The best stories are the ones you couldn’t make up. My husband has a friend who in 2016 quietly embarked on the relationship adventure of a life time. Tired of the single life and frustrated by a lack of success in his own country, he decided to look further afield.
For the purposes of story telling, we will refer to this man as Simon. Simon, in his mid-twenties, had married a volatile young Serbian woman. The union foundered and failed for reasons unclear and Simon spent the ensuing years recovering from the financial shellacking of divorce.
He worked hard and set himself up in a nice place out in the North Eastern suburbs. From what I can gather, he had a succession of lady friends, but nothing too serious. He also had a penchant for an up market call girl, happy to spend some quality time with a well paying punter.
Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, Simon began a cyber relationship with a twenty three year old woman on a Ukrainian dating site. Her name was Katya.
Of course it was.
Three weeks into this remote flirtation, he organised some leave time and booked a return flight to Zaporozhye.
Situated about 600 km South-East of Kiev this was one hell of a long distance infatuation. His commitment was evident, forced, as he was, to complete the journey aboard a Motor-Sich flight. An Airline that makes Aeroflot look like Royal Brunei.
Simon was uncomfortably aware of a pressing need to use the bathroom as the Antanov An-24 lurched into Zaporozhye International Airport. Hip and shouldering his way off the plane he ran for the closest bathroom. Standing at the urinal for the most prolonged piss of his entire life, it occurred to Simon that there was a possibility Katya may turn out to be two armed thugs in a beaten up white Transit van.
But hey, carpe diem, right? He wandered out to collect his luggage and noticed that the entire airport was all but deserted. His bag circled desultorily on the carousel and beside it stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was tall and blonde and, most important of all, appeared to be expecting him.
Katya led Simon outside where her driver waited with the car.
As the head of Ukraine’s special forces, Katya’s father was busily attempting to wrest Crimea back from the grasping hands of imperial-revivalist Putin and his nationalist agenda. Her brother too, was an active soldier in the fight for an independent Ukraine. As a result, the entire family spent much of their time dodging pro-Russia separatist rebels and Katya scored a permanent driver/armed bodyguard.
The driver, whom I shall call Orek because it means defender of men and I don’t know his real name, stowed Simon’s bags and then set off at high speed along some of the worst roads in Europe. Simon moved to fasten his seatbelt when Katya stopped his hand.
“What you doing?”
“Erm, doing up my seat belt?”
“Why? Real man do not wear seat belt.”
Orek was looking with a jaundiced eye in the rear vision mirror at this stage. Simon tried to explain that the 1977 Australian legislation for compulsory wearing of seat belts was the single most effective method available for the protection of vehicle occupants in road crashes, but was cut off by an impatient Katya.
“We get hit by truck? We all die. Take off or get out.”
This signalled the tenor of the entire visit.
A hair raising drive along un-lit dirt roads later, Orek screamed into the driveway of a dingy hotel where Simon was duly deposited. From the rolled down back window, Katya called for him to be ready at 9.00am the next day and then sped back off into the night.
In preparation for Simon’s stay, Katya, having taken leave from both her day job as a high school Russian Literature teacher and weekend FIFO pole dancer at Antalya’s busier party resorts, had prepared a list of holiday activities.
“Today we shop”.
Unbeknown to Simon, his intentions towards Katya would only be taken seriously with the provision of gifts for her entire family. These included: a food processor for her mother, lap-top for her sister, two bottles of Johnny Walker Blue for her father and a bottle of Clive Christian aftershave for her brother.
First credit card maxed.
That night, following a rich Slavic dinner where cocaine was openly snorted between the Borscht and Holubtsi, and Katya, brandishing her own six inch Louboutin stiletto, had to be pulled off a woman who’d looked at her sideways, Simon was once again driven back to his hotel. Orek accompanied him to his room and silently handed over a bag containing the unmistakably skunky aroma of weed.
“Ah, no thanks mate, I’m good”.
Simon wondered if this was some type of test, but given the huge amount of blow he’d just done over dinner with Katya, he wasn’t sure refusing the marijuana was actually a pass.
Barely awake the next day, Simon clambered into the waiting ride where a fresh faced Katya declared, “today we take photo.”
It was clear considerable planning had gone into this enterprise as they drove to a large regional shopping centre for some necessary ‘props’. These turned out to be military grade weaponry on loan to Katya from the friendly gun shop owner right next to Toys’R’Us.
Blithely indifferent to the stares of passing family groups and ignored by the heavily armed store security guards, Simon and Katya carried back out to the car a Ruger 10/22, Intratec TEC-DC9 with a 32-round magazine, Kalashnikov rifle and a garbage bag wrapped grenade launcher. These, combined with the tactical vests, camouflage pants and helmets that Katya produced, gave the concept of photo shoot a whole new meaning.
That night, weary from all the artillery posing, Katya sent Simon off with Orek for an evening without her.
“We go to place for fun with girls”, intoned Orek, sounding anything but joyous.
Out in the middle of nowhere they pulled up to a heavily fortified stone building. A grille on the studded iron gates slid open and Orek spoke a guttural password. Inside was the last days of Rome. Girls, drugs, guns and booze.
“Which one you want?” Orek gestured expansively across the room.
“Ah, no thanks mate, I’m good”.
Simon was convinced he was being tested this time and spent the next couple of hours nursing a scotch and imagining cold showers.
He must have passed though, as the next day Katya had organised for a super testosterone surprise. Handing across the rocket propelled grenade launcher she pointed to a couple of derelict Lada’s in a quarry and said, “now you shoot”.
Yippee Ki Yay, motherfucker!
The rest of the week passed by in a blur of horilka and vareniki, with bonus rounds of shopping for additional family gifts thrown into the mix.
“You make mama happy with new pressure cooker? My nephew he need Jordan XII sneakers, you buy.”
The penultimate day saw Simon purchasing Katya a chinchilla jacket and sitting in on a family arranged appointment with a diamond broker. Katya chose a five carat pear shaped diamond and looked over at him expectantly.
At this point Simon felt like he needed more time.
And more air.
And a hell of a lot more money.
Telling Katya he would arrange the diamond purchase back in Australia, he returned home. Nightly Skype calls saw them planning visa applications and choosing baby names, while the coercion to keep buying family gifts continued. Soon discussions included the room Katya’s mother would need when she came to live with them. Then of course, when her widowed sister with nephew in tow, understandably followed, would the house be big enough?
The answer, of course, was a resounding NO. No to mama, no to sestra and son, and unfortunately, for the romantic pretensions of our lust-blinded hero Simon, a big no to happily ever after with Katya.