Ruth raises her hand in a friendly salute, motions her to a chair and covers her shoulders with a bath towel. Nathalie fixes the wall not to see the scissors nipping her hair off.
“Take a peep. I tried my best.” Ruth holds her a mirror.
“Keep your nerve, Nathalie! Your hair will grow fast and this new style isn’t too bad either, right, Elijah?”
“Right, Ruth. It’s just a trifle by comparison with what you will get for it, Nathalie!” He soothes her.
“Now let’s proceed with the colour. It’s quite simple to change a blonde into a brunette. Don’t worry; nobody will notice that the girl on my passport photo is not me. Just don’t forget to send me another colour once in Paris. I don’t trust the local chemistry and would hate to parade about Prague bald as a coot.”
“Sorry, Nathalie, now it gets messy. Let’s move to the bathroom. You stay where you are, Elijah. This is for women’s eyes only. You’d get just in the way.”
She follows Ruth to a tiny cubicle hardly big enough for one person and watches her mixing the colour in a cracked mug. The sharp whiff of ammoniac and oxidant makes her cough.
“One sniff is enough to kill an ox. This cubicle has no window and the ventilation shaft is blocked, sorry, Nathalie. That’s the price to pay for living in historical cities. Paris is no better.” Ruth assures her applying the smelly orange mash on Nathalie’s hair.
“It will change to black, don’t worry!” She assures Nathalie noticing her panicked look.
“Now keep your eyes shut while I do your eyebrows, it burns like hell and it could blind you. I won’t colour your lashes as it’s too dangerous for an amateur. Good! I’have finished. Not bad! You can open your eyes if you wish but it will take half an hour before I can rinse the stuff off and you’ll look like a born brunette. I’ll bring you something to read in the meantime, I have to leave you now. Shall I send Elijah to keep you company? Better not, as you look like something the cat dragged in. No need to let Eli lose his illusions.”
“May I keep you company!” Without waiting to be invited Elijah’s head peeps in.
“Off with you, Elijah! Don’t you see there’s hardly place enough for two? “ She chases him away to finish her task as far as she can
“My work is done and I have other things to do. So, if you can’t live without your girlfriend for a second you are free to breathe these foul emanations together as an ultimate proof of your love. I am back in half an hour; you are warned and don’t make me blush.” She calls Elijah back from his exile in the corridor .
“Shall I bring you some glossies or will that boy be enough for you, Nathalie?”
“You talk too much, Ruth. Off with you!”
“So sorry to plague you with Ruth, Nathalie, but I had no choice. There are not many women ready to take the risk of letting you leave the country on their passport. Being permanently broke Ruth is glad to pay off at least some of her debts to make room for new ones.”
“I don’t think she really understands the risk she is taking, Elijah. It would be only fair to make her clear the possible consequences.”
“Now you are exaggerating, Nathalie! First, nobody will see you are not her. The girl on the passport photo can be any heavily made-up brunette and if you put on her garb it’s fool proof. No need to feel guilty. Besides, how can you believe I could put you at risk?”
“The problem is you have no idea what it means breaking the law of a totalitarian country, Elijah!”
“Of course I have! I have read enough of the Gulag literature and seen lots of films and documentaries on this theme. My mother is a white Russian whose father fought in General Krasnov’s Army and most of her family were eliminated by the Reds. Don’t underestimate me and be sure I know what I am doing. Calm down and trust me.”
“I’m coming in!” Ruth warns them.
“Are you decent? How else with all that muck on Nathalie’s head! Now make yourself scarce, Elijah!” Ruth sets the chair in front of the washbasin, asks Nathalie to lean over, take her on trust and keep her eyes shut while she will be rinsing off the colour.
“I made a good job! You don’t look too bad as a brunette either and with a bit of make-up you’ll be a passable Parisian.” She promises towelling Nathalie’s hair dry.
“Here, make your choice! Luckily we are the same size and you will look not too bad in my togs.” She puts the disguise on the chair and starts making Nathalie up.
It’s her very first make-up and the feeling, all but pleasant, is becoming more and more suffocating with every new layer Ruth applies on her face.”
“I am done. I think I made a decent job. Have a look!”
Nathalie glares at the creature in the mirror. Does she like her? Not so sure. Has she liked her former self? She has never thought about it.
“Elijah! Come and wonder at the miraculous transformation! Don’t you think you owe me a little extra?”
Nathalie gets up and nears him slowly changed into a girl with whom she has very little in common. Will it affect her inner self or is it just skin-deep?
“Oh!” Elijah heaves a sigh. Admiring? Horrified?
“How do you find me?” She challenges him.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to say. You don’t look like you and, at same time, it couldn’t be anybody else but the girl who took my breath away and made me to a fragment of my former self.”
“She can eventually get her original colour back once in Paris.” Ruth remarks soothingly.
“–Gentlemen prefer blondes- life has taught me. Send me back my passport the soonest possible and don’t forget the hair colour!”
“Don’t worry, Ruth. Robert is taking the flight to Prague immediately after our arrival in Paris. He will bring your passport. As for the colour I will send it the soonest possible.”
“Good! I trust you. She can keep the dress and…” She holds out her hand.
“Of course, here you are!” Elijah passes on her a manila envelope that she thrusts furtively into her pocket.
“Thanks a lot, Elijah!”
“Thank YOU, Ruth. Now let’s say good-bye. We have just time enough to make it to the airport.
“Thank you, Ruth!” Nathalie takes hesitantly leave of her new friend. She feels uneasy. Is she fit to take the leading part in this thriller? Does she want to do it?
“Good luck, lovers!” Ruth gives her three airy kisses on her cheeks, Parisian style, serene and sure of herself. Nothing on her shows that has given away a vital document proving she is a French citizen and not a subject of this totalitarian state.