With dinner finished, Natasha laid down on a bench and pulled a blanket over herself and with drooping eyes and clutching a small handmade doll, fell quickly asleep. After collecting the dinner utensils and washing them, Fedor made himself as comfortable as he could on another bench. The alcohol he’d been drinking to escape put him quickly to sleep.
Olga sighed and commenced her prayers to the dim light of burning tallow before the small icons they had. She missed her husband. He was a hard worker and provided for them as best he could. It was true that he drank, but she didn’t know any man who did not drink. Even the Orthodox priests had been known to indulge in a bit more wine then was needed for services. The last two years had been difficult, even with the lesser number of mouths to feed (oh, how she missed her little ones!). With the increase in taxes, there had been little food for them afterwards, as if they could live on less and concern for the narod was never high on anyone’s list.
She wanted more for her son and daughter. To live here was no life, no future for anyone and she would know. There wasn’t much time she would have to act fast. In the last month, Olga had begun coughing up blood. She had some money put away. Over the years she had been more frugal than usual. It had meant sacrifice, doing without, a coin here another there. Over a period of time, it started to build up. She had a enough to give Fedor a start on a new life. For Natasha, she had enough for a new dress, a pair of shoes, clean underwear and socks. Olga had made an agreement with the landlord and for a certain sum Fedor would be given his freedom, to go where he wished. Nata sha would be sold into a good home as a domestic, something a little more preferable to the life she was living now. It was the only thing Olga could think of. Once she had succumbed to the disease eating away at her body there would be little she could do for her young ones, at least this way they had a chance. For Natasha there was still one more thing she had to do and like all things she had to hurry. She prayed, oh great and merciful God, please there is so little time!
Three days later the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and there was some measure of warmth, which made the roads before, soft with mud, now firm and easier, though uncomfortable to traverse. Wagons carrying straw and manure creaked and horses neighed. News was passed and deals struck. Oxen with droopy eyes waited silently to pull to their master’s bidding, dogs barked, bird’s chirped songs high above oblivious to what was happening below.
Natasha and her mother walked for three hours, far beyond the outskirts of the village, into the forest, deep into the dark forest. The trees were tall, reaching high into the sky, which extended into eternity. The clouds drifted lazily by, out of reach of the trees as if taunting them with their height. Often braches would overhang preventing sunlight from reaching the ground. It was a forbidding place, and it felt as if the wood ghosts watched them as walked. Olga had not told her much about where they were going or who they were going to see, but she sensed it was important, but she didn’t understand why. Her mother was quiet on the matter. Natasha was afraid.
After a period of time, Natasha was never quite sure how long and aching feet (for Natasha was wearing her new shoes and they were not yet broken in.) they arrived at their destination, a gypsy caravan camp. For a moment Natasha’s hurting feet were forgotten. Why would her mother bring her to such a place, to be with such people? Would her mother leave her with these people? No! She didn’t want that! Please Mama, don’t leave me here, I don’t want to be here. I want to go home!