Once, on a layover, the airline forced me to share a hotel room with the prima ballerina from the Kiev Ballet. She spoke no English, and it was awkward when we found ourselves reaching for the same door. She argued with me, but I couldn’t understand a word, and I had no better luck explaining when we went back downstairs and the reception clerk told us — in English — that we had to double up on the room. I stood there hand-gesturing for five minutes before she gave me an unreadable look, then took my arm as though I were escorting her to a ball. We walked back to the elevator.
In the room, which had only one bed, I made a show of taking a pillow out of the closet and putting it on the floor near my bag. She silently watched, sitting on the bed cross-legged and straight-backed, in that sculptural manner that dancers have. It was early, only 9pm, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do than get ready to sleep. I wished she would turn on the TV, or do something other than watch me. Even with my back turned, I could feel her eyes between my shoulder blades.
Finally, she opened her suitcase and pulled out two shot glasses and a bottle of vodka, something with a label I didn’t recognize. The bottle made a “thud” when she put it on the night stand. She held out one of the glasses, and for the first time, she smiled. “Come,” she said. It was the only English word she said all night.
I woke up the next morning, as deep down I knew I would, in the bath tub, covered with ice, a freshly stitched incision over my right kidney. My head was pounding. And of course, I had missed my flight. But the strange thing? Every time the Kiev Ballet performs in the United States, I receive a comped ticket in the mail.
I haven’t missed a single performance.