Masha  

Winner of 2011 Solas Grand Prize Silver Award for Best Travel Story of the Year

Two women, one skirt, and an untold story.

The first time I met Maria Konstantinovna, she was wearing a black leather skirt. It was Italian, brand new, and it was mine.

Masha, as I would come to know her, was a dejournaya in Moscow. Women like her sat on every floor in every hotel in the Soviet Union. They performed a range of duties—they served tea from a samovar that simmered behind their station. They ordered your phone call to America and came to wake you if it ever went through. They even washed lingerie and t-shirts, leaving the latter folded like fine envelopes, whiter than they ever deserved to be. They also handed out your room key with varying degrees of suspicion, charm, or ennui, and if you wanted to leave it for safekeeping, collected it when you left the floor. But allegedly, the real purpose of these hall monitors was to observe your comings and goings on behalf of the security apparatus of the Kremlin.

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