There are several ways that Napoleon fucked up, but I’ve got to say my favorite has to be attacking Russia during winter. Even the people from the dead middle of America, where they get little experience with climates other than that suited to growing corn, are well aware that it’s really stinkin’ cold there. That being said, I messed up about as badly as Napoleon. When I went to study abroad I’d known for years where my destination would be, I took the language classes for several years in anticipation of the trip. For someone who had practically never left ‘Averageville, USA’ in their entire lifetime studying in a different country through the same scholarships as paid at home was like Jesus had walked into school and handed me the winning lottery ticket himself.
So of course terrorists have to mess that up for everyone. This, exactly, is why we can’t have nice things, folks. There I was in Russia, living the dream for a few weeks even though I didn’t exactly bring weather friendly clothing, and I get an email. This email isn’t like other emails, mostly because it actually came through on the shitty cell service I had. The little thing punched straight through the circle with a line through it, and when I saw who it was from I sat down on the nearest stone step to the library and connected to the wifi. It was government monitored these days, but they couldn’t do dick about what was contained in this. There in the sender line, ‘United States Embassy’. Yeah, should probably give that some attention pretty quickly.
The group I’d been studying with inside the library itself passed me as I waited for the wifi to connect to my smart phone, tapping my foot impatiently. A few of them paused, giving me curious looks, but none actually asked what I was up to sitting on the steps in the snow wearing only a light blue sweater and jeans to combat the cold. Before I could really get into the thoughts of ‘What the hell do those guys want with me?’, and ’Why don’t I go sit down inside the library?’ the wifi connected. The email came through, loading in parts.
The following message was sent to us from your University, the time slot for your return flight home has been pushed forwards. Please see the attachment for details.
...What? Tapping incessantly on said attachment got me no answers for several seconds as I sat there shivering, once again thinking I may have time to duck back inside while I read this. Before I could get to my feet it opened. Sure enough there was the confirmation that my ride home would be on Friday of this week, in just three days rather than another month to get me to the end of the Spring Semester. Along with that was an explanation from my University, citing clauses from their ‘study abroad’ contract that they would pull us from the area by any means necessary if things went south. I read it with a mocking internal voice, hissing at the screen slightly.
“...recent events...dangerous precedence…hostilities rising...violence...oh, goody, ‘if you do not feel safe attending class for the remaining days please feel free to seek asylum at the Embassy’- what is this bullshit?”
They helpfully included several news articles that had been published back home about the ‘situation’ here and I couldn’t help but scoff and look around at how utterly ordinary everything was. They’re blowing this entirely out of proportion. I’m right in the middle of it and I don’t see anything like that happening wide scale. Either way there was little I could do about it but pack. It was a good excuse to avoid my last few days of classes, but I kind of wanted to prove to them that they were majorly over reacting about everything. Though I suppose it would be better to have them prone to overreaction than for them to blatantly ignore us when things actually were going to shit.
Standing up from where I’d been sitting on cold stone I stretched, raising my phone over my head as I did so and nearly dropping it on my head when it ‘dinged’. With a jerk I pulled it back down so that I could see the screen, another email. This one to a personal account rather than official. Without thinking I opened it. As it loaded I remembered the caution that had been instilled in me before I was shipped here, laws everywhere aren’t like back home in the US. There the law said something was wrong, some places the law told you what was right and they could fudge on the in between. I seriously hoped no one was sending me a recommendation of gay fanfiction, because I didn’t feel like spending the night in Russian lock up just because I used their public wifi.
The name of the sender appeared first, ‘Yo mama’. Despite the name, it wasn’t actually my mother. Stephanie Hall was one of those girls who looked at someone’s home situation and walked up to you with a wide smile on her pale, freckled face and shook you by the shoulders, “I AM YOUR MOTHER NOW.” If she decided you weren’t ‘properly’ cared for, then you were hers, end of discussion. My parents work a majority of the time so I became a part of her brood, disregarding the fact that she was only about a year older than me.
Taking the steps slowly I made my way to the street, watching the icy stairs more so than my phone. By the time I made it safely to the bottom the email had loaded.
“I got this early, friend of a friend, you know the drill. They’ve only been released in France so far! I couldn’t even find the release date for where you are, the country isn’t listed at all. So I figured I might as well send you a copy now! Enjoy!”
The attachment was enormous, and I could see through the title what it contained. Holy Mother of Tacos, she did not. Sam H. Coslin was a wildly popular author, known for writing every single kind of genre there is at least once in his career. The kicker? They were all good. Stephanie and I had gone on a roadtrip, kind of, driving almost a hundred miles to go to a nerd convention of sorts and meet the guy. She had even won the raffle so he followed her back on several forms of social media. Bottom line to all of this was that she had sent me the newest book, and I now had something to do while stuck in the Embassy. Because come on, even if I thought there was no real danger that was one hell of a story to tell.
Setting my sights on campus, far into the distance, I set the book to download. For some stupid reason it actually did better once the wifi disconnected and it was running on my data plan. I vacillated between staring impatiently at the screen as the little blue bar ticked across it, and watching where I was walking. Because of this I nearly ran into what looked like a solid wall of dark fabric. I tried to step to the side, mumbling a quick apology in Russian, trying to get around whoever had been standing in front of me. When they stepped to the side to keep in my way I looked up at them fully. With that my heart stopped beating and promptly peed its little heart pants. There may have also been internal screaming involved. Politsiya, Russian Police. Unlike the police I was used to seeing these guys were federal, no county offices, nothing like that.
I ducked my head, apologizing as I tried to slip around him, berating myself for not paying attention to where I was going. My phone was sliding into my pocket just as the man grabbed my elbow. He was easily a foot taller than me and built to stop a truck, if he ever felt like it. Clean shaven, no facial hair to block the look of utter distaste he was throwing me.
“Get in the car.”
Spoken in the easy Russian of someone who’d been belting it out their entire life the phrase was easily understood. Despite that I froze up, staring up at him like I was the fox and he was the hound. No, better yet, I’m a rabbit and he’s a bear. There we go, much more accurate. He pointed to the plain vehicle that was more or less near us, motioning with his head. No more words were spoken and I felt the insane urge to tell him ‘no’. There were several reasons that could go wrong, but there were an equal number of reasons to not get in that car. So I decided to try and reason with the guy, proud of how far that my language skills had come, allowing me to communicate like this so effectively. I’d never get over that thrill of being understood.
“I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong individual.”
His ‘scowl’, if it could be named by a word so mild, deepened and he motioned again towards the car, this time a bit more insistently.
“Then we will clear it up later. Get in the car.”
When I made no move within the first two seconds he wrapped a startlingly large hand around my upper arm, fingers meeting easily. I was tugged towards the vehicle, stumbling and slipping until he stopped. I was almost able to get my feet under me before I was shoved, falling forwards and into the now open door of the vehicle. Seeing as I was half in the car already and no one was going to a damn thing to help me get away from the police I straightened up, pulling my legs into the car, wincing when the door was slammed behind me. The man walked around the side, sliding into the seat directly beside me. The moment the door was shut we were moving.
From there I was basically alone in my thoughts because neither the driver nor my seat buddy were feeling in any way chatty. The air inside the car was stifling, more from slight fear and raw awkwardness than from the pitiful effort that the heater was putting up. Usually during times of awkwardness I would feel the need to break the silence with sarcasm or humor, I didn’t think now was the time for either of those things. Instead I was left to freak out about what the hell was going on. Just picking someone seemingly at random off the streets didn’t sound like standard procedure to me, but I hadn’t exactly done extensive research on the law. I’d always assumed that since I never did anything stupid or even close to illegal that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Whatever this was about, the moment it was over I was going to hang around a law school and blow money every Saturday feeding one of the students. Eventually I would have a BFF who was a lawyer and could get me the hell out of shit like this.
Thinking of the law brought me to the theory that perhaps I hadn’t done anything wrong, maybe the Embassy had sent someone for me. I tossed that out almost immediately, because if someone from the Embassy had come to get me it wouldn’t be Russian police, and I would have been addressed in English, most likely. All in all I was relatively certain that things would be fixed up the moment we entered a police station and they realized they either had the wrong person because they were trying to be all dramatic, or they figured out they didn’t have anything to accuse me of. That certainty faded as the buildings did, replaced by trees and shrubbery. We were leaving the city, something I hadn’t done since entering this country, and my heart sank down to the bottom of my sneakers as I saw the very last sign of civilization fade. Had they ever shown me an actual badge? Do Russian police even use badges or the like? I couldn’t remember and at this point it was enough to send panic shooting in a chill straight through my bones.