Week 11

Astride the mighty Yunker, Putin was enveloped by the wind’s roar as the world blurred past, a wash of colors devoid of detail.

Solitude, finally—the motorcycle’s saddle a hermit’s cave where he could seek enlightenment of his own mysterious past.

Memories flickered past like the landscape—sometimes too fast for him to get more than an impression, sometimes painfully graphic.

Bloody fur. Gunshots. What was that? But the wails of approaching sirens interrupted his recollections.

A caravan of emergency vehicles sped by, rushing in the opposite direction, toward Chernobyl. “No one there left to save,” Putin thought.

Putin did not see the firemen in the trucks, but some saw him; eyes widened at the sight of the glowing rider, blazing like a toxic comet.

Once they’d encountered the horrors at Chernobyl, some of the workers forgot the spectacle they’d seen on the road.

It did not matter that some remembered: All were dead of radiation poisoning before official reports could be filed.

There was one—only one—who witnessed Putin’s ride and did not die, but that observer’s report went only to others in the shadows.

100, 200 km, and still Putin rode: He was headed to Krasnoyarsk. Upon waking from the nuclear blast, he knew only to return there.

Return—had he been there before? The wind on his face reminded him of another, distant time, when he flew through the air, crashed to earth.

In the past: another explosion, pain, visions of emerging from a crater, limp, exhausted, but held securely by furry paws and strong jaws.

An 18-wheeler roared past him going the other way, its headlights momentarily blinding. The White Room! The doctors! Endless torture: Why?

How long had he been there? No telling if it was day or night, the voice droning non-stop through speakers, chipping away his personality.

Trying to remember it all was exhausting, like trying to drink a river in one gulp. Putin relaxed and let himself ride with an empty mind.

His body ached from sitting in the saddle for hours. Glancing at the fuel gauge, Putin saw it was near empty: time for a break.

Outside a small farm town, Putin found a petrol station and pulled up next to the pump. Stepping off the Yunker, he leaned back to stretch.

As the fuel glugged into the tank, Putin idly looked around—the small garage, a yellow Lada up on concrete blocks, and the forest behind it.

The tank full, Putin replaced the cap and took one last look into the woods. Suddenly, he spotted a bulbous form ambling through the trees.

The moment he recognized the form as a bear, the memories flooded back: Medved the Bear King, the slaughter, and then … Ursa! Beloved!

In an instant, Putin leapt upon the Yunker, started the engine, and roared away. It was not the wind that caused his eyes to tear.