English notes by a Ukrainian woman. Part 10: “….”

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. Excerpts from it "Winter" traditionally shared with readers. This one - the last one - is about the present, about hope, and about the future.

Irina Potanina
Irina Potanina

How does an optimist imagine the process of closing a cafe in the evening? Gamblingly crunching large bills and happily reading the terminal’s report, counting the proceeds. Carelessly brush the crumbs left from sold-out cakes off the mirrored shelves. Using special compounds and brushes to elegantly clean the coffee machine. Charm late visitors, say, sorry, already sent a report to the financial department and can not take you, but tomorrow – tell me what soup you like, and I will add it to the order, which is just now preparing for the kitchen!…

The pessimist sees things differently. Total cleansing – where the dishwasher or mop can’t cope, we mop by hand. Dragging inventory into storage – tables always turn into heavy tables by evening, and the number of tables is close to infinity. And, finally, my favorite – carrying huge garbage bags to the city’s cluster of bins, among which yours, of course, stands at the very end, and the risk of fainting from the surrounding stench grows with every second…

In fact, we do both and a ton of other things. All of us here, apart from our main duties, are a little bit accountants, a little bit marketers, as well as movers, cleaners and bureaucrats maniacally filling tables with refrigerator temperatures that most likely no one will ever check. If I ever start my own business, no matter what industry it’s in, former cafe employees will be prioritized as part of the team. Preferably ours, because the notes of noble madness, which distinguish us from other establishments, have not yet prevented anyone.

Anyway, it’s C time and we’re getting ready to close.

I’m in no hurry to empty the display case, as one of the regulars hasn’t stopped by yet. The beautiful Alexa. Stylish, colorful, and despite, to put it mildly, a respectable age, always incredibly energetic.

– My grandson has a talking speaker at home. It’s called Siri. He bought me one just like it and named it after me. It feels so good! – she used to tell me. That’s how we learned its name, still not figuring out if she was joking or really doesn’t know that the speaker was named by another manufacturer.

Alexa walks to us from afar. Always in the evenings, always with a baby stroller carrying her favorite doggie. For several months now, the doggie has been about to die of old age and refuses to eat. It’s only the sausages from our cafe that bring her back to life. I don’t know why Alexa doesn’t buy up all the sausages at once in bulk, I don’t know why the doggie won’t settle for other food, but I am humbled every night when this couple stops by with stories about how hard it was for them to get to us and how glad they are that we’re not closed yet.

Two sausages to the dog (finely chopped, slightly warmed), and the hostess a latte in a glass glass and… a cigarette. Alexa only allows herself one cigarette a day, and she hides her smoking from her children and grandchildren, so she keeps the pack with us.

– Whew, I think we made it! – Behind my thoughts of Alexa, I managed to miss the moment she came in and didn’t even open the other half of the door for the stroller. Meanwhile, it’s Alexa who is vital to me right now: I’ve prepared a joke, and our barista, the colorful Brazilian Pedro, and I have a bet on whether most of today’s customers will appreciate it.

– Do you want sugar in your latte? – I wondered.
– No, you don’t! The usual: no sugar,” she startles.
– No brown sugar or no white sugar? – I ask nonchalantly.
Alexa understands. He says, “No sugar, please, no sugar,” and the two of us chortle with delight.

I check a box on my list, and state that the argument ended in a draw.
But Pedro wouldn’t be himself if he stopped there.
– It’s a nightmare! – He informs me with annoyance, – Leak under the dishwasher in the kitchen. The chief told us to be done in half an hour, we’re in a hurry, and this…
Washing all the pots and pans? Dealing with the aftermath of the flood? Oh, no! I drop everything and run downstairs with a twisted face in the ridiculous hope of fixing something. And I see… A lone bunch of leeks nestled incongruously under our dishwasher. There it is, English humor!

Okay, my knowledge of the language is already enough to realize that leak (leak) and leek (leek) sound the same, and the prank, in general, is beautiful.

Pedro chuckled, watching my reaction. I show him my fist, but I smile too.
So, combining hard work, jokes and jokes, we complete our work day.

– See you tomorrow! Good job,” we bow as we close the doors.
– Did you get us cheese envelopes? – shouts at the same moment the youngest son from the neighboring bench.

He flatly refuses to go into the cafe because you can’t make noise there, which means you can’t record videos of our lives on your tablet and chat with Daddy. Usually Igor waits for me outside alone, but today is a special Friday: my eldest son has a break from school and has a chance to be with us. Which, of course, solves a lot of problems in my life.

For one thing, I’m terribly worried about him, and now the anxiety-filled painful black hole called “How’s Ivan doing?” will evaporate for a while. Secondly, dragging half an hour uphill on the bike to get to our nice attic, I will now only be able to myself, and the bike with a child seat and Igorha will be given to Ivan. Third, while I make dinner, the older one will do homework with the younger one. Our kind landlords always offer to use their kitchen, but I try not to bother anyone and have learned to cook anything with the microwave. So the kids will be doing their homework right in front of me. Near, but by ourselves is a marvelous happiness. Sometimes I even wish we had already found a separate apartment to rent and would be moving soon. Fourth, I just really missed him. Both as a son, and as a friend with whom you are forever on the same page, and so many experiences together that you can discuss anything.

For example, the starry sky during the obligatory pre-sleep walk includes in both of us a memory of how, long ago, the city child Igoresha, on a foray into a beautiful Ukrainian summer night, first saw a blinking star and shouted: “Look, the star is loading!” And immediately, without collusion, we both remembered how, in the first days of the war, we got out of the car at night to stretch our legs and, seeing huge bright shooting stars, began to make wishes, only later realizing that they were missiles flying at cities in the distance. We mention the first one out loud to make Igor laugh, and the second one we silently glance at each other so as not to aggravate the situation. And that shared and meaningful silence is actually worth a lot.

– I’ll finish my tale today,” I toss to the older man in between as I pull up alongside their bike. Well, why? You gotta come clean at some point. – And it will be the least favorite, most wrong and sad ending my books have ever had.
– You’re a writer, Mom! – Ivan wonders. – Don’t you decide how and when your story ends?
– Alas… I wish I could have done it differently, but time is up and it can’t be delayed.

I’m slowing down so I don’t get into the sad details. The author is always a hostage – to plot logic, concept, and factuality. Especially in the biographical notes. When I first started this series, I wanted to gradually sketch the most vivid passages from different times of the day, eventually describing everything in sequence from dawn to bedtime. You know, like “One Day of a Typical Ukrainian Refugee.” That said, I was certainly confident that when I got to the late night, I would have every reason to have a happy ending.

Imagine this: as I fall asleep, I get a message from my husband saying, yay, they capitulated, baby. And then everyone will be calling and texting and hugging. And my lovely neighbors and colleagues will immediately gather under the windows to congratulate and rejoice together… Champagne, raptures, tears of joy….

But, alas, no. The day is done, all the interesting stories have been told, and I’m stuck in this life like a fly in amber, and I literally have nothing to write anymore… The war is still going on. So the finale of my notes is not a happy one. Just a recently written poem:

If you don’t love me.
when asked “how’s it going?” I’ll answer “okay.”
All the oceans are gone,
with the enemy crowded at our door,
and the missiles flying at our children,
flew in… In others.
Equally small, equally ridiculous
and loved ones. Guilty of nothing more than
that their mom didn’t leave home.
Because – what about afterwards?
Because they won’t let you in with a cat.
Because – the neighbor won’t get up.
And she actually lives here!
But it’s increasingly common to hear “lived here”….
That’s my “what’s up?”

Fall out of love with me right away
when I say I’m tired and I can’t pull anymore.
Not once out of the trenches
didn’t ask for a quieter war
or, say, send your wife over for a minute,
a son, a husband, “to hold.” But
asking for drones, radios, autos…
It’s a complicated list, I’ll be damned.
It does, by the way. Everything is annoying,
and the angel’s carrying
to those who don’t seem to get tired,
but it doesn’t count the nights without sleep.
However, how could it be otherwise – it’s war…..
What to say about us, the rear-guards?
Until Victory, we’ll have to keep our whining to ourselves.

Don’t love me, honey,
if I ever get used to living apart.
How did I forget, though:
You’ll never be able to stop loving me.

But even after the most terrible dark night there is bound to come a good and fair dawn. Oh, really?

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