Visiting Pussy Riot

I stand already frisked in the hallway of the prison hospital, waiting to see my favourite band. One guard counts my money and the other one lights a cigarette. Their guns are at rest, unaimed, but the smoker’s one is pointed at me nonetheless, and I move so it’s not lined up with my organs. The guards take me to her cell. Thunk-click-th-thunk, the door bolt slides open, I step inside. Nadezhda. She’s lying on a gurney in the corner, strapped down and stuck with an IV line. Except for the scars and fresher bruises her skin is myriad greys from diaphanous to deep that intergrade with the concrete walls. The guard yells and she jerks awake. She asks who I am. I say I’m a fan of her and her sisters and offer my long-practised preamble: I am here on behalf of the world. I am one face but in it see the millions of faces denied to you; in my voice hear the millions of voices; and in my love feel the love of all who want you freed. I open my folder of fan letters and begin to read. When I look up again I can tell that she’s crying even though her parched eyes aren’t spilling tears. She smiles. Her cracked lips crack more and bleed anew, and between them I see freshly smashed teeth. I look away, hoping I didn’t gasp, and try to read again but break down. I cry injustice. I lament inarticulate. I apologise for not being stronger.

“Don’t be sorry for me,” she says. “I am more free than most Russians. Watch him. Watch the guard.”

She tells a joke about Putin. It’s good and I laugh and the guard’s trying not to, tight and trembling lips, rushes of air out his nose.

“See?” she says. “Even the words in his head are not free.”