Batyushka thought she knew pain.
She thought that because she had an absent father and a horrible mother. Not horrible in a sense that she was beaten or neglected, no. Her mother was a wonderful person, great to converse with and good company. She was just a bad mother. She never had time for her daughter, too busy with making free time for her city-friends.
“I’m hungry, mom…” she remembered a scene of herself as a ten year old girl. Her mother flipped her gorgeous hair and fixed her earrings. The beautiful woman only turned around enough to smile the kindest smile.
“Don’t worry sweetie, I’m sure your father will have something to eat once he gets back.”
Hours upon her father’s return, Batyushka asked him the same question. She could even remember how much her stomach hurt.
“I’m hungry, papa…”
“Oh? I thought your mother made you something to eat…”
That night, Batyushka went to her room and learnt to cook herself.
Maybe she was being a brat. Born to a middle-class family, she was never cold, never truly hungry if she didn’t want to be.
But what was a fancy table without people to share it with? She didn’t care for pretty dresses and dolls – she wanted her parents. But she learnt quickly that what she couldn’t get from them, she could fill the emptiness herself.
She would be the mother she always wanted.
Batyushka met Ilyusha when she was 16, and he 25.
He was a simple man in a simple, traditional suit in a city of complex dresses, looking for potential job offers. Batyushka was immediately intrigued by him.
They would get together on the field between Vladivostok and his village, and go for long walks. She loved his tales, and the peaceful life in his village. She met Balalaika and Igor fairly early into their relationship, and Batyushka realised what Ilyusha was planning. At 18, she was wed, and a year later she gave birth to Bok.
Her parents didn’t object, but they didn’t come to the ceremony. Batyushka tried not to think about such sad turn of events. She has her own family to care for.
She had her own family to care for.
Batyushka stared with barely opened eyes at Bok’s empty crib, and her hand circled on the empty spot of the bed.
The funeral was too short. Bok and Ilyusha were buried in the village graveyard, next to their other relatives. The tombstones read:
Ilyusha Pavlov – (17.4.1875-20.11.1905†)
Bok Pavlov – (31.10.1903-20.11.1905†)
Batyushka barely remembered the priest from the funeral. His mournful psalms and words of condolences from villagers did nothing to soothe her shame and agony. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Balalaika, because she didn’t deserve to break into tears before the mother of her husband – not only did she let her own child die, she also abandoned the son of the dearest babushka.
The pain never left her, and it didn’t numb even months after that faithful night. She didn’t want it to. The emptiness and sorrow in her heart reminded her of her failure, and of her unforgivable mistake.
The voices in her head were loud and screeching, they haunted her. She wanted them to.
Why was she alive? Why was she alive and Ilyusha and Bok were dead?
Batyushka had no will to live anymore, but that would be too easy of an escape. She deserved this punishment. No matter how horrible her nightmares were or how much her body hurt from lack of nourishment, no matter how unbearable and overwhelming it was to sleep next to an empty crib and in an empty bed she would suffer until the end of her days.
Until her body gave out.
The worst times were when Batyushka found herself wandering the forest at nights, searching for the monster that stole everything from her.
Batyushka needed to blame something, anything to be able to survive in her isolation. She’d take out an axe, sometimes a useless shovel and wander the dark Russian forests, screaming at the top of her lungs for the demon to reveal itself, so she could kill it, or be killed by it.
Cossack and Igor would get her out of the forest, but after so many failed attempts of trying to save the grieving mother, they stopped searching for her.
“She’s a lost cause. Her soul died with Ilyusha and her child.” once said Igor to Balalaika, tossing firewood somewhere into the corner of Batyushka’s cottage. He would occasionally visit her alongside Balalaika, but each time he was more impatient. “Look at her.”
Batyushka looked at herself, and saw bony wrists, hands covered with scars and blisters. Her hair was greasy and unkempt. Her belt was loose around her waist, barely holding her skirt from slipping off.
“You imbecile, you talk like it’s her fault! You have no say in how a mother feels about her lost child!” screamed Balalaika, her strict voice laced with emotions, and Batyushka thought she was going to puke from guilt again. It was clear the elder woman missed Ilyusha, he was her baby once too.
That evening, just before Balalaika and Igor left, Batyushka took hold of the babushka’s sleeve and made eye contact with her for the first time in two years.
“What is it, Batyushka?” The babushka was so surprised by her sudden courage. But Batyushka slowly shook her head and let go of her sleeve.
“Igor was right, Balalaika. You can’t save a wretch.”
“Batyushka, you are not a-“
“No, Balalaika. I let your son die. I left him behind, and only thought of my own flesh and blood. Don't hide your hatred for me because of your kindness. Please,” Batyushka stepped back into her home, and a tear fell down her emotionless face. “Forget about me.”
Balalaika didn’t deny what Batyushka said.
She would still visit her, if only to make sure the widow wouldn’t starve herself to death. But Balalaika never smiled, because in her love and compassion hid a fury she couldn’t express with words.
Because Ilyusha was dead, and Batyushka was alive.