To the boy it looks like a ravaged animal. Its head ripped-off, body torn apart with stringy guts hanging out. Scattered chunks of flesh strewn around the barren hangar.
“Thank God your grandfather is not here to see this,” the boy’s mother says. “He wanted to watch it take off one last time.”
They gather around the laptop as a family sipping milky black tea, watching footage of the wreck of the An-225 Mriya. The famed cargo plane, the one the boy’s grandfather helped build when he was an aircraft mechanic at the Antonov Design Bureau. His mother was just a girl back then, playing hide and seek amidst the birch trees while her father worked on what would become the largest airplane in the world, designed to haul massive Soviet space orbiters. The boy pictures the Mriya alive, cutting through clouds like a metal raptor with the entire world beneath its wings.
It’s been a week since the invasion began, when their kitchen became the epicentre of war correspondence. Sometimes when his uncle called, the boy heard bombs exploding through his father’s phone speaker. And each time it amazed the boy that his uncle, a man he’d never met, refused to hang-up and rush to the subway shelter without saying goodbye.
When you know that any conversation might be your last, you make certain that your final words count.
But other times the boy heard nothing – an emphatic silence. His parents scrolling through photos of dust and debris on their laptop. Charred apartment buildings and splintered sidewalks. The boy would often avoid partaking in such moments, afraid to intrude on something that appeared sacred, intimate. Like a vigil for the dead.
Mriya, the news report tells him, means dream. The boy did not know before the news anchor said so, for he had never learned the language of his homeland. Instead, what he’d learned was to accept that there would always be hidden corridors, sealed chambers in his parents’ lives to which he would never gain access. When he was not in the room, the boy would often hear his parents speaking to each other in strange melodies – like a secret code passed between two thieves in the night – and he would picture that distant land where those melodies had originated, a country both foreign and familiar.
And he often wondered: did they ever regret leaving?
After their marriage it wasn’t long before his parents left to seek a different life, a different plane – one that would take them to the other side of the globe. It wasn’t easy at first. They worked tirelessly to fit into an alien, unforgiving world, where they meant less than nothing to the people around them. We’ve all heard the old story. But as time droned on the pieces started coming together, until one day they had a complete picture of their new life sitting there before them. It was only recently that they began considering saving money to take the boy back home, to see the statues and the golden-domed churches. Their summerhouse, the wheat fields and the wild gooseberry bushes. The family he’d never met.
Now they wonder if returning would ever be possible again.
Now they watch the attack on the city of their youth – bridges shattered, buildings levelled, airports occupied. For an instant the boy glances over at their faces, attempting to read their emotions, and is met only with impenetrable, glassy eyes – as if painted onto wooden Matryoshka dolls – devoid of anything that he can grasp or recognize. Devoid of any clinging shred of hope.
Eventually they finish their tea – the mother, the father, then the boy – leaving only an empty kettle on the table before them. It will sit there through the night while the family sleeps peacefully in their beds, where there is no distant machine gun fire, no thundering of bombs to sever the flickering pictures in their heads.
And in the quiet dark, the boy dreams of a place where he had never been, while his parents dream of wild gooseberries.