What colours do you use to draw snow on a blank sheet of paper? Blue, purple? Perhaps just a hint of red, to make it looks a bit more cheerful. But then you'd need to add a dash of green, and a bit of light blue . . . Now, does that look like snow, or not? Show it to Oleg, and see what he thinks.
Oleg looked up cheerfully from his book.
He has lately started calling her different names out of adult books, copying Uncle Alex. Sometimes she understands them, sometimes she doesn't. Oleg thinks he's grown up.
"So that's what you're reading — a book for babies."
"And I liked it when I was small. Now I read because I don't like it."
"You'd better do the dishes, in that case."
"Nah, Tania, all jokes aside, just think how it is in all those stories: some joker is granted three wishes, and what does he do? Asks to get across a river, or over a mountain, or some rubbishy thing like that. Those stupid storybook heroes never wish for anything really big! What would you ask for if you had three wishes?"
"That I wouldn't have to go to the dentist tomorrow."
"See what I mean? Fancy using up a wish on something like that!"
"You wouldn't say so if it was you having a filling . . ."
"Fine, but you could have wished never to need a filling ever again!"
This brilliant possibility filled Tania with awe.
"Perhaps you could make a wish that nobody in the whole world would ever have toothache or need a filling again?"
"It's a thought.. In fact, you could do even better . . . the thing is, kid, we just don't know how to do this sort of thing properly. Neither do the people who write stories. For instance, you could make a wish that nobody would ever get sick! Just think — they could close down all the clinics."
"That's right! And the princes in the fairy stories could make a wish that all the dragons should drop dead straight away."
Oleg demurred, "No, that'd make life too dull."
But Tania was borne along on a tide of enthusiasm.
"Let's think up three really fabulous wishes, better than anything in the world!"
"For ourselves, or for everyone?"
"For everyone, of course, the bigger, the better! First of all, that nobody would ever be ill. So that everyone. . ."
"So that everybody will own a dog."
"Auntie Masha doesn't like dogs. I'm sure she wouldn't want one."
"Well, this business about nobody ever being sick isn't such a great idea, either. Lenny from upstairs deliberately ate a lot of snow yesterday so as to get sick: they've got a test coming up at school. How do we know what everyone wants? Maybe there's no such thing."
"Let's go and ask Mum."
Mum was busy trying to wash out a stain on Oleg's trousers and in no mood for conversation.
"I'd like to be able to rest every Sunday instead of washing clothes," she sighed, shaking some more powder onto the stain.
"Oh, Mum, don't be like that! You could make a wish that nobody would ever have to wash clothes, couldn't you?"
"And walk around dirty?"
"No, that clothes would become clean all by themselves. It's a wish, don't you see?"
"Look, why don't you kids go to the park for a while? Think up your wishes by yourselves, and you can make up a few for me while you're about it. Go on. scoot!"
There was so much snow in the park, that the children didn't know what to do first.
"Let's go to the sled slope!" But the sled slope had been taken over by boys from the orphanage, which would have meant a fight, no two ways about it, and Oleg wasn't in the mood for fighting just then. You could have a fight just as well when it was raining. The children wandered away, and spent some time lobbing snowballs at a bole on a huge lime tree, to see who could score the most direct hits.
"What are you chucking those things for? This is my tree!"
A cross little girl, smaller than Tania, marched out from behind the huge tree trunk. She was from the orphanage too you could tell by her clothes.
"Yours? I bet you don't even know what kind of tree it is!"
"Yes I do! And you two don't!"
"It's a lime tree, smarty pants!"
"There's lime trees all round, but this one's got a special name."
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
"I'm not going to tell you. It's a secret."
"And is your name a secret, too?"
"It's Marina," said the little girl glumly. A closer look showed Oleg and Tania that there were traces of tears on her face. Had someone hit her, or something?
Oleg felt around in his pockets and came up with a toy soldier. A few minutes later they had built him a snow fortress, lost the soldier in a snow drift, then found him again and wrapped him a handkerchief.
It emerged that nobody had hit Marina. Anna Ivanovna had other ways of punishing children: like smearing soap all over their tongues, or making them stand on one spot, holding a heavy stool in their outstretched hands. The boys sometimes got all their hair shaved off. The staff at the orphanage never hit anyone, because that's against the law.
It's the older kids who do the beating. Like Nadia the Toady and Lonnie. Anna Ivanovna only has to frown at someone, and these two know what to do. Not then and there, of course: they wait to get you in the dormitory, or in the toilets. This is known as self-discipline.
"Marina, what would you ask for if you could have three wishes?"
"To be able to fly!"
"Just you? Or everyone?"
"No, because then someone could catch me. This orphanage is a special one, and I'm in it because I've tried to run away before. But if I could fly, all they'd be able to do is stand on the ground and watch me disappear."
"Where would you fly to?" "Well, if I could fly, I'd be able to find myself a mum." "And a daddy, too?"
"I don't know about that. Daddies can be mean sometimes, and get drunk, and belt you around. Nick in the second grade was almost killed by his dad. He even had to go to hospital. So he says he prefers to be here."
"Our dad never hits anyone." 'Some people are lucky."
"Marina!" A long-legged girl with snow-reddened hands came running up. "Have you been hiding again? Anna Ivanovna's calling everyone back, so you'd better hurry!"
"We always come here at this time," whispered Marina. Tania
quickly thrust the little tin soldier into her hand, and she was off.
Aweek passed. It was evening, the children hadquietened down, and the adults sac around talking in the kitchen.
"I went and had a look at that little girl. The poor creature's like some small wild animal: won't look up at you, you can hardly hear her voice when she answers. I made the sign of the cross over her before leaving, and she flung her arms around her head, as if she thought I was about to clout her!"
"Well, that's not really surprising — you raised your arm, and she expected a blow. You don't think anyone makes signs of the cross over them in that orphanage, do you? And really, Lina, don't you think you're being a bit irresponsible?
A grown woman, and you're acting like Tania. I grew up in an orphanage myself, don't forget, so I know what it's like: someone is suddenly nice to you, and you start going out of your mind with hope, just like a puppy in a pet shop. Then they lose interest and dump you. So you start hating the whole world — all those supposedly 'kind' adults!"
"Alex, simmer down!" besought the children's father.
"Lina didn't actually go to the orphanage, she just made it seem like a chance encounter, when the orphanage kids were taken out for a walk. Oleg pointed the girl out, but stayed at a distance • himself, as we'd told him he should."
'You're kidding yourselves. They'll meet again tomorrow, and what will be the result, eh?"
"Nonsense! Oleg's 11, old enough to understand."
"That's what you think. Tania whispered in my ear today that she and Oleg have a new sister, but to keep it a secret. You're playing with fire!"
"Alex, why 'playing'? You know Sergei and me well enough, surely!"
Lina, flushed with annoyance, turned back to the stove.
"I like it when you get angry, it makes you prettier than ever," joked Alex, trying to ease the tension of the moment. "Of course I know Sergi — gneld God, we went through the camps together! And I know your worth from the way you've raised the kids. You've both got guts, I know. But you need a different kind of courage in a situation like this one. And I don't honestly know whether you could handle it. One thing I do now, though, is that Soviet
laws make adoption as difficult as possible. Even if you're thoroughly determined to do so. You wouldn't believe the number of obstacles that will be placed in your way. So leave the poor kid be, don't raise_ any false hopes!"
"But times have changed, for heaven's sake! Just think, you were a political prisoner — did it ever enter your head that your paper would become legal?"
"That's all very well, but the adoption laws haven't changed. You want me to give it to you chapter and verse? Okay. The law is that every person must have 13 and a half square metres of living space, right? Including the adopted child, naturally. How big is this flat of yours? Forty square metres, and there's already four of you. So that's already grounds for refusing you."
"No commission's going to look at that now: the economic situation is so bad they'll only be too glad to have one mouth less to feed in that orphanage."
"That's what you think. Bear in mind that the orphanage receives 50 roubles per month for every kid they have there. With luck, about half of that is actually spent on the orphans, and the rest goes straight into the pockets of the director, the economic administrator and all that lot. A nice little regular income. Don't you know that they classify a lot of the kids as mentally deficient, iust to out people off adopting them? I'll bet you anything you like that this Marina of yours will be down as an undesirable, especially if she's tried running away."
"Tania says that Marina can read, even though she's not turned seven yet."
"So what? The commission will look at her documents, not at her. Come on, you've got to give up this crazy idea. And you don't even know the child properly, if it comes to that. . ."
Sergei stubbed out his cigarette, and rose. "To tell the truth, pal, I don't know how it will all work out. But if it doesn't, it will be because we've all lost the ability
to really wish for something. We used to have it, God knows. Moved mountains. Remember that hunger strike we held? What were our chances then? So stop spreading doom and gloom. If you want to help us fine. If not, let's change the subject. I've never had to feel ashamed of myself before my own kids yet, see?"
"Hey, climb down off that stump! I'm not the public pro.secutor! Lina, tell him to shut up while you answer this question: do you really want to go through with this? Are you set on it beyond any doubt?"
It was hot in the kitchen, and the washing suspended on a cord under the ceiling steamed cont'd on page seven