A Perfect Hatred
Book One: End Times
Olga Lubova, who had defected from the KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union, crossed her arms over her chest and gave the twelve-year-old a no-nonsense look.
“Breakfast is most important meal of day,” she said.
Natalia Bukharin gave her best adolescent eye roll and picked at her bagel and peanut butter.
Most of the time, Olga loved this job where she could indulge a passion for cooking, take care of a growing child, and, on occasion, call on the special skills learned in the country of her birth. Days like today when the child rebelled against everything, she questioned her choice.
No, the rich, English capitalist her tovarishch Bukharin had married paid Olga well to be an au pair and bodyguard. She had her own car and an apartment within the house, one that would have held several families in Moscow. Her old comrades would scoff and say she was a servant, but no one treated her other than as a member of the family. It was a good life for a former KGB colonel.
Yet, all that KGB training had not covered the challenges of dealing with an adolescent. Had Olga been a praying person, she would have sent a prayer of thanks heavenward when Mai arrived in the kitchen for her own breakfast. Mai could deal with this morning’s debate, a recent, recurring source of conflict: Natalia’s desire to spend more time with her friends rather than her family.
After an intricate list of reasons, Natalia asked Mai, “So, can I, like, go to the mall after school today?”
“May I,” Mai corrected.
The eye roll got a good start, but Natalia managed to control it. “So, like, may I?”
“So, like,” Mai mimicked, “how will you be getting there? When we’re home, Olga has Friday afternoon and evening off.”
“One of my friend’s older brother, like, has a driver’s license, okay. He can, like drop us off, but someone will have to pick me up. Tomorrow’s, like, Saturday, so no school.
Mai looked at the calendar on one wall of the kitchen. “But you do have soccer and riding tomorrow.”
“That’s, like, tomorrow.”
“Have we met the brother?”
There. The full eye roll.
“Then, I don’t think so. Popi or I can drive you there and drive you home.”
Olga was certain the sigh could be heard two houses away.
“Does that mean you or Popi will have to hang out with us?”
“Well,” Mai said, “it’s pretty inconsiderate for us to have to drive you there, come home, and go back a couple of hours later.”
“It’s bad enough Olga acts like someone is going to kidnap me. You and Popi will totally embarrass me.”
That was a whole note away from a whine.
“Natalia,” Mai said, “we’ve discussed this—”
“I know, I know,” Natalia said, in full whine. Then, she demonstrated her own gift of mimicry by using her interpretation of Mai’s English accent. “Popi and I have a lot of money. Someone might decide one way to separate us from it is to kidnap you.” Another eye roll. “I’ve only heard that, like, ten thousand times.”
“You must not have been listening if I have to keep repeating it. Either Popi or I, or both of us, will wait at the mall for you, though I’m sure we’ll find something to do other than follow giggling girls around. All right, you can go from after school to eighteen hundred.”
“Eighteen hundred?” Natalia said. “Am I, like, in the Army or something?”
“Natalia, please. Six p.m.”
“But everyone else can stay until nine because, hello, no school tomorrow. Oh, and that’s twenty-one hundred, if you don’t get it.”
Olga’s eyes fixed on the twitching muscle in Mai’s jaw, and she knew she would enjoy what was about to come.
“You’re not everyone else,” Mai told the girl. “You’re Natalia Bukharin who has to be home at eighteen hundred. And be thankful I’m not using Greenwich Mean Time.”
“That means I’ll have to, like, leave everyone at the mall.”
“Heavens, that’s certain to be the end of the world.”
Natalia’s expression of incredulity almost made Olga look for the second head Mai must have sprouted.
“Do you, like, sit around and dream up ways to embarrass me in front of my friends?”
“Of course I do. Hours and hours at a time. Sometimes Popi and Olga join me, and we select the appropriate embarrassment.”