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April 26, 1986
Inspired by my own family and events that happened within ourselves because part of my family is from USSR-era Belarus.
“Sonyachka, wake up!” Irina told her niece who was still napping in her seat.
Sonya slowly began to open her eyes, blinking as her vision came to focus. She looked around, at her aunt, the dark brown wooden bench she was sitting on, and her immediate surroundings.
“I should not have let you sleep for so long, our train is about to open its doors. Get your stuff, we need to run.”
Sonya put her hands on her head to see if she still had her hat on, and to adjust it back to where it should be. She looked down, straightened her shirt, and grabbed her large, satchel-esque bag from under her seat. The back side, handle, and top half on the front side before the clasps, were colored in a solid, bright red. The bottom half on the front was orange, with a drawing of Zayats and Volk from Nu, Pogodi! (RUS/ENG: Заяц/Hare and Волк/Wolf from Ну, погоди!/Well, Just You Wait!). She got up and put the dark brown strap on her left shoulder.
“So where do we go Ira?”, asked Sonya.
“Let me first check you didn’t forget anything.”
Irina scanned the bench and under it then looked Sonya up and down.
“Are you sure you have all your stuff?”
“Yes Ira.” Sonya replied with slight agitation.
“Okay, ok, no need to get angry… sigh Anyways, our train is on the right side of this platform, it’s the blue one. I already see people lined up, we need to get a good seat, one where we can be together.”
They quickly walked to the line, the eighth group there. The doors to the train still have not opened.
“Sonyachka are you cold?”
“I’m a little chilly but I’m fine, it’s just night time right now.”
“I can give you my jacket if you want.”
“No I’m fine, it’s almost May, tomorrow when we’ll be walking around it’s gonna be warm.”
“Alright, but don’t go and tell your mom that you were cold and I didn’t help you.”
“You know I wouldn’t do that Ira.”
“I know you wouldn't, but I have to keep myself safe. I know your mom, my sister, very well. She is a nice lady but when she gets angry, she can be just a little scary.”
Sonya laughed through her nose. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Listen here popa— (попа/booty)”
The train set off its horn, the doors opened, and the line began to walk inside. Irina and Sonya sat down on opposing, booth-style seats that were in a brownish-burgundy, cheap leather. In between was a table covered in a checkered, dark blue and green cloth. The whole cart had two rows of these booths and tables, with a middle gap for people to walk through. Each section also had a window with a beige curtain and black dots all over. The walls were in a light brown wood, and the ceilings a shiny white.
“Ira, how come the conductor didn’t check our tickets?”
“They don’t check until later, when we are already moving.”
“And what happens if you don’t have a ticket?”
“Well, I think your dad’s sister Galina would know, you should ask her.” Irina replied, ending with a smirk.
Sonya sighed. “I don’t know what I expected” she thought to herself. Sonya took out a brown paper parcel wrapped in string from her satchel bag which she usually carries to school, and then stowed that bag away above them. She untied the string and the first thing she looked at was the note on top of different foods. Sonya unfolded the note which read,
I hope you will enjoy your trip to Kiev with Ira, I wish you luck, happiness, and safety. I know this is not your first time being away from home, it’s only for a few days, and you have Ira with you, but I can’t help but get worried anyways! I’m going to be all alone! My best friend: gone! Don’t forget me while you’re having fun. Anyways, I packed dinner for you and Ira to share, don’t eat alone, this is for both of you. And I saved up a little money so you can do a bit of shopping, and so that Ira doesn’t have to spend all her money on you, okay? Don’t be stingy.
Have a great trip,
Sonya put the note to the side and took a deep breath, staring at an empty part of the table for a few moments. She then laid out the food: six hard-boiled eggs, some baked chicken breast, half of a dark brown, brodinsky loaf of bread, two butter knives, two forks, and a few napkins. Then there was an envelope containing 30 rubles which Sonya put in her jacket pocket.
“Ira, Mama packed dinner for us.”
“I’m okay, you can have all the food.”
“But Mama wrote right here that it’s for us to share.”
Sonya held up the note, with her finger at the line where her mother wrote that.
“And I can’t finish this all by myself you know.”
“Fine Sonya, I’m just not hungry yet, I’ll wait until they come around with tea and actually, about that, do you know what time it is now?
Sonya looked around the cabin, dimly-lit by yellow lights, and saw an analog clock above one of the doors at the ends.
“About 8:30 PM.”
Around an hour later, the train was already moving, and Sonya and Irina were both done eating and drinking their teas.
“So what is there to do in Kiev?” asked Sonya.
“There are lots of gorgeous, you know, museums, monuments, churches, some nice stores, you can get chocolate-covered salo even! I haven’t been there in many years so it’s going to be new for both of us.” Irina replied.
“Wow, chocolate salo! Who doesn’t love some salted pig fat covered in chocolate…”
“Yeah… but look, it’s just good to step outside of Gomel and see something new. You’ll be going to college soon and you may not even want to stay in Belarus! We can talk more later, but right now we should be going to sleep. This trip is around six hours, probably five left, so we need some rest. Spokoynoy Nochi (Спокойной ночи/Good night).”
“Spokoynoy Nochi.” Sonya replied.
The two fell asleep, lying down in the booths, white blankets on top of them with a stamp indicating the name of the train’s company, Soviet Railways. Around four hours later, the whole cart shook, waking up all the passengers.
“Irina, what was that? It felt like a small earthquake, but do those even happen in Ukraine?”
“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about Sonya, just go back to sleep.”
Sonya glanced one last time at the analog clock which read 1:35 A.M., before closing her eyes and trying to go back to sleep. She wasn’t successful, as she would open her eyes occasionally, or toss and turn in the limited space she had. Something was amiss…