It was Saturday and there was no urgent business. That's why Illya and Napoleon drove to New Jersey in order to have their dinner with Illya's mother. She lived in a small apartment in an old building, it had one bedroom and a long history. The flat was cozy and it looked like it's been long since lived it and made perfect for its inhabitant even though madam Kuryakina came here not long ago.
When she met Napoleon for the first time, they agreed to speak French because it was a language they both understood.
"Bonjour, madame Kouriakine." [Hello, madam Kuryakin.] He kissed her hand, she accepted it with dignity.
"Ça va, monsieur Solo?" [How are you, monsieur Solo?]
"Здравствуй, мама", Illya greeted her in Russian.
"Allons à la cuisine." [Let's go to the kitchen.]
"Eh bien," [Alright,] Illya switched to French as well.
She poured them tea in the kitchen.
"Do you like tea?" asked Illya.
"Mes chers, ce n'est pas courtois de parler une langue qui n'est pas compris par chaqu'un de nous." [My darlings, it's not polite to speak a language that's not understood by everyone of us.] Mother protested. "Mais j'ai déjà commencé à étudier l'anglais. Et bientôt nous pourrons tous parler la même langue!" [But I have already started learning English. And soon we will all be able to speak the same language!]
"Mais madame Kouriakine! J'ai commencé à étudier le russe!" [But madam Kuryakin! I have started learning Russian!] replied Napoleon.
"Monsier Solo! Vous êtes trop gentil!" [Monsieur Solo! You are too kind!]
"N'est il pas vraiment." [Yes, isn't he.] Illya remarked with no joy in his voice.
"Hein? Ne tu le pense pas?" [Huh? Don't you think so?] asked Napoleon playfully.
"Napoleon, s'il te plaît..." [Napoleon, please...]
"Est-ce que vous voudriez de manger du borchtch?" [Would you like some borscht?] asked mother.
"Maman! Merci! Je ne le mangeais pas par des années!" [Mum! Thank you! I haven't had it for ages!]
"Borchtch? Je ne le mangeais jamais." [Borscht? I've never tried it.] Napoleon raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, vous allez l'aimer!" [Oh, you will love it!] assured madam Kuryakina.
"Oui, Napoleon, si tu ne l'aimes, tu es un fou." [Yes, Napoleon, if you don't like it, you're a fool.] Even though it was a joke, Illya's face wasn't reflecting it.
"Pardon? Madame Kouriakine, votre fils est trop cru." [I beg your pardon? Madam Kuryakin, your son is too rude.]
"Illya, ai de la façon. Je ne t'a nourris comme ça." [Illya, have some manners. I didn't raise you like that.]
"Oui, Illya, qu'est-ce que tu vas m'apprendre?" [Yes, Illya, what are you going to teach me?]
"Arrêtes ça. Arrêtez. Arrêtez vous deux. Est-ce que vous allez vous moquer de moi toujours maintenant? Je ne devais pas vous laisser de vous faire connaissance." [Stop it. Stop you both. Are you going to laugh at me all the time now? I shouldn't have let you meet each other.]
"Oui, Illya, c'était une faute. Madame Kouriakine est ma meilleuse amie maintenant." [Yes, Illya, it was a mistake. Madam Kuryakin is my best friend now.]
"Oh, monsieur Solo! Vous êtes vraiment trop gentil!" [Oh, monsieur Solo! You really are too kind!]
After dinner Illya's mother served them coffee in the living room and went to wash the dishes.
"Should we help her?" asked Napoleon.
"No, I proposed her my help many times, but she keeps refusing."
"Your mother is such an educated woman. She's probably having a hard time having nobody to talk to."
"Yes. I was wrong to bring her here."
"No, but it's good that you're together now."
"It depends on how you look at it. You see, the last time we really kept in touch was in the early 50s. Then I left for Europe and never came back to the Union again. I don't even know what to talk to her about now. We're very different. And she only thinks about having me married in order not to worry for my future anymore."
"But you wrote each other letters."
"Writing few pages a month is easier than talking every week."
"Probably. And... have you tried explaining to her that she shouldn't worry for your future?"
"Sure. But she wants grandchildren even if only out of boredom. She has nothing to do."
"She could make a good nanny for hire if she spoke English."
"I need to find her some friends who could teach her. But I only know people who go to jazz clubs."
"Oh? Never heard of them."
"Well, it's my private business."
"Huh, I thought I knew everything about you."
"Far from it."
"If you really knew everything about me, you'd get bored."
"No. And you said yourself that you wanted me to."
"And you told me to go to sleep."
"Illya, it wasn't what I meant."
"What, am I supposed to read your thoughts?"
"Okay, I'm sorry, I just don't know what to do with her, that's why I'm nervous."
"That's alright, I understand."
"No, you don't!.. No. Let's leave, please."
"We need to talk. And not with her around."
They told her that they were needed at the office. On their drive home, Illya said that he had to think, so, they rode in silence. To the right side of them was blackness of the ocean, and Napoleon, who was driving, looked at it from time to time, sometimes pausing his eyes at Illya who was also looking at the black emptiness. At the Hudson bridge Illya turned to Napoleon and said:
"Don't think that I have an issue with you. I just don't want to talk now."
"I understand perfectly."
An hour later they were in bed at Illya's place. Napoleon was stroking his hair and Illya was speaking:
"This... everything was supposed to be different, you see..."
"I think I do, but go on."
"I... I'm too used to being alone and independent. It doesn't apply to you. You're fine. But now that she's here... You know, it's a bit like when I was dating these girls. They always say things like "why do you look so sad?", "you should go out more", "eat more fruit" and other nonsense like that. And I hate that.
"Well, I also say stuff like that."
"In your case you only propose. It's something that I can think about and make a decision myself. They just say it categorically. As if they understand what I need better than me. I've been living on my own for more than ten years. And I have lived through more than most people. Why do they think then that I can't take care of myself."
"They just show that they care this way. Frankly, I think it's rather cute."
"Maybe my mum should adopt you."
"Maybe. Why not. We'd go to clubs and restaurants and teach each other languages. She's a very intelligent woman and I could talk to her about anything."
"Perhaps you met me just to get to her."
Illya took his pillow and hit Napoleon with it. Napoleon pretended to be shocked and hurt and then smiled. Illya put the pillow back under his head.
"You see, with her I feel like I'm eleven again. And when I was eleven, the war was just over. You can imagine it wasn't the best time of my life. And she still continued teaching me French, music and Mathematics, and I saw no point in it. I thought I'd be a soldier like my father had to become. Languages and music didn't help him to survive the war. Right now I of course understand that she was right. But... she just never listened to me."
"I tried to imagine what your life was like back then, when I was reading your file. You had to live through a lot."
"We lived in the Ural during the war, we were evacuated there. I was lucky."
"It's still a lot worse than what we had here."
"Luckily, it's not a competition. I don't want to think of the past. And she reminds me of it."
Napoleon embraced him:
"Yes, let's not speak of the past. The present is a lot more pleasant."
"You're absolutely right," Illya returned the embrace. Only in moments like this he felt like he was truly where he belonged.