Gavin Boyter

The Tooth

I’m glad you stopped me. I am Alexei. The last reporters were interested until I smiled, then they changed their minds. Canadian, I think. I’m not always like this. Sometimes I put the lower plate in. Russian separatists kicked my teeth in on a backstreet in Luhansk. It was partly my fault. I was drunk and shouting abuse at their stupid slogans. I saved some of the teeth and I keep them in a jar on my bookshelf. I can show you.

            You see this tooth, clinging on, when its fellows have gone? That’s me, that is. A proud Ukrainian, born and bred. I have been to Bucharest, to Warsaw, even as far as Paris, but always I return. Kyiv is my home and look how beautiful it is, on a day like today, when the sun is shining. If it wasn’t for the explosions, you would think it was just any other spring morning. Perhaps we go for a stroll?

My hotel is empty now, apart from some others I took in when Putin’s thugs bombed their apartment block. They call me the poet, which is hilarious. I haven’t written a poem in my life. What use is poetry now, anyway, when faced with mortars targeted by computers? Bombs don’t admire your metaphors.

            That? The bedsheet? I’ll translate. A man without a country is an orphan in this world. Something like that. Every day I write another one. My little show of defiance. I hope the Russians, when they come, are educated enough to appreciate. I have a lot of sheets and no tourists to sleep on them. They fled for the border. Some of our men were sent back to fight. Now they stay with me, in the finest rooms, loading their Kalashnikovs. Why don’t they send back the young women – I thought we were all about sexual equality these days?

            I’m sixty-nine, would you believe? I know – I don’t look like it. Good genes, a cold shower every morning and half a bottle of red wine. I am strong and I am not leaving my home. The government gave me a machine gun! Can you believe it? AK-47. I have no idea how to use it but the chef, who lives nearby, will show me later. We’ll shoot at pigeons… and then Cossacks!

            My daughter Karina and her husband crossed the border on the first morning, in the small hours. They took Elena and Masha. Elena is twelve, straight and strong as a silver birch. She will make sure Masha doesn’t get too scared. Masha is eight. She has her grandfather’s nose, poor little mite.

            I don’t blame Sergey for not staying to fight. He’s only been married for eight months and his left leg’s about as much use as that bollard. Industrial accident at the plant. Elena and Masha are not his. Karina’s husband moved to England in 2004 to find work. He found work but he also found another woman. Bastard stopped sending money back when he heard my daughter was seeing another man. You see – not all Ukrainians are heroes!

            You see this street? Most of the families have gone. When the rocket hit the apartment block one street over, everyone fled. I tried to tell them – now you have less chance of being hit. Is statistics. They thought I was crazy, packed up and left. Soon my block will be the last one occupied. The husbands will be conscripted into militia. I am too old, but I’ll stay to defend what’s mine. I have fifteen Molotov cocktails up there. Zhenya, he’s a boy from the neighbourhood from a family who stayed, he brought me eight. The rest I made myself. I used white spirit from the hardware shop, rags, and shaved polystyrene from the skip out back. The polystyrene makes the smoke dark and toxic.

            What will I do? I moved into the luxury suite – the one for honeymooners with the oval bathtub. It has the biggest windows – yes, there at the top. I calculated the trajectory. If I throw hard enough, I can reach the roundabout. I will wait for the Russians, and then I will light up their convoys. Or maybe I miss, and they will shoot me. So what? They take out one rotten old tooth. Big Russian victory.

We are all willing to die for our country. Perhaps to you it sounds silly, sentimental, something from a bygone age. The west has forgotten patriotism, thinks it’s a dirty word. That’s the thing. You don’t appreciate what you have until some bully tries to take it. Putin will not steal my home and my business and my city without a fight.

            It’s my only tooth yes, and maybe I should pull it out. It would make my false teeth fit better. But I like it. I guess you could say I’m attached to it.

            I don’t think you can use much of this, can you? I’m talking nonsense. I’m an old man – well, I’m nearly seventy. I’m not a glamorous freedom fighter. If you wait here awhile, the chef, Anton will come. He’s your proper hero.  Six feet four and as wide as a wardrobe. God help the Russians if they meet Anton armed to the teeth.

            Forgive me.  My phone is ringing.  I’ve been waiting for this call.  They targeted phone towers to stop the calls getting through. It’s my daughter. So sorry. Forgive me.