Crammed in the small seat between our driver and Nastya, I kept trying to look around— nothing but the darkness was seen. It had wholly swallowed the beautiful patchy fields that must have been covered with snow here and there this time of the year. The time was getting closer to midnight.
“How is it going? Everything fine?” — I heard an overly stressed father’s voice over the phone.
“Yes, it’s fine. We have passed Zhytomyr and seem to move faster now.”
“Listen to me. I’m taking your half-sister abroad. Will you go?”
“I’m taking her! Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. As soon as I can. Your grandmother waits. She will host you.”
I felt a sudden nerve wreck all over my body. Anger mixed with confusion took over.
“You should answer me tomorrow! It’s urgent!”
“I don’t know, dad! It’s too soon!”
“Let me know, you hear me! You should go. Listen to me. You should leave!”
I was getting irritated but couldn’t fight him over the phone. Not today.
“Let me get home. I’ve been on the road for almost 17 hours. I’m tired. I don’t know!”
I hung up the phone and sat back. He takes her abroad. Huh. He can’t leave the country. Her mother is in Germany. So yeah, he probably needs me to help her cross the border—she’s only 15.
Stop it! —I suddenly interrupted my own train of thought. I need to get home first. Home is safe. My mom didn’t even know the war had started until I called her in the morning. I just need to get home. It’s going to be fine.
I took a deep breath. Again. And for the third time. My heartbeat slowed down—I could feel it. It’s going to be okay—we have passed the most dangerous part of the way. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. I can’t do anything right now anyway.
I wanted to take my coat off and tuck it behind my back, but Nastya’s head slowly slid down to my shoulder. I decided not to move and let her have a nap. The car was quiet since we had left the gas station. Somehow I have only noticed it now.
The monotonous sound of the car’s engine, men quietly snoring in the back, the light of the headlights on the straight road scattered far ahead. I sat upright, adjusting my shoulder to Nastya’s head, so she won’t slip and wake up.
“Aren’t you tired?” I asked our driver quietly. He took out another cigarette and started smoking into the half-open window.
“It’s been a long road. Don’t you want somebody to drive while you rest?”
I said that and suddenly remembered the men on the back had been drunk since morning.
“Nah, child. I’ve been to a road far worse than this one.”
“Do you need to talk a bit not to fall asleep?”
The headlights could light up only a small piece of the road ahead, and I kept looking at the glimpse of the license plate on the car in front of us. It would repeatedly come to light and disappear as the car swayed on the road.
I felt the cold in my feet and shoulders, but my face burned like fire. I kept staring at the half-empty road, and I was scared of silence for the first time in my life. Hostile, threatening, emptying silence inside the total darkness. My head started to feel heavy, and I felt like falling asleep. Would the driver be okay..? Would everything be… okay?
Suddenly I was woken up by my phone buzzing.
“Sup w/ u”
I opened a message and stared at it for a minute.
“It’s Jared?” Nastya suddenly woke up.
“Wrote you himself?” She rubbed her eyes and stared at me with confusion.
“Yeah, that’s odd,” I smiled. “Not even three years since our last talk.”
We laughed but immediately stopped not to wake anybody in the back.
“Maybe it’s your turn to take your time to answer,” she laughed.
I smiled to cover up for the saddest thought in my life. There might not be any other time.
“Going to Rivne, less than 100 km left,” I answered. “Sup w/ u?”
“Perfect. Quiet here for now.”
“I think it would stay that way in Ivano-Frankivsk.”
“Yeah, but there’s nowhere to run,” I said.
“UN countries take in everybody.”
“Yeah, but men can’t leave.”
“Well, you’re not manly enough, and your grandma lives in Germany.”
I suddenly felt odd. Like somebody had thrown a warm blanket on my cold shoulders, and I couldn’t figure out why… and how to use it.
“We’ll see. We need to make it home first. We’ve been on the road for 18 hours already.”
“How’s he?” meaning my husband.
“He’s with me. Nastya, too”
“Not freaking out?”
“Nah. Just doing what we can. U?”
“I’m physically incapable of freaking out,” —I imagined that usual huge smile on his face. He would totally smile while saying that. “If something happens, come to IF. I have the room.”
“It’s fine, thank you.”
“Or I’ll call up my parents. They have a country house near Rivne, with food and water.”
“Yeah, my husband’s parents have something like that, too. Far in the country, that village is not even on a map, I believe.”
“Yeah, that’s romantic. Just keep this in mind. We need to think two steps ahead.”
“Sure, thank you.”
I closed the messenger, but that odd feeling of sudden warmth remained. I bundled up in a coat. We’ll be home soon. It’s going to be fine.
“Are you going?” Nastya suddenly broke the dreadful silence.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going abroad?”
I caught another angry impulse inside and pushed it down. It’s not me who should leave my country. Not me. Where else should I go? I’m already going home. It’s fine!
“Only if I absolutely have to,” I answered, looking back at my sleeping husband.
Photo provided by the author.