Thursday, 14 April 2011


We met for the first time in their tiny bed-and-sitter in a Moscow suburb. Natasha, his wife, was my first husband's former fellow student. I was heavily pregnant, their daughter some months old. Later we would babysit for each other.

Volodya and Natasha were refuseniks, denied permit to emigrate. In such situations, people no longer cared about the authorities. They constantly had foreign journalists in their home. Volodya went on hunger strikes. I helped translate petitions into English.

Then suddenly they were granted exit and the limbo was over. We all helped to pack and clean and throw away. There was a huge farewell party, with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. At that time, we knew for sure that we would never see each other again. I remember my husband was away at his archaeological excavations, but came to Moscow just in time to say goodbye at the airport. We received bits of information; first they were in Italy, then moved to Sweden, as they had intended.

Seven years later I moved to Sweden and found them in the phone book. Natasha said: “Come over this very moment”. We have been close ever since. We went to Volodya's exhibitions, we saw him change styles. He gave a print to each of my children. He wasn't hugely famous, but many people loved and bought his paintings and watercolours.

Then one day we became professional partners. We did two picturebooks together, and Volodya did the cover for one of my novels. The publishers didn't appreciate his illustrations, saying they were too elegant. Swedish children didn't like beautiful pictures.

We didn't meet often, but we were always glad to see each other. Volodya and I always pretended we had been lovers, which wasn't true, just a game. He played the same game with dozens of other women. He swore marvellously.

Staffan and I repeatedly talked about asking Volodya to paint a portrait of me. Now it is too late.

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