Months later, one Sunday, Jak went for a bike ride around his favourite parks and cycleways; out past the Krylatskoe Sports Palace and across to Romashkovskiy Park, then down to Suvorovskiy Park and back past Pollonnaya Hill, with its impressive monuments. He decided to stop at a local hostelry for some light refreshment.
By sheer coincidence, Rachel was there too, with the Greek and some of his drinking mates. Jak settled in a corner on a scrubbed pine bench behind a bare wooden table, with a pint of dark beer and some khachapuri, that delicious Georgian feast bread, in front of him, and observed them cautiously. He wasn’t sure if she had seen him, or would even acknowledge him, given the present company. He recognised Dmitri with his brash, rugged face and untidy black hair curling over his ears. He seemed to be ignoring Rachel and treating her with disdain, as he chatted and joked with his friends. Rachel bravely tried to be blasé about the conversation and join in, laughing and grinning inanely, but Jak could sense, and almost feel, her beautiful, elegant body tense and recoil at some of the bawdier jokes.
He left the pub without approaching her, shaking his head in dismay and regret for his missed opportunities, and his lack of understanding and sensitivity.
She came to the Film Club at the Institute on the following Tuesday, but only gave him a brief smile. It was the end of their affair.
– o –
But next Wednesday, Jak’s phone rang again. It was Tanya Lewinski. She sounded very upset and she asked if he could come over. Of course, he dashed across town at high speed; in five minutes he was knocking at her door, in a polite, boring suburb on the outskirts of Moscow. She answered it, a tiny baby cradled in her arms.
“Meet Ruby!” she said, smiling, though she had obviously been crying.
“Whatever’s wrong?” he asked. “You look a bit upset. Can I help?”
They went into the living room and sat down side by side on the sofa.
“Peter’s gone!” she sobbed. “I don’t know what I am going to do.”
“What? Why? Where has he gone?”
“I don’t know, but he’s probably moved in with that vixen, Rachel. The bastard’s been seeing her for weeks!”
“Oh dear,” he said, his heart twisting inside of him. “When did you find out?”
“Only last week. He said he couldn’t cope with another baby. More likely, he can’t cope with not getting a fuck regularly with me!”
“But what will you do?”
“Stay here, I guess. I’m not chasing after him!”
At that moment, Ruby began to cry and Tanya unbuttoned her cream silk blouse, exposing her lovely swollen breasts swaying with milky momentum, and began to suckle the baby, who latched on immediately and contentedly. They were all silent. Jak watched them in awe, his heart melting, and a lump rising to his throat.
“A rouble for your thoughts!” said Tanya, a wan smile on her gorgeous lips.
“I just love you so much,” he burbled. “I don’t understand why Peter can’t love you too.”
A tear began to roll down her cheek, but she leaned forward, cradling Ruby beneath her, and kissed him on the mouth. “I love you, too.”
– o –
Rachel settled back on the sun-lounger, her skimpy bikini loosely tied and her raven hair splayed out on the pillow behind her head. The white-washed walls of the villa in front of her were dazzling to her eyes despite her sun glasses, and the mountains beyond shimmered a smoky blue-grey. She sipped her ouzo and lemonade through a straw, basking in the intense dry heat, so much more bearable than the muggy heat of Moscow, and watched as Dmitri performed his callisthenics by the pool side, or dived into the refreshingly cold water, or swam up and down in a blue as deep as the sky.
He had a fabulous body, which no doubt she would enjoy again later. Surprisingly, she suddenly thought of Jak. That useless piece of shit would get all that he deserved. She still felt guilty about Peter and was sorry for Tanya, though she shouldn’t have meddled in things she knew nothing about. As the Iron Curtain tightened again and bodies piled up in Ukraine, Rachel was lucky to have escaped.
But after all, she did miss her life in Moscow, and she was sorry that things went awry with Jak. He did play a good game of chess.
– x –