Just before midnight, Irina and I went to Odessa station to meet the Moscow train. I paid our taxi driver but asked him to wait; he might or he might not, I knew.
It was cold, black, and raining softly. Half the platform lights were out. The station stank of soot, wet concrete and disinfectant. People huddled, smoking, talking. We stood to one side. Irina wore dark red lipstick; raindrops jewelled her fur coat and her hair.
Loudspeakers crackled an announcement. People shuffled forward, craning their necks. The train drew in and stopped at the buffers with a hiss. Doors opened and passengers spilled out, some looking purposeful, some dazed. Men in fur hats embraced, slapping each other’s backs. Couples walked off carrying plastic suitcases.
We’d come to collect something that someone in Moscow had paid the train guard to bring Irina. ‘Medicine you can’t get in Odessa,’ she said. We climbed onto the train, the steps and handrails battered with years of hard use, and walked through the carriages. Flattened-out cardboard was spread underfoot on the wet metal floors. Compartment doors hung open, showing rumpled grey blankets on narrow fold-down beds.
We found the guard in his yellow-lit cabin, distributing items to people who thanked him quietly and quickly disappeared. He handed over a small packet; Irina slipped it into her bag. Nobody looked at us as we walked back along the wet platform to the gates. Our taxi was waiting after all, and we drove back along Gagarin Prospect, lines of white headlights and red tail-lights starry in the increasing rain.
I didn’t ask Irina about the package, it was none of my business. Once we got to her flat I gave her back the old Makarov pistol she’d asked me to carry.
Peter Justin Newall lives in Thalgarrah, NSW, but has lived variously in Australia, Ukraine and most recently Kyoto, Japan, where he sang for a popular local blues band. He has been published in England, Hong Kong, the USA and Australia; his stories The Luft Mensch and The Chinese General were each nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
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