Sunday started well. I had plenty of time to pack and clean the flat. After some creative shoving, the matryoshka dolls and bottles of vodka all fit and I didn’t end up having to make the choice between bringing vodka home and bringing my shoes home, because God knows, I’d probably make the wrong choice.
I cleaned the flat. There was no hoover there, nor was there a sweeping brush as we in Ireland would understand it. Instead, there was a bunch of straw, about two feet long. I have seen this item everywhere I’ve been in Russia. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they don’t have full-length sweeping brushes. Do their backs not get sore? Do their children do all the sweeping? And why straw? Tradition? Poverty? Is Russia actually home to a lot of tiny witches?
I swept the flat as best as I could, and then I mopped the floors. Mopping always depresses me as it makes me realise just how bad I am at sweeping. There was still so much dust and stuff on the floor. My mopping basically involved wetting the dirt and moving it around. I had a nagging feeling when leaving that the flat would have been cleaner had I not cleaned it.
My boss’s husband drove me to the airport in complete silence.
In the queue for the flight, there was a teenage boy ahead of me. He had a fishing rod poking out of his hand luggage. I was sure he wouldn’t be let on the flight with it. I was wrong. I saw him four hours later in Moscow still toting around his fishing tackle. So my shampoo isn’t allowed on board because I’ll clearly use it for evil terrorism, but you can take a fishing rod on? I spent a good proportion of yesterday devising ways in which you could hijack a plane using only a fishing rod. (Note: to the authorities monitoring this blog, I will not hijack a plane and I do not own a fishing rod.)
As I was in the queue to check in, another horrendous realisation dawned on me. ALL OF THE CHILDREN IN RUSSIA were going to be on this flight. There were children everywhere. More children than I’d ever seen in one place at one time except for the last McFly concert I was at. Grrh!
I made my way through immigration. I handed over my boarding card, my immigration card and my passport. The woman behind the desk inspected them all carefully and angrily. Then she asked for my “registration”. Luckily, I still had the piece of paper my boss’s husband had given me on my first day in Rostov. I handed it over.
The handing over of my registration caused consternation. The woman at the desk was joined by more immigration officers. In a mixture of broken Russian, frantic hand signs and broken English, the situation became clearer. The registration document I had handed them covered my first night in Russia, which I had spent in a hotel. As the immigration officials clearly showed me, it said I had left on the 21st July. The following 29 days were unaccounted for. I had been “unregistered”.
My documents were passed from hand to hand, and eventually, a senior looking man grabbed my passport and paperwork and indicated I should follow him into an office. This was clearly Rostov Airport’s interrogation suite.
By jabbing his finger at the date on the registration card, this immigration officer made it clear that he wanted to know what happened after the 21st of July. He asked for the name of my hotel. He repeated that I was in Russia on a tourist visa. I didn’t know what to do.
I couldn’t mention the school, as it was a tourist visa, so I shouldn’t have been working. I had visions of myself being thrown into a Russian jail, of being out on a watch list and never being able to fly or leave Ireland again. And as these thoughts went through my mind, I looked around the interrogation suite, I realised that I was the only person in the room who didn’t have a gun.
The man kept repeating the word “problem”, louder and louder, leading me out of the room. I was terrified of what was coming next. But it turned out that he was leading me to the departure gates. He handed me my passport and boarding card and walked away.
My heartbeat returned to normal and I was even happy to see ALL THE CHILDREN IN RUSSIA queueing for the flight.
The flight was fine, in spite of all the children. Siberian Air does nice planes and we arrived in Moscow a little early. I was there in time to browse through the airport shops. There were matryoshka dolls of all shapes and sizes. There were furry hats. There was Soviet memorabilia. There were little golden religious icons. And there were Fabergé eggs. Not made by the original Mr Fabergé of course, but pretty little ones that sparkled in the airport lights.
As I was looking at the Fabergé eggs, I did a double take. A lot of the smaller ones were priced between 200 and 300 roubles. That’s only about €5! I could buy five of them and come back with the best presents ever from Russia. I’d be sooo popular. I was quietly planning my Fabergé egg bonanza. I felt like a Russian oil billionaire. First step: buy Fabergé eggs for everyone I know. Second step: buy an English soccer team.
And then I saw the catch. The eggs weren’t priced in roubles. They were priced in euros. €300 was just too much for an egg. I made my way to my flight to London, eggless.
I love long-distance flying. Ryanair has made me too used to crap. This was proper flying. With movies! And free drink! And a free hot meal! And a blanket! And a toothbrush!
As soon as I got on the flight, I started playing with the entertainment unit. Whoop! I scrolled through all the menus, even the “factual programmes” one. And there, hidden among David Attenborough documentaries, I struck gold. A One Direction concert. From their first tour. In Bournemouth. “Hello Bournemouth! Are you ready?” Yes I am.
I looked at the woman in the seat next to me. She was reading “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And I am so insecure that I wanted to say, “I know I’m meeping with excitement while watching five 19-year-old boys jumping around a stage but I’m intellectual too. I’ve totally read 100 Years of Solitude before. I so have opinions about Latin American magical realism too. You’re not better than me.” But I didn’t say it. I just continued to bask in the joy of the boys.
Flying when fat is not fun. Planes are not designed for people like me. The first indignity is the look of horror on people’s faces when you sit next to them. I don’t blame them. My thighs and belly can’t be contained in one seat and I invariably end up taking over part of their seat. Then you have to ask for a bright orange extension belt because the seatbelts on planes aren’t big enough for me. And then they bring food and you release your tray-table, except it won’t lie flat. In fact it’s more or less still vertical because my belly is in the way. I ended up eating my dinner balancing the food in my left hand and eating with my right. If you only have one hand, you can’t really cut your food, so I basically ate my chicken breast whole and I couldn’t butter my bread – I just put the butter in the roll and pressed it in the hopes that it might spread out. And of course the headphones for the entertainment unit need to be plugged into the arm of your chair. I had to get new headphones halfway to London. My weight put so much pressure on the headphone connection that I snapped it. Two flight attendants came up, unprompted, to the woman in the seat next to me, the one who was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and said to her that she was looking a bit squashed and there was a free seat further back on the plane. She took them up on it after my one-handed dinner disaster, and I was able to spread out.
Overall though, I love flying alone. I love the possibilities of it all. No one can contact you, no one expects anything of you. You’re freer than you ever are anywhere else. Time ceases to be real. I was thinking these thoughts as I flew. And I was looking back on the month in Russia and delighted that I’d gone there. I’d had space and time to sort my head out there and I’d enjoyed working again and I’d loved the adventure of it all. And I was excited about coming home. There are so many things I’m looking forward to in the coming months and I’ve been plotting and planning it all in Russia. And I was so content and happy and excited and One Direction started singing “What Makes You Beautiful” on my entertainment unit and I found myself crying with happiness. I actually can’t wait for life to get started again.
I only had an hour and fifteen minutes to make my transfer in Heathrow Airport. I was biometrically scanned and repeatedly photographed. And I made my flight, and boarded alongside former international footballer Niall Quinn. Another reason to love flying: you get locked in one big room with celebrities.
People in the south of Russia are very conventionally attractive. When I arrived in Moscow, people were not so tanned. In London, people definitely weren’t as attractive and by the time I got to Ireland, I was once again surrounded by men with potato heads. And even this made me happy. It’s good to be among your own people again.
I arrived in Dublin to discover that my suitcase was still in Heathrow, but I didn’t care. It’s good to be home.