English notes by a Ukrainian woman. Part 9: “Mom’s”

At the outbreak of war, Irina Potanina, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian writer from Kharkov, moved from Ukraine to the UK to save her two sons. Now she works in a small cafe, believes in the imminent victory of her country and keeps a personal diary. By tradition, "Winter" shares excerpts from it with readers.

Irina Potanina
Irina Potanina

As soon as at work I heroically fixed the Internet, bravely overloading the router and impressing the girls-colleagues bravado, say, no, I’m not afraid to pull wires, I’m from Ukraine, I’m not afraid of anything at all … – fate decided to knock off my hubris and threw up a meeting with her.

No, not right away. First, having excused myself from the cafe for the cherished 20 minutes, I rushed after my son Igor to school. Then, after seeing the eternal “sneakers on notebooks in my backpack, a diary in my jacket pocket, an unfinished sandwich in the nooks of my gym uniform bag,” I tried to convince my child that even at six years old, people are quite capable of consciously putting their own things together (not “as pretty as possible,” but as best as possible). Then she stopped at the bench to show me exactly how to lay everything out. And there she is.

Little gray fluffy one. I guess she’s kind of cute. Shakes his whole body slightly and seems to be trying to chew off the bench leg. In a word, a mouse.

Don’t think, I love and understand animals here… I wasn’t even too surprised when, when I saw a lost dog, the English people I knew shouted: “It’s not a child! “It’s really going to get lost!” – they called the police. Or, here, for example, when a fox jumped out of the darkness, almost getting under my wheels, I didn’t honk, didn’t get indignant, but backed up and crawled away, and I still don’t drive that way, even though it pushes a fair amount of detour. No shit! Vaughn, when the deer at night under the windows of my apartment began to grunt with a terrible bass, I did not get hysterical, but only sent a text message to the owners, wondering whether our green house is not dangerous for the invasion of wild boars. And squirrels – even those that jumping from branch to branch like a toad spread their paws – are almost no longer considered crazy ….

Anyway, I’ve gotten used to my surroundings as much as possible. Or rather, I thought so until I found out there were mice. They are my trusty, longtime, strange and completely uncontrollable panic trigger.

I squealed and instantly found myself on a high parapet two meters away from the beastie. The few passersby – couples of pensioners holding hands, mothers picking up their children from school and also sorting backpacks, municipal workers rushing about their business – froze, looking at me perplexed and obviously choosing whether to help or not to trespass.
– Whoa! – My son sincerely admired my dexterity.
The mouse showered us both with a powerful wave of contempt, not even looking in our direction and continuing to go about his business.

I imagined what was happening from the outside. It’s very stupid. If I’m really that scared, why don’t I rush to save my son? If it’s not true, why am I sitting on the parapet? Trying to laugh, I suddenly burst into tears. And I realized it had nothing to do with the mouse.

It was about Andrew, of course. The recent news of his passing, I’m sure everyone-all of us-are reeling.

“Nice guy” as applied to him is not a stamp, not an ironic nothing, but an accurate and sincere characterization. He lived for those around him – familiar and unfamiliar compatriots, but for himself and his adored wife and daughter he was going to, but never had time.
He and I once worked shoulder to shoulder (or rather, comp to comp) for five years – making computer games. It was impossible to remain just colleagues with him – as soon as he relocated from his native Donetschina to Kharkiv, he became a Friend. Me and my family. So many things have been said “for life”, how many have been together around the city in discussions about new projects! He, by the way, everything he thought up at the time was later realized! To this day, the most favorite games on little Igor’s tablet are Andryukhina’s work. And even 10 years later, when communication was reduced to mutual warm, but rare congratulations on holidays, in response to strange requests, such as “the most talented artist looking for a job in multimedia, but does not know computers”, he vividly volunteered to help…. Not just me. Everyone, everyone.

And, of course, when war came, he went straight to defend us from the invaders. And he did it, judging by the reviews of his brothers, not only effectively, but also spectacularly – he inspired his colleagues (probably, just as we did in the office once), took on the most difficult tasks… And now, he was killed. Those who are not worth his little finger and probably don’t even realize the evil they are doing by obeying orders to attack a foreign country.

Once he – one of the bravest and most unflappable men in the world – thought I was his team, and now I’m disappointing him in such an idiotic way by squealing all over the street over a mouse… Of course, I can’t help sobbing.

– Here is new evidence that humans evolved from apes! – brought me back to reality by my son. I was amazed at the similarity of our thoughts, but no such luck:
– After all, there are two options for everything – either god created everything, or still “from monkeys”. But God’s not stupid enough to make girls afraid of mice, is he? That’s right!
The child gathered his own things and, approaching my parapet on the far side of the mouse, asked if I intended to come down or if I had decided to be late for work. I got off quietly. Seeing that the problem was solved, the street died down and everyone, including us, went back to their normal routines as if nothing had happened.
But it happened. I mean, it happened, it happened.

A call caught up with me at the café. No one was on the line, but the headmaster of the Igorev school himself.
– Not again! – I wanted to say when he introduced himself. In the sense that my English is not yet so pumped to easily understand everything on the phone, and I certainly do not want to get into a mess in the first conversation with the director. But my knowledge wasn’t enough for that either, so I just said hello and stated that I was very happy to hear from him.
– I wouldn’t call you, but I kind of have to,” the director informed with a slight chuckle. – Here, you see, Igor was very upset about the squirrels playing. That’s a little alarming. We think it’s best he doesn’t watch them. Is he really watching?
“Animals again! – flashed through my mind. – Squirrels fighting? Or what could have happened? And, most importantly, why did they call me?”

Out loud at that, not realizing how I should respond, I said:
– Yes, he’s a sensitive boy, but I think it’s good for him to observe real life.
I guessed that I was saying something wrong, and I didn’t even seem to understand what I was talking about. I had to ask to explain everything first, and then, not without the help of my colleagues, to whom I passed the words from the tube by consonance, I realized that I had confused sad and obsessed, and squirrel and squid. I was informed that the teachers have the impression that Igor is delighted with the series “Squid Game” and that, of course, it is not recommended for children to watch such things, and the principal has to call me to ask if Igor really watches this adult series.

– Of course not! – I rejoiced at the clarification. – It’s just that bloggers on kids youtube use the popular name to describe their children’s contests. The whole “freeze if I look at you” or “make a cookie cutter” thing is awfully popular with kids right now, but there are no hardcore games!
The fact that my “bloggers on kids’ YouTube” might sound no less awful to a school than “watching an adult series” was something I hadn’t thought of. But it seems to have worked out:
– I thought so, but I had to check,” the director said with obvious relief.
And then, in the midst of the polite “thank you for calling – thank you for answering – you’re always welcome – we’ll be in touch”, a question for my son matured in my mind.

– Igor! – I asked sternly, barely hanging up the phone. – How much interest did you have to show in “The Squid Game” for teachers to be concerned?
– It’s math! – The child eagerly explained. – Circle-triangle-square. We were given a drawing assignment, I made a business card called “Squid Games.” Well, like my pencil case. You’re the one who bought it for me last week….
– Ugh! I told the girls at work a minute later, “It’s quite a cute little penalty, who knew it would cause such a stir? – And, however, if I had known, I would have bought it anyway – it’s really interesting, convenient and the child liked it. Look at this! Wait…
At this point I realized that Igor had forgotten his pencil case on the bench outside the school.

Well, I took another day off and rushed to pick up. The pencil case lay untouched, of course, though I’d rather someone grabbed it to examine it and casually moved it elsewhere. Well, because the mouse was still scurrying around under the bench, not even trying to hide…..

I took in a full chest of air and, without breathing, began to take small steps toward my goal. Then in two giant leaps she was in the right place, grabbed the prey and, suppressing the urge to jump on the parapet again, ran away. The pencil case was recovered, and no mouse stirred.

Andryukha would probably be proud of me.

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