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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #269



The fabric’s getting thinner in frozen Saigon. Last night I went out with my wonderful friend P——- from Kharkiv. We met in Mano’s Bar far too early, and she and I proceeded to drink multiple limoncello cocktails, one after the other in quick succession. We hadn’t seen one another for some months and we wanted to have extended conversations about Kalibr and Iskander missiles and other romantic things as we sat on ropey barstools in this grungy place. Because I couldn’t remember her name, I invited her to be journalist with the Lviv Herald and that’s how I got to learn who she was. I don’t think she could remember my name either which is why I gave her my business card but I don’t think she much minded what my name was. There is this natural magnetism between us, even though I am old enough to be her father, simply because we’re both total maniacs. She dressed in a tight green jump suit that might have been appropriate for an emaciated prisoner at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, and huge great military boots that looked like they’d seen front line action, so she was dressed just as crazily as me. That’s how we do things in Kharkiv. It’s maniac town, and it was wonderful to see her because it reminded me of just how much I like Kharkiv and all the loony things that go on there.


As the evening went on, we got more and more slaughtered, chatting nonsense about missiles and sniper rifles and shells and mortars and other sexy stuff like a courting couple ought to be discussing. We’re both absolutely bonkers. I knew there was something crazy about her when I invited her to the opera tonight and she immediately agreed without even knowing what opera it was. I didn’t even know what opera it was. I’m not even sure it is an opera. I think it’s a classical music recital. Who cares. It was some crazy whirlwind of an experience.


My new friend T——- staggered into Mano’s Bar and asked if he could join us. What a silly question. Of course he couldn’t. Nevertheless like a true Englishman, I said yes, and then I proceeded to turn the conversation into a discussion about how I would be arranging him a one-way tourism ticket to Kherson. I pulled out my mobile telephone, opened the Ukrainian Railways App, and threatened to buy him a one-way ticket in third class to Kherson central railway station, where he would promptly be blown to pieces upon arrival at the railway station that has already been blown to pieces. And if that wasn’t good enough for him, I would take him for a walking tour along the waterfront of the River Dnieper but don’t worry; he would be perfectly fine even though he was in the sights of the Russian snipers because It’s 800 metres across the river and they’re probably only good enough to blow his brains out at 300 metres so maybe they’ll only be able to shoot him in the arm or the leg unless they get lucky. However I had some more touristical surprises in store for him: his hotel in Kherson would be hit with a Krasnopol artillery shell and then his building would be blown to pieces in the middle of the night and falling masonry would crush him. My friend got the message; he wasn’t welcome at this particular encounter. He declined my kind offer of travel agency services, and made his excuses to teach at a conveniently pre-arranged English lesson with nobody.


P——- and I got closer and closer as the drink kept flowing, but then she told me she had to take the last public transport back to somewhere or other outside Lviv. This sounded like nonsense; the reality was that her boyfriend, who is some sort of Kharkiv type covered in tattoos and looks like a military assassin, wanted to talk to her to make sure she wasn’t off wondering around with strange men like me. She’s one of these women who’s attracted to dangerous men, and I’m one of these men who’s attracted to dangerous women, and that’s why we got on so well. She’s the sort of person who thinks that a one-way ticket to Kherson is a perfectly good idea. After she’d got home and spoken to her boyfriend, she had a sudden dose of buyer’s remorse and sent me a hastily scrawled series of messages saying that she couldn’t go to the opera tonight because she loved her boyfriend or something. Then she passed out. Shortly afterwards, I passed out too, to wake up fully dressed in the middle of the night and wonder what was going on.


She’d sent me her email addresses, which consist of strange strings of numbers, at the same time as telling me she couldn’t go to the opera, so she was presumably having a dose of romantic schizophrenia about me. Really, who knows what’s going on. Will we see each other tonight for the opera? I don’t care about her boyfriend, although he’ll probably travel all the way from Kharkiv to murder me if and when he reads this. Will she be our Kharkiv correspondent for the Lviv Herald? Will I move to Kharkiv and get married amongst the missiles and the bombs and the drones and the blown-out buildings to a woman less than half my age? Maybe all of the above. Maybe none.


My friend T——- came back to Mano’s Bar when the coast was clear. He really didn’t want a one-way ticket to Kherson. I could barely stand up and I had to go home early. I woke up with crumbs of crusty bread all over the kitchen; it seems I had somehow made It to the supermarket on the way home, despite hardly being able to remember a thing about what had been going on. And as to the opera tonight, or whatever it is that I booked on a whim, who knows whether she’ll show up? I know one thing: I certainly will. I’m not a quitter. I went on a date with a crazy girl, because I’m a crazy guy, and I’m going to follow through with whatever silly decisions I made over a bottle of home-made hooch. That’s romance and dating in frozen Saigon.

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