A for Alexander:
As the blur of classical music rang through-out the large concrete building Alexander watched as his mother stuffed random artifacts from around the house into a large fabric suitcase. He was yet too young to understand that in Soviet Ukraine classical music meant that a great tragedy had occurred. He had overheard his father and mother whispering this morning before his father had hastily donned the extra layer of clothes that was supposed to help him against fighting whatever big monsters had come out of the hole of the giant explosions. With tears streaming down her cheeks his mother had assured him that his father would beat the scary monsters. Their frightened whispers had spoken of rocks falling from the skies and men whose faces were burning off. Alexander was worried that this monster might be too much for his father to beat. He had heard stories about great dragons that swallowed men whole and sent streams of fire into the air, but never anything like this. Alexander didn’t know what the citizens of Pripyat had done to acquire this wrath from a dragon, he only knew that it had made the grown-ups talk in hushed voices and he and the other children had been kept inside all day. At first his mother had attempted to make it fun for him playing games and cooking his favorite meal, but as the classical music had taken over everything in the radio she had spent more time talking to the other women in the building that entertaining him. Alexander had drawn several fine pictures of his father fighting the dragon and his mother had hastily put them on the wall not commenting on the general performance of his artistic flow as she usually did.
He heard her moving around in the other room praying and crying while she dropped things into the large suitcase. If he was very quiet he might be able to slip out and take a walk around the garden. Normally the older boys would hang out around the benches in the back and Alexander never went there unless accompanied by his mother and a laundry basket. They would shout weird words at his mother but as always she would calmly smile and nod going about her business. Quietly and without closing the metal door behind him he slipped into the hallway and leaped down the staircase taking the steps a couple at a time. As he went down he noticed that some of the apartments had open doors. He found this quite odd as the women of Pripyat were normally afraid of things going missing if they left them unguarded. Continuing down the staircase he passed the door of his best friend Nikolai. This door was closed and Alexander recognized the same classical music coming from under the door. It was as if everyone in the building was sitting around and waiting for something reassuring to come out of the radio while brave men like his father fought the dragon. Alexander was sure that when he grew up he would be a brave dragon slayer like his father, at the age of 8 he was almost as tall as his mother and probably also stronger than her but she was a woman and didn’t quite count. Alexander wanted to be a giant man like his father, strong country stock as his mother always said just before she got that gleam of love in her eye that was only reserved for her husband.
Outside Alexander allowed himself to breathe deeply taking in the cool spring air. There was a sickly smell in the air like rotten fish and it was almost as if he could feel the dragon’s fire prickling on his skin. He walked to the back and sat down on the benches that for once were empty. Only a crumbled up packet of cheap American cigarettes and half a bottle of vodka showed that someone had been here recently. The metal stands that normally held vast amounts of washing were also empty as if no one had ever used them.
Alexander felt a shiver run down his spine as the world around him suddenly seemed so large and empty. He imagined a time where the whole town would be empty of people, no more singing in the garden when the men came home from work, no more smell of food served by loving mothers and wives. He imagined a time where only ghosts would roam the town of Pripayat and could almost feel their presence here in the hazy sunlight. Even now at the precious age of eight he knew that something had changed something that would turn his world upside down. Right there in the center of his being he knew that he would never see his father again even if he did not quite comprehend why this was. He fell to the ground hugging himself. He felt the dreams of hundreds of people shatter and that from this day onwards he would no longer be allowed to play again, he would be an adult and responsible for his mother.
A loud sound like a fork scraping a plate brought him back to reality. Through the cracked window of the building he heard the many radios change from classical music to a loud droning voice repeating again and again that the citizens of Pripyat where to pack their most important belongings as they would be removed from town shortly. He heard women screaming and children crying.
When his mother found him shortly after he was screaming for his father to return although he knew he would never see him again. As the bus took them away Alexander’s outbursts had died down to a weak state of sobbing, his voice coarse with screaming. It was of course only later when the medal arrived that he knew for sure that the dragon had won the fight.