Una Ivanovna And The Mayor
by Bethan James
At the edge of a snow-swaddled continent a thousand miles away, you will find the most extraordinary woman. Her name is Una Ivanovna, and this is her story.
Una owned the biggest house in town, cooked the tastiest meals, and bore the two most beautiful children. She was fond of telling anyone who would listen, ‘my name is Una Ivanovna, and I can do whatever I want!’
The townspeople should have envied and despised her. But there was something about Una’s embracing smile which made this impossible. She would help her neighbours without hesitation; whether a farmer needed his tractor towing out of a deep drift, or a mother wanted someone to watch over her baby. Una’s strength was matched only by her love.
She stood six feet tall with muscles to challenge those of any man in the province, and her locks shone like winter sun as they radiated down the curve of her back. Una’s forest-green eyes had been passed on to her twins, a girl and a boy.
She supported her little ones by working in a timber yard, and would fell trees in the nearby woods alongside the local men. When they shivered in the biting January blasts, Una would revel in the refreshing touch of the cool breeze on her face.
One day, a new Mayor came to town. His suit was new, his shoes were new, and his smart leather briefcase was new too. He also brought with him new ideas from the capital, and warned Una that it was immoral for a woman to work in the forest alone with the men.
‘Mothers should stay at home cooking borsch for their children,’ he would remind her, ‘and doing feminine things like watching the daytime soaps instead.’
She simply laughed and said, ‘my name is Una Ivanovna, and I can do whatever I want!’ Then she would take a swig of vodka straight from the bottle, haul a chainsaw onto her shoulder, and make her way back into the woods.
When the hard winter months cracked apart and melted into spring, Una decided it was time to build new home for her family.
‘It will be the biggest and the best house in the whole province, you’ll see,’ she declared on market day to anyone who’d listen.
There was a large field abundant with blooming camomile flowers on the outskirts of town. Una knew this was the perfect spot and that her beautiful children would be very happy here. So she set her mind to build the house right in the middle.
A few days later, a local farmer who was an old friend of her fathers passed by.
‘Una, you must stop this immediately. You can’t just build a house here’, he said, shaking his head.
‘Why not?’ Una shrugged. ‘It’s good land.’
‘So you really haven’t heard?’
‘Heard what?’ She continued to saw away at the timbers as he spoke.
‘The Mayor wants to build a new road over this field. He’s planning to construct a
bypass so he can travel between the government offices and his dacha more quickly in the summer.’ He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow. ‘The Mayor will be very displeased if you build a house in the way of his shortcut.’
‘Is that it?’ Una grinned. ‘So let the Mayor go out of his way. See if I care.’
‘Please take this a bit more seriously! He knows what you’re up to, and has lawyers in his pockets who are already putting the papers together to stop you from building the house! The case is going to the court in just two weeks.’
‘Good. That gives me plenty of motivation to get this place finished in a fortnight. I’d wanted it done in time for summer anyway. It’s easier to stop something going up than it is to pull down something that already exists.’
He shook his head. She’s just as stubborn as her father, he thought. ‘Impossible, look at these vast foundations, you’ll never get something so big completed so quickly.’
‘My name is Una Ivanovna, and I can do whatever I want!’ she replied, and her booming laugh echoed across the field, rippling through the white petals surrounding her.
By the tenth day, her house was nearly finished. The wooden building held its own against the lofty pine trees which stood to attention nearby, admiring their grand new neighbour. Una, hands on broad hips beside them, surveyed her labours proudly. Soon her perfect children would have a perfect home. All that needed to be completed was the roof. So she set off back into the forest to gather the remaining wood, singing as she went. Una left her children alone in there, paying no mind to the warning about how displeased the Mayor was.
Soon after, the local priest passed by. He was on his way to visit the Mayor, who wanted to see him for spiritual guidance. At the sight of Una’s house, the priest was struck immobile in his tracks. He stood at the end of the field, and gaped in awe at this magnificent structure. It was even grander than his church.
He noticed Una was heading off in the distance, chainsaw slung over one shoulder, and a bag of what must be food over the other. She’s leaving to spend the day in the forest, he guessed, and won’t be coming back until late. The priest looked around to make sure no one else was watching, and made his way to the towering building.
Peering through a window, with his right ear pressed to a gap, he could see and hear everything going on within. Una’s children were diligently doing their homework, debating the merits of two great novelist from the region, surrounded by stacks of books. What studious children she has! The priest was most impressed. When he realised the time, he hurried off. It didn’t pay to keep the Mayor himself waiting.
Later that day, the town’s policeman walked past on his way to visit the Mayor, who’d summoned him to see what could be done about a nuisance parking fine. The policeman liked to cut through the field on his travels. Suddenly, he heard bangs and crashes coming from the house, and rushed over to see what was going on. As he peeked inside, he noticed a boy and girl moving furniture around the living room, so they could clean underneath it. What kind children Una has, he thought, as they set about helping with the chores while their mother was off at work. Then he continued on his way.
When the policeman met with the Mayor, he declared that Una’s house was the finest in town. The Mayor was displeased to hear that her home was not only blocking his road: it was also better than his. But he was interested to hear that Una left her children alone all day when she went out into the forest. So he set off with his bodyguard, a large grey jeep, and a plan.
Una returned as the amber sunset dripped into the horizon. With an armful of timber, she sang a joyous song in perfect tune as she walked across the field. But her notes died the moment she realised her twins had vanished from the house. They were good children who would never wander off into the forest alone without telling her, so Una knew something bad had happened. Without a second thought, she picked up the bag of food supplies, slung the chainsaw back over her shoulder, and set off to find them.
As Una made her way along the road to town, she passed the priest. Una told him she was searching for her children, and asked if he’d seen anything suspicious that day. The priest had, and was afraid. His feet longed to walk straight past her. But then he remembered how Una had helped to repair his church, with soft aspen wood the colour of virgin snow. The new roof kept the punishing rain and sleet out, even during the cruellest winter months. So he decided to let Una know he’d seen the Mayor’s silvery jeep speeding away from her field earlier. She thanked him with her embracing smile and a firm pat on the shoulder.
As Una continued down the path, she reached a crossroad and wondered which fork to take. Then she saw the local policeman coming towards her. She explained about her children, and asked if he’d noticed anything out the ordinary nearby. At first his voice caught awkwardly in his throat as if it were barbed. But then he recalled how last Christmas Una had brought is wife the sweetest baklava, sticky with honey, when she’d been sick with pneumonia. So the policeman revealed that he’d heard banging noises coming from the boot of the Mayor’s monstrous jeep as it headed back to his residence. Una pulled a bundle of delicious morsels from her bag of supplies as a token of gratitude.
She marched straight over to the Mayor’s house. The tall walls were built with drab grey slabs. The drive was ashen concrete, and on it stood his imposing jeep. Men’s voices came from the vehicle, cutting through the clear spring air. Una was a fitting match for anyone in town hand to hand, but if they had a gun what use would her impressive biceps be then? So she ducked behind a fence and listened carefully while plotting her next move.
‘What should we do with the kids, boss?’ The Mayor’s bodyguard asked, as he tapped on the steering wheel.
‘That’s what I’m thinking about now, idiot. I’m not sitting here in here with you for fun.’ The Mayor clutched a bottle so tightly his knuckles were turning as white as his suit.
‘Maybe you should put the vodka down for a bit, it’s clouding your mind.’
‘Shut up. You’re not my wife, and I don’t pay you to tell me what to do.’
‘Sorry sir.’ The bodyguard went back to tapping on the wheel for a few minutes.
‘What do you think we should we do about them?’ The Mayor wondered.
‘No idea, whatever you want, boss.’
‘Goddammit, what do I pay you for? You can’t even come up with useful ideas! Either we kill then, keep them as ransom, or –’
‘No, stupid. That’s not even an option now.’ Two empty bottles lay in the footwell. The Mayor lifted one to his lips and tipped. Nothing came out.
‘I’m going for a piss, this cheap vodka shit is passing straight through me. Next time bring me the quality label, ok? I’ll fetch a decent French wine from inside. Can’t even trust you to do that properly. Keep an eye on the goods in the boot.’
Una saw her chance to pounce on the Mayor while he was alone. He headed towards the side entrance of the house, and she crept nearby, darting behind the neatly trimmed hedges. She was grateful his senses were numbed by alcohol, as she’d never been light on her feet.
The Mayor fumbled for keys with his clumsy fingers in front of the door. Una walked up behind him. Her shadow swallowed his. Taking the heavy bag of supplies from her shoulder, she stood with it raised above her head. She thought of her beautiful children, and brought the sack down with all her might upon him. He collapsed straight to the ground, like one of her felled trees.
Next, Una made her way to the jeep and edged closer to the driver’s side. She considered waiting until the bodyguard was asleep to make her move. But then she heard the muffled sobs of her darlings coming from the boot. So Una rushed forward, wrenched open the car door, and dragged the baffled man from his seat. Before he even had time to reach into his waistband for a gun, she had her own weapons ready; each fist was an unbreakable rock, a force of nature in itself. Nothing is more powerful than the need to protect.
When Una felt satisfied he was no longer in a position to harm her beloved twins, she shook out her numb fingers and turned her attention to the back of the car.
‘Stay down!’ She cried out, as she took the chainsaw from her broad shoulder and sawed straight through the cold metal of the boot. Una pulled her children’s cowering bodies out, one in each hand, and held them more tightly than she had ever held on to anything in her life.
Una thrust bread and milk into their clammy hands from her bag of supplies. ‘Eat well my darlings, you must’ve been starving stuck in there!’
She wiped away their tears until only light streaks remained on pink cheeks to remind them of what they’d been through. When she’d finished making sure they were unhurt, Una noticed each was clutching an envelope.
‘What have you got there, my little ones?’
The twins looked at each other, and held out the packages for her to take. ‘See what we found in the car, mummy!’
Una saw that she had passed her embracing smile onto them. Then she reached inside the envelopes. She discovered they were stuffed with wads of crisp notes, and letters addressed to lawyers from the capital. Bribery money to speed up her eviction. Una held the offerings aloft triumphantly.
‘Tonight the whole town will have a feast on the Mayor, because my name is Una Ivanovna and I can do whatever I want!’