Alexander Fufaev
My name is Alexander FufaeV and here I write about:

2002-2004: Youth in Petrovsky Boulevard, Azov (Russia)

When I entered the fourth grade, with the financial support of my grandparents, my parents bought a very cheap apartment on the ground floor of a four-story building on Petrovsky Boulevard in Azov. After renovation, with great help from Grandpa Yura, who often grumbled to himself because the wallpaper didn't do what he demanded, we moved in. The apartment was a bargain because an old man had hanged himself in the storage room there, which usually deterred potential buyers. My parents accepted that; in return, we had our own three-room apartment. After Dima told me about the incident with the hanged man, I always got goosebumps all over my body when I was alone in the apartment and opened the squeaky door of the storage room.

Standing in front of the storage room, you could flee to either the left or right into one of the rooms if the ghost of the old man actually appeared.

If you turned left, you entered Dasha's and my room, with two beds and a small play area for Dasha. From the window of this room, which faced the courtyard, I could immediately see if my friends from the neighborhood were hanging out in the courtyard. That included my best friend Sanja from the high-rise building right next door, Rafik, who lived with his mother and sister next to us on the ground floor, as well as Jana, a few years older, with her sister Vika from the third floor above us, and Igor, who lived a few houses away but always hung out with us in the courtyard. But also my other friends whom I met on Petrovsky Boulevard.

If you turned right, you entered my parents' bedroom, which faced the street. Through the window, you could see a two-lane road, behind which, a little further to the right, stretched a large bazaar. There, people sold fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, eggs, and above all, various sweets from morning till night. Russian grandmothers, Babushkas, also sat on stools and sold sunflower seeds fried in oil, which were very popular among Russians. However, the popularity of sunflower seeds was largely due not to the taste of the kernels, but to the skillful cracking of the shell with the teeth. Next to the Babushkas sat – in a small hut that reminded me of Baba Yaga's house with chicken legs – a baker who always had a grin on his face while selling fresh bread.

Every weekend, my mom sent me to him to buy white or Borodinsky bread for a few rubles. On the way back from the bakery, I could hardly resist the temptation to bite into the crispy crust of the fragrant, warm bread.

As soon as I entered the apartment again, I could hear the familiar clinking of a spoon in a cup. That was Dima, preparing coffee for himself and mom in his own way. He put sugar and coffee powder into a cup with a teaspoon of water. Then he stirred the mixture with a teaspoon until everything was well mixed and light brown. After tasting the sweet mixture with a finger, Dima poured it out. While the hot water transformed Dima's mixture into drinkable coffee, the smell of coffee spread throughout the apartment. Perhaps the smell even made it outside through the open windows, where the Babushkas were already gossiping at their regular table and my friends were fooling around on the pull-up bar.

I brought the bread directly into the living room, which, like my room, was also on the courtyard side. There was an old, foldable table that was already set. Two cups of coffee for mom and Dima, two cups of black tea for me and Dasha. Four soft-boiled eggs and for each of us, a boiled milk sausage, and the bread that Mom cut into thick slices. We had breakfast in the living room because the kitchen was very small and at most two people could sit there without being squeezed together.

During the week, Dima and mom were already at work at breakfast time. Mom had a new job as a lecturer at a polytechnic a few streets away. Every morning, she prepared a buttered sandwich wrapped in foil and a small bottle of mineral water for me to take to school. Since my previous school only went up to the third grade and was far from our apartment, I had changed schools again for the fourth grade.

My new way to school led along a very long avenue. Along the way, there was a kiosk where I bought chewing gums with stickers, Chupa Chups, or other sweets. Sometimes I treated myself to a pack of Marlboro, which I had to hide well from my mother and beggars. I smoked the cigarettes with Igor, Rafik, or Anton behind the kiosk, in a small forested area with fir trees. It was disgusting there. There was trash, used condoms, and thousands of cigarette butts lying everywhere on the ground. But at least, apart from any junkies, we didn't have to worry about being caught by anyone.

Deer statue in Azov

After I left the kiosk behind, there was a black deer statue on a large hill halfway along the way. In winter, we kids often slid down there with a sled or a cardboard box. To the right of the path, cars drove by, and behind the road, there was a huge park. There were various attractions, including a Ferris wheel that towered over all the houses and trees. In winter, it stood frozen still, but in summer, you could watch it slowly turning from afar. From the very top, you could even see our old high-rise building.

At the end of the avenue, my red-and-white painted school finally came into view. Behind the imposing doors awaited me a spacious hall with many playful students, loud shouts, and a large cloakroom at the entrance. Stairs on the sides led to the upper floors. There, long corridors stretched out, where I played tag games with other students during recess.

In this school, I encountered older teenagers from higher grades for the first time, who caused trouble for me and other weaker students. They made fun of my last name or my two moles on my face – one to the right of my lip and one right on my left cheek. The guys also had a problem with my slightly larger ears, so I always wore my hair longer to cover them up. When I fought back with my fists, I got more than I bargained for. Fistfights and the resulting swollen eyes were commonplace. A wrong look, a wrong word – and these hooligans would be lurking somewhere outside the school grounds to catch me. As soon as I saw them, I took a different route home. Sometimes they still caught me. Then they either took my money or pushed me around. If I encountered them alone, there were exactly two options to escape: either hand over the few rubles from my pocket or run away as fast as possible. The second option had the disadvantage that another encounter with these teenagers usually turned out worse. It was safest when I was with my friends – especially in the evenings.

It was important to behave confidently in the presence of these daring teenagers, always looking cool and holding my head high to avoid being perceived as a victim. Those who didn't follow this rule were seen as victims and treated accordingly. It was also not necessarily advisable to be a model student, as good grades also brought only trouble.

Sometimes these hooligans also forced me to provoke others. For example, to trip up the students walking through the corridors so they'd slam onto the hard tile floor, triggering a fight. Eventually, I got used to bullying and always annoyed a boy a few years younger than me named Dima, who lived in the same high-rise as I did. I slapped him, took away his Pokémon cards, or made him do things for me. Then he'd run home crying and tell his mother about it. While I hid under a tree, I watched as his mother came out onto the balcony and shouted loudly with a clenched fist, loud enough for everyone in the courtyard to hear:

“Sasha, you scoundrel! I know you're hiding down there! Stop making Dima cry right away!”

Sometimes his mother also rang our apartment doorbell to talk to my parents. That's why I always had a little fear when I teased Dima and he snitched on me to his mother. Then I'd take off, as far away from the courtyard as possible, because otherwise, my father would literally pull my ears. So eventually, I stopped bothering little Dima. Besides, I was now busy with something else because for my birthday, Grandpa Yura, Grandma Lina, and Uncle Sasha gave me my first bicycle, which I got to choose myself at the Azov Bazaar. I chose a black bicycle with small wheels that had orange stripes on the sides. Since it was my very first bike, I had to learn to ride it first. So during the holidays, I practiced balancing on the soft grass at my grandparents' village. Ksyusha helped push me. When I somewhat mastered riding the bike after many falls, nothing stood in my way of trying out my skills in the city. That way, I could just zoom past the mean boys before their little brains started registering me.

With the new bike, it was much easier in the summer to search the city for planks, empty boxes, and bricks for the treehouse we wanted to build in the courtyard. However, while wandering around with my friends Sanja, Rafik, and Igor, I not only looked for building materials but also for half-smoked cigarettes lying on the ground. Sometimes I found one, picked it up, briefly examined it, and smelled it to make sure it hadn't been pooped on. Then I put the cigarette between my lips and lit it with the last match on the side of my shoe, which had a striking surface.

“Look! There's some guy sniffing under the fir tree,” Igor said to us. We approached the tree to check who it was and what he was doing there. It was a hooligan sniffing from a plastic bag. Igor picked up a pine cone and threw it at the hooligan's back. He turned his head and looked around until he realized he'd been spotted.

“Get lost, bitches,” he muttered briefly and continued sniffing from his plastic bag. I also picked up a pine cone from the ground and hit his leg with it.

“Bastard, wait, you'll see, screw you,” yelled the hooligan angrily, emerged from the branches of the fir tree, and quickly approached us. We ran away. Unfortunately, we all ran in different directions. I stopped at a small kiosk that wasn't yet finished.

“Watch out!” I suddenly heard Sanja shout as I peeked around the corner of the kiosk. I had just turned around when the hooligan spotted me, grabbed my T-shirt, and dragged me around the corner. He pressed me against the wall with one hand and reached behind his back with the other. At that moment, I assumed he was reaching for his knife to stab me.

“Help me!” I screamed as loudly as possible for help. My loud scream caught the attention of the older neighborhood boys chilling on a bench within sight.

“Hey, you!” one of them shouted in our direction, and all the boys ran toward us. While the hooligan briefly glanced in their direction, his grip loosened, and I seized the opportunity to break free from his hand and hide behind the unfinished kiosk. From there, I watched as the hooligan had to bend over, and each of the five or six boys kicked his ass. At that moment, I was incredibly relieved that I had come out of this tricky situation unharmed. What would have happened to me if the boys hadn't been nearby? Then I would have ended up in the hospital or even dead, worst-case scenario. For that day, our search for building materials was definitely over.

However, a few days later, we resumed our plan. After school, we discussed together how we could build the floor of the treehouse first. Finding a thick board or any suitable wooden planks for it wasn't easy at all. We searched almost the entire city and found nothing suitable. The only option left to us was to steal boards from some construction site.

Not far from our courtyard, behind a small wooded area, some building was actually going on. The construction site was fenced with a one and a half meter high white wall. When Rafik, Igor, Sanja, and I climbed over the wall one evening, the building under construction was several dozen meters away from us. The construction site seemed deserted. No construction workers were in sight. Nevertheless, we cautiously walked in a crouched position to a large pile of bricks a few steps away and hid behind it. From here, we kept an eye out for something that could serve as a floor for the treehouse. After a short time, we spotted something we hadn't been looking for but could still serve as a floor for the treehouse. Stacked wooden pallets.

“How many of these do we need?” Igor asked.

“Three or four would be enough,” he answered. After a brief look around, we sneaked to the pile of wood. Each of us picked up a wooden pallet. We immediately started making our way back. Sanja was the first to climb over the wall. Then Rafik followed suit. Igor carefully pushed his wooden pallet down to the other side for the two of them.

“Not so loud,” I whispered to my friends because the wooden pallet made noise as it was being pushed over. As Igor began to climb over the wall, I heard a murmuring voice. I turned around to see where the sound was coming from. A man wandered about fifteen meters away from us through the construction site, apparently talking to himself.

“Shit, we're about to be discovered,” I whispered to Igor, who was already sitting on the wall.

“Hey, what are you doing there?” the man shouted in our direction and started moving toward us. Without hesitation and full of adrenaline, I threw my heavy wooden pallet over the wall. I glanced back briefly to see where the man was. He was only about five or six meters away from me, probably holding a rifle in his hands. With a small run-up, I jumped onto the wall and was halfway over when the man struck my leg with his rifle with full force. He just managed to grab my foot and pulled off my sandal. Fortunately, I was already on the other side of the wall. Without picking up my wooden pallet, I limped with aching leg and only one shoe after my friends. The man seemed not to follow us anymore. I sat down on a tree trunk in the wooded area for a moment and looked at my leg. It hurt, but I couldn't see any visible injury. My friends came out of their hiding spots.

“Wait here for a moment, I'll get the other pallet,” Igor said and sneaked back to the wall. After a few minutes, he returned with our loot. And it had definitely been worth the sore leg and lost sandal.

In the following days, we nailed the pallets to the tree and covered them with cardboard. That's how the foundation of our treehouse was created. After school, we continued to search the city for building materials. We found some cardboard boxes for the sidewalls of the treehouse in the garbage dumps.

“Guys, look at this,” Sanja said to us, pointing at a box. “There's something inside!”

We bent down to the box and opened it. It was filled with packaged, unopened chocolates. With chocolates of various kinds.

“This is insane! Let's bring this stuff to our treehouse,” Rafik said. I picked up the rather heavy box, my friends took the other empty boxes, and together we brought everything into the still wall-less, roofless treehouse. Rafik climbed up the tree and took the box from me. Then I, Sanja, and Igor climbed up as well.

“Let's try the chocolates,” I eagerly said to the others and took out a chocolate with a bow from the box and looked at it briefly to make sure it wasn't moldy. Then I quickly brought it to my mouth and bit off half of it.

“Tastes great!” I said chewing. My friends also took a chocolate from the box.

“Ahhh, there are worms in it!” Rafik screamed after taking a bite of the chocolate. He immediately threw it away. Quickly, I looked at the inside of my bitten chocolate and with widened eyes, discovered the wriggling end of a small white maggot. If I could have spat something out, I would have, but the other half had long since disappeared into my stomach. Disgusted, all four of us flung the chocolates far away from the tree. Rafik took the whole box of chocolates back to the garbage dump, while I, with Sanja and Igor, built the walls from the empty boxes. Igor brought a few small nails and a hammer from home to attach the boxes to the branches.

Now our treehouse not only had a floor but also cardboard walls. We didn't want to build a roof because it would have been dark inside otherwise, and the cardboard wouldn't have withstood the rain anyway.

Under the tree that housed our treehouse, there was a square table with benches, where babushkas gossiped daily. In the treehouse, we played for our Pokémon tokens. These were round chips made of plastic or paper with different Pokémon on one side and a Poké Ball on the other. Each person placed their chip with the Poké Ball facing up until a stack was formed. Then we played Tsu-Ye-Fa (rock-paper-scissors). Some might claim it was a pure game of chance, but it wasn't. It was a psychological game about reading the body language of my friends and misleading them with my own body language. Igor was the best at it. He practically won Tsu-Ye-Fa every time. But he wasn't nearly as good in the next step. The winner then took the stack of chips in hand and dropped it to the ground with self-selected force, aiming to flip over as many chips as possible. All the chips that flipped over, he got to keep. Then it was the loser of Tsu-Ye-Fa's turn to throw the remaining stack. And then the winner again, until no chips were left.

When we weren't playing Pokémon in the treehouse, we made strange noises and then tried to suppress our laughter because the babushkas beneath us were annoyed. Once in the middle of summer, we dropped a big firecracker through a hole in the floor of our treehouse. Right next to the fully occupied table. A loud bang.

“Have you all gone completely crazy?” one of the babushkas shouted. My ears were ringing.

“Just wait, I'm calling the police now!” she continued, resolutely heading towards the staircase. A few minutes later, a police car appeared in our courtyard. Rafik dashed to the left. Igor to the right. I towards the kiosk on the avenue. I ran behind the neighboring high-rise building into the pine tree area where we always smoked cigarettes. There, I crouched under the branches of a large pine tree and looked around. After waiting for a while, hoping the police car was gone, I crept – hoping the police car was gone – to the corner of the high-rise building. From there, I cautiously looked towards our courtyard. The police car was no longer visible. Instead, my friends were in the courtyard, playing hide-and-seek, it seemed. I didn't hesitate and joined them.

When there were many of us, we liked to play tag or hide-and-seek. We hid in stairwells, elevators, trees, and passageways and waited to be found. Since the courtyard was huge, searching took hours. Usually, it was already dusk, and the lights in the windows of the apartments gradually came on. Only the windows of the stairwells remained dark.

The light didn't work there in some high-rise buildings. When it got dark, in the evenings, you could only see the staircase because sunlight or moonlight, along with the light from the street lamps, shone through the windows. On the ground floor, right at the entrance of the houses, there were no windows at all. In this area of ​​the building, it was pitch dark at night. It was always thrilling to go through there. Goosebumps spread over my whole body as soon as I entered the darkness. No one dared to search or hide in dark stairwells anymore or to stay there for a long time. Everyone went home because school was the next day. Or we sat briefly on a bench in the courtyard or at the now empty babushka table. Then we brought our laser pointers from home and pointed them at the windows of the high-rise buildings until some man peeked out. We waited for him to disappear again before repeating the whole game. Eventually, he closed the curtains. Then we aimed the beam at another window.

On weekends, my friends and I were allowed to play on the courtyard until late at night. Outside on the bench or at the babushka table, we told each other stories about the dead, cemeteries, and ghosts in the twilight. It was so mystical and cool that I often didn't know if I got goosebumps because of the stories or because of the summer evening.

Once, Jana and Vika said their mother had a book about black magic. We found that very exciting.

“Vika, go get the book,” her sister said to her.

Then Vika ran home briefly. She left the stairwell door open so that at least a little light penetrated the darkness of the building. She and Jana lived on the third floor. While Vika was away, Igor told some story. I only listened with half an ear because the dark stairwell entrance held my attention. I almost expected to see something there. I didn't know if hours or only minutes had passed when Vika finally stepped outside and startled me so much that I flinched.

“Here I am… again,” she said, gasping for air, and slammed a black book on the table. Rafik lit a cigarette with a match and briefly illuminated the book. After a few seconds, as the fire reached the end of the match, Rafik shook it out. The sun had already set, and the writing on the book was only visible thanks to the light from the nearby street lamps. We slowly flipped through the pages. The instructions for summoning the Queen of Spades particularly fascinated us. Vika recounted that she had already tried it once, and supposedly a spirit appeared in the mirror and tried to strangle her. According to the legend she told, the Queen of Spades herself wasn't evil, but the creatures that could come with her through a mirror into our world. Before they could do anything bad, you were supposed to quickly wipe away the drawing made on the mirror. We found it so creepy that we just had to try it ourselves.

The next night, the five of us gathered in the dark stairwell. After lighting a candle, we followed the instructions step by step: Rafik held the rectangular mirror while Vika painted a four-step staircase with her red lipstick. At the bottom of the staircase, she drew a door, and on the top step, a dot. Then Jana held a Queen of Spades card with the front facing the mirror, and we all chanted together – by candlelight, sitting in a circle, and staring at the mirror:

“Píkawaja Dáma pridí” “Queen of Spades appear” “Queen of Spades appear”

One of us giggled. Brief silence. Then the summoning continued:

“Píkawaja Dáma pridí” “Queen of Spades appear”

“Sanja, someone's behind you, on the stairs!” Rafik interjected. A cold shiver ran down my spine. I quickly glanced around for reassurance. No one was there.

“Queen of Spades…” suddenly, the squeak of the stairwell door opening startled us. Someone indiscernible, whose slow gait resembled that of a zombie, mumbled something in a deep male voice. Rafik dropped the mirror, and it shattered, while we screamed and scattered.

The Golden Horse

On another day, as we hung out on the bench, Rafik told us a legend about a golden horse supposedly buried somewhere under Azov. A two-meter-high horse made of pure gold, waiting for us to find it. Without hesitation, we set out in search of the treasure that would make us rich. We got a flashlight, a rope, a hammer, a shovel, and provisions and went together to search the whole city.

We searched all kinds of areas until we came across a dark hole in the ground in an abandoned area. It was dark there, and you couldn't see the bottom. After someone shone a flashlight inside, we realized it was at least two meters deep, and apparently you could even go further down. We had a rope with us, but no one dared to climb down – so Tsu-Ye-Fa had to decide for us. Unfortunately, luck was not on my side... My friends threw one end of the rope into the hole, held onto the other end, and shoved the flashlight between my teeth. I grabbed the rope with both hands and climbed down.

The further down I went, the worse the air became. The stench was unbearable: a mixture of feces and alcohol. Once at the bottom, I took the flashlight out of my pocket, aimed it ahead, and pressed the power button as quietly as possible. In the yellow, dim light of the flashlight, the brick-paved hell was illuminated. Motionless among piles of garbage lay two homeless people, apparently sleeping there.

“Hey! Pull me up!” I whispered to my friends, looking up and seeing their heads peering into the hole. Who knows what kind of guys they were... One thing was for sure: they weren't dead bodies, because when we checked again the next day, they were gone. So, this time, we were able to advance to the end of the passage. There was a wall there, behind which we suspected the golden horse to be. So, for several days, we hammered on the wall to break through it. We only managed to make a small hole before the work and the smell became too much for us, and we gave up on the golden horse.

Rafik Disappeared

Summer was coming to an end. Sanja, Igor, and my other friends went on vacation with their parents, and Rafik, who lived directly above us with his mother and younger sister, was also away this summer. But he never returned to the courtyard after that vacation.

His mother tearfully told my mother that, according to the authorities, he was pulled into the depths of the Azov Sea by a strong current while she unsuspectingly sat on the beach. Despite a desperate search with a helicopter, all help came too late.

From then on, a sad and gloomy atmosphere hung over the courtyard for weeks, and it was strange not to see my once lively friend Rafik there anymore. An eerie feeling crept over me every time I passed Rafik's apartment door in the stairwell and paused for a moment to think of him. It felt as if something inexplicable was lurking in his apartment, watching me directly through the peephole.

Galja and Gogi Move to Azov

Galja and Gogi permanently moved from Uzbekistan to Azov. They had sold their house in Uzbekistan. The money from the sale was enough to buy a one-room apartment on Krasnoarmeyskiy Pereulok, a few streets away from our apartment. Except for the mattresses for sleeping, the apartment was initially completely empty. The kitchen and the balcony looked the most run-down.

Over the course of several months, Galja and Gogi first got a new stove, a TV, and other household appliances from the tech shops directly at the bazaar. Beds came much later, so they slept on the floor for the time being. Gogi painstakingly renovated the apartment. All the new household appliances, the beautiful parquet floor in the living room, the air conditioner, high-quality tiles in the bathroom, light switches that glowed in the dark, and especially the renovated balcony, which looked snow-white from the outside, made the apartment seem very luxurious to me.

On weekends, after playing outside with friends, I always made my way to my grandparents' house. To avoid contact with the gopniks who might be lurking around the dark residential area and trying to squeeze the last ruble out of someone like me, I took the path through the illuminated pedestrian zone along the already closed bazaar.

When I arrived at my grandparents' house, it was usually Gogi who opened the door for me.

“Oooh, Sanyok's here!” he exclaimed, happy to see me. Inside the apartment, the scent of food greeted me, always reminding me of Uzbekistan. Galja had already sensed that I was about to arrive and had therefore cooked my favorite meal, delicious pelmeni.

“Sanyok, sit down, I made pelmeni for you,” she said to me, placing a full plate and a glass of sour cream on the table.

After stuffing myself, I desperately needed a shower. Sweaty from playing, with dirty knees and hands – I absolutely couldn't get on the white-covered mattress in that state. Galja and Gogi always wanted me to clean my back well. Sometimes Gogi would knock on the unlocked bathroom door, then come right in, take a soapy, rough sponge, and scrub my back with it. It was embarrassing for me to be naked in his presence. That's why I covered my private parts with my hands until Gogi left.

Sometimes, when I stood in front of the mirror blow-drying my hair, my vision darkened until I could barely see anything. I felt dizzy. As soon as I squatted down and stayed like that for a few seconds, the dizziness would disappear. I was used to it, as it always happened when I was exposed to hot water for too long. Especially when bathing. So, I wasn't afraid. After my vision cleared up, I stood up by the sink and immediately threw myself onto the cool mattress in the living room.

The lights were off, the TV was on. Shortly after, Galja came out of the kitchen and sat with her legs stretched out on the mattress. I rested my head in Galja's lap. She dipped a cotton swab into the cream jar and cleaned my first ear.

“Ouch, Galja, not so deep. That hurts!” I complained as Galja poked around in my ear.

“Oi oi oi, Sanyok, your ears are so dirty,” Galja said, undeterred. After cleaning my ears, she would often massage my feet while watching a crime series on TV.

Meanwhile, Gogi sat on the balcony, smoked a cigarette, and usually drank a beer with it. Sometimes there was also some dried, smoked fish to go along with it. After the foot massage, Galja often went out to the balcony to smoke.

Sometimes, the smell of cigarettes wafted into the apartment, prompting me to go outside as well and convince Galja to let me take a puff of the cigarette at least once.

“Pleeeeease, Galja, I already smoke with my friends anyway.”

“Oh, Sanyok, smoking is unhealthy. Don't do it,” Gogi interjected, exhaling huge clouds of smoke from his nose and slurping the last foam from his beer glass.

“Alright, but don't tell your mother,” Galja finally gave in and handed me the cigarette.

I took a deep drag and let the smoke linger in my lungs. Feeling lightheaded, I stared down at the rarely traveled street below the balcony. Directly across, there was a small grocery store that resembled more of a larger kiosk than a supermarket. Galja sometimes bought me sweets there, cola with chips, or other unhealthy stuff when I felt like snacking while watching TV.

When Gogi had smoked the cigarette down to a stub, we went back inside to watch some crime series on NTV. I lay between Galja and Gogi on the mattress until I got bored and had the idea to mimic Bruce Lee. I fetched an empty one-and-a-half-liter plastic bottle from the kitchen and handed it to Gogi.

“Here, Gogi, hold this tight.” I had him hold the bottle by the neck. Then I delivered the first side kick. I followed it up with another kick from the other leg. I kicked alternately, each time stronger, until Gogi couldn't hold the bottle anymore and it was sent flying.

“Ohoho Sanyok, you can kick hard,” Gogi exclaimed.

Gogi really enjoyed it when I demonstrated my self-invented karate moves.

By midnight, the TV was still on low volume. Galja and Gogi were already dozing off. I was still awake and ate a slice of bread with a thick, salty layer of sour cream. Suddenly, moaning came from the TV.

“Oh yes, uh ooh, call me.” A half-naked, well-endowed woman writhed on the flickering screen. I quickly darted to the TV to turn it off before Galja and Gogi woke up from that embarrassing moaning.

The last source of light that kept me from sleeping had now been extinguished. The only thing still visible was the dim light from the street lamps outside the kiosk. As I stared at this mystical light, my eyelids grew heavier and heavier…

As the first rays of sunlight streamed into the apartment through the balcony and kitchen windows, waking me up, I could already hear Gogi muttering something in the kitchen. He was saying a prayer, as he did every morning before I woke up. After the prayer, Galja prepared breakfast with fried eggs, bread, and tea.

“Sanyok, I wanted to give you another silver chain with a cross,” Gogi said to me during breakfast. “Maybe you'll get it for your birthday.”

After breakfast, Gogi and I took the marshrutka to the church. There, we bought a few beeswax candles in a small shop and then lit them in the church. I wasn't much of a believer, but the smell of the recently lit candles, the ornate walls around me, the deep singing of the priest, and the intense smell of incense were breathtaking. After lighting the candles, Gogi filled a plastic bottle with holy water that we had brought with us, and then we made our way back home.

It was time to go home to my parents, or else my mother would worry. After all, neither I nor Galja and Gogi had a phone.

I was reluctant to go back home. Instead, I briefly checked in with Mama and then continued playing outside with Igor, Sanja, and the others.

Meanwhile, my parents argued every day, and it was uncomfortable for me to witness them in this state. During the week, my father didn't come home from his new job until midnight. Dima had been offered a position as a news anchor at the regional TV station DON-TR, which he accepted without hesitation. However, he had to travel to the city of Rostov, forty kilometers away, every day for work. My father didn't have a driver's license, even though he could have obtained one or bought one cheaply. We couldn't afford a car anyway. So, Dima used marshrutkas at the nearby train station.

“Where were you? Did you fuck that prostitute from work again?” Mama shouted at my father. “What nonsense are you spouting now?” Dima replied, trying to disappear into another room while Mama followed him and continued to accuse him. I sat quietly with little Dasha in the living room. “Aaah, I'll call the police right away,” I heard my mother shout from the bedroom. “Saschenka, call the police. Father is hitting me.”

I didn't know what to do. Then I thought to take a peek into my parents' bedroom to see if Dima was really hitting her. Mama was sitting on the floor. “Sanyok, she's sick,” Dima said, completely agitated, and then changed rooms again.

Sometimes there were days when I found myself in the middle of my parents' conflict. Sometimes I protected my mother by hugging her when my father wanted to touch her a bit more roughly because his words weren't getting through to her.

Day by day, I felt my parents growing increasingly distant from each other. Nothing was the same as before. There were no more shared breakfasts. No smell of coffee prepared by Dima in the morning. Even the relationship between my maternal and paternal grandparents became significantly worse, until they were completely at odds. Galja and Dima blamed Grandma Lina – especially for the fights between my parents. Galja said she always played Mama and Dima against each other. Dima referred to Grandma Lina as Kuwalda in conversations with me, which translates to “heavy hammer.” The nickname was a reference to Grandma Lina's stature. Although she worked hard on the farm and in the kitchen, she was overweight, which she always attributed to her thyroid condition.

“Look at this shit,” Grandma Lina said to Dima on TV when we visited Lina and Yura in Kharkovskiy. Whenever we were there, she watched the news at 9 p.m. And who was there as the news anchor? Dima. Her hatred for Dima was indescribable and spared no one, not even me. Probably because I resembled Dima. In every argument between Dasha, Lina, and me, Dasha was the good one, and I was the so-called Jewish Fufaev spawn.

With Galja, it was the opposite: It seemed to me that she liked me more than Dasha. That's why I mostly sided with Dima, Galja, and Gogi. Still, I also felt sympathy for my mother when Dima said something negative to her. But I never contradicted him, fearing it would worsen our relationship. Likewise, I never contradicted my mother because I loved her.

Soon, our apartment, like a war zone, was abandoned. Mama, Dasha, and I moved to Kharkovskiy to Yura and Lina's house, while my father rented an apartment in Rostov. After ten years of marriage, my parents got divorced.

Future Learning from My Parents' Fights: Before becoming a father, I will first consider whether I am capable of not leaving my children with trauma during difficult relationship phases.