Short stories on Belarus

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Short stories on Belarus

Angela Espinosa Ruiz, Spain 

Ever since I first started getting to know Slavonic cultures back in 2008, the particular circumstances of Belarus always attractedmy attention. My understanding of the Belarusian reality began forming itself, at first, very gradually; having exceptional friends in Belarus – one of which even visited me in Spain, and as a result even my grandmother can locate the country on a map of Europe– it was easy to slowly become familiar with the deepest history and the latest trends in Kupala’s land. 

It was also then that I picked up Russian (fret not, I would eventually learn Belarusian, too). Nevertheless, the turning point of my back then innocent interest in Belarus were the Presidential Elections that took place on December 19th, 2010. Following that fateful night, I wrote my first journalistic article, “Spain-Belarus: Contrast of Concerns”, in a literary style (as I had always written almost exclusively literary texts, most of which were lyrical). I also wrote a short novella about the weeks that followed the elections night, which I am in the process of translating from its original Spanish at present. From that day on, and especially after my participation in Belarus in Focus, I became fully aware of the importance of speaking with the voice of those who cannot, or dare not, and that is exactly why I decided to start writing both literary and journalistic pieces devoted to Belarus (including literature in Belarusian, which is also coming soon, I promise). 

The two series of stories you see here are a representative of a sub-genre I created called condensed stories. The stories in this particular, new genre should never exceed the limit of 100 words, and there cannot be more than four stories per series. Besides, they should be written in a poetic-prose-like style and the characters must always be nameless.  From my point of view, they area very expressive way of re-telling the story of Belarus to both those who are familiar with it and those who know nothing about it (including 99% of the Spanish population). The first group will hopefully enjoy what traces of literary talent may be in it while reminiscing about Belarus itself, while the second group will gradually become familiar with an unknown land with the help ofreader-friendly literature instead of scary graphs and figures.

Thus, both literature and journalism are, in my opinion, necessary and helpful when it comes to telling a story in as much detailas possible; they complete each other. What you say and how you say it is crucial, and even more so in a case like Belarus’.

Feminine series

 I. She went to the forest alone, dressed all in white. She sat on the grass and tenderly braided the delicate cornflowers she had picked up on her way until they formed a little crown that she eagerly put upon her rye-blond hair. Thus, the crown on her head, her white dress caressed by the breeze, she slowly walked down to the course of the river. After several rainy, early-spring days, the sun shone bright upon her face. She heard the cuckoo sing thrice as she dropped the crown into the waters. She thought of him as she watched it sink. 

II.  It had been three years since the boys had visited the village; she was elated to see them. Her  daughter dropped them both off with a “love you, matulya!”, and she started excitedly telling them how  much they had grown and how much fun they would have. “Babushka, slow down. We speak only  Russian at school, we don’t follow”She sweetly smiled and asked if they were hungry in her rusty  Russian. They ate in silence. “I don’t know any lullabies in Russian”she said at bedtime. They hugged  her. “Come on, Babushka, we’re too old for that, anyway.”

III. The young woman took off her cross pendant and left it on the nightstand. Somehow, she knew she was not supposed to carry it with her that night. There was no other option; she could never tell her father who she had chosen to love, or why… She herself did not know why. He was not home, and it was well after 3 AM, so there was no chance of her being caught. She, nevertheless, ran all the way to the bridge.  As she closed her eyes and prepared to jump, she felt her warm hand caressing her benumbed fingers. 

IV. She would never be able to fully believe it, but she had done everything she could. Her neighbours wondered where she found the strength to keep on silently peeling potatoes. “Draniki are his favourite”, she muttered.  She would often mistake any footsteps for her son’s and ask: who’s coming there? Moved by the national (and the even rarer international) media attention she had got, she could not help to keep a slight trace of hope in her heart. This was enough to destroy her when she finally got the letter. “You may retrieve his death certificate at the following address…

Masculine series

I. He never lost hope, even though the situation was truly difficult and the country he was fighting for was never fully his. He didn’t even consider dropping his scythe and running, and hearing the nearby conversations (one in Lithuanian, another in Polish) made him feel somewhat stronger. Every house had sent a capable young man to represent them in this decisive war, and it comforted him to feel a part of something. Lost among the relatively numerous army, he felt less vulnerable. And, in truth, it scared him to think about his destiny outside the only society he had known.

II. It had been two days since the moment he had entered the East Fort of the citadel. Two    days with hardly a noise, surrounded by the faint smell of gunpowder and the thick, red-brick walls of the fortress. Already running out of food and supplies, his comrades told stories to pass the time without mentioning the lack of a counterattack, or the fact that there were few of them left. No more than four hundred, he thought, looking around, but I shan’t leave the   fortress, nor will they. The explosion echoed like the voice of God. Blinding light. Absolute darkness

III. One day more, he watched his companions’ bodies thrown out to the snow and almost immediately eaten up by the wolves at the break of dawn. Then they brought in the new ones (young men, he bitterly thought), whose faces he unsuccessfully tried not to memorise. Were it not for his unbreakable faith, the work and the unbearable cold would have ended him after two years. Exhaustion took over his numb limbs again. The night was dark when he returned to the hole where they (three hundred of them) all slept. They were definitely not worth a bullet. He prayed.

IV. The young man never knew what hit him. Perhaps it was tiredness of being lied to, or rejection of resignation, or plain curiosity. He went out to the square on his own that fateful night, without even warning his sleeping grandmother. He walked, and sang and clapped with the rest, like he was in a sort of trance; he even held the end of a banner for several minutes. His body left a crimson trail of blood on the whiteness of the snow. Was it a bad omen? A sign of hope? The young man never knew what hit him.

Author: Handbook on Belarus for International journalists

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