We stepped out of our temporary accommodation and stepped into a long and cold subterranean tunnel. It was eerily lit with cold white lights and the walls of the tunnel were covered in drab white hospital-style white tiles. Almost immediately 2 tall and stocky Russian soldiers appeared out of nowhere and we were being led to the helipad. Both of us carried our gear and equipment. Soon we were joined by an all Russian team of scientists and as we walked in unison towards the chopper our footsteps echoed loud.
Walking towards the light at the end of the tunnel I turned my gaze towards Debo, my wife, an anthropologist, a beautiful human being.
She looked quite determined and focussed. A tuft of hair fell across her face and as she cleared it she realised I was looking at her. She turned towards me and gave me a smile and in gesture asked me “what happened?”. I spoke back in gesture and said “nothing” with a smile.
Soon we were on the helipad and the din of the chopper blades deafened our ears. We were ushered into 3 copters, all of us. As we sat in and placed the microphones on our heads, the usual chatter of pre-flight checks and the conversation with the control tower blared into our ears. I asked who the captain is and asked him about our flight plan. In a thick and agitated Russian accent, the captain roared into my ears “we are now taking off from the base near Novosibirsk, we will have a fueling stop mid-way and finally, at 2300 hrs we will arrive at Bodaybo in Irkutsk Oblast. Sit tight the weather is quite choppy at this time of the year.”
Instinctively I held on to Debo’s hands. She spoke into the intercom and asked the captain “is our assignment in Bodaybo?” and the captain responded with “ya ne znayu” which basically meant he had no god damn idea!
We sat there holding hands and chopper took off with a clap of loud thunder. In the early morning darkness the only things initially visible outside were the city lights but soon those too disappeared. And as the dark night gave way to dawn, the sky was filled with every colour possible. Warm hues of golden red flooded the helicopter cabin and once again I could see my beloveds’ face. In the warm crimson light, her face shone with an atypical brightness. I pressed down on her hands and asked her what she was thinking. She replied with a grin, “I have no idea what’s happening but all this better turn out into a good adventure!”
The hours went by and the chopper blades did their job. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, half asleep, I heard a loud thud and I realised we were finally here, Bodaybo in Irkutsk Oblast. And suddenly the adventure began to feel real and wild thoughts rushed through my head “this is really happening! Why all this mystery?”
As the doors of the chopper opened the cold humid air bit us in our faces. There in front of us stood a lady in full Russian military uniform and behind her, an entire column of soldiers in rapt attention, gazing at us. The Russian officer was tall, lean and expressionless. Her nose was almost like an eagles beak and her cheekbones jutted out of her sculpted bony face. She had a strong and a powerful gaze and I felt at any moment now, she is going to put a bullet through our heads. I was quite intimidated at the sight of Major Ana Blinova.