by Mykola Rudyk
Translated by Vera Malanczyj
I was running quickly through the village. I could hear shouts behind me. An angry mob of boys was trying to catch me, but I could run faster than they. I couldn't even feel my legs. I had to get away because if they caught up to me, they would kill me. Of this, I was certain! A neighbour would kill a neighbour for a morsel of bread... Such were the times.
I raced across the clearing into a small wooded area. I could no longer hear the shouting. Here I would hide and rest.
Once I had played ball with these boys: in the winter, we had tobogganed down the hill together; in the summer, we had gone fishing in the river. Those had been good times! But I didn't want to dwell on them. I had to find my mother.
After a short rest, I set out to look for her. My poor mother! She has lost everything. Once we lived in a nice white cottage. We had a large piece of land. My mother worked very hard on it. It had once been my grandfather's farm. When my mother and father got married, they lived with my grandfather. I was born in that cottage. We were surrounded by good neighhours.
Then one day trucks filled with police arrived. None of us could understand why, or for what they had come. They went from door to door carrying out provisions at a time when winter was fast approaching. We were left with nothing. This was the beginning of terrible times for us all.
I returned to the road and thought about my stolen bread. I had never stolen before. Will God punish me for this?
I found my mother. She was sitting under a tree, dozing. She looked so pale and so weak. I didn't know how I could help her. My father always knew how to calm her down. I missed him so. We didn't know what had happened to him. He had kept lashing out vehemently at the policemen as they were taking away our provisions. Finally he and Grandfather were arrested together with other neighbours who, likewise, attempted to defend their homes. They made the oblast staff headquarters in our house.
I knelt down beside my mother. I placed my hand on her forehead. The poor dear had a high temperature. Her lips were parched; her cheeks were sunken.
"Mother, I've brought you some bread. You must eat!"
"Thank you, my son. You eat. You find yourself some food. For me, Mykoltsiu, it's too late. I love you, my child, but I won't live much longer. This winter has brought me to my end. Take care of yourself. Try to find some good people to help you. I'm sure they're to be found. And always remember who you are, where your roots lie. Never forget that."
"Sure, Mother, I'll never forget. You rest. Don't try to talk."
I was angry at myself for being unable to help her. There she was lying on the bare ground, sick, hungry, cold, while our house was being occupied by communists. I had to seek revenge. I had to punish the evildoers.
I lay down beside my mother and fell asleep. I awoke very early. She was already dead.
Despondently I dug a shallow grave and buried my mother in it. Now she was no longer suffering but resting peacefully.
That same night I returned to my village. For a long time I sat in the bushes and stared at our house. I was watching carefully. Suddenly I saw that one of the policemen was going outside for a smoke. He didn't notice when his matches fell out of his pocket. At that moment, I knew what I had to do. I took the matches, gathered some brushwood, and hid in back of the house. There I lit a fire and ran away into the fields. I watched from a distance, as our house burned.
* * *
Somehow I survived those days. My mother had been right. I wandered around for a few days until I found a family that helped me. And I kept my word. I have never forgotten who I am and where my roots lie. I'll never forget those terrible days. Every Sunday in church, I light one candle and pray that God never lets anyone suffer like my mother did.