Akhmeta, Georgia - 12:15AM Tuesday - June 9
The blast took off the back of the house. Splintered shards of the old wooden add-on streaked through the clear night sky. It was meant for Davit, who should have been sleeping soundly in what was no longer his bedroom. And he would have been, but for the surprise visit from his daughter, Natia, and her American visitor, Standish.
The three of them stood huddled, looking through the gaping maw in what was otherwise a solidly built house, a bunker-like structure of cinderblock and cement, which Davit had himself crafted over the two years after his parents’ death. Through the lingering smolder and across the sloping expanse of the Burduli family’s acreage, they watched the scattered flames dance away into the dark.
Resorting to her native Georgian, Natia exclaimed, “Ra mokhda, Papa? — What is happening? This was not an accident! You are threatened again, yes? It is those same men. You are still involved, yes?”
“Akhla ara — Not now, Tia. This is not the time.”
The distinct odor of sulfur wafted. Davit recognized it for what it was, the smell of black-powder explosives, crude devices still used as local militant groups continued to make their point, continued to encroach on the village of Akhmeta, gateway to Darial Pass, the preferred passage of the sinister smugglers plying their wares from Russia in the north through the Caspian Sea and on to the more menacing men of the Middle East. While he knew his daughter also recognized it, Davit wasn’t sure about her American boyfriend. He looked at the young American and stated, “Such paradox, yes? We spoke this night of fate, perhaps our fate is now upon us, eh?”
Standish had arrived with Natia in the early afternoon. They’d come by train trudging into the small village nestled in the valley less than an hour out of Telavi, the capital of Georgia’s Eastern region. Standish had come to see Natia, to assure her he was ready, to meet her father. It had taken two years to arrange the trip, he had only two weeks before he’d return to Colorado and Natia would have to return to her studies in Telavi. They’d planned to meet at the station in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city, from where they’d travel the two hours together to Natia’s village. It was to be a surprise visit.
Reminiscence of June - 1979
It had been two years since they’d first spent time together in the mountains of Colorado, biking and camping, becoming much closer than mere riding partners. The unfortunate incident that had literally thrown them together — his gamble in the race as he rounded the final bend to accelerate toward the steep climb, deciding that he’d pass this next biker on the outside of a tight curve on a narrow trail — resulted in not only a nasty crash, but in an afternoon of increasing and mutual interest in becoming acquainted. It hadn’t taken long to realize that the rider, the one he’d landed on top of, the one he and his bike were tangled up with, the one wriggling and pushing and wrestling with him, was a girl — a strong girl! Her pushing and twisting and writhing had caused Standish to try to disengage himself in a polite, gentlemanly manner. Though as he’d felt the strength of her legs around him, as she’d writhed and wrestled against him with the fullness of her athletic body, he’d become more than a little aroused. After all, he was twenty-four and full of adrenaline.
Standish had landed hard on his right hand, wrenching his wrist. Natia’s left foot had been caught in her pedal and badly twisted as they toppled. When they finally stopped tumbling, Standish’s full weight rested on that same foot. She’d tried to wriggle her way out from under the tangle. “Go! You must finish!”
“Wait, your foot is caught, let me help you. You have to stop pushing on it.”
“Go, it does not matter, you must finish.”
“No. I’m not going. Just lie back and let me help you get your foot out of this mess. The bikes are locked up and I think the wheels are bent. The first-aid team will be here in just a minute.”
Natia stopped pushing. “Sashineli! And only the first race!”
“What? The first race. What does that mean?”
Once they’d uncoupled and the first-aid team had arrived, things settled down. They realized that the race was over for them. Each bike had hit hard enough to result in a bent wheel and Natia had suffered a badly twisted ankle.
His decision to pass had not worked out well for them, but his next decision — to remain with her while she was attended to by the first-aid team — had worked out well indeed, as far as he was concerned, for both of them, and he hoped she felt the same. In the short time between their tumbling together and struggling to get apart and the first-aid team arriving to help them down the mountain to the starting point, Standish had felt a strong attraction to this vibrant and athletic woman. He was looking forward to what the day might bring. He couldn’t have known then that the next two weeks would change his life forever.
Akhmeta - 12:30AM
Natia continued in English for Standish’s sake, “Papa, this was not fate! It is those same men, yes? Why did you not tell me you are still threatened? And now, Papa, they come once more to our village, to our home!”
Davit followed suit and answered in English, “Not now, Tia. It is over and it is long into this night. We have tired your American friend. We must rest now. Things are different in the morning.”
“But Papa, it is morning! We know their ways, Papa. They will come to see their work. Perhaps they will come before daylight!”
“Tia, there is nothing for us to do. Shesrulebulia — what’s done is done. There will be no more tonight. These men seek to make trouble for the people who resist their evil, for the village that rests in the valley to watch over and protect our mountains. Their wish is to carry their evil across our Darial Pass, the path that has served our homeland for centuries. We are strong, Natia. The people of our village will not allow such men to make this evil. Yes, my Tia, we know these men. You have witnessed their purpose and we have suffered much together. But tonight, we must rest. Our sun will grace our day to fill our eyes, then we will decide. For now, off with both of you.”
Standish was more than a little concerned. He offered, “Sir, I doubt that I will be able to just fall asleep now. I don’t mean to interfere or intrude, but may I stay up with you to keep an eye out for anything that might happen? I’m fully capable of taking care of myself. I can help.”
“Ah, my young American adventurer, I see you are earnest and that you wish to help, to do something. But we are old country. This is not time for something to be done, nor place. The best for us is rest. Your help is for Tia’s rest. Morning is better for us all. These are matters of patience, eh? It was your own words, my young friend — for me words that are true — fate looks for men of patience. So, for now we are patient men, we sleep. We will see our village in the morning. There I will show you for what our small country is famous. There we can find our fate, eh?”
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