One day, Anna and I made a very stupid decision. A part time vazhate, nicknamed Molye, asked us if we wanted to go out with a few of his friends and they would show us round the city at night. We said we’d think about it, dithered over dinner, then thought it was maybe best not to, seeing as we didn’t actually know him. We’d barely spoken to him compared to the other vazhati. But when we went back to tell him our answer, Anna translated to me that he had already arranged it. Thus, we felt guilty saying no, and ended up saying yes. I was rapidly trying to judge his character, trying to weigh up if he would be capable of murdering us or not. He seemed ok. Not a lovely guy, but not a bad guy. He didn’t seem aggressive or crazy…if anything just a bit dull. I asked him what we’d be doing, where would we go (a bar maybe?) but he just said “we’ll see”. I didn’t completely trust him, and I should have listened to this instinct – next time I will – but at the time I hushed it.
So, after dinner we caught a taxi into town with him. It was night already. We got dropped off at a big shopping centre and Molye said we could go in and get wifi for a bit. That was nice, to catch up with people after a week of no contact. At this point I felt safe and relieved. He seemed kind, waiting for us patiently while we indulged in precious screen time. The shopping centre was reassuringly busy. Then Molye told us his friend had arrived. A singular friend…yep, it was some kind of double date suddenly. But what use would it have been to contest this? We were trying to make a good impression, act “cool” (always a mistake). So, we left the heavenly shopping centre and wandered out into the dark car park.
We approached a guy standing with his arms crossed in front of a huge, black Mercedes 4×4 with blacked-out windows. Apparently this was Mol’s pal. As we got closer, the first thing I noticed was the strong smell of his aftershave. I had smelt that aftershave before on a really horrible bully at my school, so unfortunately for him, my brain was already making associations. He was wearing big glasses and a supremely smug expression. He was quite unattractive, but of course I might not even have noticed this if he had a lovely, interesting and/or funny personality. But no, as I soon discovered, it was his personality that made him emphatically ugly.
However, in that first instance, I had not yet made any solid judgements. I needed to give him a chance. We got in the car, I already felt very uncomfortable, not least because neither of them spoke a word of English and I spoke very poor Russian. I must admit, I’ve never felt more out of control and vulnerable.