Страна : Украина
После учебы в США – стипендиат (FLEX 96 as well), и работы на Манхэттене, Леся вернулась в Восточную Европу, живет и работает в Киеве. Пишет прозу и сценарии.
Country : Ukraine
Born in the USSR, Lesya faced the collapse of Soviet Union when she was 10. She was a scholarship student at Smith College, Massachusetts, USA and at Cottey College, Missouri, USA and after working in Manhattan and moving back to Eastern Europe, she now writes prose and film scripts. One of Lesya’s scripts was produced and premiered on a National Channel in 2012. Her short story ‘Abandoned Land’ placed among the finalists in the National Short Story Competition in Ukraine in 2016.
As we come out from the bus, the first thing I see is a big palm tree! I have never seen such a
thing in my life, so I run to touch it. The palm tree is very tall and its bark is so thick. It’s the cold of
March, the shrill breeze makes us hide in the administrative building. “Not only a camp and a
school, it’s also the best Crimean resort, and the sea breeze is so good for you,” my mom kept
saying, folding my clothes nicely into the suitcase.
Yet security takes our bags from us, and I say ‘goodbye’ to my clothes carrying the aroma of
my mom’s hands. I mutter ‘good day’ to smelly, processed woolen suits and pants; thin, knee-length
sweaters; and ugly, dark blue hats, socks and gloves. We are to be uniform. After we change and
give away our things, I follow the older girls into the biggest room on the floor. Twelve beds with
the ugly nightstands on the left side of each bed.
“So, here’s our bedroom! How luxurious,” Kate, a tall and skinny girl, is the first one to
occupy the bed she likes.
Kate kindly lets her closest girlfriends argue for the beds next to hers and then takes mascara
in a small rectangular box with a miniature brush out of her bra, and puts it on her nightstand in
order for everyone to praise. “It’s my mom’s!” she proclaims proudly. So everyone in the room goes
“wow” because she’s stolen something from her mom and managed to bring it through security
Shower rooms and restrooms are at the end of the hallway. I prepare notebooks and pens for
classes that start tomorrow morning. I hear older girls argue in the hallway whether to go over to the
boys’ floor. I look out into a hallway. A boy with the thickest eyelashes in the world walks by. We
eye his back for a while.
We can see the beach out the window stretching for more than eleven kilometers. The sea is
grey, with whitecaps on choppy waves. It is too cold to swim in anyway. Even though we’re at sea,
we have to follow the national curriculum, studying in a separate school building, serving all
Artek’s 1 nine camps. We come from many cities of the Soviet Union, chosen to represent our school
in this great experience.
We walk to school, wearing the same blue uniforms and jackets along cypress-lined paths. In
the afternoon of our first day we leave for an excursion to the palace where Churchill, Stalin and
Roosevelt signed the new order in 1945. The armchairs and table are frozen in time. At dinner
mashed potatoes and cutlets are eaten without noticing any flavor, for we are so tired. I itch
throughout the day because our uniforms are made of wool. I am so tired that I can’t keep my
“Everyone, take your gym shoes quickly and come down for the ballroom dance class!” says
our coordinator, a tall woman with sad blue eyes.
At first the teacher explains how to slide the ‘waltz square’. She shows everyone how to
learn waltz the easiest way. It is a helpful pattern that doesn’t confuse footing for the beginners. I
cheer up, as I know it. The ballroom room has glistening varnished parquet and chandeliers. A huge
wall mirror reflects the stomping of randomly assigned pairs—guys are confused which leg to start
with when dancing the obnoxious square made of two triangles. They step on girls’ feet and are very
1 The biggest Children’s Center of the entire Soviet Union – opened in 1925.
happy when a teacher stops them and lets them go off to their rooms; boys talk about soccer. The
girls pair up and start waltzing by themselves. The teacher pairs me with Nikita, that tall guy with
long thick eyelashes. As it turns out, we both competed for the ballroom dance in our hometowns
and have a C-level dance qualification! Nikita and I make one full round and try more fancy dance
Living with the older girls turns out to be not that easy, they are always chatting about lip-
gloss or about some abandoned high school boys back home. No other topics cross their adolescent
minds. The youngest one in our room is me and I am not used to that kind of thing. Little by little I
gather girls my age to create our own club, and we mushroom on the windowsill in the lobby in the
evenings. When I go to bed in my room, I hear vaguely how Nikita is said to be in love with me by
the flock of older girls. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
Black sea, bound with a thin ice crust, walks with us as we go to school from our dorm along
the white, frosted path in the mornings. We have to study. The school program here ignores that
students come from different cities of the Soviet Union and the pace of learning in each school
varies during the year. All of us have come to the largest camp in the Soviet Union for free, and the
government pays for the package as we are the best students at our schools. It is a test place for
survival for all of us, far from home. We are getting a quarter grade report from here too!
During the class intermission I walk up casually to Kate and the senior girls right in front of
my younger classmates and say, “Some good horror storytelling we had last night, did not we?”
“Girl, who are you?” The red-haired Kate pretends not to recognize me.
Ok, you can pretend to not know me all you want, but as soon as the evening dance class
begins I will needed at once in order to help fix your performance with a partner for the All-Camp
I go outside to gaze upon the icy, crust-bound sea that one can notice from the schoolyard.
Branches of blue spruces have some icy snow. I pick icicles up with my mitten and lick them, it
makes me less homesick!
Having returned from school earlier than the rest of them on that day, I find Kate’s mascara
box and put some on. My mom would not have approved of this—mascara boxes have so much
bacteria, everyone in the room spits into the box at least once a day to soften it. Two seconds and
my eyelashes turn into two magnificent butterflies!
I am cuddling myself like a baby on my bed when the door opens and Kate throws herself on
her bed. She reaches out for her make-up case, which had been hidden behind the mirror and is now
misplaced! The mascara box also ominously remains on the bedside table. “Hey, girls, which of you
took my mascara?” She turns slowly to me. My eyelashes are deceitfully beautiful, I keep staring at
the pages of Ivanhoe, reading the same page over and over again. After all, I am doing homework
“What a freak! She is just a stupid little kid! Let’s not talk to her at all!”
Quarreling with the red-haired one means losing any kind of popularity, so everyone nods
silently and ignores me for the rest of the day. During lunch and dinner they sit as far from me as
possible. I am shunned! My perfectionist shield cracks.
I wake up to a sore throat and high temperature in the morning. It might be because Nikita
and I were standing near the window in the hall for a long time—looking out at the Black sea, on the
surface of which the moon’s reflection has been wandering. I miss my mom so much… My grades
are going down, and I used to be a straight-A student!
My temperature drops. It has already been my second week in the ward of Artek’s hospital. I
sit upright on the bed and complain to the sweet new girl on the neighboring bed.
“It was hard to live with the older girls in the same room, you know. They were always
picking on me because of my short eyelashes…so I took the mascara box to make my eyelashes
prettier. That’s how I’ve gotten the bacteria,” I complain.
“Yuk…But the administration took everything away when we came to Artek!” The girl looks
at me in disbelief.
“Kate hid it into her bra.”
“Wow, she’s daring! You know what I’ve heard from the teachers? That whoever works in a
Artek is forbidden to have their own kids. Yes, that’s the law! Otherwise, they would not do such a
good job watching us.”
I have no idea how to put all of that information together: teachers’ internships, medical
internships in the camp’s hospital… I am not able to comprehend it, and I melt back down under my
“So that’s why they put tubes into your nose! They need some practice, you see, those
medical school students! You could just blow mucus from your nose without these horrible tubes
you have now! And so where’s your Nikita?”
“Why mine? Ours!”
To be continued…