"What are you looking at, Illya?"
The blond didn't look up at the question, merely kept his eyes fixed on the page he was typing. He felt uneasy; a stab of something long suppressed was trying to escape from the depths in which it should remain. Illya knew his fears were illogical; he could write a letter to the editor of the New York Times and not be targeted by Goskomizdat, the agency of Soviet censorship that handled all printed materials. No one would be reading his letter with the intention of finding the offending party and hauling him to the gulag or putting him in front of a firing squad.
"I am writing a letter, Napoleon. Please, I need to concentrate."
Napoleon cocked his head to one side, a familiar expression on his face as he wondered why Illya was so intense about a letter. Sometimes his partner was a puzzle.
Illya knew Napoleon was waiting for an explanation, and involuntarily sighed at the prospect of trying to explain why this was so important to him. It was hard for Americans to understand what this small gesture of independent thought meant to a former citizen of the United Soviet Socialist Republic.
"I am writing a letter to the editor of the Times. I want to word it carefully, and I want to mail it this afternoon."
Illya turned to look at his friend who was, in turn, observing the Russian very thoughtfully. It took only a minute for the American to grasp why this would be an important activity for his Russian partner. It was a bold step into the freedom he had so recently encountered. Well, he had lived in England and France, but in this country, in America, the claim on freedom to do something as simple as writing a letter to a newspaper was right in the center of the American Dream.
Napoleon nodded his head.
"What are you responding to?"
Illya looked back at his letter, considered the article that had prompted his own letter.
"I read an article about a girl who was turned away from a school in Manhattan because she is Latina, from Puerto Rico. The school tried to defend its stance, and the article exposed the discrimination policies that are keeping people out, simply because of their ethnicity. I find it hard to believe that America is still struggling with these issues."
Napoleon had come in and was sitting in a chair on the opposite wall from Illya's desk. He shook his head, agreeing with Illya and wondering if what they did everyday would ever really change the world.
"And you identified with the girl?"
Illya looked surprised at the question. Perhaps he did. Is that why it had struck such a chord with him? Did he feel discriminated against because he was Russian?
"I … I am not sure about the discrimination, but sometimes I do feel slightly alienated by people's response to my nationality. There is an expectation in coming here that everyone is equal, and that freedom is this great event in which everyone participates.'
Illya saw a look of confusion in Napoleon's eyes. He hadn't said that correctly, something came out wrong.
"It is a great thing, do not misunderstand me, please. I am greatly relieved at so many things, such as writing this letter. For a few moments I had this sinking feeling that someone would censor it, would find me and … it could happen in the Soviet Union."
Napoleon was caught between relief that his partner had managed to leave the USSR, and amazement that people lived in such confining circumstances. Imagine being afraid to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
"Well, no one will come looking for you here, tovarisch. Write your letter and make it a good one. That girl deserves to go to whatever school she chooses."
Illya smiled, the prospect of his letter being published no longer accompanied by dread of the consequences.
To himself, Napoleon thought that Illya deserved to write as many letters as he could on any subject.
And critics, and censors, be damned.