Edward Cowley experienced his own version of 'From Russia With Love' - in a dowdy post office in the sticks
A dull, rural post office stuck in the wilds of some dreary Russian backwater seems an unlikely venue for a passionate, clandestine love affair. But on a grey, quiet afternoon during the spring thaw I stepped out of my house to post some letters home. And then I saw Margarita standing behind the stamp counter. I was stunned by her beauty. My heart missed a beat and I just managed to say: "Two stamps to England, please." But behind the words were meanings far more profound. She seemed interested in me. I told her where I lived and what I was doing in Russia. Now I knew the Cold War was well and truly over.

Back in my house, I thought long and hard. I was certain that this coincidental meeting meant something. Fate had driven us together from separate parts of the globe like two lovers lost in a wilderness. But what could I actually do about it? The answer came to me in a flash: write another letter and get round to the post office straightaway. In fact, why just one? why not 10 letters? I spent three days writing drivel to people I didn't even like, people I didn't even know, just so I could walk into the post office again and stare into my loved one's eyes.

But this wasn't enough. Somehow I had to get over the barrier that I was merely a customer. I decided upon a note - written in Russian. The mode of communication seemed apt. After all, this was a post office.

Thus began a precarious routine of phone calls and meetings. Margarita used to sneak me into the post office during her lunch break. We could never meet after work as this was when her fiance collected her, and I couldn't visit her at home because she lived in a one-bedroom flat with her mother, grandmother and an alcoholic brother. At this time, my Russian was fairly poor and she spoke no English.

I was besotted, she was amused. I couldn't help it: I asked her to marry me and come and live in England. Now, for a 19-year-old gap-year student with a university career ahead, this was clearly preposterous. Boozy nights in the union bar would be an impossibility with a wife, and possibly a baby too. Going to university at all would be almost out of the question. And what about my middle-class parents? "Hello, mum, I'm home early and er ... this is my new wife."

Thankfully, Margarita could see the absurdity of it all. I was a student from England, she was a provincial Russian girl who was happy to spend the rest of her life in her home town. However, was it not that very incompatibility that attracted us to one another in the first place, and made it all so intense?

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