My friend Katya kidnapped me. They do that a lot in Bulgaria. She swooped down and insisted we all come for dinner at her father’s farmhouse even though we already had plans. The new Russian neighbours would be there apparently. And she was preparing a feast. Katya’s a great cook. How could we resist?
So it was that having stuffed down an enormous steak in a local restaurant we then hit the dirt road to Andre’s place. Actually, two places because he’d just bought the house next door, relinquishing the old farmhouse to the chickens who wandered in and out as they pleased.
Set in front of this new house was a table and around it an assortment of friends, neighbours and farm workers. We squeezed in at the end and nodded greetings to the burly moustachioed bloke, equally burly blonde woman with a buzz cut and a guy in a striped top who resembled Yves Montand.
These three had worked their way through most of a litre bottle of vodka but seemed entirely sober. Andre introduced them as our new Russian neighbours and among much glass clinking we ascertained that they were from Murmansk. Striped top looked so much like a sailor that it seemed rude not to ask him if he worked on a submarine. He raised a saturnine brow and replied in reasonable English that indeed he did and that his name was Yuri.
I then turned to moustachioed mountain and asked him what he did up there in the frozen north. Was he a secret agent perhaps? His eyes glinted, his lips parted in a wolfish smile and he nodded vigorously while tapping his nose.
“Da, da. Secret agent. Top secret.”
There was something about the way he said it that made me realise he wasn’t kidding. We laughed, all apart from the burly blonde who, it turned out, was his wife. As they started on a new bottle of vodka, Katya plonked a steaming plate of food in front of me. My stomach already full to bursting, I muttered something about fetching water. Inside, I grabbed Katya.
“Was he joking?”
“No. He worked for the FSB but he says he is retired now. His wife works for the military secret police. And as for Yuri…”
We looked at one another.
“Well, they seem charming…”
Katya’s eyes narrowed. “We must keep a close watch on them.”
Through the window, the man in the striped top was still smiling and nodding. We went back out to join them, laden with yet more food. It was going to be an enlightening evening.