Putin’s English Tutor
On my way to work, I avoid the small number of people demonstrating for freedom. They have my sympathy, but I don’t want to be arrested by the police, or beaten up by fascist street thugs, or lose my well-paid job. Besides, Putin has his ways to make me love him. As we walk down the palace corridor together towards his office suite, he puts his arm around me affectionately like a father. The Russians are on our side in the fight against the terrorists, he says in that soft voice of his. Before we part, he throws his arms around me Russian-style. His embrace is so tight it might be a bear hug. He brings me to the verge of tears.
I had defied the state. Now arrest and torture were imminent. I wondered where to hide my exercise books, which were full of subversive thoughts. I wished I had hidden them sooner. Eventually, I found a place to put them under some folded sheets in my mother’s airing cupboard. I decided to go for an early morning walk – it might be the last chance I had to enjoy any freedom. It was a sunny day. People nodded hello but did not stop to chat as they usually did. Word had obviously got around about my arrest. I thought about the exercise books – the place I had hidden them in was hopelessly inadequate. The agents would turn my mother’s house upside down. However, I doubted now whether there was time to hide them anywhere else. All I could do now was live each moment of this morning.
It was my responsibility to accompany the boy in a taxi to an orphanage on the other side of the city. When we arrived, I was surprised to see what a rundown area it was in. I wondered if we had come to the right place. Although I was worried about the expense, I told the driver to wait while I took the boy and went to find out.
An old man who looked like a butler from a bygone age answered the door. He led us into a deserted table tennis room. ‘Wait here,’ he said.
We waited for what seemed ages. It grew dark. I pressed the light switch, but after a brief flicker the bulb went out.
I took the boy’s hand. ‘Let’s get out of here,’ I said.
But I couldn’t find the way out. By this time the boy was weeping loudly. Through a corridor window, I could see the taxi driver taking a call on his mobile. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he drove away.
Illustration: Claire Palmer