catch Lisa’s hand and suddenly falls on his back. He cannot move. He tries to say something but no sound escapes his lips. The film covering the surface of his eyes disappears and his gaze is alive again. His obsession and senility are erased by his fear. He is afraid that something irrevocably wrong has happened to him and silently he is begging for help.
Lisa calls the hospital and informs them that the health of their patient has suddenly worsened. She goes to his bed and leans over his face. She kisses him. In his eyes she reads hate, pure and strong. She smiles.
Mimis dies in the hospital that same night. After the funeral, Lisa returns to the apartment where they have lived in suffering together for the last eight months, to collect her things and to start thinking of moving out…
Lisa does not suffer from guilt. There was nothing intentional in what happened. Mimis has died and is rid of the burden of his curse: a woman. Lisa too feels relief, as she is no longer the object of his obsession. His death has freed both of them. Now, her debt with Mimis settled, Lisa will rent a small apartment and start thinking of herself, what to do with her paintings and how to sell some of them. The most important thing left to do is to talk to Adam and get him to reveal the mystery of his disappearance. Of course, she is not going to break up with George ... at least, not yet, for now it is with him that Lisa is planning to settle her debt.
END OF BOOK ONE
Edited by Doolie Sloman
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