Mila wrinkled her broad nose and stared at the back of the Commander’s head. What did he think of her, really? If he thought of her at all.
“I will go with him if you order it,” she said evenly. “I have never failed to do whatever you ask.”
“Russia is grateful,” the Commander said blandly, exhaling cigarette smoke. “I follow YOUR orders,” Mila snapped, “but HE asks too much!”
The Commander turned to look at her, one eyebrow raised. “He wants me to do things …” Mila’s voice shook. She stopped to compose herself.
“There are … things … he wants me to do … he forces me to do … in the marriage bed …” She stopped again. The Commander said nothing.
“He wants me to … snuffle! And grunt! Like an animal!” The Commander saw that Mila was near tears.
“There are worse things a KGB chief could demand of you,” he said, taking another drag of his cigarette.
“You mustn’t take it too personally,” he added finally, as she said nothing more. “You’ve seen his file.”
“I’ve seen what’s open to an agent of my security clearance,” Mila replied angrily, “but I am his wife! Thanks to you, I am married to him!”
“As I recall, you volunteered for the assignment,” the Commander growled, crushing the butt of his cigarette in a Grozny souvenir ashtray.
“I was young, “ she said, “and ambitious. I didn’t understand …” “Yes,” he interrupted, “You were young, ambitious … and you were our best.
“We needed someone to watch him carefully, someone who could detect the slightest change …” his voice trailed off.
Mila stared at him reproachfully. At last she sighed. “Fine,” she said. “Then I am here to tell you that I have detected a change.”
“What?” The Commander looked startled. “Finally,” Mila thought, “finally I have your attention, you old pig.” She smiled grimly.
“He is going to the country more and more often; he longs for it as if it were his mistress. After work he walks through the zoo.
“At night he calls out for carnivora in his sleep. Last week I caught him looking at a map of Krasnoyarky Kray.” “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that his memory is returning.” “Impossible!” snapped the Commander. “No man could go through that and …” “Exactly!”
They realized they’d been shouting. “Exactly,” Mila repeated softly. “No man could endure what they put him through.
“The White Room, the drugs … erasing his memory, personality, his very self … No man could endure it. But he is NOT a man: He is Putin!”
Mila and the Commander stared at each other for a long moment. Then she turned, unlocked the door, and left.