I lived apart from my parents between my first and fifth birthdays, and then once again a couple years later for several months. People I lived with were first my grandparents, then an unknown to me lady - had full time jobs or other responsibilities, and left me alone long days.

My initially estranged paternal grandparents took care of me while my young professional parents were pursuing their goals in another city. They visited me a few times, and even a couple of other relatives did, once.

The grandparents were not affectionate towards me. They disagreed with their son's choice of partner, and saw me as an unfortunate result of it, which forced the marriage and complicated their life. They perceived my mom as a frivolous and arrogant big city girl, as far as I could tell later.  Only once, when I was fourteen or so, the grandmother told me a few non-critical words about my mother: she was pitying her for enduring her son.

Both my grandparents were working full time, so they used to leave me alone, often tied to a table on which I could draw, to prevent me from running away or hurting myself.

My granddad taught me the alphabet when I was two, and recognizing Cyrillic letters in a newspaper was one of my first memories. I could read by four, not very fast though.

Sitting behind my grandfather on his motorbike, we were sometimes riding around the town.

He played accordion, and made some extra money by playing on weddings and parties, and often I went with him to sing the songs he taught me. I only remember who of them now, they are beautiful love songs, one is from a guy's prospective, another from a girl's.

Several things I remember clearly about those years, in chronological order:

  • Red cherries in green leaves, and all other fruits and berries from the orchard, gathering them, sun-drying; aroma of the sweet pea plants, raspberry bushes under plum trees.
  • My grandfather encourages me to read newspaper titles.
  • Swallows are nesting in the potato storage building.
  • A white puppy runs out on the street and is killed by a car - I see him afterwords;
  • A white baby goat with whom I played is butchered in our yard by a hired professional;
  • A new black puppy is living in a dog house in the yard, and is loosely chained soon. Chapa would recognize and greet me after many years of absence, when I was 12-13.
  • Night after night, in almost complete silence, I lay in bed between my grandmother and a wall without sleep, afraid of the monster under the bed, who would would grab me if I move, as she told me. Eventually, after an hour or so, I drift into sleep and am amazed in the morning I am still there.
  • My grandfather punishes me for something with a heavy belt, many times. I barely recall the pain and do not remember the reasons, only the humiliation of the process and the threatening trajectory of the buckle - probably imagined while I could not see it.
  • I hide under a round table with a long red velvet cover.
  • My friends find and eat a raw potato on our way to a long tree swing, we are dirty and happy.
  • My parents come to visit and give me a banana. Later, my mother liked to laugh about my telling her then that my grandmother was hitting me with a chair. This obvious lie was exposed right there to everyone's amusement.
After puberty, I destroyed the few photographs of me taken on one of those days. I could not look at that kid.