Natalya (alias Rachel) set me thinking this morning and prompted me to write a story about my long-dead friend Antonina. I have been out to lunch with the farmer and friend W, eaten too much (lamb in my case, beef for the farmer and W) and am now ready to sleep by the stove, so this is a rather lazy way of doing today's blog, particularly as I may possibly have told this story before, a long time ago. But it is sufficiently interesting to tell it again for new readers if I have.
My friend Antonina and her husband Igor lived with their son Mikhail in the Midlands town where I lived for getting on for twenty years. Antonina was a darling - beautiful, effusive, a romantic, always immaculately turned out and dripping with jewelry, a teacher of Russian part time in our local Grammar schools. She would occasionally come (along with another friend) for a meal in the evenings and over the years her story gradually emerged. It is a remarkable one, but one which I am sure was repeated hundreds of times in similar form as the aftermath of the Second World War.
When the war began she lived in what was then Leningrad and was in her second year at Medical School. When the Germans overran the city where she was studying at University they sent her and her friend (also studying medicine) back to Germany to work in a field hospital as nurses. Of the war she said very little. But after the war she had to decide what to do - a difficult choice because - through no fault of her own - she had literally worked for the Germans. Her friend risked going back to Russia and was hanged from a lamppost.
Antonina became a political refugee and came to England, where she met and married Igor and they settled down together. Bear in mind that by now it was the height of the cold war and she had no means of contacting her parents, who for many years had thought she was dead.
By the fifties she had become Naturalised British and had been invited to join a British Council official visit to Leningrad to study methods of education. Of course she went and on the first night, after they had been settled into their hotel, Antonina, wrapped up well against the cold, set off to the last address she had for her mother - much of the city had been destroyed and she had no idea whether or not she would find the place.
Well, find it she did. She stood at the gate, undecided as to whether or not to approach the door, when suddenly the door opened and a woman came out with a saucer of milk and called the cat. Sufficient to say, it was her mother - who had thought her dead for ten years or more.
Antonina died a long time ago and within a year Igor was also dead. Sadly, about a year after that Mikhail died of a heart attack while travelling on a bus. I was always pleased that Antonina was spared the heartache of the deaths of both husband and son. Surely she had had enough pain and sadness for one life.