I’m ten years old, and I live in a small village nobody’s ever heard of. There are 1200 people, including me, my mother, my father, and my sister. We all live with my father’s parents. The house is just as their grandparents built it, more than 100 years ago.
There’s a 7-minute ride to the nearest city. But it seems as far and inaccessible as Russia. One only goes there a few times a year, like before holidays, or if they need the hospital or someone dies.
My mother and father drove there today. I either forgot the reason why, or they didn’t tell me. It’s weird without them at home. Disquieting. My sister is peacefully sleeping, and my grandparents are working in the yard. I don’t quite know what I could do. I’m excited they might bring me something back, and it seems to take forever for them to return.
‘Grandma, why did they go to the city? When are they coming back?’
‘How am I supposed to know? They never tell me anything!’ she answered bitterly and annoyed.
I’m puzzled. Maybe they left me a note somewhere? Of course, they know I’d worry otherwise! I’m running inside the house to look for it. Careful not to wake up my sister. But there’s nothing to be found.
I’m purposelessly heading outside. The October wind is cold, and it reverberates painfully from the crevices. I can hear the hungry, chained dogs from every house howling; I feel like howling with them. Some crows are staring at me through the half-naked trees. It’s getting late; it will be completely dark in a few hours. That gives me a sense of urgency.
My neighbor comes to mind. She and my mom talk every day; she’s bound to know something. I’m rushing to their house. The gate is closed. I pound at the metal door, but there’s no answer. They’re not at home either. It doesn’t feel right.
I stand perplexed in the empty street. Not one familiar face to give me some comfort. I feel just as deserted. The crooked, grey houses are pressing down on me. I want to run, but I don’t know where. Tears rush to my eyes as the worst comes to mind. Something sinister must’ve happened.
I’m suddenly enlightened. There’s only one place you can look for help when something terrible happens. I’m rushing inside the house and pick up the phone.
‘Hello, Police?’; I’m trying to keep my composure and sound mature.
‘Yes, how may I help you?’
‘Please can you tell me if you had reports of an accident in the area?’; my heart is beating fast with anticipation. I’m barely hanging on to hope while catatonically waiting to hear the ‘Yes, a car crash was reported on the National road not long ago.’
‘No miss, we have no reports of any casualties. Why, what happened? Miss? Everything ok?’
I quickly hang up. A brief grinning and jumping with joy before doubts get hold of me again. ‘Of course, it can take hours for them to be alerted. They might as well be in a ditch while people pass them by without noticing. Oh God, what am I going to do? My poor sister, she has no clue we might be orphans. Please, please let them be safe. I’ll do anything. I’ll never misbehave again, please I just want to have my parents again. Why did they leave without me? At least I would’ve been dead with them. Oh, I can’t believe this is happening! They’ve never been gone for so long; I can’t just wait around like this. I have to find them!’
‘Grandma, why are they not back yet? Something must have happened. We have to find them! I miss them!’ I keep on wailing.
‘Only the Devil could have made them go wandering on a Holy day. With so much to do around the house. Now look what they’ve done; look at the sorrow they brought upon you.’
I can’t stand her coldly criticizing them while they could be in grave danger. ‘I’m going to find them myself!’ I’m sobbing and shaking while grabbing my shoes. I’m nervously trying to put them on. ‘Lock the gate!’ she yelled at my grandpa. ‘This one is capable of leaving to look for them.’
They’re forcing me inside their room. ‘Calm down; the neighbors are going to hear your yelling. They’re in God’s hands now; there’s nothing we can do about it. You only want to bring us more grief and worry, you wild brat.’
I reluctantly take a seat on their bed. I can barely hear her continuous scolding, as ghastly as the moaning wind. ‘Please God, please God, please God let them return home.’ I’m far away, trying to imagine how life is going to be from now on.
It started to drizzle; it’s cold, gusty, and pathetic outside. I feel it deeply under my skin. It’s the sort of weather in which bad things happen.
‘We need to lit the fire’; said my grandmother while leaving the room to bring the firewood. My grandfather is cracking some walnuts at the table, lost in his own thoughts. ‘I’m going to check on my sister, grandpa.’ Instead, I spring to the gate.
‘Fools, I’ve jumped this fence a thousand times.’ I’m laughing at their stupidity, heartened by the prospect I can still find and save my parents. I leap to the other side and start walking. ‘There has to be someone driving to the city. I’ll stop them and ask them to take me on. Otherwise, I’ll just walk there myself.’
There are lit lights and fires in every house along the road. I imagine all the families cheerfully gathered around the dinner table. It feels like long-forgotten happiness. For how long have I been walking? The cold evening suddenly hit me like a fierce slap. I realize I still have my house shoes on and no jacket. It’s getting darker and chiller with every step I take. An old, creepy guy in front of a house stares at me, bewildered. He calls me by my family nickname. I quickly turn around, pretending not to hear him. ‘Maybe I should go back to get my shoes and a coat. I won’t be able to get far like this.’
I run like crazy to the house. The gate is still locked; they didn’t even notice I was gone. With a sigh of relief, I realize how frightened I really am. Frightened, defeated, and powerless. I jump back inside.
I sneak into our room and hug my sister. I start crying, and she starts crying with me, not even knowing why. ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…’ I keep repeating while pressing her to my chest.
The phone is ringing. I slip from the numb surrender like I’ve been set on fire. ‘Mommy?’ ‘Sweety, what are you doing? Are you crying? I hope you didn’t worry about us. The car broke down, but I managed to find a nearby farm with a phone. It’s gonna take a bit longer to fix it, but we’ll be home in a couple of hours.’
I want to curse her and make her suffer for my pain, but I’m too happy. I collapse with relief. I start singing and playing stupid games with my sister, forgetting about anything else. I’m ten again, without a care in the world.