Saint Nicholas from Oleshky

(short story)

The steady sound of train wheels moving from Kyiv to Lviv served as a meditative motif leading to relaxation. The young woman in her early thirties, looking like a firm femme fatale, caressed the curly hair of her two kids sleeping nearby.

The seven-year-old boy and his five-year old sister had chirped like cheery sparrows for almost two hours and got tired at long last lying on their mother`s lap.

“Are you from Kherson?” Looking away from the mobile phone, I glanced at the steel eyes of the silent mom.

The brunette woman with a militant bun hairstyle looked surprised, “I havent said a word and you know that Im from Kherson. Are you an extrasensory man or a spy? ”

“Neither one, nor the other, I just heard as your children mentioned ‘Suric’ – a Kherson slang word meaning Suvorov street and ‘Voyenka’ – an old city outskirt…”

“You are an attentive man who lived in Kherson for some time, right?” The sharp eyes of the young woman sparkled with slight curiosity.

“Right, I spent all my childhood there and even youth. After some period of life adventures, I dropped my anchor in Kyiv…By the way, my name is Oleg, glad to meet you.”

“Katherine. So am I.”

“So you flee away from daily shelling of all Kherson districts…I have just monitored all information from Kherson region…The good news is that the electricity is restored in more than 60% of households.”

“The bad news that the artillery firing from left-bank Oleshky goes around-the-clock… Russian troops don`t sleep either day or night and keep on shooting at their favorite targets – the high-rise houses of our civilians. ” Unexpectedly, the shrewd eyes of Katherine filled with tears. “Excuse me,” she took a snow-white handkerchief and wiped her long eyelashes.

“You lost somebody in Oleshky, didn`t you?” I asked politely.

“You should work as a detective in police, how did you determine it?” The young woman frowned a bit.

“You pronounced ‘Oleshky’ with such warmth in your voice that…”

“I see. There lived an old man whom I called ‘Saint Nicolas’ because he gave me the second birth in childhood, A week ago he turned into the war statistics, into one more killed civilian,” Katherine started crying silently.

Not knowing what to do, I went to a train conductor and brought her a cup of hot tea.

After the first sip of strong tea, Katherine calmed down, “When I was five years old, my parents did not know what to do with me. I suffered from some strange disease called ‘food allergy,’ and I could eat nothing except mashed potatoes made of potatoes boiled three times in different water. I looked like a skeleton with wrinkled skin covered with dark blue blurs. All other food led to the scatterings of red spots from my forehead to feet. Together with my Mother and Grandma, we visited all possible and impossible doctors in Kherson and even went to some Professor in Kyiv. The verdict was unanimous – this odd disease could be treated just only abroad, somewhere in Europe…One well-respected doctor even said to my mom that she should accept my ‘afterlife’ and give birth to another child…

However, my Mom was a hard-nut to crack, she heard that in Oleshky lived one folk medicine man, some specialist in homeopathy, who helped a lot of people suffering from a smorgasbord of strange sicknesses…In spite of the strong opposition of my grandmother who trusted just only official medicine, we went to this oldie because he was the last-straw-man to my salvation…We did not have money for foreign high-class clinics… ” Katherine made a pause and suddenly smiled…

“He was a funny man, right?”

“Yeah. When we came to his house, he smirked, smashing his nose like an old pirate and frightening me with two moving fingers. Not knowing why, I started laughing…Then he listened to long speeches of my mom and grandma and went away to bring some pack with healing herbs in a while…On his table, there was a large saucepan with sparkling strawberry I could not take my eyes off. It was so juicy and ripe…I have never eaten it before because of my illness…” Katherine plunged in her thoughts and fell silent flying in her memories.

“Hmmm, guess he brew some broth for you soon, right?” I could not stand the long silence and broke it.’

“Yeah. He gave me half a glass of some potion and looked at my reaction. To my surprise, I felt better soon and asked the permission to taste the terrific berry…Without any words, he pushed the saucepan with strawberry to me. My Mom and Grandma rushed to prevent it, however, he asked them to leave his house for some time…As for me, I had never been so happy, I ate one strawberry after another, one berry, another berry and one more berry…I felt as the energy of the spring sunshine streamed through all my legs, arms and fingers…My folks stood at a window and cried looking at my happy face… ”

“Have you visited your life savior anymore?” I got interested.

“Yeah, we came to him for several more times just to check my general state of health. We dropped in even on the New Year`s Eve with our favorite Kyiv cake…”

“With the layers of hazelnuts, chocolate glaze and buttercream, I like it too…”

“Yeah, That day he dressed like Saint Nicolas and gifted me a female doll in traditional Ukrainian clothes. Since that time I have called him as ‘Saint Nicolas from Oleshky.’ One year ago I went to him again; my daughter suffered from the asthmatic coughing…He helped once more with some healing herbs…” Katherine started sobbing bitterly awakening her sleeping kids.

I went to the train conductor once again. This time I brought four cups of tea – three for Katherine and her kids, and one for me. Looking at still weeping wet eyes of Katherine, I was ready to join her…However, I remembered on time that men never cry…War is a cruel beast crashing everything on its way and paying no attention to casual civilians…

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