Elena passed the Café Metropole and climbed the stone slope from Tverskaya towards the Red Square.
She was on her first visit to the capital and everything seemed at the same time recognizable and absolutely new.
“There, in the morning mist, the Kremlin and Lenin’s tomb and further, a little hidden by the slope of the ground, the marvelous cupolas of St. Basil’s Cathedral.”
She had lived with the scene all her life and now, for the first time, they were in front of her. She could hardly believe that they were more than the photographs in her book on Mother Russia.
Elena had spent her 35 years beyond the Urals, in the closed city of Krasnoyarsk-26. It was number 26 because there were other Krasnoyarsks to confuse any invader during the cold war.
In her youth, her city had been a thriving place. Her father worked in a processing plant that made the plutonium needed for bomb pits and they had a nice apartment. When he came home at night he would sit with her and her brother, Boris, before they went to bed and tell them exciting tales about Stalingrad when he was in the army.
But then with perestroika and the closing of the plants, Krasnoyarsk had fallen on hard times and no one had any money because there were no jobs. She had got a small job as a medical secretary, while Boris worked on the roads. That allowed them to eat and even save a little.
Things were getting easier now and one or two plants had reopened to process waste. So the family had eventually been able to save enough for a railway ticket for her to find work in Moscow and perhaps take some piano lessons.
It was a difficult decision to leave her family, especially as her current boy friend, Isaak, had not wanted her to leave. He’s said, that if she went, that was the end. He wasn’t about to wait around for her. Well … it’s a good thing I know, Elena had thought. I don’t have any difficulty finding boy friends and Isaak is obviously not the one for me.
Elena wasn’t beautiful. Perhaps she was a little plain but people said she was beautiful when she smiled and her black hair was very fine and long. She kept herself well, walking whenever she could for fitness, and she dressed as smartly as money would allow.
So she had spent two nights on the cold train sleeping uncomfortably in a corner in order to start a new life in here.
She walked through the square and looked in the windows of the GUM. There were beautiful clothes like she had not seen before, but the prices. “Oh! … eta óchin’ dóraga!” she thought. She’d have to work hard to buy that dress.
She strolled across the square past St. Basil’s down to the river. There she could see the whole length of the city and its golden cupolas. It was breathtaking … and cold, she thought.
The hostel last night had been cold too, but she had elected to take a day off to see a little of the city before going to look for a job. She had one lead … with Kultura y Sport, a publishing house on Kalyaevskaya Street.
The next morning, she took the Metro. She knew that she couldn’t stop staring because everything was so wonderful compared to the concrete blocks of Krasnoyarsk. In the Metro too even underground, there were paintings and gold leaf decoration, and everything was so clean.
Elena was so occupied she almost passed her stop and had to jump out as the doors closed. Now she was nervous. She didn’t have very good clothes like the women she had seen near the GUM, but they were clean and neat, so they would have to do.
She found the turning to Kalyaevskaya and walked along the street until she came to number 27 … “Kultura y Sport” announced the brass plate.
Elena went up the steep steps into the first office. It was quite unlike offices in Krasnoyarsk, which had mostly old brown wooden furniture. This one was bright with sunlight from large windows, and the furniture was all new … steel and glass. The girl sitting behind the desk smiled and asked if she could help her. She wore a fashionable haircut, an elegant grey dress and matching shoes. Elena felt dowdy in comparison.
She asked for Mr. Yuri Metaev, the General Manager and Editor. He was an old friend of her Uncle Leo and this was the only contact she had in Moscow.
The girl asked her to sit down for a moment. She seemed very pleasant and she wasn’t away long before she took Elena into another office.
Mr. Metaev was older than she expected with a shock of grey, almost white hair, and large dark-rimmed glasses. Still his eyes twinkled when he saw her … “Ah! Leo’s niece, we have been expecting you. You are very pretty. Come and sit down and have a glass of coffee.”
She felt at home almost immediately.
They talked a little about her Uncle Leo and how Yuri Metaev had known him. He was very interested to know how he was and what he was doing.
Then it turned to business, Elena was fairly thoroughly grilled on her school and college results and what she had been doing for the last seven years. She was proud that she could explain that she had developed a new method of tracking patients, saving time and effort for the doctors in her office. She had made it possible for them to see a full report on the patient before seeing them.
At the end, Metaev told Elena that jobs were very difficult to find but they did have a vacancy that she might enjoy. It involved working with the computer and doing background research for some of the magazines and books that they published. It wouldn’t pay much to start with but it could grow if she was keen.
Naturally, Elena was delighted and she couldn’t wait to start the following Monday.
That evening she went to the Café Metropole and ate a meal that she could hardly afford in celebration of her new position. Maybe later she could afford those piano lessons.
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