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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #313

The opera this evening was a little disappointing. That’s not because the music wasn’t wonderful but because K——, who agreed to accompany me, was dressed like she was ready for an interview with the KGB: in a starched shirt and a long skirt, looking sombre and distressed as she put herself through the undoubtedly laborious task of enduring an opera when she had never previously been to an opera and she had no idea what it would be like. She sat there politely enough, in the front row, as I wore my James Bond white linen suit, stiffly enduring the horrors to come. I wondered immediately why she was there at all and why she hadn’t bothered. She didn’t look at all like she had when I had seen her the evening before; she was quivering with nerves; I immediately realised that the story about her having a husband in Bakhmut was all nonsense. I slumped into my chair, wondering why I hadn’t just decided to go to the opera on my own. She had the conversation of a subcutaneous slug.

We sat though the first Act, which was a wondrous expression of the brilliance of the Lviv National Opera House, without doubt one of the top five in Europe, while she played with her mobile phone and some yobs in the row behind us shouted in Russian. I waved at the orchestral members, who know me by face by now, and we exchanged some smiles. But my company was not to be. She told me she worked in IT and web design. I thought that was very interesting, and I thought up some fictions projects she might work on just to keep the conversation turning over. She didn’t look so pretty, dressed like a starched waiter, and she certainly didn’t have the personality that I recalled from the evening before when she was starched with liquor. At the interval, I asked her how she found the opera, and she replied “I think it is beautiful, but I am bored”. I realised I was in the company of a true cultural sophisticate, and she walked out.

I thought for a few moments about what was going on, and then I thought, “to hell with it”, I am walking out too. I came to the Opera with a beautiful lady on the pretence of her having some scholarship and sophistication, and what I got was the dregs of the road. I am a fool; all men are fools. We look at appearances and we don’t see the primitive attitudes of a person lurking just beneath. I don’t want to be disparaging about women generally; but this one was a disappointment. Feeling rather sullen and gloomy, disappointed and depressed, I followed her out of the door of the Lviv Opera House just five minutes later, not through disrespect for the fantastic music of performances but just because she had set me in a somewhat glum mood.

So I staggered off down the renewal frosty streets to Mano’s Bar, whereupon, to my surprise, I met the lady last night from Enerhodar. It turns out that everything she said to me last night was a stack of lies as well; her husband is not a solider from Bakhmut. Instead he is an Oligarch from Odessa. I find this much more agreeable. After some bumbling conversation, she invited me to meet him in some upscale seedy dumb joint just around the corner, full of Russian criminals smoking shisha pipes and morons singing Karaoke. I rather liked my new companions, and they invited me to Odessa very shortly for some God knows what. We drank this and that, and talked nonsense, and sang some more, and all my problems and woes seemed for a moment to disappear.

I forgot to tell you about the girl from Baku, who wants to write for the Lviv Herald,, the newspaper I have established, about something or other. She is a crazy creature indeed, but I liked her very much and I think I will do some interview or something with her in Russian or Ukrainian or whatever language she speaks - because her English is a bit rotten. Nevertheless she smiles and giggles and hangs around in Mano’s Bar with various types of south Caucasian criminals, and that’s good enough for me.

So once again it turns out that there is no love for me, at least tonight, but there are new adventures and there are new connections. It seems I am off to Odessa on some interminable train trip to meet strange Russian people from Enerhodar, the principal set of volatile nuclear reactors in Russian-occupied Ukraine, and that might help me with my trip to Nikopol, just over the river. My new friend from Enerhodar, N——-, just 24 years old, was most keen on telling me about how I might travel from Nikopol to Enerhodar, a few kilometres away, across the Dnipro river on a wooden raft powered by an outboard motor. Now that does sound like a bad idea for a person with a British passport; but you never know. Maybe I will give that a try, and then I can hang around in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex amidst the Russian nuclear scientists and the paranoid FSB operatives, with my fancy British accent and smoking a Havana cigar in my white linen suit, like Grahame Greene’s Our Man in Havana. Anything is possible in this maniacal society we live in in wartime Ukraine.

But there is a serious point here. Russia’s monstrous invasion of Ukraine has destroyed all the social structures within which Ukrainian people felt themselves at peace, and all that is left is anarchy, chaos and disintegration. The Russians have left us with chaos, and it will be a massive job to clean it up. My new friends K——, N——- and their miscellaneous husbands, imaginary or otherwise, will have to snap out of this web of fabrication and lies that comes so naturally to them, if they are to embrace themselves into the European polity.


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