“Mum, is it true that people in Mariupol are eating pigeons?” I wonder.
“Might be dogs,” my father says. “There are quite a few dogs in the streets now, all of them so nice, purebred, but there aren’t many pigeons.”
There are quite a few dogs — and quite a few crosses in the courtyards between apartment blocks. I used to jump rope with my friends in those yards.
“What did you eat when it was cold?”
“Anything we could.”
“And how did you cook food?”
“On the grill. Now I know how to start it, too,” my mother says proudly.
“I don’t think I will ever wash my hands clean,” father adds. “The smell of smoke got deep under my skin.”
“So, what did you cook?”
“All kinds of meals. Even borscht and pancakes.”
“Pancakes? How did you even manage to make them?”
“Well, we did somehow. People had to eat something, right? We hosted three people at our place and took meals to your godfather and his mother.”
“Weren’t you scared to go out?”
“But what else could we do, sweetheart? We had to help people.”
My father’s nephew brought him a bag of cat food and a bag of potatoes. Those two bags helped them survive the month of March following the Russian full-scale invasion.
“But you have a sweet tooth, mum, don’t you? How are you coping with that? Have you eaten all the jam yet?”
“No, there’s still lots of it in the jars. Your father’s colleague brought us some candy… They’re so expensive now. But people share what they have.”
“And no chocolate or cakes, indeed. No butter cookies with jam. Full ‘liberation’!”
Suddenly, my parents’ voices over the phone are interrupted by our dog’s barking. The connection is lost for a moment. Then I hear my mother’s voice again, and I can imagine her smiling sadly.
“What happened, mum? Who was that? Are you okay?”
“It was Liusia, that old lady from the house across the street. Do you remember her?”
“Sure. What was it about?”
“She just brought marshmallows on the occasion of Trinity Day.”
“One marshmallow, to be exact. She said father and I should split it. One half for him and the other one for me.”
“Did you do it?”
“We did. We’ve already eaten it. I picked some parsley and gave it to her in return. She was happy. She’s now all alone. Her granddaughter Mariyka moved abroad a long time ago, but Liusia is afraid to go to her. She says she doesn’t feel well and won’t survive the journey. And the neighbors are also all over the place. Some of them left, and others have to take care of their own families. Someone died. By the way, do you remember Mariyka?”
“I do. She was a few years my junior in school.”
“That’s her. So, she’s now trying to get some food for her from volunteers and sends her money…”
“But it’s not the same as talking to people,” I say, finishing my mother’s sentence instead of her. “So, all she’s left to do is feel happy getting a bunch of parsley from her neighbors…”
“Exactly… Feel happy getting a bunch of parsley from her neighbors… Alright, honey, I need to go. I have some things to do.”
“What kind of things?” I ask, surprised. My parents have no jobs and no hobbies. They have nowhere to go — everything has been destroyed and damaged. So, I can’t understand what kind of things they can do except cooking.
“I want to sort your old clothes. Our neighbors across the street have small children. They need to wear something. Your outgrown clothes might come in handy.”
“Giving away whatever you can, aren’t you?”
“And what people need.”