Ivan and the cotton blouse

When you are on travels and see something from your home country that you find especially attractive, you might not be able to control yourself. Even if you are a very prominent person.

When I write about people I usually use only the first names — to protect their identities. Sometime this does not work, because readers in the know can figure out who I am talking about. In today’s article I need to be especially cautious, since the main persons are quite famous. I will call them Ivan and Helen and disguise the location and circumstances of the story. For obvious reasons.

Okay, so I was at a conference, staying in a beautiful sea-side hotel. Also there was a very nice colleague, Helen, who is a good friend. We were filing daily reports. One evening, suddenly, there was a knock at my door, quite late in the evening. It was Helen. “There is someone prowling outside my room,” she said — and I could see from her face that she was quite afraid.

We went to her room, which was just four doors away from mine. We were in the ground floor, and her room windows looked out to grassy dunes and the sea-shore. I stopped Helen from turning on the light, as she was about to do when we entered. Instead, I carefully drew back a bit of the curtain, so I could look outside. There I saw, just inches from me, the face of a person trying to squint through the glass. It was that of a prominent participant of the conference — the star and the chief guest. I will call him Ivan. I believe he did not see me in the dark room. In any case I released the curtain carefully and sat there discussing the situation with Helen.

By now she was quite terrified. She packed up her notebook and came over to my room. There we sat for a while, completing our reports. Then suddenly we heard a soft howling sound outside. Some animal? I can never resist and went to the second door of my room, which opened to the grassy dunes. It was dark outside, and I saw a figure, dressed in black, approaching the door. My instincts told me to slam it shut, but before I could do so I heard a voice that said: “It is me, Ivan.” And Ivan, who is a friend, walked into my room. He sat down on a chair and watched Helen and me for a few minutes silently.

Then he started a polite small-talk conversation. Ivan did not look like he was going anywhere, and I noticed that Helen’s hands were trembling. So I suddenly said: “Helen, this is not working, we can’t see these pictures properly. Let’s try on your other computer.” She looked at me in confusion (she didn’t have “another computer”), but then understood what I was doing. We all got up and went into the corridor, where I said “Bye, Ivan, we have to finish our articles…” and turned to the right — towards Helen’s room. Off we were, and he had no option but to turn left and head for his own room.

An hour later Helen and I returned to my room — no way she was willing to spend the night in her room. She slept on the second bed, fully dressed, in fact with her overcoat on, ready to jump up and leave the hotel at any moment. I did mention that she was terrified, didn’t I? The next day she left the town and went back home, ahead of schedule. Maybe I can mention (without revealing identities) that she is the daughter of a fairly prominent politician and needs security clearance and oversight when she is in a foreign country.

That morning I went out and looked around the grassy dune outside of Helen’s room. There was a clear path trampled down from the road to the window, and a circular patch of flattened grass where someone had walked around and sat on the ground. Incidentally this all happened in winter, when it was freezing.

I began to understand: Ivan had walked from the street over the dune to the hotel courtyard and waited outside Helen’s window for her to appear, hoping to catch a glimpse. He had sat on the ground and walked in a circle to keep warm. This was clear.

A few months later I met Helen again, and we spoke about what had happened. She is a very attractive young lady, with a bright demeanour, so I simply assumed that Ivan had been taken up by that. But she added a vital piece of information. On the day in question she had worn a blouse from her native country: a light cotton top, white in colour, embroidered with little flowers. Very nice really — I am tempted to include a picture, but people would recognise her. In any case Ivan, who is from the same country as Helen, had seen her in the blouse all day. That was probably what had turned him on, driven him nuts. After talking with Helen I am sure of that.

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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