Friday, 31 July 2009
My grandmother use to tell me as often as she could that on the night I was born it was bitterly cold with hundreds of frozen Icicles, every possible size hanging firmly and attached to every building, tree, fence and ledge. I knew my memory of her would never fade... I can see her now, as she would pause in deep thought then her recurring story would continue; your laboured mother cried out your name... Nadya... she screamed... Call her Nadya, for with her birth I want there to be hope...
In my beloved Russia I was a young peasant girl. We were owned by our masters. We lived on their country estate where they continued on a daily basis to treat us badly. After many a gruelling day, in the dark evening I would collapse onto my blanket on the floor in the barn. I would silently weep, praying to die where I lay; there was no future for me, the future held nothing but fear.... It was 1856 I was 19yrs of age. My grandmother was old...very old... she was sick. I was so very worried about her dying, leaving me in this awful place. My mother had died shortly after giving birth to me; I had never met my father. My grandmother was all I had, she had brought me up, took care of me and now she was sick.
“Grandmother, are you ok” I whispered through the darkness. I could hear her breathing heavily.
“I’m fine child, now quiet” grandmother started coughing, rising from her bed slightly to grasp her water from the floor.
“I will get it for you grandmother”
“I told you child I am fine”
“Stubborn is what you are grandmother” though the darkness I could almost see her eyes smile.
“Sleep Nadya, we have to be up extra early, the master’s sons return tomorrow from the War".
I'd heard about these brothers. They had been brought up by their own grandmother, spending holidays with their parents. They had been away in the war for 4 years. In the big house I had often heard the mistress (who suffered bouts of depression) cry out, exclaiming it was a wonder her boys were alive at all. The master would lovingly embrace her, telling her warmly they were Russian men, they were strong... oddly enough this was the only sign of warmth I had seen from the master
“Goodnight Grandmother, please get well”
“Child what have I told you, do not make an elephant out of a fly” Very soon I heard her breathing a little less heavy, I closed exhausted eyes.
The night time hours sped past in a flash before I knew where I was, I found myself in the big house cleaning with strict orders to attend the kitchen at 6.00am. My grandmother was in the kitchen already. The house was alive with activity. Things were in place for the big homecoming. I was in the kitchen at 5-50am looking towards my grandmother for my duties.
"Morning Nadya how’s you today?” I turned sharply to see Varinka.
“I’m fine” Turning away with speed, I disliked Varinka so much, a strange woman, she frightened me. I looked over to my grandmother who had her eye on me.
“Varinka, go get me the sausages from the chiller” Varinka continued to stare at me.
“VARINKA, NOW” screamed my grandmother. Varinka moved slowly, her eyes still shining towards me, her movement slow and emotionless. Once she was out of earshot I gratefully rushed over to my grandmother.
“She is scary, why does she look at me like that”?
“She is a strange one this is true” The door opened slowly, Varinka appeared with the meat. I busied myself with the pots, getting out of her way was how I had lived for the past 10years, today would be no different.
“Come” grandmother cried “we must make a good impression today, the men are returning from war, the masters are content”
This was true I had never seen them so happy. Today I had not been kicked. We all continued working hard in the big kitchen anticipating the arrival of the brothers. We heard the screech of the horn from the front gate; this was our signal to prepare, meaning the men had turned into the driveway and were now on their way towards the house.
Being pulled from the kitchen by my grandmother, I was impatiently drawn to the majestic hall where we had been fiercely warned, we must stand to greet the men as they entered the house. We all stood with our hands folded across specially washed crisp white aprons.
I was shaking when I heard my grandmother utter under her breath, “lower your eyes Nadya, do not look at them” Instantly I cast my eyes downwards focusing on the rich red carpet, looking instead at the patterns of the grand design rather than risk raising my eyes in case I was thrashed. My eyes were still on the carpet as we witnessed a high pitched scream from the mistress as her boys walked through the double doors of the grand entrance.
It was so very hard to keep my eyes lowered whilst the commotion of the greeting was in progress. quite literally against my better judgement I raised my eyes in time to witness the brothers walking towards me, In slow motion I shyly made eye contact with one of them... his mother screamed, flying towards me with her hand poised to slap, flinching I cowered ready for the onslaught of her anger when against my will I automatically flicked my eyes up. I witnessed her son grab her raised hand, gently chastising her, he pulled her away from me firmly. She embraced him laughing. I sighed with relief. He looked back, nodded discreetly and I swear he was smiling.