But a week later Rachel rang to ask Jak if he would like to go walking in the forests and mountains near the Ukrainian border. Bemused, he agreed to take her in his battered Mercedes. On the long, twisting drive down to the forest near the River Derkul she didn’t do much talking and he was completely unaware of her true purpose. They stayed overnight at an old timber hunting lodge in the forest, but nothing happened; she seemed distracted and a little confused. She didn’t usually do much walking either, though she did have a pair of walking boots, a waterproof jacket and thick trousers.
When they finally arrived at their mountain walk, she looked slightly out of her depth, with her pink complexion, wispy black hair, and petulant lips. Jak was more in his element and strode purposefully along.
As they came to a plantation of fir trees they looked along the endless rows and Jak said, half-jokingly, “Infinity goes on trial!”
“What the hell does that mean?” she murmured, puzzled.
“Oh. It’s just a line from a Bob Dylan song.”
“Hmm. Him again.” She was not impressed. “I think he was talking about museums.”
At a waterfall under the slope of a jagged rock they stopped for a drink.
“I just want to say, Jak, that I like you a lot and we have lots in common, but . . . it has to be said . . . I can’t become your girl-friend. Not like that. I want to be free of any commitment, and I don’t want you to think that you own me or anything, just because we fucked once!”
“OK,” he said, mystified, and counting on his fingers. “But I want to keep seeing you. I like you more than a lot.”
“Ah, that’s the trouble. That’s what men always say. They want to make women feel obliged to respond; to become theirs.”
“Honestly, it’s not like that. I love your independence, your competence, the way you have made your own life for yourself. It can’t be easy moving from your home country to a strange place and teaching mathematics to a class of unruly kids.”
“There you go again! It’s no harder for a woman than a man. Why do you think we are so helpless and weak?”
His protestations were to no avail and they lapsed into silence rather sourly and regretfully, especially when he told her that his ex-wife was coming at the weekend to discuss their impending divorce.
They come to the edge of a clearing and Rachel whispered to Jak to get down quick. They could see a convoy of white lorries and men milling about in white coveralls and face masks.
“Why are they wearing snow suits? It’s all melted down here,” whispered Jak, surprised at the sudden appearance of binoculars in her gloved hands. He was even more surprised when she started taking photographs with a tiny Japanese camera.
“They’re not snow suits,” she hissed. “It’s a nuclear decontamination team getting ready to rush across the border when the time comes!”
“What time? What’s this all about?”
She had to get back to Moscow to inform Dmitri, but first she pulled down the zip of her walking trousers and guided Jak’s hand inside, where it was warm, soft and moist. She was wearing no knickers! They lay for a few moments in the bracken, as her excitement and pent-up energy was released.
“We must rush back!” she whispered.
Jak fell for it, thinking that she wanted more of him back at his flat in Moscow, and they crawled away backwards on their stomachs into the undergrowth, where they cautiously rose, then raced back the way they came to his car.