Misha stepped into the room quietly, surprised at how well-lit it was. The room was entirely white and he squinted at the strength of the light reflecting off the walls, ceiling and floor. It was like the room where he had talked to the Captain except there was a camera whirring in a corner of the ceiling and it looked so new, that Misha wondered if he was the first person to ever set foot in that room.

He turned and saw Hanah sitting in a chair at a small steel table, just like the one the Captain had used. Misha whipped his head around when he heard the soft click of the door behind him latching shut.

They were alone. Except for the camera. Misha watched it out of the corner of his eye is it whirred in stuttering jolts while somebody adjusted its position, making sure they both knew that they were being watched.

Hanah was dressed in a blue jumpsuit and white shoes that looked like nothing more than slippers. Her hair was short and her face was ashen without any makeup. Still, her ruby lips shone. As always, her eyes stared straight out to the horizon that even now lay beyond the clean white walls.

Misha let out a strained breath and clenched his fist when he saw the chains running through a welded hoop on the table and latched to the handcuffs on her wrists. Her legs were bound by cuffs with shorter chains lashed through steel hoops welded to the floor. Misha shook his head. Didn’t they know? She wouldn’t be able to find the door before the entire cadre of police just beyond the door could lay siege to the small room and wrestle her to the ground.

Misha pulled out the chair on his side of the table and sat down. Hanah flinched when she heard the sound of it scooting across the floor. Then she smiled.

“Misha?”

He put his hand on the table, letting it drop with a dull thud so she could hear it. The chains rattled through the hoops as she groped around the table until she found his hand and clasped it in hers.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“What?” Misha set her hand in his palm and put his other hand over hers, letting her know that he was in charge now, that she was safe for the moment, that he was protecting her. “What do you have to be sorry about?”

“I should have known,” she said. “I thought I could do it on my own.” She bowed her head and her voice softened. “Without you.”

Misha narrowed his gaze and glanced at the walls around them. He imagined for a moment his fist bashing a hole through one of them, then tearing a gash wide enough for them to run through. Then he pulled the chains free, links sprawling into the air and falling on the ground, sounding like tiny bells as they bounced and rolled along the floor.

Focusing back on his sister, Misha said, “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

Hanah raised her head back up, pointing her eyes at what she hoped was his face. She stifled a tear and flung her head back in defiance. “I should have listened. Or at least waited. Now you’ve gone through so much trouble.” She rearranged their hands, taking back control of the conversation. “And it’s all for nothing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, Misha.” She shook her head and leaned forward a little more, a few more links of the chain grating through the hoop. “They said I’m going to prison for many years because of assaulting an officer and resisting arrest and I don’t know. They said so many things that I still don’t understand.”

“What did you do to this officer?” Misha asked.

Hanah shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, her expression straining as she fought to hold back her tears. “I barely touched him. I was holding up my sign and my knuckles barely touched his chest. When he took it away, I drummed on his chest a little. But he couldn’t have felt it through that thick vest of his. Not really. But they’re calling that assault.”

Misha took another hard breath through his nose, closed his eyes for a moment, fighting to restrain his anger. He knew an outburst wouldn’t help her. Not here. Not now. She needed him to be calm, as if everything were going to be alright, even though he knew they wouldn’t. “What did your sign say?”

Hanah’s shoulders slumped. “Nothing. It was just a blank card.”

“You mean they arrested you for carrying a sign that said nothing?”

“Yes.”

“Well, listen. I know mama is arranging for a lawyer. There will be a trial, so do what the lawyer tells you.”

Hanah tightened her grip on his hand. “You’ll be there to help me. You’ll tell me what to do. And I’ll listen. I promise.” She smiled, her face a beacon of humility promising to let him protect her now. She had learned her lesson and now she was in trouble. And she knew it.

Misha took a big breath and took her hand back in his. Hanah pointed her eyes at their hands, wondering why he was being so insistent.

“You do that. But you’ll do that with Mama. And the lawyer. You do what they say.”

Hanah’s lip trembled. “Won’t you be there, Misha?”

He held her hand even tighter. “No, I won’t.”

Hanah sucked in a quivering breath. “Why not?”

Misha looked around the room, suddenly afraid to tell her. His mouth grew dry. Looking at his sister in her rumpled blue jumpsuit, not knowing what to do or why, he realized he had made a mistake. A terrible mistake. There would be a trial. There would be a lawyer. And despite everything that had happened, there was still some law, some hope of justice. And the most important thing she needed from him was the same thing she had always needed. That hadn’t change. She just needed him to be there.

But it was too late.

Misha’s voice didn’t sound like his own. “I joined the army,” he said matter-of-factly.

Hanah froze. Her hands went limp. For a moment, she seemed to stop breathing. “You what?”

“I made a deal.” He tried to pick her hand back up, but it just lay limply in his palm.

Hanah slumped back in her chair. Her voice was despondent. “Misha. Why?”

“They said that it would help with your sentencing. I don’t know. Maybe it’ll help. It can’t hurt. Loyal son of Moscow and all that.” His voice trailed off.

“Oh my God. Misha, I am responsible for what has happened.” She said the words as if they were obvious and she was talking to her own child. “I will face the consequences.”

“And I am responsible for you.”

Hanah let out a sigh and frowned disapprovingly. “Listen to me,” she said. “You will kill somebody you don’t mean to. You won’t want to. But you won’t be able to help it. Because you’ll be in battle and you’ll be scared and you’ll do whatever it takes to make them stop shooting at you. So you will kill them.” She took a breath and arched her face towards the ceiling. “Misha. They will try to turn you into an animal.” She blinked a few times and sniffed. “Don’t let them.”

“I won’t let them do that,” Misha said. But he wasn’t at all sure because until that moment, he hadn’t thought of any of that.

“That’s not what I mean.”

Misha wrinkled his brow. “I don’t understand.”

“You could go to Georgia,” she said. “Anybody can cross and with so many leaving, nobody will notice just one more Russian fleeing to Tbilisi. And from there, you can maybe even find your way to Europe.”

“Oh.” Misha smiled, amazed at the hope his little sister still held for the impossible. But he knew that it would be better to leave her with the illusion. “I might try that.” Then he stroked her hand.

The door opened and a slender Indian woman entered. Standing just inside the door, she spoke with a thick Hindi accent. “I have to take her back now.” She sounded apologetic and smiled kindly. Misha stood up and backed away from the table as the woman unlocked Hanah’s cuffs and helped her stand up. Gently holding Hanah by the elbow, she guided Hanah towards the door.

Just before they stepped through, Hanah looked over her shoulder and said, “Don’t go. Not for me.”

Misha stepped into the hallway to watch the Indian woman escort his sister towards a door made of angry-looking steel bars. The sergeant was standing just outside, waiting for him. He gestured towards the hall in the opposite direction from where Hanah was walking. The man didn’t say a word.

“Yeah, OK,” Misha said, forcing himself to march back down the hall towards the door leading back into the lobby.

Following close behind, the sergeant said, “They did you a favor you know.”

Misha stopped to look at the man. “How’s that?”

“They brought her here, to the station, just to talk to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean she’s going back to the detention center now. A place you wouldn’t want to be caught dead.” The man flicked a brow. “And certainly not a place where you would want to see your sister. Oh no, not good over there. Unless you have money, then it’s not so bad. You might even get a decent night’s sleep. If you can stand the noise from those who can’t.”

Misha tried to push his way past the sergeant, his hand groping through the air towards Hanah as she walked through the iron door.

Again, he was surprised the sergeant’s strength. “Oh no, there’ll be none of that.” He firmly turned Misha around and shoved him down the hall towards the lobby door.

Misha stomped through the lobby and stepped onto the concrete steps outside, only to be stopped by the Captain, who was leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette.

“Misha.” The tone of his voice was enough to bring Misha to a halt. He looked at the man, still seething from what the sergeant had told him. “Come here, boy.” The Captain lit another cigarette, offering it to Misha as he stepped over to him. Misha waved the cigarette away. The Captain shrugged. He glanced around and spoke in a low voice. “These are difficult times we live in. But I am an officer and a man of my word. You serve well and I’ll do what I can to help Hanah. And my word counts.”

Misha didn’t know whether or not to believe the man. But he also knew that Captain Sokolov had no need to tell Misha these things if he didn’t mean it. They would never see each other again.

“Thank you.” It was the only thing Misha could think of to say. He started to walk away, but Captain Sokolov grabbed his arm. Misha froze mid-step. The Captain tossed down his cigarette and ground it with his boot for several seconds, far longer than needed to just put it out. He leaned in close and whispered in Misha’s ear. “But if you are captured or you go missing in action, your sister will spend the rest of her natural life in prison. My word counts for that, too. You will need to fight, Misha. If you survive your contract or your are killed in action as a hero of Russia, I will keep my word and see to it that your sister finds her way home.”

Captain Sokolov gestured towards a black car as it pulled up to the curb. Still holding Misha’s arm, the Captain escorted him to the car and opened the door.

He nodded and firmly and closed the door after Misha was seated inside. The driver didn’t speak because he didn’t need to. He knew where they were going even if Misha did not. It was then that Misha realized that for the next three years, he would never again be alone.

“Alright,” he said. “Now take me to the war.”


©2022 Michael J Lawrence

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