This is a true tale of an elderly woman, the KGB security police, and a chocolate waffle cake.
It is a short episode, but like so many of its kind, tells much about the shape of life in this nation of 263 million. The woman shall remain nameless at her request, and she never asked the names of the agents, on what is accepted here as the sound theory that they would not have given their proper names anyway.
The events began Sunday morning, when the woman climbed aboard an Aeroflot plane at Moscow's Domodedyevo Airport and headed for Gorki, 250 miles to the east, bearing the cake for her friend, Andrei Sakharov.
When she arrived in the provincial city of his exile, she got a taxi and gave the driver her destination several miles away: Scherbinfi No. 2, Prospekt Gagarina, building No. 213, flat No. 2. The cab went a short distance and was stopped. A uniformed policeman ordered her out of the car, took her internal passport and ushered her into a station house.
"We're already been waiting 15 minutes for you," he announced.
She sat for 90 minutes in a small room, and at last a tall man wearing the latest in well-made clothes entered the room with another official. The tall man got right to the point.
"Why did you come to see Sakharov?"
"To spend some time with them [Sakharov and his wife] and bring him this chocolate waffle cake."
The official pondered this for a moment, then said. "I can't believe that a 70-year-old woman would fly here from Moscow just to give someone a cake." He shook his head in wonder. "You've brought us a mystery."
"I'm very sorry for you," replied the woman. "You don't know the meaning of love. People honor men of genius. They honor and love Sakharov."
"It's a mystery to me why you would come only to give him a cake," the man repeated. "How do you want to go back home?"
"I don't want to," said the woman. "I also want to see Elena Gregorievna [Sakharov's wife]. She's not under the terms of exile. I'll take the cake to her."
"No. You'll be able to see her in Moscow," said the well-dressed official politely. "Do you want to take the train or the plane back"?
"I'd like to see a little of Gorki first."
"I'll drive you around myself."
"I'd rather go on two feet."
"You can see it from the windows of my car," he replied. "You can send me out on a plane or a train," the woman said as she conceded -- partly. "But when the ice is out of the river in the summer, boaters are coming to Gorki. They will carry too many people for you to count. There is no holding back all those who will come here to see him."
The official made no reply, but sat glumly. Then he agreed to deliver the chocolate waffle cake himself and allowed her to write a note for the Sakharovs to go with it.
"You can't say we've been unpleasant to you," he remarked.
"No," she said, "You've only stopped me from doing what I wanted."
She was sent back to the airport under escort to wait for the next flight to Moscow. The KGB bought her ticket, since she refused. "You've spoiled our Sunday," the plainclothes guard said reprovingly.
"And you've spoiled mine," she replied.
The next day a telegram from Sakharov's wife arrived at the elderly woman's Moscow home. "We're sadly eating the cake without you," she wrote.
"This isn't exile and it isn't prison," said the elderly woman. "It's called house arrest in any other country."