Not long after Misha’s conversation with Hanah in the kitchen, Putin assured the world he wasn’t going to invade Ukraine. And then he did.

As Misha stared at the ancient spires of the Kremlin, Russian troops were already within a day’s march of Kiev. He bunched up his collar, hunkered down between the ear flaps of his ushanka as he walked along Zhitnitskaya Uitsa, past Senate Square and stopped at the corner to gaze at the spires of the cathedrals and the Grand Palace. Years of grandeur flowed by him, some silent locomotive on steady rails that had withstood the test of time. And yet he couldn’t help thinking those rails had been diverted by a small KGB agent so they now led to a great canyon into which that train would hurl itself, never to be seen again.

Russia was not a perfect country and he knew she was struggling to find her way in a world where empires could no longer stand alone. But now she had lost her way entirely. The cacophony of discontent from young people who thought that thirty years of something different was worth saving was spent on a country that wasn’t listening. Those young voices were right, but Misha felt they didn’t quite understand they were already too late. Misha felt self-consciously smug – and at the same time bitter – because he knew better. And he felt the sting of humility that came from knowing that men greater than himself would prevail, whether or not they were right.

The vibrant reds and greens and blues of the staunch spires stood quietly, as they always had, through snow and sun and war and peace. So many Russians in her service now dust. To Misha, they looked like castles from a fantasy land engraved in gold and adorned with rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Old kings in a new world, still bold, still brash.

Still Russia.

Misha took off a glove and pulled the envelope from his pocket. He unfolded the letter and read it again, then looked back at the spires. He had been scared at first, but now he realized it would be alright. It was beyond his control. History was calling but Misha knew the only way for him to answer that call was to leave so he could find a safe haven where his voice wouldn’t be silenced.

Misha turned around and trudged back towards the center of the city. He checked his watch. They would be setting up soon.

He was supposed to be with them, but he knew now that he couldn’t risk being arrested. Not when he was so close to leaving to find that safe haven where his voice would dance around the world in social media while his friends hunkered down in their kitchens, knowing they could do nothing more.

But this night, they tried. He stopped to watch them hastily assemble a platform with plywood and bed sheets. They hauled a pair of small speakers from a van illegally parked in the middle of the street. They glanced over their shoulders as they nervously connected wires and fired up a small gasoline generator. Their hands trembled as they fumbled with a microphone stand.

A young man with disheveled hair hopped up on the impromptu platform and stood before the microphone. The gathering crowd in the street hooted and clapped. Some of them raised signs on sticks over their heads. Some held banners, all saying the same thing: нет войне.

Misha was supposed to be up there. He was supposed to speak after the young man who was now waving and smiling at the crowd. And he had to admit, he felt a pang of remorse as his friend started to speak. But Misha knew that he could serve the greater good with a USB microphone connected to his laptop than a microphone standing on plywood and bed sheets within shouting distance of Red Square.

The remorse caught in his throat and Misha held his breath when the white van with blue flashing lights coursed through the crowd. It moved slowly and the people stepped aside, like a sea parting to allow the passage of a ship.

Misha opened his mouth because he wanted to yell something. His legs ached to run, but he stood fast. Rosgvadiya agents dressed in black uniforms, boots and helmets erupted from the van.

Run! Misha desperately wanted to yell, but he knew better. Run! There will be another time. The words never came out, stillborn in his mind. Instead he watched in horror as the agents calmly hopped up onto the stage and grabbed his friend by the arm. They stood next to him, looking at the crowd. They didn’t beat him with batons. They didn’t throw him down and force him to lie on the ground. With practiced dexterity, they slipped a thick white zip-tie around his wrists and pulled it tight. Misha’s friend grimaced at the mild pain. The agents quietly led him off the platform. One stayed behind and spoke firmly but calmly into the microphone.

“It’s all over now. Disperse and go about your business.”

Banners were furled and stuffed behind elbows. Signs were lowered and dragged along the ground. Some were glumly deposited in open trash cans. People shuffled away, looking at the ground.

They all left, except for one man who stood defiantly with his sign held high in the air. After everyone else had gone, the Rosgvadiya agent hopped down from the platform, ran a ziptie around the man’s wrists and led him to the white van. The agents boarded the van and slowly pulled away, driving back the way they had come.

That was the end of it.

The van drove right by Misha and the driver waved at him, smiling. Misha nodded back, fearing that at least a polite acknowledgement was required to avoid being arrested himself.

Misha had seen footage of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, where young men had set fires and stood eye-to-eye with tank gun barrels. But this night saw nothing like that. Deference required no blood as everyone simply turned their backs and walked away.

Misha unfolded the paper and read it again, confirming the address and time he was supposed to be there. He glanced at his watch and starting walking at a brisk pace towards the rendezvous. He was late. But he wasn’t in the back of a white van. Strangely, at that moment, Misha took very little comfort in knowing that his voice would still be heard because he wouldn’t be languishing in a Russian prison. He glanced over his shoulder at the platform, which still stood alone on the empty street.

And he couldn’t help wonder what would have happened if he stopped right then and went over to the platform and started speaking.

He wondered: Would anybody hear him?

©2022 Michael J Lawrence

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