One of the pre-pandemic perks of my wife’s job was being the US representative at an international conference. Each year she gets to go to a different host country for a meeting on public debt. I have been fortunate to be able to travel with her on all but the first trip. I ranked the host locations here. During most of the trips, I have been invited to the welcoming cocktail party and the official dinner. All family members are invited to the social program at the end of the week. After several years of attending the conference we have developed a friendship(as much of one you can have with people you see once a year) with several of the attendees. The people we talk to the most are the representatives from Georgia and Russia. My last conversation at the conference in 201 was a discussion of Grey’s Anatomy with one of the Russian officials. Our current Russian friends are not the original representatives from the country. My first Russian friend vanished one day.
The first trip we took with her was to Helsinki. It was the only time both of our kids were able to travel with us. Finland was a great host. The city was nice and walkable. We had a great time. I felt very out of place when I attended the official dinner. It was my first time with the group and I was one of the only outsiders at the dinner. Luckily, I was seated next to a man from Russia who was close to me age and was very interested in the American presidential election that was happening at the time. He asked for my thoughts on the election . We talked about the debates. He was surprised when I said that the majority of voters decide who they will vote for before the debates and only a handful of undecideds are swayed by them, Maybe I shouldn’t admit that I discussed US elections with a Russian government official.
At the end of the conference there is always a social program. In Finland it was a bus trip out to several small towns outside of Helsinki. Each stop featured some sort of food and the last stop was at a mansion for more food and wine. It was a very good day. My Russian friend was seated on the bus in front of me. I remember noticing his phone was very cracked when he was texting on the bus. After one of the stops, he did not board the bus. He was absent for the rest of the trip. I never saw him get in another car or anything. He was just gone. My logical wife says he probably had an early flight and had to take a car back to the city to get to the airport. I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers. I decided he used the trip as a chance to defect and he disappeared to start a new life in Finland.
This trip was in September. The next conference was in May in Santiago, Chile. Most of the participants were the same. It was only 8 months since the last conference, Not a lot of time for turnover in who was representing the countries. The one big change I noticed? A new person representing Russia. My disappearing friend was not in attendance. I choose to believe that this is proof that his disappearance was not due to an early flight. He was no longer representing Russia because he was living his new life somewhere in Finland. So far, he is the only person who has mysteriously disappeared on one of the trips.