Smoke swirled lazily into each corner of the third floor room. The Chinese official lit up again, the
glow from the end of his cigarette off set the blue white snow reflected from outside. Cold crept
along the floor, along the desk and hunkered down among the creases of the crumpled bedding
on which the woman sat.
A steady stream of Chinese and Georgian language interwove ice-cold breath and the interpreter,
a chunky young woman layered in woollen jumpers, jackets and scarf switched languages effortlessly
between the two men, one Georgian, one Chinese as the final details of the choir’s China tour were
Watching them move and weave through the complex negotiations the woman noticed how the
man sat, lent forward, nervously twirled his mobile and constantly checked his watch. It made her
uneasy. She recognised the signs and knew he was moving up a gear. She wanted to remain
anonymous. There was an oppressive mood. It was dangerous. The drive to the isolated
Chinese Railroad Company building high above the city had been full of unspoken tensions between
them. Once again she felt side-lined, hurried, manipulated and suspended in a void of half-truths
and shadowy half- finished conversations. The Man’s facade was beginning to slip. The woman
saw the darkness beneath his handsome face struggling to be contained, the sharpness in his voice
was clear as he stumbled over explanations and tried desperately to remember what lies he had told
her so as to continue to create the illusion of security, of love, of trust.
This was a new game. The Chinese had wanted him to take the choir to China to be part of a festival
earlier in the year but the Chinese leader had died so the trip had had to be post-phoned. It just so
happened that they had contacted him as the artistic director whilst she was in the country visiting.
This is what she had assumed and he, tired of her questions, let her believe that. Her gut screamed
at her, ‘Be careful, he lies’ and her suspicions surrounding his motives grew more and more.
The woman began to feel the connection between them slipping away. She was not sure of anything
He looked nervous. She sensed things were not going well, he made to stand up and suddenly there
was a flurry of activity, the Chinese official waved him back down furiously and picked the phone up
on the desk opposite the bed. Urgent scribbling on paper scattered with doodles on the desk filled
up with numbers. The man shook his head each time, the official spoke quicker and quicker to the
anonymous voice at the other end of the line and finally the musician glanced over at the woman,
looked past her and half smiled. The game was on.
They left. Confused she waited for him to calm down before she asked him what had happened.
Smiling through triumphant teeth, he said that tomorrow they would return and sign an agreement
that each member of the choir would be paid $1000 for an all expenses trip to China where they
would perform only two 15 minute concerts. ‘That’s great’ the woman said, ‘another $1000 for you
to help build the apartment.’ He had bought an apartment in a new high rise at the bottom of the plateau
area of the city some years ago that he had proudly shown to her and said that that was to be their
marital home. The apartment was unfinished and as far as she could tell no new work had been
done on it in 2 years despite him saying it would be ready, ‘by Christmas’ and then, ‘by the summer.’
He laughed, it sounded hollow. ‘Nooo,’ he almost sneered, ‘I will have $7000 from this deal and
I will use it for another project’ Uneasily she looked at his profile; he had turned the Georgian
Folk music up and was conducting with his right hand. ‘How?’ she asked. ‘I am keeping all this
money’ he replied. The gulf between them widened.
They spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Tbilisi, he on his phone and meeting
various people who handed over their passports. The sky was brooding and threatening more
snow and icy fingers of cold drifted into the car. The woman sat miserable, neglected and waiting
whilst he did his deals, one foot perched on the kerb, shoulders hunched forward and hands thrust
deep in his pockets. Another of the six precious days she had planned to be with him, disappeared.
The next day they went back to the smoke filled room where the stocky interpreter and the small
Chinese man were waiting. This time the bed was made and there were empty coffee cups on the
desk at one end of the room. Used tissues lay scattered around the floor.
He signed some official documents, they shook hands and with a sly smile and dead eyes, the deal
was sealed. The choir were due to leave the following Friday so the visas needed to be applied for;
The ride into the capital in the company BMW cream leathered interior imbued with cigarette
smoke was unpleasant. Sarah sat in the back feeling sick with hunger and realisation. Her lover
played with the sound system. Uninvited he assumed possession of the CD player and changed
tracks much to the irritation of the driver. The Chinese embassy were expecting them and all
three by-passed the security checks and sat at a table to start filling in forms.
He called five people. Three men. Two women. The same people who had handed over their
passports yesterday. He spoke quickly and without hesitation or interruption and wrote their
passport numbers on each form. She had offered to help fill the forms in but he had
brushed her offer off with a dismissive wave of the hand. When it became clear however,
that it was going to take him a long time to finish the task he pushed a pen towards her and growled,
‘Write it’. Feeling
uncomfortable, hungry, sick and desperate for it to be over she filled in what she could and passed
them back to him.
The man forged a signature for each document.
It was clear this was normal procedure and the woman sat silently as the anger built inside her. She thought of the hours and hours she had put and continued to put into getting his choir members legitimate visas to visit the UK. Corruption clearly seemed to underpin the things this man did. Irritated and alarmed she resolved to tackle him on his idea of honestly and fairness the minute they were alone.
Once the forms were filled in, photocopies taken and official stamps given the Chinese man drove them, the man victorious, she, angry and resentful, to a bank in the city. Parking outside the low squat building, told her to stay in the car whilst he went inside with the official. The purpose was to oversee the financial transaction from the Chinese government to him.
She caught her breath. The Chinese thought they were getting one thing but they were getting something entirely different. They were getting five dancers and him. They were getting backing tracks, falsehoods and lies. They had paid for one thing and getting something entirely different. The woman felt trapped by the layers upon layers of deception.
She stayed silent for a long time. Then finally, when they were alone together and when he noticed she was not herself, there was a row. She was making him tired. She did not understand how these things worked. He had done all the work. He had negotiated the deal. Who would know if these dancers were part of his choir or not? The Chinese were pigs anyway. The bitterness in his voice and the anger coming from him only compounded the woman’s feelings of isolation.
This was not the man she had fallen in love with.
This was not the man who had spoken with such passion and pride about his culture and his song. This man lied, cheated and stole. The man she loved had said quite clearly that he would have nothing to do with such corruption and she, naively, had believed him.
In her dealings with Georgia she had borne the brunt of such corruption only two years before and he, he had been outraged by it and had sworn he would never be like that, never do that.
Glancing sideways what she saw froze her heart. His profile was like stone, cold, closed, emotionless.
She had never known him.