Extracted Memory #3: Flight with Peter Pan
It was almost twilight when Dad and I caught a glimpse of the village in the distance. Having travelled over 2,000 miles – first by train, then by bus and then on foot – we were finally approaching our destination. I was to meet my Dad’s side of the family for the first time.
Suddenly everything became pink – the sky, the grass and even the bushes – saturated with the warm rays of the setting sun. We were living in the North at that time, almost on the border with Finland. That’s why Ukrainian country-side impressed me so much: there was plenty of tall grass, thick bushes and butterflies flying around. I felt like an Eskimo in Africa.
When we approached the house, from the back side of it, my heart started beating very fast. Was I scared, excited, anxious about the unknown? My Dad lifted the log on the purely metaphorical fence that was separating my Grandma house from the no-man’s land, and we got in.
We scurried along a densely vegetated garden. I noticed strawberries, corn and sunflowers and lots of other things I had seen only in pictures. Then we ducked behind a massive wooden back door and got inside the house.
That was the first time I saw Peter Pan. He was standing by the open fire, looking straight at it, his arms outstretched boldly in front of him. He has the kind of demeanour that suggested he was born to rule and give orders.
Suddenly, he turned to me and looked me straight in the eye. Little fires dances in his eyes the color of clear morning sky. He moved his snub nose from side to side and said to me in a lively and loud voice; “Hey, come here, quick”.
“Look”, he told me nodding in the direction of the fire. “Your hands will become hot if you stand like this for a while”, and he touched my nose with his palm which was indeed rather hot.
Not really knowing what to say to this (I was 4 back then, while Peter Pan was almost 8), I gave him my best shot:”We’ve brought you guys a tabool soccer”, just to show I also had a surprise for Peter Pan.
“Oh really?” and he rushed to look at the game. That very moment, my 2 cousins (uncle Misha’s daughters) walked in. They knew we had arrived, and they wanted to see us. Suddenly, everyone was more interested in the board game than in our arrival.
The next day Peter Pan was teaching me Ukrainian. Although they spoke this mixed version in the village, some words were completely different from their Russian counterparts, and I needed to memorize them.
He told me that instead of videt’ (to see), I had to say bachyty, and instead of slyshat’ (to hear) I had to say chooty. For whatever reason, those words were of immediate necessity, since Peter Pan and his friend were saying “Can you see…?”, and “Did you hear…?” a lot.
Peter Pan’s best friend was this annoying dark-haired boy Pavlo, named in the Ukrainian manner. His was annoying because, while Peter Pan was my cousin and protective of me, Pavlo was trying to flirt with me. I was little back then, and Pavlo was the first boy to ever do that to me.
We visited Pavlo’s house, and I really liked it. It was a very happy house, filled with a lot of light and warmth. These days when I try to recollect its rooms, I only remember sparkling string curtains and the summery, happy feeling it gave me. Since that day, I concluded string curtains were one of the best inventions of the humankind.
On the day me and Peter Pan got in trouble with Grandma Maria, we went for a bicycle ride early in the morning. Of course I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle back then. Peter Pan put me on a metal frame, my 2 little legs hanging freely from it, and we strolled slowly down the sand road.
It had been about five days since we arrived, and I had already gotten to know my Dad’s relatives more or less. So I asked Peter Pan, “Who do like better, my cousin Albina or me?” Thing is, back then Albina was (and still is) very popular with everyone in the family: she was charming, cute, funny, smart – you name it, she was it all. And she had one definite advantage over me – she was several years older.
I don’t know why I asked Peter Pan that question. I guess I wanted to hear that he loved me infinitely and unconditionally. I’m still proud of my Peter Pan, because despite his age, he gave a wise answer: “I like you both the same”, he said shrugging, which prevented further questions from me.
In the afternoon, Peter Pan winked at me while we were eating soup that Grandma had prepared for us, as if he had to tell me a secret. Actually, Grandma’s soup was more like stewed potatoes with just a little broth – so thick it was. But I loved it, for some reason the food cooked in her spacious stove with live fire tasted the best.
After lunch, Peter Pan told me he’d take me far away, to a place nobody knew about. I was super-excited.
While no one was watching, we sneaked out of the house and hurried down the dusty village road. I was trying to run as fast as I could, but we had to stop a few times, because I wasn’t that fast. We ran and ran it seemed forever, untill we reached the outskirts of the village. I had never been outside a city, a town or a village without a adult in my life – so that was new and exciting for me.
We walked into a golden field of grass and some other culture probably, but I didn’t know what it was. The space around us was open and the horizon was low – one could see pretty far away from where we were. We were also on a kind of hill from which we could see many things below: part of the village, some farm, a road, a piece of the forest – a whole bunch of interesting things.
Now I realize that, what Peter Pan really wanted to share with me that day was not the scenery, but the feeling he used to get when we used to come there.
Because it had taken us a while to get to that place, the sun was already rather low. Peter Pan stood up amid the golden sea of wheat, turned his face to the sun and closed his eyes. His arms were wide apart, he seemed to be flying in the golden sea.
I still remember his face, although it’s been so many years. His eyelashes were the color of wheat, too. He looked so organic in that field, like he was part of it. I smiled and felt absolutely at peace with the moment. I bet I was flying, too.
By the time we returned to the house, it was already pretty dark. Turned out, everyone had been looking for us, and the adults were very upset. I remember thinking back then, “Why is everyone so upset with Peter Pan, but no one is upset with me?”
Peter Pan ended up being punished for both of us; he had to stand on small seeds (that served as food for the chicken) with his bare knees for some time. I thought that was cruel, and I still think so. But my Grandma was of old and strict morals – she was the only person I knew at that time who was addressed by her own children as vy (“you” plural) instead of ty (“you” singular) .
But even while he was being punished, Peter Pan winked at me and his face was happy. It was not the first time he had run away. And I thought – he’d probably do this again.