Souvenirs

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With time, much is forgotten—like a dried flower lost between the pages of a book, or a yellowed letter that is only dear to the one for whom it was intended. Souvenirs. Sometimes you receive a card or a postcard and you try to mentally live those events so distant from your own reality.

Allow me to take you on a short stroll through a quiet May evening in Belarus, during which at a certain point, you will take a photograph for your memories. A souvenir.

And so…

The warm day ends with the approach of a cool evening and a blue sky, the smell of grass and gasoline; the air is filled with laughter, yells, and the sounds of running children. A lanky twelve year old with a shy smile approaches hesitantly and holds out a notebook made of graph paper: there is a desire to occasionally stand out from the crowd. Together, we pour over the artwork. He is no Repin [a Renowned 19th century Russian Artist], but he does not yet know it. He makes up for lack of talent with an attention to detail and with diligence.

The first sketch, you and I will observe, is the descent of a troops in very extreme conditions. The artist inadvertently breaks into a smile, pleased with the fact that his work is appreciated and understood. The second page reveals a bleeding square frog. But this time, a little disappointed with slowwitted foreigners, the artist explains with dignity that it is a tank that is shooting and is being shot at.

We turn to the next page, and the artist freezes for a moment.

Four figurines: one taller than the rest, wearing a dress and holding the hands of two other figurines. The last figure has been drawn apart from the others, up and away in a corner. All of this he drew for himself, and not for a stranger’s eyes… but he had momentarily forgotten, having wanted to impress the visitors.

“And who is this?” we ask.

At this moment he lifts up his eyes—don’t miss this moment; take the photograph now… What a photo, what drama, what a good shot! “And who is this?” echoes.

There is ineffable longing and emptiness in those eyes. He tries to conceal it, to erase the despair behind the answer with a smile.

“This is my mother, brother, and sister.”

“Do they live far away?”

“No, nearby. My mother comes to visit me.”

“Has it been long since her last visit?”

Some questions are best not to ask. A cloud seems to pass over his face, his lips tremble, and he chokes out a reply: “Tw…Two years since her last.”

This is the snapshot I’d like to leave in your heart; a souvenir from Begomel, Belarus. The moment in which you captured the eyes of a child who was looking at you, you suddenly realize that not only have you caught the look in his eyes, but you have captured your own reflection in his gaze. And the question: “who is this?” now finds a new addressee and new meaning, as you contemplate the importance of the question: “…and who is my neighbor?”

A. Kiyanitsa