The Third Component: Part II, Chapter 25

Alison Christy 12 April 2009

Photo Credit: Tim Christy

She doesn’t know why he keeps helping her; she doesn’t know how to thank him

Editor's note: We are pleased to continue the weekly serialization of The Third Component, a novel by Alison Christy: a scientist at loose ends after earning her PhD sets off to Russia in search of a missing piece of her family's past.

Chapter 25

The Likelihood of Pairing and Probability Distribution of Spontaneous Chromosomal Colocalization When Chemical Affinity Rises Above Threshold

Frank is waiting at the kiosk when she arrives. He has a stack of paper for her: timetables, jotted notes. There are a few ways to get to Kolpashevo, he tells her: there’s the ferry and the bus, and then there are the people who hang out at the train station, waiting for a carpool to help pay for their gas to Kolpashevo. He recommends that she take the bus.

To get to Krolosk from Kolpashevo will be trickier, Frank says. It is an island, surrounded by rivers, and can only be reached by boat. He unfolds a map and shows her: Tomsk, Kolpashevo, the tiny dot of Krolosk. Tourists who want to travel to Krolosk (and there have been more of them, recently, since Michael Perch published his article) generally have to contact a man named Dmitri Ivanovitch, who is considered the chief of the village, and who takes a boat back and forth from the mainland to buy things for his store on the island.

“Dima,” Anna says suddenly. “Michael Perch calls him Dima. In his article.”

“I have his phone number,” Frank says, “and I can call him if you want. I don’t know if he speaks Latvian.”

Anna looks at the schedules in her hands and doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know why he keeps helping her; she doesn’t know how to thank him.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she says lightly. “Do you want to come to Krolosk with me?”

She says it half-jokingly, but she holds her breath after she says it; and when he says that he would love to come with her, that he’s always wanted to see the small villages of Siberia, she can barely admit to herself how relieved she is not to be left alone once again.


Frank calls Dima, and they make arrangements to travel to Krolosk from Kolpashevo the next day. Dima is excited to have them, Frank tells Anna; apparently, a Latvian Lutheran church group is helping them build a new school and giving them money for medicines, and Dima is hoping for more philanthropy.

But Kolpashevo is a more popular destination than either of them realized. The bus is booked for the next two days, and the ferry is booked up through the week. The two Azeri men who are waiting in the parking lot of the train station look surly, unshaven and unpleasant.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Anna whispers to Frank, who is discussing terms of payment with the men. One of the men is smoking a crumpled, foul-smelling cigarette; the other, who is negotiating with Frank, rests his hand casually inside the front of his loose pants.

“Don’t worry,” Frank says to her. “It’s cheaper than the bus, and we’ll get there today.”

“Alive?” Anna asks, and Frank laughs, carefully sliding his guitar case off his shoulder and into the trunk.

They follow a simple two-lane road, and every ten to twenty minutes another driver passes their car. The occasional houses along the road are plain, wooden and worn; the kind of houses children draw, with steep triangular roofs and dormer windows. Anna clings nervously to the rim of the backseat, once again seatbelt-less, and tries to avoid being thrown into Frank on the turns.

The Azeri men, apparently brothers, don’t speak as they drive, so Frank and Anna are silent as well. Every few minutes one of the brothers hits the dashboard with a loud bang and the radio springs to life, filling the car with light Russian pop for a minute or two before fizzling out again. The brakes on the car are as untrustworthy as the radio; whenever the driver needs to stop, he curses loudly and stomps his foot repeatedly on the floor of the car, which shudders reluctantly to a halt. Each time this happens, Anna looks over at Frank, who grins back at her like they are on a ride at Gorky Park.

“At least we’re not going very fast,” he says softly, during one of the Russian pop songs. Anna hides her laughter behind a cough.

They stop at a gas station, a lone building by the roadside, and Frank and Anna wait in the car while the two men get out to fill the tank. It is raining lightly now, fat, individual drops hitting the windshield.

“Next time, we should check the brakes before we get in the car,” Anna says.

“Next time, we’ll wait for the bus,” Frank says.

The brothers toss their cigarettes away, climb back into the car and drive on in silence.

It is a four hour drive from Tomsk to Kolpashevo, and Anna can’t sleep: she feels nervously vigilant, as though the car might hit something if she stops watching the road. She finally takes out The Lights Up North, hoping that maybe her extended time on the Trans-Siberian has made her better at reading while traveling.

Find Russia on a globe and right in the middle of the country, in the middle of all that vast land, you’ll see a dot marking the city of Kolpashevo. It’s a tiny town, with two hotels and one restaurant. Kolpashevo gets a big dot on most maps simply because it is the only thing around for miles and miles.

When I checked in at the Kolpashevo Hotel the entire five-babushka staff came down to the front desk to persuade me to upgrade my room choice to the Presidential Suite. Clearly, they got very few tourists in Kolpashevo and no Americans. It was only ten dollars more a night, but still, did I need to be treated like a president? I demurred. It turned out, however, that the Presidential Suite was the only room in the hotel with a private bathroom and an actual shower. This was the kind of luxury I couldn’t turn down.

After a quick lunch at the hotel, I went to the Kolpashevo Ethnographic Museum to learn about this city and its surroundings. There I found a charming young woman with laughing brown eyes named Daria Petrovna, who explained to me that the village of Krolosk could only be reached by boat in the summer and by ice transport in the winter. In fall and spring the formation and melting of ice make river transportation impossible, and only helicopters visit the island to take the extremely sick and wounded to the hospital in Kolpashevo.

– from Michael Perch, “From Exiles to Immigrants: Siberia’s Little Latvia,” published in Turn Left at the Yak in the Road: A Life of Travel, Transit Press, 2000.

Daria Petrovna. Of course. Of course there would be a woman. Anna scans quickly through the next few pages, looking for the woman’s name. Dasha. With a sunny smile, Dasha explained that…“Here they are,” Dasha said, indicating the lines of scarf-wearing babushki hawking fresh fruits and vegetables at the outdoor market… Dasha smiled charmingly and flipped her rich, chestnut hair over her shoulder… “You are very interesting man, Michael Perch,” Dasha said sweetly, her hand on my arm, and I think I might have blushed.

The story unfolds slowly in her mind, in simple movie frames: Michael Perch, riding the ferry to Kolpashevo and meeting the pretty Dasha. He takes her hand; they flirt, they smile, and he leaves, returning to Moscow where he writes his book and finds he can’t get her chestnut hair and laughing eyes out of his mind. And when he perceives that they are after him, that the Russian government or big businesses or the mafia are just about to strike, to silence him forever – he flees to Kolpashevo, back into her slender arms.

This is where she’ll find him: the Kolpashevo Ethnographic Museum. They will meet there, and they will fall in love. She doesn’t even feel jealous of Daria Petrovna; she is strangely confident that when she and Michael finally meet, after he has spent months hiding in Kolpashevo, both he and Dasha will be tired of their affair, cranky and irritable with each other, and he will be ready for Anna. Dasha will be a phase, like Yelena must have been, like John was for her. Silly, impractical romances that serve to lead them, finally, to each other. She traces the spine of her book gently with her finger; she traces around the edges of his author photo.

Her stomach is queasy from reading in the car; the sun feels too bright, despite the clouds. She leans her head against the window and watches the road as one of the brothers pounds the dashboard and bright music fills the car again. She wonders where they’ll go, once they’re together; back to America, or on to somewhere new?

{Continued next week}