The Price of Dreams

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Chapter Eight

THEY DRAGGED them naked out of bed, sneering at him and leering at her. They pushed him out of the bedroom and threw his clothes at him. Once he was dressed, they handcuffed him and made him kneel down facing a corner until they were ready to take him away. They manhandled him into the lift and then outside, where a black Volga was waiting to take him to KGB headquarters.

Ruslan knew this was going to be very different from his gentle interrogation at the hands of the police in Bogmaperdi. He tried desperately to clear his head. ‘Calm down and think, calm down and think.’ He closed his eyes. ‘Don’t confess to anything. Don’t admit anything. You haven’t done anything and they’ve got no evidence against you. Stay calm. They’re going to threaten you but they’re bluffing. Don’t believe them. They’ll try and trick you. Don’t sign anything without reading it first.’

Then he thought of Nina.

‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen to her? Just when she needed me on the outside, I have to get arrested too. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Stay calm, stay calm. You don’t even know what she’s been up to. Don’t lie to them but don’t admit anything. Don’t try and argue with them. Don’t incriminate anybody, especially not Nina. Oh Jesus. Jesus, please help me.’

Once inside KGB headquarters, Ruslan was taken down into the bowels of the building. He wouldn’t see daylight again until his interrogation was over, a deliberate policy to disorient him. They made him strip naked and stuck a gloved finger up his backside and even made him roll back his foreskin to show that there was nothing hidden under it. Then they gave him regulation clothes to wear: old dirty-white underpants, ill-fitting black trousers and a blue shirt, no socks, no shoes, no pullover. Next they took his fingerprints and put him in front of a camera for his mug shots.

‘Do you need to piss?’

‘Yes.’

He emptied his bladder and was then frogmarched into a small interrogation room. They made him sit in front of a desk with two officers behind it. On the desk was a thick file plus a notepad, an ashtray and a jug of water with three glasses.

‘Surname?’

‘Given name?’

‘Date of birth?’

‘Nationality?’

‘Address?’

‘Occupation?’

‘Which faculty?’

‘What year?’

‘Married?’

‘Parents’ names?’

‘Your mother’s address?’

‘Any brothers or sisters?’

‘What’s his address?’

‘His occupation?’

‘What was your role?’

‘Pardon?’

‘I said what was your role?’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Don’t get funny with me, sonny boy. What was your fucking role?’

‘My role in what?’

‘Your role in the Committee.’

‘What committee?’

‘The so-called Ronkoni Committee for Truth.’

Ruslan was stunned. So that’s what she was up to, a Committee for Truth? He had expected to be asked about some kind of trade union committee.

‘I’ve never heard of the Ronkoni Committee for Truth.’

‘You expect us to believe that?’

‘Yes. It’s the truth.’

The interrogator paused. He took out two cigarettes and passed one to his colleague. Ruslan was glad he didn’t smoke. It would make him very vulnerable. Nina must be desperate for a cigarette right now.

‘You were arrested with another person?’

‘Her name?’

‘Date of birth?’

‘Nationality?’

‘Address?’

‘Occupation?’

‘Which faculty?’

‘Was she your instructor?’

‘So you’re shagging your instructor? How long have you been shagging her?’

‘We’ve been together for eighteen months.’

‘So what was her role?’

‘Pardon?’

‘Don’t fuck me about. What was her role in the Committee?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know?’

‘No.’

‘And you expect me to believe that?’

‘Yes, it’s the truth.’

‘But you admit she had a role.’

‘I never said that.’

‘Yes you did.’

‘No I didn’t. I’d never heard of this Committee before you told me about it.’

The interrogator turned to his companion. ‘Read what we said back to me, from where I asked about her role.’

‘“What was her role?...Pardon?...Don’t mess me about. What was her role in the Committee?...I don’t know...You don’t know?...No.”’

‘Now if you say, “I don’t know,” it means you know she had a role, but you don’t know what it was.’

‘No it doesn’t.’

‘Yes it fucking does. If you didn’t know anything about anything, you’d have said “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But you didn’t, did you? Because you know all about it, but you don’t want to get your lovebird instructor into trouble. Well, let me tell you something, Comrade Instructor’s Pet, she’s already in very big trouble and so are you.’

The interrogator changed tack: ‘Where were you on the twelfth of October?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘Well, let me refresh your memory. It was a Sunday. You went to somebody’s dacha. Remember?’

‘Yes, vaguely.’

‘Whose dacha?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘Don’t fuck me about. Whose dacha?’

‘A guy called Yakub.’

‘Surname?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What was his surname?’

‘I don’t know. I know loads of people but I don’t know all their surnames.’

‘Date of birth?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘Well is he young?’

Ruslan hesitated. ‘Probably in his forties.’

‘Oh, so you know something about him. Nationality?’

‘Tatar.’

‘Address?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Occupation?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘Let me enlighten you. He’s a senior instructor at your university. Which faculty?’

‘Philosophy.’

‘So you know.’

‘Yes.’

‘And when you said you didn’t know, you were lying.’

Ruslan was silent.

‘I said you were lying.’

‘I couldn’t remember.’

‘Just like you were lying when you said you didn’t know what Nina Begishveli’s role was.’

‘No. I don’t know what her role was.’

‘But you admit she had a role.’

‘No.’

‘Read it back to me, comrade.’

Ruslan cursed himself. They were making mincemeat of him, and he would have to be very careful not to give Nina away again.

The interrogation continued in this fashion for more than an hour, until the interrogator went out for a break.

‘You must be tired,’ said the assistant.

‘Yes.’

‘Smoke?’

‘No thanks. I could do with a drink, though.’

The assistant poured him a glass of water and Ruslan gulped it down.

‘We were a bit surprised to see you there tonight. You hadn’t been round for a long time.’

‘No.’

‘Had you quarrelled with her?’

‘Yes.’

‘About what she was up to?’

‘Yes.’

‘I guess you chose the wrong night to kiss and make up.’

‘You could say that.’

‘You know, you could find yourself in very deep trouble.’

Ruslan nodded.

‘Which would be a bit unfortunate if you weren’t really involved.’

Ruslan nodded again.

‘Look, just tell us your side of the story, okay? You’ve got nothing to lose. If you weren’t involved, you’ll be out of here before long.’

Ruslan looked at the assistant’s kindly face. Then he closed his eyes and hid his head in his hands. ‘Oh fuck,’ he said out loud. How could he be so stupid? They’d used a classic good cop-bad cop routine and he’d fallen for it like an idiot.

They interrogated him for hour after hour. Three teams worked in shifts, giving Ruslan short breaks to eat, go to the toilet and sleep on a wooden bed in his freezing cold cell. Soon he was exhausted and completely disoriented, with no idea what time of day or night it was.

The interrogation always followed the same pattern. They would set up traps for him and he would fall into them, saying something that clearly implied that he knew about what Nina and her comrades were up to. Each time they pointed out his mistakes, Ruslan would pull back and deny that he had implied anything at all.

At the end of a three-hour interrogation session on the evening of the second day (though Ruslan thought three or four days must have passed), the interrogator returned once more to the subject of the meeting at Yakub’s dacha.

‘So who was there?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Okay, let’s put it another way. Were you there?’

‘Yes.’

‘Right, that’s progress. Nina Begishveli?’

Ruslan hesitated. ‘Yes.’

‘Yakub Bovin?’

‘Yes.’

‘Marta Bovin?’

‘I can’t remember.’

The interrogator turned to his assistant: ‘Read back that bit from the last session about what they had for lunch.’

‘Hold on a sec. Here it is: “What did you have for lunch?...A kind of Tatar dish with chicken and duck...Who cooked it?...Yakub’s wife.”’

‘Okay? Don’t donkey shit me. Now was Marta Bovin there or not?’

‘Yes.’

‘Iya Cristavi?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Nodar Lodjanadza?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Arslan Maqashveli?’

‘Can’t remember.’

‘You have a very poor memory, don’t you?’

‘Maybe if you let me sleep I might remember.’

‘Ah, my heart bleeds. We haven’t started yet. Do you know how long we can keep this up before we have to let you see a lawyer? Nine months. Just think about that: nine fucking months.’

Ruslan said nothing, but the thought of nine more months of this horrified him.

‘Okay, what about Uta Chavchavadza and his wife Tsatsa?’

‘Can’t remember.’

‘Masha Guriis?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘I didn’t think you would. What about Josep Machutadza?’

‘Can’t remember.’

‘Asmat Khidirveli and Manama Sidamon?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You can’t remember?’

‘No.’

‘Okay, was your mother there?’

‘No!’

‘Your brother Giorgi?’

‘No.’

The interrogator asked a dozen other names: university instructors, sports coaches and athletes. Each time, Ruslan said ‘No’.

‘You must think I’m a fucking imbecile. I say the name of someone who was there and you can’t remember. I say the name of someone who wasn’t there and you say no. I can put two and two together, you know.’

Ruslan bowed his head.

‘So tell me, who was there?’

Ruslan said nothing.

‘Come on, or shall I ask him to read back what you’ve already said?’

‘I was there,’ Ruslan whispered.

‘And?’

‘Nina. And Yakub and Marta.’

‘And the rest of them?’

‘Josep, Asmat and Manama. Iya and Nodar. Uta and Tsatsa. Masha Guriis.’

‘And one more.’

Ruslan looked blank. This time he genuinely couldn’t remember.

‘A philosophy instructor.’

‘I already said Yakub.’

‘The other one.’

‘Oh yes, Arslan.’

‘And who made a proposal?’

Ruslan bowed his head.

‘Who?’

‘Yakub and Nodar.’

‘And what did they propose?’

Then Ruslan opened up and told them everything: Yakub’s proposal, who supported it, who opposed it, who left, who stayed. He told them how he had tried and failed to change Nina’s mind, how he thought the relationship was over and how they had reconciled their differences just before they were arrested.

For two long days, an exhausted Ruslan answered all their questions and signed everything they put in front of him, sometimes without even reading it. He told them everything they wanted to know, both about the conspirators and about other friends: who was anti-Party and who wasn’t, who read samizdat and who didn’t. The only person he continued to lie about was Tamara. He insisted that he had never discussed politics with her.

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