A Day in the Life of
There's a greasy, dirty, little deli. He often stops there on his way to work. It reminds him of the tiny place in Cambridge where he used to eat when he had money for such luxuries. The owners were an old couple; they were so old they finished each other's sentences. The lady had only a few good teeth left in her mouth, she was filthy and thin like a skeleton. It didn't matter. She was a compassionate woman and always ladled up more food than even he could wolf down, before inquiring about his well-being and making sure he had leftovers in a bag to go. The husband, for that was what he assumed the old man was, hovered in the background, frying bacon and cooking beans. When Illya told about his studies, she got a faraway look in her dark blue eyes; Illya often thought about her as a faded English rose, and once, she told him that she had dreamed of being a surgeon.
In the deli he visits now there's a man with a strange, colorless eye who sells bagels filled with hams and cheeses and everything Illya likes. Illya has always taken the time to chat with him, exchanging views on politics and philosophy. The old man always fills him in on gossip and gives Illya tidbits about how to survive in the bustling American big-city life.
Why does he stop at this particular deli? The old man speaks Ukrainian; he had grown up in Kyiv.
Na Ukrayini, he would say, and launch into a long and complicated tale about his youth there. Simon Petlura he would spit, not being able to withhold his despise and horror. During the Ukraine's brief foray into independence there had been extensive pogroms and the old man had seen no other solution than to take his meagre belongings, gather up his parents and sister, and flee. His ultimate goal had been America, the land of golden opportunities, and here he was. Free to breathe.
Later, Illya learned that the rest of the old man's family was wiped out by the Holodomor the Soviet Union caused by stealing the crops. Yes, Illya remembered his grandmother, his Boba, telling him about those times. Every family had lost someone.
Now the old man was a grandfather. Sometimes his grandchild would accompany him and help opening the sodas or slicing cheese. The child, he was named Alex after the old man, whose name was Aleksey, would correct the old man's English. He, in return, would say a few phrases in Ukrainian; he insisted the boy should know the language of his ancestors.
One time Illya answered Alex's complaint as to why he had to learn Ukrainian—wasn't English enough?—that sometimes it came in handy to have a common language that few spoke. It was like a secret language, made for agents, Illya told him and winked. They could use it in an emergency. To make the deal sweeter, Illya had handed the boy one of his business cards, telling him to call if something odd or scary happened.
One day, he receives a call from the boy. Could Illya come, spasibo? And Illya immediately asks Ty v poryadke? (Are you okay?) and why, where?
The old man has been attacked and lays bleeding, his deli is a mess. Illya uses his soothing voice to assure the boy he is on his way.
Illya gets up from his desk even before he has put down the receiver of his telephone, and grabs his jacket from the back of his chair.
Napoleon quirks an eyebrow in question and Illya explains that the old man, the one he brings Napoleon breakfast from, is hurt and the boy, his grandson, has called Illya for help.
"I'll come with you," Napoleon says, and before Illya can think past his worry for the old man's well being, they are outside and racing towards the deli. They know the instant they arrive at the deli that this must be serious. There's an ambulance with blinking lights outside and a police car is parked halfway up on the sidewalk.
Illya pushes right through the throng of curious, or perhaps morbid, people who have circled the ER personnel who are working on the old man. They have prepared a gurney and heave him over on it. The boy, Alex, is holding his grandfather's hand and Illya can see even from a distance that he is crying. The old man's face has been smashed, and he is bleeding. His arm is bandaged and he looks to be unconscious.
"Alex," Illya says. "I am here." He focuses on the boy and pats his head.
"Illya, Illya. They hit him!" The boy burrows into Illya, not letting go of his grandfather's hand.
"He was robbed?" Napoleon's calm voice breaks through the boy's tearful panic.
"They called him an old faggot and a fucking Jew and pushed him and kicked him and hit him and ran and..."
Illya gathers the boy closer, carefully prying the bloodied fingers loose from the old man's hand. He nods to the paramedics. "Where are you taking him?"
They are taking him to the Long Island Medical Centre. Before Illya can open his mouth to say they're coming with him, Alex speaks.
"Bobs doesn't know, I called and called, but no answer."
Napoleon nods to Illya. "I'll go with him to the hospital. Get a cab and follow with the boy." Napoleon turns to the paramedics. "You have his papers?" They have.
"Are..." Illya opens his mouth to ask if Napoleon is sure, but bites the words back. If Napoleon said so, who is he to question him? Besides, the paramedics look impatient to go; there is no need to delay them unnecessarily. He squeezes Napoleon's hand and turns to the boy Alex. "This is Napoleon. He is my partner. He will take good care of your grandfather until we can come to the hospital."
Illya asks where Bobs is and Alex answers at home now, he thinks.
At the other side of the park was not the answer Illya had hoped for when he asked where home was, but the boy says he knows the way and will recognize the house.
He watches the ambulance as it leaves and turns to the police officer in charge to acknowledge his presence. The officer is busy talking to the passers-by and Illya takes the boy with him into the shop.
"Alex, does your grandfather keep a key to Bobs' door?" Illya searches the remains of today's food spread on the floor and the smashed glass in the display counter. It would be awhile before the old man could open his deli again.
"In his jacket pocket, it's home," Alex says and grabs a tweed jacket that hangs over the chair behind the counter. Illya could have smacked himself on the head. Of course the old man didn't live alone. He had just never spoken much about his private life.
Illya watches as new tears well up in the boy's eyes when he continues. "Everything is broken. What will he say?" Alex aims sad eyes at Illya, who feels an uncomfortable twinge in his chest.
"He will probably say that it is just things and that it's more important that you are unharmed, that you both are fine," Illya says but he is not sure he means it. The old man is harmed and who is to say how he will cope with the insults and the inference with the freedom he treasured so much?
They leave the deli to the police after Illya assures them that he will keep an eye on the boy.
Illya has the cab driver navigate according to Alex's directions, the boy needs the distraction. The note with the old man's address is crumbled and safe in Illya's pocket. They end up in a nice street lined with trees. The houses have hanging urns on each side of the entrance doors; it is almost like a small village, Illya thinks.
He asks Alex if he lives here, too, and the boy nods vigorously and tells Illya that when his parents died he had moved in with Grandpa and Bobs. So this was why Alex never spoke about his parents. Illya suppresses a shudder at the reminder of his own youth and pays the fare.
"Tell me, Alex, before we enter your home, about Bobs."
"Bobs is...Bobs loves us. Will be so scared. Didn't want to tell about...I wanted to go home." And that is all Illya manage get out of the boy as they approach the door to the house he points out. Illya hurries after him when he runs up the stairs. The boy is shaking so badly now that Illya is afraid he is going into shock. Illya pushes the door bell and hopes with all his heart that this Bobs is home. Before he can push the bell a second time and bring out the key to open it, the door is flung wide open and a voice whispers Alex and the boy flies forward and into the arms of the person Illya is sure must be Bobs. Alex mumbles broken phrases about grandpa and bad men and hurt and hospital into Bobs' shoulder and Illya hopes with all his heart that the old man will be resuscitated.
Illya steps into the dim hallway and closes the door behind him. No need to put on a spectacle for the neighbours. He turns back to Alex and his Bobs and draws a breath.
Bobs is tall, and a man. A man dressed in cardigans and a woollen shirt. Illya meets his eyes and sees the worry there, the fear of what this is.
"You come to take him?"
Oh. "Never." Illya answers and hears Alex explain that Illya promised to help and Illya is the Ukrainian they'd told him about.
"Yes," Illya says and holds out his hand. "Illya Nikovetch Kuryakin." He helps Bobs to a chair, the boy still clutched to him, when he looks faint after Illya has explained what he believes has happened. Normally he can not abide emotional people but this time he knows he will make an exception. The man called Bobs cries a little so his make up is smeared over his cheeks and Illya goes to get a paper towel from the dispenser on the wall. He hands it to him without a word, for what is there to say?
When both Bobs and Alex have taken turns in the bathroom, Illya drives them to the hospital in Bobs' car.
The old man is awake when they stop in the entrance to the room. He is looking better, Illya thinks; someone has washed the blood off his skin, so that only what will be a blue and black face is left. The cuts are stitched up. But he looks so small and fragile, the white sheets does nothing to better his bluish pale complexion. His colorless, pale eye shines out from the bluish skin surrounding it; it's like a small torch.
Illya can hear Napoleon's soothing voice before he can distinguish the words but what he is saying is perhaps not important, the calming sound of that smooth voice is enough. The old man seems relaxed; Illya can even see a hint of his still-white teeth before he looks up and notices them.
That is the clue to change their frozen state and Alex sprints forward, hesitates at the bedside, but hurls himself up on the bed and lands beside the old man. He hugs the boy with his one free arm and shushes him while he looks up and meets Bobs' eyes. "Robert." Robert, Bobs, hurries forward and enfolds them both in his arms.
Illya has to turn away from so much emotion and straightens his suit jacket and walks over to stand beside Napoleon who has moved to hover by the window. Napoleon takes Illya's hand and tells him that the old man had been mugged before, back when he had arrived in New York and didn't speak the language. The police had been the worst, accusing him of all kinds of atrocities, until the translator had arrived. That had been Robert, and they had been together since. The boy was the old man's sister's grandchild, but his parents had died in an accident while he was still a toddler. They had taken him in and taken all precautions to keep him from being picked up by the authorities. Not that that would happen, Napoleon adds.
Napoleon's communication pen chooses that moment to trill, before Illya can answer him.
"Solo here," Napoleon says. It is Mr. Waverly and he sounds perplexed if anything, asking if they have taken leave of their work. "Merely following a lead, sir," Napoleon lies and Illya could have hugged him. Which of course he does not. He watches Napoleon listen to Mr.Waverly's commands some more, then Napoleon caps his pen closed and turns to Illya.
"We need to get back, Illya, there's an emergency." Illya nods, he had heard as much.
As one they turn to the trio on the bed.
"You told me you were a civil servant," the old man says, accusation clear in his one fine eye.
"I am," Illya answers. "Only not quite the kind you think. I work for an organization that tries to keep evil at bay. It is called U.N.C.L.E. We both work there," he indicates Napoleon and himself with his forefinger.
"They are secret spies—sssssh," Alex saves them and Illya smiles at him.
"Yes, that is exactly what we are," Napoleon confirms and takes Illya's hand again. "Unfortunately evil never rests and we must hurry back to fight it."
This is the story of how Napoleon and I spent an ordinary morning, Illya thinks as they hasten back to Headquarters.
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