In front of Olga stood a teddy bear, covered in dust and mud, a colorful result of unwarranted sorrow. It rested from its journey in the arms of a five-year-old boy who had arrived at the refugee camp. No one knew his name, no one knew anything about his parents.
“Hello, sweetheart, what's your name?” Olga asked, caressing the child's cheek.
The boy didn't respond with words, but resignation and the complete annihilation of his innocence and childhood were written all over his face. He held on to his toy so tightly that it seemed like he was guarding it from anyone who might harm it. It might have been the only thing he had left from his previous life. But it wasn't his only memory.
* * *
I remember Christmas, having dinner with dad, mom, uncles, and grandparents. I remember opening my gift, it was the toy I had always wanted, a baby dinosaur I could feed. Why couldn't I bring it with me?
I remember Sergiy, Oleg, Lesya, my teacher. Where could they be? Why can't I see them?
My parents were arguing about someone going crazy and that we had to leave. Mom gave me Momo, my sleeping teddy bear, dressed me up, and we ran out of the house. They said someone wanted to “declassify” Ukraine, what does that mean?
On the street, I heard screams and people running scared with backpacks, suitcases, and their pets. Maybe we were all going on a trip! But then there was a loud noise, and in the distance, we saw black smoke. It could be as a volcano! Like they explained to us in school. Mom crouched down to adjust my hat. “We are innocent, Andriy,” she said, crying. What does innocent mean? Dad said goodbye to us and said he was going back home to protect it. Why? I remember well that he had locked it up.
Mom and I continued our journey. She was nervous, I could tell, she kept looking at her phone. A man stopped us, and from his car, he asked where we were going. How lucky! He was traveling to the same place as us, so he let us get in; but where were we going? Mom always said not to talk to strangers, maybe he was her friend! I felt good, so I fell asleep in the car, I was very tired and it was very comfortable.
When I opened my eyes, my mother was crying while reading the news on her phone. “Let's go, Andriy,” she said to me before heading downstairs. The man gave me a chocolate bar for behaving well. “Take care,” my mother said before closing the door.
We continued walking along a narrow path, where there were many people accidentally pushing us because they were rushing. Someone bumped into me and Momo fell to the ground. I tried to let go of my mother's hand. “No, Andriy!” she shouted. But Momo disappeared among the legs of the people, so I managed to break free and ran to rescue him. Everyone was stepping on Momo, nobody cared. “No, Momo!” My mother was shouting my name, and I was shouting Momo's name, but suddenly, there was a very loud noise… I don't remember anything else from that day.
When I woke up, I had Momo in my arms. I screamed my mother's name, but I couldn't find her anywhere. “We have to keep walking, child,” a lady told me. So, I listened to her and went in the same direction as everyone else, constantly calling for my mother.
I walked until I arrived at a place with people wearing war clothes. Who were they? People passed by them with their suitcases and friends, but I was alone. I screamed my mother's name and started crying. Nobody could find her.
I kept walking, kept crying, and calling for my mother. I looked at Momo, I wanted to go back home, but a man told me we couldn't go back, we had to keep walking. Where are mom and dad? Why don't we stop walking?
I don't know how long it was, but I do remember that I never stopped walking. A woman saw me and held out her hand. “Come with me, we're almost there, son,” she said with a smile. But I'm not her son, she was a stranger. Maybe she was a friend of my mom?
And that's how I ended up here. Had we been “declassified”?
* * *
Olga had not heard his voice yet. The boy remained lost in thought, as if in shock. “Can you understand what I'm saying?” she asked him again. The boy looked at his teddy bear and replied, “We are innocent, Momo.”
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