by Nika K.
AI GENERATED IMAGE
On a winter morning after Christmas five-year-old me looked out the kitchen window, waiting for a miracle and an adventure. Most Ukrainians live by a slightly different calendar than the rest of the world, so our Christmas falls on January 7th. The view and weather seemed like a fairy tale - the snow-covered street was blanketed in silence, broken only by the occasional crunch of footsteps on the frozen ground. The sky was a pale shade of blue, casting an icy hue over the world. As the sun began to rise, its rays illuminated the crystals of snow, casting a warm golden glow over the scene. The once grey-and-white landscape now glimmered like diamonds. Tall, frosted trees rose from the snow, their branches heavy with the weight of snowflakes. The soft, fluffy drifts reached up to the bottoms of windowsills and the roofs of the houses were crowned with peaks of snow, like icing on a cake. The snow had transformed the usually busy street into a winter wonderland, hushing the sounds of traffic and commerce, leaving only the peaceful stillness of a fresh blanket of snow. The only evidence of life on this sunny winter morning was snowbirds at our feeder. I adored big holidays because we gathered as a family at my grandmother’s house, and my two older cousins, Vanya and Igor, whom I loved very much, were there. I couldn’t wait for them to come to us for the holidays, to spend the night together in a living room near a fragrant Christmas tree on a long sofa that started from one wall and ended on the opposite. In the evenings after a delicious kutia*, they liked to arrange checkers tournaments or play cards. When our grandparents told us to go to bed, we played word games until someone ran out of vocabulary or fell asleep in the middle of a word. Perhaps no one would have disturbed that morning peace, except me and my cousins. That morning, my cousins were in a hurry. I remember my mother going to work. All three tried to get me to pull on my fancy blue jumpsuit. In parting, she said to us, “Dress warmly, boys and girls, it’s sunny outside, but it’s cold. And don’t walk for a long time, agreed?” “AHA!” was the response. When we said goodbye, she kissed me tenderly on the cheek and I gave her the strongest hug I could give with my little hands. Igor ran as hard as he could to the garage for the sledge. Vanya shouted, “Hurry, Hurry, we’re going to be late!” “Yes, we’re late,” shouted Igor. “Wait for me,” I shouted breathlessly, because it’s not so easy to move in a spacesuit on ice. I was not the only one waiting for my cousins to arrive. They made a real sensation with their appearance. All the girls were chasing them, especially Vanya, because he was more agile. He was the middle older cousin who had been a professional freestyle skier since early childhood. He was the one who could do somersaults and spin three times while flying and then successfully land on his feet, so in dangerous situations he was like a fish in water. While, on the contrary, Igor was that guy who could stand in the library all day, read whole books twice and be asked to leave the hall, because it was already closed five minutes ago. Although there was a difference of about eight years between us, somehow, I felt like I was one of them. The throng was waiting for us behind the neighbouring house, where their parents couldn’t control them. When my cousins appeared on the horizon, they all joyfully shouted, “Oh, what people have come to us, the Khomenkos.” While I was sitting in the sleigh, I watched how everyone greeted each other with friendly hugs and handshakes, the way they tried to get attention. Then they all together stood in a circle and began to quietly discuss something for so long. Then Vanya turned and asked me, “Are you sure that you really want to go with us?” I said yes, of course, I did. Igor, “Maybe you want to stay and watch cartoons?” I pretended that it didn’t interest me at all. They slowly asked,
“Are you sure?” “YES.” I was more than sure. My cousins looked at each other and half-heartedly agreed. Victory! I felt like I was one of them. Usually, at such moments, we had to warn our parents if we were going somewhere. At that time nobody had a mobile phone, some people had only landline phones at home, so there was no option to warn our grandma. But this time, we were free... Vanya was the first to descend on the ice, nobly as if he rode a snowboard on an inclined wall. Everyone immediately wanted to follow him but began to fall when they could not keep their balance. Real chaos began and everyone fooled around. Boys began to play snowballs not for survival, but for death. Other guys played catch-up while falling on the ice. Shocked by the mess that was happening around me, I sat politely on the sledge and watched how the snow reflected the sun’s rays and ice began to crackle under my feet. I was so scared. No one responded to my requests to leave the rink and go home; my brothers were too engrossed in the game. They forgot about me altogether. Then I realised I had to run away. Like a penguin, I tried to climb the high fence of the dam. For me, this wall seemed like Mount Everest. I sped up, jumped on it, and slipped again and again until some girls pulled me out. Our adventures didn’t end there, the team decided that they had got too little adrenaline and we all went sledding down the slope behind the church, which was on the other side of the district. The day dragged on. We returned at around seven o’clock, I don’t remember exactly. And what are five hours during the winter? This night was dark. My mother was driving and patrolling the streets and grandmother had already woken up all the neighbours. And here we were, returning heroes. Mum brought us a whole pack of “Rastishka” yoghurts from Danone, small cookies with dinosaurs and magnets that we collected were always glued to the pack. Lowering our heads, we listened to her menacing monologue. We held back our tears as best we could, but the bitterness mixed with the taste of vanilla in our mouths, made us want to throw those dinos back into the pack. Finally, my mom finished with the phrase, “Don’t you understand that I love you all? Will you promise that this will never happen again?” We silently looked at each other and nodded while gulping down yoghurt. However, Vanya’s eyes read, “It’s only just beginning.”