January 01, 2006

Half of the Sky

It was perhaps the first time when a grown person cried in front of me. In general, it was the sort of day when grown-ups were crying in front of me, but it all began with Nina Nikolaevna, with her “flea house,” as we once called it. Such women, apparently, are extinct, yet I nonetheless sometimes see a 60-something woman with a complex, peroxide-etched hairdo piled up on top of her head and I remember that we once called this construction a flea house.

Anyway, so she dropped her flea house on the table and sobbed, and we froze. We were just 10 and the image of a crying teacher signified for us, as Ella, my fortnight-long lover from Eilat would later say [in Hebrew], “Olam’eynu cha’sha’ch aley’nu” – that the world had covered us with a black shroud. This went on for at least a minute. She sobbed and we sat. Then she more or less managed to get a grip on herself and, for the first time in the two years she had been with us, pronounced a phrase with normal human intonation. She said: “Children, Leonid Ilyich has died.”

My parents, I guess, still remembered March 1953 – the sobbing crowds, slowly flowing by in their sorrowfully similar, soot-colored cloaks, the massive mustachioed portraits, the cries of those crushed by the crowds, and the fear... the fear of what would happen tomorrow – why had he forsaken us? What will become of us now?

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