by Bobby Laurel

I would like to dedicate this story to my German friend Andreas Mayer


Disclaimer: This story is purely fictitious. The names used herein are used for character identification and should not be construed as being real people, alive or dead.


Natasha sat down to her seat in the plane. She was nervous. Not because she was going to use a plane, she had flown many times, because the huge distances in former Soviet Union and today's Russia, her mother country were too difficult to make by train or a coach. She was restless because she had never flown in a jet plane as big and luxurious as the Boeing she was to use that day. So far she only used Aeroflot or some other airlines like Kazakh Air. It was a big difference for her. The stewardesses smiled, the people were well clad in nice clothes. Natasha felt exited. Something new was just beginning.

She took opened her purse, took out a new glasses case and put her prescription sunglasses off. It was not dark inside the plane, but she needed her new clear glasses to read. Opening the book she bought on her way to the airport she noticed a young stewardess smiling at her. Everybody was so polite here. Natasha hoped for a new better life at the end of her journey; a life full of politeness, smiles, nice cars and new dresses; a life without queues in shops, without rude shop assistants, and without omnipresent Russian mafia. There was Europe a real Europe at the end of her flight. And there was Andrew waiting for her. Andy, Andyee, Natasha always pronounced the name with long "ee" at the end and a hard Russian accent or she used the Russian version of the name Andrey. 

The book in her lap remained closed, she wanted to read, but she couldn't. Too much had happened during the recent months and too much was happening now although the huge jet plane was still on the ground. Natasha looked at her prescription glasses still sitting in the open case in front of her. The frame was very fashionable although the lenses way too strong to be found nice by most people, but Natasha liked both the frame and the lenses. Her normal glasses she was wearing were also very nice. Considering the local economy conditions in Russia they cost a fortune. She changed the grasses again to see the prescription glasses. They looked like an unusual piece of jewelry. There was a trademark on the right temple. It read Daniel Swarowski, Paris. Natasha hoped she would see Paris too. And London, Amsterdam, Marseilles, Berlin, Milan and, of course Munich, the destination of the journey. She would see all those beautiful cities of the western world she had been fantasizing about for so many years. Nobody of her family had ever had a passport. The Soviet government did not allow their citizens to travel abroad. Nobody from her town had ever visited any foreign country. Except for comrade (oh, what an ugly word) Kravchenko, the secretary of the regional committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and a member of communist secret police KGB, a big fat man who ruled the district with an iron fist. Kravchenko was a rude drunkard, who made a lot of money after he had made a friendship with the bosses of local mafia. The man once visited German Democratic Republic on a business trip. People admired his watch he bought there. 

That bad life was over now. The jet plane was about to take off and Natasha decided to leave her sunglasses on so that she could look out of the window. She hoped to see Moscow and the country surrounding the large city. Her mind, however, drifted back to Kamenka, the small town on the bank of Volga River where she and her family lived. The Smirnov family was poor, Father worked in a local sawmill, and Mother was a post-woman. Nikita, the oldest son, got killed in action in Afghanistan; Sergey disappeared in the vast forests of Siberia after he had left home to find a job in Soviet oil industry. Natasha was the only daughter of Smirnov family. She was after her Mother. She had her blond hair and blue eyes, her slender body and long legs. She also inherited myopic eyes of her mum.

It did not seem to be a problem when she was a small girl. The doctor prescribed her the first glasses after she had not passed the regular eye test in the first grade at school. Nobody could remember how many diopters she got. The glasses were made in a shop in Nizhniy Novgorod, because there was not any optic shop in their town. Once she had them she was recommended to wear them full time. There was much laughter at school when small bespectacled Natasha entered the classroom for the first time. She had to whelm the bitter moments although it was not easy at all. The kids soon found another topic and left her alone. Each September, a doctor came to the school to run the tests. Years went on, and Natasha remained the only glasses wearer in her class. 

When she was 13, she noticed the change in the numbers of the prescription for the first time. She could remember the main numbers the year before. They were 2.50 and 2.75. The next year they went up to 3.50 and 4.00. Also the glasses looked different. The frame could not hide the edges any more. Since Mother had thicker lenses then Natasha, nobody cared and Natasha calmed down soon after she found out how much clearer the world was with her new glasses.

The next test did not go well. She could not read the lines she had been able to the year before. There was a bigger jump, 1.5 diopters for each eye. He left eye needed 5.00 D and the right one 5.50 D. To help his daughter to cope with the thicker lenses Father went to Nizhniy Novgorod with her and her Mother. He had with him a part of the amount money the family managed to save to buy new furniture. Natasha's prescription had reached the same numbers her Mother had. Both parents wanted to buy a nice frame for their daughter. Natasha was becoming a nice young girl. Why should an ugly cheap frame mar her look?

After two weeks (well, things went slowly and services were poor in the Soviet Union then), the glasses were fitted. In spite of the horrible thickness and quite a weight, Natasha liked the glasses. They were made in Czechoslovakia a small country somewhere in the middle of Europe at the edge of the happy world of socialism. Natasha was always very sorry for the poor Czechoslovakian people, because she was told at school, that the country was surrounded by two evil capitalistic states. The teacher told them about difficult life in that tiny republic, about the threat of the nation suffered from the NATO states, and about the brave courageous men of the Soviet Army who lived in the Czechoslovakian military basis to protect the westernmost part of the happy world. She did not know that everything they learned at school was just a lot of lies and propaganda. Everybody believed that. The first day she had the new glasses she found a tiny print on the temple of the most beautiful and fashionable frames she had ever seen. It read: Made in Czechoslovakia. How was it possible, she thought, that such a poor country could make so nice frames? She remembered the moment many years later in the time of "perestroyka" when the large country started carving up into many local states and information from the outside world came to Kamenka.

Well, the reaction of the kids at school was nothing to write home about. "Oh, they are strong," said Kostya, the tallest and strongest (and also rudest) boy in the class. "How can you see though the lenses?" asked Masha, her best friend. But every entertainment, ever the cruelest ones end. People got used to her glasses, the strength and the thickness; and Natasha got used to them too. The fact the frames were made abroad helped a lot. She had something special.

Next year the jump repeated. Natasha suspected her eyes would need stronger glasses because she could not see well from the beginning of the year. She was fifteen, tall and beautiful; her fair hair shone in the sunshine, her breasts stood firm and prominent, her legs were smooth and slender. The only things that spoiled her beauty were the thick lenses in her glasses. She was clutching the piece of paper with strange numbers: L: 6.50 D, R: 7.00. The values made her apprehensive She had never heard about anybody who had so strong glasses. Would any of the boys from Kamenka ever ask a girl with such strong glasses for a date? Many of the other girls had already have boyfriends, but she hadn't had a single date. The optician frowned looking at the numbers and told her it would take more than two week till the glasses would be made. Natasha was crying all the way back home in the bus. Nobody cared. 

That year she finished the school in Kamenka. She wanted to go to Nizhniy Novgorod to study a school that would make her possible to continue at a university, but she was not accepted. The official reason was because her eyes were too bad, but Father said the real reason might have been that nobody in the family was a member of the communist party. Whatever the real reason was Natasha got depressed. She felt ugly, she felt useless, and more - she felt disabled. She did not go out, she stopped sharing the activities of the other young people in the town. She kept sitting at home, studying or watching TV. Then she got a letter she was accepted to a secondary school for nurses.

The student life in Nizhniy Novgorod was much better than in poor Kamenka. She made friends at school and she enjoyed the activities of the young students. She was a good student and at the end of the first year a boy who she met several time at various parties asked her for a date. Natasha was rather embarrassed when Yuri invited her to a cinema. He was tall and strong, she liked his short black hair and muscular arms. Yuri was a sportsman. He wanted to become a military pilot. "What a boyfriend," she thought. "Now I have a better guy than any of the girls from Kamenka." But when Natasha had to go to the optician again to get even more diopters, Yuri started to have less time to spend with her. Natasha bought the nicest and the most expensive glasses she could afford. She dressed well, she went to the hairdresser every month, but the gap between Yuri and her kept widening. They split the next year, soon after her another visit to the optician's. Natasha's eyes reached 8.50 D and 9.00 D. She could not hide her severe myopia any more. Her lenses were unbelievably thick. Even small frames did not help to make the lenses look thinner. She asked about contact lenses, but they were too expensive for a student. She tried to find a part time job to make money, but there were no jobs available for her. The regulations of the state owned companies were very stringent.

The year 1991 came, everything started changing. The disintegration of the Soviet Empire was in progress. Suddenly, Natasha had quite different troubles that her bad eyes. All the events helped her forget about her eyes, glasses and lenses. She finished the school with flying colors and found a job in one of the local hospitals. The doctors liked her, and her boss was very satisfied. Natasha's world was the hospital and meetings with her friends, other nurses. None of them was surprised she had strong glasses, although her eyes got a worse again. She had 9.00 D for her left eye and 9.50 D for the right one. But as the years went, the girls married one after another. They had husbands and children, only Natasha was still single. When asked she used to say her job satisfied her enough not to care for guys. The fact, however, was, that she was afraid of any relationship with men. In the hospital, she knew she was the best nurse the patients and the doctors had ever had. Outside the hospital she felt weak, inferior and lonely. The worse she felt in normal life the more she worked in the hospital. People nicknamed her "Samootverzhennaya Natasha" - the Selfless Natasha.

The crisis stroke two years later. The hospital was closed. The Russian economy was down. There was no money to keep so many hospitals as in the former Soviet Union. Natasha was unemployed. She applied for jobs in other hospitals but she could not find any. She moved to Kazan, the town of one million inhabitants, lying down by the Volga River. There she met her schoolmate Lilya. 

Lilya had always been a very attractive girl. She was also very goodhearted. She told Natasha she should change her visage. She took her hand and led her into a restaurant. There, over a bottle of wine, Lilya persuaded her former schoolmate to invest into herself. "It is a new epoch, Natasha," she said, "you must dress like a european young woman. Get rid off the old provincial habits. Get rid off the clothes that resemble your school uniform." The wine helped. They went to a good shop and Lilya helped her choose a new dress, and shoes. They went to a hairdresser. And finally they visited an optic shop. Natasha spent almost all her savings in two days. As all services had become much better after the Russian "perestroyka", she could admire her new look in a few days. Standing in front of a big mirror in Lilya's apartment she could hardly believe her eyes. Who was the slim bond young woman? It was not the unattractive, dull, wan Selfless Natasha. No, that was the new Natasha. 
Yes, she still had very bad eyes hidden behind the strong glasses, but the overall appearance changed dramatically. Natasha looked at her cleavage. I am a real woman not only a nurse, she thought. Seeing what happened with her geek friend, Lilya used the effect to help her find a job in a big hospital. 

A new life began for Natasha Smirnova from small muddy town called Kamenka.

to be continued