A friend of mine is a teacher and writer, born in Uzbekistan, recently moved to Kaliningrad. She writes on Facebook, and here is one of her pieces. It’s been a while since I did any translation, and this marks an intention to do it more regularly.
This year I found myself tutoring an 11yr old girl called Vika. Or Victory, as her mum called her. An only child; her father was a quiet man while her mum was severe and business-like. A woman who worked long and hard for what she had. My conversations with her did not extend beyond her daughter’s progress in Russian.
Once, on my way to tutor Vika, she texted me:
“Alyona Igorevna, would you be able to come 15 minutes later than usual, our little scholar is running a little behind.”
“Of course” I replied, “I’ll pop into a couple of shops and be there in 30, I’ll let her catch her breath.”
I easily forgave Vika’s mum’s single mindedness; once at the end of term she raised my pay without prompt or request.
Vika was both spoilt and hardworking.
She attended a Cadet school, went ballroom dancing and studied English. Following a poor result at a recent dance competition, she told me, bitterly, how it was her partner’s fault. “You see, it’s his job to count properly, my job is to keep my back straight and smile.” At that she pushed her shoulders backwards and a beaming smile appeared on her face. In the end they came second to last. “Well you weren’t last!” I try and console her. “Some 40yr old amateurs took last place” she grumbled, before breaking out into laughter.
Vika had a rabbit, two hamsters and a big parrot.
The parrot lived in a cage above the door. It had been brought over from Cuba more than 20 years ago. Vika was certain that its life was much better than before, it had a big cage after all. As Vika got to grips with prefixes, vowels in word stems, and commas I would often sit and watch that parrot. Sometimes he would chew on the bars of his cage, other times he would simply sit on his perch. Once he let out a shriek so strange that I sent Vika to fetch her dad. He calmed me down and assured me it was normal. Usually, as I sat watching, I would think about why that particular parrot, out of all his brethren, was fated to live for so long in a rainy city, indoors, forgetting how to fly. Why him?
Every lesson Vika did her best to distract me.
Once she suddenly declared: “The child lacks attention, no-one talks to it and no-one loves it.”
“What are you talking about?” I replied. “Your parents adore you, everything in this family revolves around you!”
“But no-one talks to me! They only ask what time I got home, what grades I got and what I’ve eaten.” Vika pursed her lips and looked up at the ceiling.
“What do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know, my friends or something!”
“Vika, you have to remember that us adults often forget that you need more attention. You have to remind us. Go and tell your mum that you want to tell her something important.”
“She’ll say ‘later’.”
“Alright, go later, say that you want to talk.”
“She’ll just ask if I’ve done my homework, or she’ll say ‘in the evening’.”
“Okay, go in the evening.”
“But she’s cooking then!”
“So? Sit next to her.”
At this Vika put on a ‘grown up’ face and shouted in her mum’s voice. “Volooooooood! She’s in my way!”
It was a good likeness and we both burst out laughing.
I liked working with Vika.
She was sharp, able to focus and she had a strong sense of (self) irony. Not to mention that she owned every possible toy or gadget you could imagine; a new one appeared every week. And I, for some reason, couldn’t help but investigate each new addition.
In July I was scrolling through my newsfeed when I saw that there had been a fire in Vika’s building. A 10th floor flat had been gutted by flames. My jaw dropped: “That’s right by Vika!”
Then I saw a photo from another angle and realised that smoke was pouring out of the very room that I taught Vika in. Out of the room the parrot lived in. I began looking for more information, reassuring myself that I was mistaken, but no…
‘Members of the fire brigade found a live rabbit in its cage on the balcony. Inside the flat they uncovered the remains of a Macaw Parrot.’
Vika’s mum was severe and business-like. The fire will probably make her even more so.
But what will it make of Vika?