A hollow drone convulses his eardrum. The smell of kerosene reaches his nostrils, matted with dried blood. Slowly and cautiously he opens his sore eyes. It feels as if centuries vanished since the last time he did. His eyelids begin to flutter as the radiant white burns onto his retina. The shattered turbine is still ablaze. He doesn’t know how long it’s been since he passed out. Not that it matters anything to him. His whole life has gone back to zero in this very moment. Like a wound up pocket watch that has just started to tick again.
Absorbed in a drifting thought, Nikita ensconces himself in his favourite armchair, facing the living room window. On every early afternoon with a clear sight southward, holding watch, the way the man describes it, is an essential part of his strict daily routine for the past few decades. For his family though, his blank stares are nothing more than a mournful chasing of ghosts, a life that’s irretrievably vanished. In the distant, a forlorn steel carcass dominates the barren land. The aircraft label almost peeled off entirely by the wrath of fire and rough weather conditions. ‘___ED STA__S NAVY’. It seems like the sad remnants of a perished bird. A bird without feathers. Almost thirty-five years have passed by and the inhabitants of the village still can’t find an adequate explanation how the strange man fell from the Alaskan winter skies. The man without a memory, the essense of his former self borne away by the winds.
With numb and swooning senses, the man in the prison camp uniform sits up in his miraculously unscathed seat, security belt still fastened, the row of seats in front entirely missing. An agonizing pain shoots through his jammed left leg. Peeking through the split roof, half expecting to catch a falling snowflake, he realises it’s not snow but burnt particles slowly raining down onto his face. Both anxious and curious, he quickly looks up and down the cabin. The plane’s tail is entirely missing and instead of the heavy metal grid that sealed off the cockpit stands a yawning gap. No trace of the pilots, nor any sign of fellow passengers. Brooding over his memories, Nikita finds nothing but a void. Wiped out. Once he manages to manoeuvre himself out of the seat, painfully slogging on along the corridor to the emergency exit, he trips over a yellowed journal that astonishingly hasn’t been devoured by the flames. Bulging with miserably long lists of names, locations, dates and identification numbers, the final page unfolds only one handwritten entry: ‘Special Transport XXVI. from Petropavlovsk to Anchorage. 17th December 1962. Passengers: Prisoner 672492. Nikita Beresov.’
The plane must’ve come down just by nightfall outside of Bethel. One survivor. Pilots missing. When Nikita limps away from the wreckage with the very last of his strength, the assembled lot of baffled villagers hesitantly rushes to his aid. ‘Who are you, prisoner?’ ‘What happened and where are the other passengers?’ ‘What do you want in our lands?’, it hails down on him without remorse. ‘I…I…I can’t tell you. I don’t remember’, the shaking survivor replies their questioning looks. ‘Well, we better tell Doc Connor that we’ve got an emergency here and bring this poor fellow to the Crick cottage. I doubt late Walter minds if he stayed the night or two’, Mayor Brown calmly tosses in. Reluctant and yet grateful, Nikita accepts his shelter in the nearby cottage, poised to get a line on more than just his real name and vanish soon afterwards. Back to the place he was coming from. To this very day, he stayed. After all these years, he could barely find a trace of this mysterious man that still feels like a foreigner to him. No documents, nothing. What remains is a new life under an old name. A survivor without a past and without a memory. Up until this sunny wintry afternoon when Nikita receives a mysterious letter scribbled on the back of an old photograph, dated 1954. He recognises a smiling young man in a heavy fur coat marvelling at the imposing Kremlin towers who looks strangely familiar.
We’ve never met before, yet still there is something that connects us. I’ve spend half a lifetime to find you. I heard your story and I’d like to help you retrieve what’s lost. The ban was lifted and I managed to track down your old KGB file. Unfortunately, all I can tell you today is that there has been secret prisoner exchanges between the USA and USSR in the 60s. My name is John and I was your American exchange in 1962. If you wish, I could probably fill in a few blanks.
‘A spy, Grandpa was a spy!’, his grandchildren call out cheerfully, bouncing up and down on his lap when he recounts the emergence of John’s letter. ‘Who knows? Maybe I was even a master spy. At least he believes that…’, the old man says smiling. ‘But what does it matter to me?’ Quite content and a tiny bit amused, Nikita mulls over his reply he sent back to Moscow.
Many thanks for the photograph and the kind offer. Though I have to decline. The man you’re talking about isn’t me anymore. As far as I remember, my life has begun on 17. December 1962 here in Bethel, Alaska. For all that I’ve probably had to endure in the past, losing my memory seems like a price I’d gladly pay for a life in happiness. Let bygones be bygones.