She stood among the crowd of thousands of people in the Red Square. All were waiting for the countdown to mark the new year, a new millennium, but she was waiting for something else. She wrung her hands, clammy under her gloves, as she scanned the people, searching for the familiar face of her father. It had been exactly two years ago that evening that she had last seen him, when he had been taken, and she was anxious to break the curse. She was afraid that he would not recognise her, or maybe even that she would no longer have the ability to distinguish him from others, his face mutilated by his captors beyond the the point of recognition. But she’d get him back. After two years of hushed phone calls, mysterious letters in the post and death threats thrown at her family, she would get her father back. But she still felt as though something was wrong.
In front of her stood the Kremlin. It’s large outline stood out against the darkness of the light, illuminated as some young boys sent flares and firecrackers up into the air. She admired its abstractness and etched its image into her mind, thinking back to that day two years ago. An aching, almost forgotten pain hit her in the chest, and she brought her hand up to feel the bulk of the revolver beneath her leather jacket for comfort. She was hoping she wouldn’t be forced to use it. Another firecracker shot up beside her and lit up the sky with a bang, the light reflecting off of something on the Kremlin. She put her hand to her face and strained her eyes to see what it was, when her thoughts clicked into place and her survival instincts kicked in. The faint shimmer of a rifle appeared at the outermost part of the building, with a sniper sat behind it. And she was the target.
Fear gripped her limbs; she knew she had been duped. They were not here to return her father, they were here to kill her. But she was not going to let that happen. They were not going to risk their mission by slaughtering innocent civilians, she hoped, so she did the only thing she could think of, and dropped to the floor below the crowd. From there, she was hidden among the cattle of people, sheltered only by their sheer numbers. She squatted for a few moments, before she pushed on and began to crawl through the balustrades of legs. Once she got to the edge of the crowd, then she would be able to run. She didn’t know what she would do; she had expected to be leaving here with her father, her old life returned in a new year. But that had not happened. In this moment, all she had to focus on was leaving this place alive. However, she had been moving for no longer than two minutes, before someone stood in her way and refused to move.
She held her breath as she slowly raised her head and her eyes scanned the body of the person in front of her. They were not wearing what she would typically expect someone with the occupation of a hitman to be wearing: old trainers, baggy jeans and a T-shirt and hoodie. His hands were casually hanging in his pockets, and his unshaven face peered down at her with detached curiosity. He said something to her in a language she didn’t understand. Russian, she presumed. She shook her head, almost angrily, shocked that this man was standing in her way and risking her life. He narrowed his eyes at her, then, in perfect English and his Russian accent suddenly having disappeared, said “Are you okay?” She raised an eyebrow in surprise, but was still unsure as to whether to trust this man or not. She looked him up and down once more, and decided that, despite being a stranger, he was the best chance she had of survival. She took a deer breath, and calmly replied, “I am being hunted. There is a sniper situated on the roof of that building, and if I stand up I will be shot in the head, and I will die.”
There were a few moments of silence between them. He concentrated on her face, as if trying to decipher her thoughts. Then, without even looking away, he said “Come with me.” She was surprised, she had not expected this man, whom did not even know her name, to believe her, let alone help her. She crawled on her hands and knees, trying to keep up with his fast pace. He looked back once or twice, but did not slow down. Once at the edge of the crowd, he made a sharp turn to the left and began making his way along the narrow street. She jumped to her feet and ran to catch up with him, following him until they came to a dirty looking block of flats. As he opened the door, she began to wonder whether she was doing the right thing, but decided that she would rather go up against this young man than a sniper. She also still had her revolver in her jacket pocket.
Once inside, she collapsed onto the nearest sofa, exhausted, and rested her head, glad to feel the cool breeze of the fan overhead. The man disappeared into what she presumed was the kitchen, and returned a few moments later with two cups of coffee. He gave one to her, and then sat down on the opposite sofa opposite her. Silence fell between them, and she could feel the awkwardness. She took a sip from he coffee, and waited for him to speak.
more by JESSICA BLUNDEN
photograph by Aaron Burden