‘Ya tyebye tsvetky prinyesl,’ he says diffidently, not at ease with such gestures, his hand hidden behind him.
I raise my eyebrows. The flat, no longer a home, is almost empty, my possessions in storage abroad, the date of our departure is approaching much faster than I thought it would, hundreds of things remain to be done, I am close to panic, and he brings me flowers?
He extends his hand to me.
What I expect is roses. What I see is wild violets.
The posy is egg-sized, consisting mostly of dark-green leaves held together with a black rubber band, the cheapest of the cheap; amethyst flowers are peeking from among the leaves with tiny golden eyes.
I take the posy from him and, sheltering it in both hands, I raise it to my face and take a breath. The scent goes to my head like wine.
‘Oh, Yuri!’ I say softly. ‘I never got flowers like these.’
This is true. Who would have thought of giving the legendary champion modest violets? But what I really mean is, I never got flowers from a fiancé. The feeling is… indescribable.
Because, oh my God, yes! I have a fiancé! Who is now looking at me, shyly pleased.
‘Vyesna idyet,’ he says.
I make a titanic mental effort and answer, ‘Haru ga… um, kiteiru?’
He nods, his smile indulgent. My Japanese leaves much to be desired. I’m starting regular classes the moment we get to Hasetsu. I have to have a common language with my in-laws, no?
Spring is coming.
I have been given promises. I am almost certain I will not waste the coming season waiting for my citizenship. The negotiations were a little tricky, but certain formalities will be waived for me and I will be allowed to compete in new colours next winter.
I want a gold medal for my new country.
And I want a husband for myself.
Beware, Katsuki, I’m coming to get you.
I’m in my thirtieth year of life. My mother died when she was just twelve years older than I am now. I want to make sure that if some misfortune befalls me, I will leave him well provided for, with his mind free to grieve for me. I want to know that he will be holding my hand as I go and that all the relevant decisions will be his.
These are practicalities, however. Important ones and I’ll be glad to have them settled, but… The truth is, I am barely able to admit what I consider to be the most wonderful aspect of all that is going to happen. I mean, it’s embarrassing. But there you are.
Phew. Okay. Brace up. Here it comes. Oh God, this is so stupid. I feel teenage.
What I’m going to do… No, what I’m going to be doing, day after day! – is hold his hand. Walking. Laughing. In the street. With a cup of coffee in my other hand.
How can you not love a country that allows you to do this?
It may have no beautiful lavras, world-class museums and a thousand years of history behind it, but it lets me be me. And I am going to give it my all in return.
Naïve? Perhaps. There are assholes in every corner of the world. But I have seen my beloved all but raped and I have been laughed at by the police.
We don’t need romantic vows or touching commitment ceremonies. Because, my God, we have confirmed our love to each other a hundred times and in the future we will do so many hundreds more. We hold each other’s souls in careful hands, the way I am now holding the violets he gave me.
What I want is to stand with him before an official and sign the fucking papers.
Because, ultimately, and hear this from a man born a Soviet, all that protects us, me and you, is the law.
Which does not mean that I am not looking forward to that moment with all the eagerness of a groom. Oh yeah. I’m going to make it a day to remember. Oh God, I can’t wait. Yuri, sokol moy, you’re going to look stunning in a dove-grey suit, and if I’m not having it bespoke, my name’s not Nikiforov.
And on this silly thought my happiness bubbles over, I scoop him up and – how nice it is to have the flat empty, because there is so much space to turn round and round, holding him in my arms, he clinging to me, his arms around my neck, oh, my darling, my darling, my sweetheart, my husband-to-be, and he laughing, laughing, and admonishing me – ‘Vitka! Vitka, stop it! Vitka!’ – and then his voice changing – ‘Vitka…? Vitka… Vitka, Vitka, oh, Vitka, my Vitka, my Vitka’, and when I am dizzy and can turn no longer I set him down, and he is holding me up, his hands around my head, his mouth moving against my Adam’s apple, he is still singing out his love to me in these mindless repetitions of my name, and I am still dizzy, I’m dizzy with joy.
I slide to my knees.
I often kneel before him. This is the proper attitude of a man towards his beloved. I worship him and I believe I am worshipped in return.
So I slide to my knees, I embrace his thighs and, looking up at him, I say, for the first time in full voice, ‘Ya tyebya lyublyu.’
I feel his whole body jerk in my arms.
He takes a step back, breaking my embrace. He looks down at me.
‘Ya…’ he begins. His lips are trembling, there’s an unfathomable pain in his eyes and, an insecure Russian that I am, I feel a stab of fear.
‘Yuryen’ka, golubchik, shto s toboy?’
Oh, how it would hurt to have my love, my hope, my happiness taken away from me.
And then I see him break some resistance in himself.
What happens after that… Oh God, nothing has prepared me for it.
He kneels opposite me, going down with that incredible fluid grace of his, and bows deeply, just as he did on our first night. But now I don’t have to raise his face to me. He sits back in a perfect seiza, my proud shogun. He looks me straight in the eyes. There is fire in his gaze.
And I hear him say those words a Japanese utters just once in his life, or never.
‘Kimi o aishiteru!’
Just like that.
Then, as if frightened by what he has done, he jumps to his feet like a skittish fawn and asks, already halfway to the kitchen, ‘Would you like some tea?’
They did not last long. These early flowers never do; they are too fragile. But while scores of splendid and costly bouquets, even my signature blue roses, were gratefully received and soon forgotten, I will forever remember those violets – standing by my bedside, sweet and fragrant, trembling with the promise of a new beginning.