I got a notification from the post office. As in previous times, I had to go to the “Moscow station” to pick up the package. Having walked around the station square, I did not find a postal car. Apparently, it had not arrived yet, and to save time, I went to meet it on its way. I went to Nevsky and stood in the middle of the road, hoping that the driver would recognize me, or I would recognize the car and intercept the parcel. But the cars, of various brands, clearly had nothing to do with the postal business and cleverly avoided bumping into me, producing a contemptuous exhaust in my face as they passed by.
I returned to the square and suddenly saw the postal car. When did it manage to arrive? A large black car, resembling one of those from Stalin’s era, having on the side printed in large font: “EXPRESS”. A rather long line of people had already formed. I got in the tail. The delivery of parcels was quick, and soon there was only one young woman in front of me with a pleasantly rounded average Russian face. I nervously reached into my wallet, what if I forgot the notification slip?! They won’t give it out without the slip. The woman turned around and together we managed to fetch from my wallet a pale lilac piece of paper with the postage number. The delivery clerk, a young guy with mockingly penetrating gray eyes and a light brown forelock, asked her some questions. The woman sat in a chair and talked about herself. Olga was her name, and she spoke in detail about her parents, then briefly about three siblings and two cousins, and finally she gave a rather vague account of her sender, a certain Ilya. The guy deftly drew an arrow on the box and marked the start and end points with the letters “I” and “O”.
The second post guy, to the left of the woman across the table, whom I did not notice before, grinned, as he was looking through his papers:
“Well, ‘Ilya’ is an interesting name, one can tell a learned person right away.”
His smile was a mixture of contempt and respect. Sort of, we know too well these ”ilyas”. Trying to stay in tune with him, I also jokingly say that Ilya is the next recipient indeed.
Now the first guy says right into my face: so you left your Motherland that had nurtured you and moved to the hell knows what foreign country! I told him, without changing the humorous tone: I sure did. Why would I care about your goddamn Motherland. And what difference does it make for you as a post officer, or maybe you are a ... and I raised both hands and outlined a wide circle. I did not dare to utter the words “KGB officer”. But the postal clerk did not joke at all, and looked straight into my eyes:
“And how did you get back to Russia, why you are not at work at this time of the day?”
I thought, what a nonsense, how can a person ever come to the post office for his parcel if he has to stay at work all day? However, I am responding calmly, trying not to lose my playful tone.
“What do you mean, ‘why?’ I have been living in the USA for a long time, and now I took a vacation. Do you know the word ‘vacation’? I simply booked my air tickets from United ...”
“And why did you purchase two one-way tickets instead of a round trip?”
I was struck by his awareness. This guy is not joking. And now they may ask for a confirmation letter from my employer that I am indeed on vacation. I didn’t have this letter with me. Outrage grew inside me, and I decided it was time to go on the offensive.
“Who can ever imagine getting such weird questions when picking up his package! So, have you ever heard about this?” — I turned to Olga, who sat in a chair against the wall behind me. She smiled, and said, it is the first time she saw something like that. I am about to turn my head to my interrogator victoriously, but instantly I can feel his chilling stare on my back. A shadow runs across the woman’s face, and she suddenly corrects herself:
“Ah, the Russia-Kazakhstan program? Well, in this case, yes I heard they should go through such a procedure ...”
Now I know I will never know what was in my package ...