You are a lucky woman. Kōichi Hasegawa is a kind, gentle man, and an almost unnervingly perfect husband; he has never raised his voice to you, much less his hand, and he treats you so carefully that at times you feel more like a child than a wife. He does not drink. He works hard. You do your best to please him, though he very rarely seems displeased. There are a few things you have learned that do earn you his special favor, when you remember — an extra cube of sugar in his tea, a tray of varenyky with currants waiting for him when he comes home. When you present him with these small gifts, feeling a little foolish despite yourself, he looks at you and smiles in a way that makes you want to remember more often.
He is rarely beside you when you rise in the morning, no matter how early it is. You’d almost think he didn’t sleep at all, though of course he does; he works late into the night, but even then, sometimes you’re gently stirred awake by the warmth of someone sliding into bed beside you, someone who takes your hand. Sometimes, through the sleep in your eyes, you feel like it’s someone you don’t quite recognize, but then, dreams are strange.
Later, when you wake up properly, you might find him in the main room, playing with Olga. We didn’t want to wake you, he’ll say with a smile. The drool on his shirt sleeves makes you laugh, and you’ll approach them both, feeling almost happier than you deserve.
What was your family like? you’d asked him once at supper, your daughter in his lap. It wasn’t a subject you’d ever discussed at length, and the few details he had given you in the past oscillated between memorably vague and forgettably specific. But his parents must have been very kind, you thought, to be such a good father himself. Or maybe they hadn’t been, and so he knew what it was like to go without that love? Maybe he had younger siblings, and was simply used to caring for children. All these possibilities raced through your mind as you gazed at him expectantly, his expression hard to read as he looked down at Olga. He seemed to be giving the question a surprising amount of consideration. After a few long moments, though, he’d adjusted his glasses & turned his face up to meet your eyes, smiling as if he’d solved a riddle.
My family is right here, he’d answered, taking one of Olga’s small hands into his own.
You like the foreign cadence of his name, and sound it out often; three syllables, one after the other. He always responds immediately, as though he’d been waiting for the opportunity. It makes you laugh; you’ve never met a man so eager to hear his own name. Bold with affection, you will sometimes tease him for his eagerness, & he’ll laugh back, take you into his arms — and you’ll think not for the first time just how lucky you are, how fortunate, to have this man for yourself, this Hasegawa.
My husband will be home soon, you tell the three strangers, blushing a little from the pride of it. Kōichi works very hard, and he trusts you with the studio in his absence, almost like a business partner. You smile with fondness as the men and woman look around the walls, eyes flickering over examples of his fine work. You bring them tea and sit with them for a while, until it’s time to feed your daughter, and politely excuse yourself to wait in the entrance. It is not unusual to have strangers in your home, so when you greet Kōichi as he finally returns from work — always working, you think briefly as he teases Olga — he does nothing but nod and quickly go to greet them.
He explains to you later, after the strangers are gone, that he’s been hired not as a photographer, but as a teacher. And why not? Your husband is a brilliant man, and excels at anything he puts his mind to. Part of you feels a little humbled at this reminder — Kōichi speaks your language fluently, but your scant attempts at his have never borne fruit. He smoothes your hair, almost as if sensing your childish distress, and you smile inwardly as you comfort yourself with the idea that perhaps at least Olga will be as sharp as he is.
A few months later, it takes you by surprise when he suddenly tells you to leave. You don’t want to. Why should a woman leave her home? You wonder, suddenly, if this has something to do with those handsome strangers, with Zoya, who plays with Olga as if she were a mother herself. Kōichi is insistent, though, demanding in a way you’ve seldom witnessed — even as your husband, he’s never asked anything of you in such a manner, one that left no room for argument. This is different. Go to your parents, he says. Promise me. You think, privately, that if parents are supposed to protect their children, then shouldn’t he come, too? What about Olga? The bitterness of this thought tugs at you as you approach the outskirts of the city, cutting back and forth in your mind in a way that you don’t like. Besides, your husband is too kind, too gentle; if something really is wrong, as you’re sure it must be, then he might need your help. You don’t know what to do.
When you find the warrant, though, realizing with an immediate sickness the danger he’s in, the uncertainty in your mind dissipates. You go back for him.
Not far from your home, as you lay on the ground, you realize you’ve been shot.
The pain is such that you can scarcely breathe, though you don’t cry out. Through the agony, you notice someone drop down beside you, feel her panicked, short breaths against your face; Zoya. Was she not a part of this, after all? You’d hoped not. She was so good with Olga.
You quickly forget about her, though, when you hear him breathe out your name, so quiet above Zoya’s sobs that you barely grasp it. He says something else, too, as he kneels down, but you don’t fully understand; it’s easier to cling to what you know, what you’ve heard before, hundreds of times. Fina.
He’s here, and through the pain, you feel something like relief. You reach up to touch him, and almost automatically, respond to your own name with his; suddenly, desperately wanting it to be the last word you ever say. Because it will be, won’t it? But at this he looks at you, and there is an unexpected hardness in his eyes you have never noticed before. How hadn’t you noticed? Perhaps you were not as good a wife as you’d hoped. After all, you’d disobeyed him. He must be disappointed in you.
He takes the hand you extend toward him in his own, as gently as he ever has. He squeezes your fingers, passing his own through them, across them. Something in you faintly startles at the sensation — so tender that it somehow feels more intimate than anything he’s ever graced you with before. But then, that’s nonsense, isn’t it? You have a daughter together. Olga —
The man looking down at you tells you that you’ve done something wrong. Something else. You’ve called him by the wrong name.
Then who are you? you respond suddenly, mechanically. Without thinking. You can’t think much, now.
A different name is his answer, the same number of syllables, but the wrong sounds. He removes his glasses, and it’s strange - it shouldn’t be, you’ve seen him without them countless times, but it’s strange. You might feel afraid, but you don’t. You’re used to meeting strangers.
You realize with fading clarity the sensation of a weight being lifted from your side. The man you thought was your husband takes the small burden, holds it close, close to his chest. This burden, too, has a hand, one he takes in his own much like he did yours. The hand is very small. He lifts it to his lips, and for a ridiculous moment, you think that he could bite off its fingers with ease. Something in you is hysterical with a nameless fear. You feel beside yourself. Whose hand is it?
You don’t have to wonder for much longer.