The Dubrovka Theatre was a very large windowless theatre with many rows of red seats in front of a great stage still set up for the second act of Nord-Ost, a musical based on the novel The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin. It was a pity that the play was interrupted in such a manner. I would have loved to see the end of it before facing my probable demise.
It came as a shock to the entire audience that the Chechens finally selected some hostages to release the following morning: a few children, some Muslims and two pregnant women. This was one of the brief moments in life when I really would not have minded being a doe-eyed child. Or pregnant woman, for that matter. But soon after, something profound occurred which made me forget all about the freed hostages.
A young woman staggered into the auditorium. We all turned to look.
The gunmen crowded at the entrance, shouting at her, “How did you get through?”
Barayev took hold of her arms and tried to subdue her. She pushed him aside.
“Get out!” she said boldly and turned to the audience. “What are you all so afraid of? He’s just a clown. This is all a big farce!”
Then I thought, Yes, why am I just sitting here? Why don’t we do something? What are we afraid of? We were fiddling while Rome was burning. But then I remembered the women with their bomb-belts, and that stopped me. One mistake and we’d all be dead.
One of the gunmen on the balcony shouted down to another Chechen, “Enough, I’m sick of this. Kill her.”
“Don’t shoot her! Can’t you see she’s drunk?” an audience member exclaimed.
“We know your tricks. She’s a spy.” One of the gunmen shoved her through the side doors and then fired his Kalashnikov three times. When he re-entered the auditorium, he closed the doors behind him and resumed his post by the fire exit. Everyone was shaking in their seats so much that the entire row of seats shook with them. A dreadful, deep silence fell over the auditorium.