by Anastasia K.
AI GENERATED IMAGE
The phone rang. My friend happily informed me she had booked a ticket for an archery lesson for us. Could I imagine then that this story would not leave me for more than ten years? The first time I went to the shooting range and picked up the bow I couldn’t hit the target. It was a challenge. It forced me to change my job to get a bigger salary. The reason was simple - I needed my own bow and arrows. Can you imagine how excited I was when I met my bow for the first time? It had a deep red coloured handle with bright lighting. Even after years together every time I take it in my hand it feels amazing. I hold it with awe and reverence. It feels like I’m able to touch something beyond reality. My bow is a part of me. I bought not only a bow but an invitation to an adventurous life. I met amazing people. I miss my bow, the shooting range, and my people. This was my little personal holiday - archery training. It excites, inspires, makes the heart flutter (like the feeling before a first date), but right up until the moment of holding the bow in my hand and making the step up to the line. Only then comes the feeling that everything is as it’s supposed to be. After years of practice, I was good enough to hit a coin from eighteen metres and a small apple from fifty metres. In February 2022 when everyone was talking about what we should do in case of a Russian invasion, my archers joked we would take our bows and arrows and stand against them. My bow is still in Ukraine. My archers are fighting, working for our victory, and volunteering. I hope one day we will all meet in an archery championship in a peaceful motherland. * It was one of these windy winter days although my phone reminds me that it was the beginning of April. I’m not sure when the winter will end. It was my first time near the seaside in Ireland. The wind was strong and cold. I couldn’t hear my companions. My 4-year-old daughter was running across the beach gathering shells and playing catch up with her granny. I looked back to the sea. The wind sounded in my ears like... maybe you remember these old cinemas? After the movie’s ending you could hear a specific sound of film flapping in an old projector. The wind with the sea sounded the same way. It felt like it was thousands of metres of water above me. Something ends...All the other people are far away from me. I am far away from me. * Do you remember the summer of 2020? You were moving by bus to your new flat to paint walls. You were crying because of the news - Russian planes were gathered near the border. So, all these efforts to rebuild your life, to make a nest for your little birdie made no sense, did they? You were afraid that you won’t be able to live in your own flat because of Russians. You were almost right. You will be living in it for one year and a half. * Doorbell. Parcel from Ukraine. I open it carefully. Books. Mine. In Ukrainian. I hug them. I take it quietly to my room because the house is still sleeping. They are covered in dust. Or in ash? I wipe them carefully with a damp cloth. A drop fell on the cover. I put it on the table. Am I crying? It’s more comfortable with them. Not so homeless. But there are so few of them. Hundreds stayed at home. But you can’t take a lot of books with you if you can take only one backpack. I’m reading about the history of creation. I’m listening to the audio guide on the phone. I’m looking at the materials from which paints were made. Amazing colours. I’m looking at the pages of the Book of Kells. It’s incredible. How could it survive all these centuries? But what’s next? I leave the darkened room, climb the stairs. I take the first step to the next hall. And it’s like I can’t breathe for a minute. How to put it into words? I wasn’t ready. Not for everything that happened. Tears blur everything. Books were my first serious feeling and have become a lifelong romance.
I remember the exact moment in childhood when I understood that I could read. It changed everything. I was often with a book. We returned from school and university together. I read in lessons and instead of homework (the only exceptions were Maths and Physics), in transport, with a flashlight under the blanket and instead of sleeping. Once I even forgot the date because the book was so fascinating. When I visited the book market in Kyiv for the first time in the summer before my last year at school, I couldn’t believe such a place could exist. There were so many books! I walked through the rows, looked at the covers, read the annotations, inhaled the smell of books and printed ink. I lost track of time.
Since then, I’ve returned again and again. It was my place of pilgrimage, Ali Baba’s cave, my hunting ground, a wonderland.
A book is a door to another world and life. Books are full of magic. And I know what she is like by touch and smell. Books save and protect, share knowledge and power.
AI GENERATED IMAGE
When I was a child, I dreamt of being a librarian. I worked all summer between the third and fourth year of university. And having quit on my birthday three days before the beginning of autumn, I divided my salary into three parts - I bought a phone for my mother and clothes for my brother. And I unleashed myself onto the book market. I bought everything I could take with me. The last seller put the last book in my bag, took money from the wallet by himself and put the change there by himself again. I didn’t have a single free finger. And I was happy.
During my school years, I came to the only bookstore in the city to look at books, flip through the pages, and read annotations. I visited the city and school libraries every week. The ability to buy books, new ones any that you want and as many as you want was an indicator of prosperity and freedom.
And then I got a very serious reason to buy children’s books - I was pregnant. Before I felt the first movements of the baby, several children’s books appeared on the shelf. And by the time we met, my birdie (in Ukrainian - Пташеня (Ptashenia)) already had her own library! We attended the biggest book events in Ukraine when she was only six months old, then the Book Arsenal and Book Forum when she was ten months old. I jokingly said that if this child does not like books, I will be forced to give birth to another one. However, my fears were in vain. The Ptashenia exceeded all my expectations (and not only those related to books). There were hundreds of them at home. They stood on the shelves, on the windowsill, on the floor, in the kitchen, in the nursery and next to the bed. I’m back at work after maternity leave and have added a lot to my book collection from that last autumn of my past life. I planned to spend the summer on the windowsill of a large window in the company of books. This exact summer that was taken from us.
When the morning of the 24th began with calls from relatives and explosions and when it became clear I needed to quickly pack things and carry as much as I could myself, I drank a sedative for the first time in my life and said that I would return, if necessary, on foot. During the week when we were driving farther and farther from home to the west, I tried not to think that it would be for a long time. The only book that my 4-year-old daughter took with her, because I asked her to take only one, was about the dog Lada, who helped military personnel undergo rehabilitation.
For the first six months in Ireland, I cried every time I entered a bookstore or passed by a showcase with books. I couldn’t read and was only able to again six months after the day I left my home. And there, in the library of Trinity College, thousands of kilometres away from home I tried not to cry and could not stop the tears. It was so incredibly beautiful that there are not enough words to describe it. And at the same time, it was incredibly sad to be here, to be among books, among stories and not have the opportunity to immerse yourself in them.
My English doesn’t allow me to read without a dictionary. And where I swallowed a book in my native language overnight, here I need months. And this moment of time and space so vividly emphasised how lonely I was in a crowd of people. What’s worse, I was alone amongst the books. What am I without them? Without my bow and my books? Without my people?