1933 Babushka kept a pig in the bathtub while the Red Army raided barns and larders enforcing Holodomor. Out on the Kiev streets stick bodies staggered, bloated and staining snowdrifts like squashed bluebottles.
The children named the pig Nina against their mother’s warnings. Come slaughter day they waited on the balcony with scarves tight round their ears but the screams rang loud and their tears froze.
1974 The British three day week; fish, chips by candlelight. I strutted my hot pants to Bowie and Bolan on Pirate Radio; sniggered when Papa built secret shelves inside the chimney breast to hide tins of flour, sugar, rice, pasta and preserves.
Babushka, me and Mama chopped and shredded cabbage, carrots, onions like swathes of virgin lace spilling over the yellow table, pickled in old sweetie jars with faded labels. The blue room soured with the stink of vinegar.
2020 The year of Covid 19; I empty bookcases, arrange tins of soup, sweetcorn and tuna. Lockdown. The silent sky tumbles sapphire and stags browse my garden. Their antlers spark a murder of crows spooling from the willows.
When the amber light fades to dusk ghosts come knocking at my door. I look out at a deserted street, counting down every wavering heart beat. In the still mountain night I hear the echo of Babushka cheering.
Break-time. The English sip milk through a straw, crunch crisps.
I am the foreign kid, cornered by Miss Blowers, stick the tip
between your teeth. The them there this. The they them, like this.
Her tongue protrudes from her mouth like a sliver of salami. De dem dare dis. De dey dem, like dis, I repeat.
Miss Blowers holds Noddy and the Magic Rubber. Her sharp
fingernails tap the cover; rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat. Thwack.
I am crowned with Noddy. I detonate with pain and shame. The they them there this. The they them! roars Miss Blowers.
My tongue strikes, three thunderous thumps, thanks.
Back home Mama prepares borscht, slicing beetroots, carrots,
Chop, chop, chop into small. Her knife slides through red
flesh with no resistance, taps as it hits the chopping board. Don’t like bosh, says I. Not de bosh, but de borscht! says Mama. Not de borscht but the borscht and out comes my tongue.