When I was little, I lived in a little city called Orhei in a little country called Moldova. Some people called it Russia since it used to be part of the USSR, whilst others called it Romania because the language and customs were basically the same give or take a couple syllables. I just called it home.
Nowadays, things are different. We used to live in a little farm, with the cow grazing just outside. Her name was Katya. My mom and dad didn’t know this, but Katya and I had a plan to escape in case they decided that we didn’t have enough money to keep her around. This already happened to her friend Sasha, and we agreed that it couldn’t happen to her. When we made this plan, I took the wagging of Katya’s tail as an affirmative.
Right next to Katya was our little hen house. We had ten hens, and all of them were really nice. Their clucking brought calmness to my mind, and when we left for America it was disconcerting to have entire hours where the house would remain completely silent. Not a single moo from Katya or cluck from the hens penetrating the silence.
Back in those days, life was simple. Every morning we would wake up at dawn, and go about the daily chores we had around the house. I had started helping when I was 4, and although I was probably more of a nuisance than help, my parents let me do some of the small things. I was in charge of cleaning the chicken troughs. Our hens were very picky and they had to have clean water! I would always think about ways to scrub more efficiently as I was doing it. I even suggested attaching a brush to a stick so that I could hold two sticks and clean both of the troughs at the same time. Of course I was also the one who suggested putting holes in the roof so that the hens could just drink the rain water.
After we were done with chores, I collected the eggs from the hens, and helped squeeze some milk from Katya. I always thanked her afterwards – “спасиба катя” (spasiba Katya) – and patted her rump. If you didn’t thank her, Katya could be quite the diva. I brought the eggs to my mom and the milk to my dad, and they would go about preparing breakfast.
This was my chance to finally go talk to Andryuha and Farzan. Andryuha was blond and crazy and I had known him since I came to Kishinev after my birth in Israel. Farzan was calm and quiet. He had darker skin. He was from the only Persian family in the city. We were known around the neighborhood as the “разбойники” (razboiniki) – a term that literally means bandits, but in a much more playful sense. We would climb trees, steal fruits, and play with people’s drying laundry. Then we would meet up at Farzan’s house where his mom always had a giant meal waiting. It was a mystery how that woman did it, but every single time a giant feast was available with food that no one else in the city made.
Right about the time I turned five, my parents had decided that the farming lifestyle was too difficult. Living on debt wasn’t easy. They had filed for refugee status as persecuted Jews from the USSR years ago. The US had accepted that application, and they had been postponing it ever since, in hopes that life in Orhei would turn around. It hadn’t. We moved to New York, my father started a small business, and the rest is history.
Nowadays when we come back, we don’t go to Orhei, we go to the major city, Kishinev. We stay at a fancy hotel and walk around the malls. Occasionally we go to the bazaar and I smell the scents of nostalgia, but the full on heart-throbbing sensation of being home eludes me. One year, I decided that I would take a trip to Orhei, just to remember that feeling.
Orhei was different too. The farm we used to live at was now a hotel with a neon sign. However, some farms were still there. The children ran around barefoot and the old apricot tree that Andryuha, Farzan, and I spent hours hanging off of was still standing beautiful as ever. The people didn’t speak Russian like they did when I lived there. Only Moldovan. Everyone that remembered my family remarked that I looked like an American now. That I walked as if I owned the streets, and that everything from my clothes to my way of speaking wasn’t like it used to be.
I went looking for Andryuha, but his mom said he went by Andrey now. It made sense but it still stung. Apparently he was off at a telemarketing conference in France. I added him on Facebook and he said that Farzan lives in California now. He’s also married.
It’s funny how things can live so brightly in memory, and yet grow so much fainter in actuality.