06 January, 2013


    “Tygresk! [1]” called the now familiar voice of The Jailer. “Tygresk, you must wake.”

She lifted herself from the ground of this new solitary cell; smaller and more miserable than the one she had occupied before. Her head was pounding, her eyes cloudy, and as she lifted her hands to her eyes to stop their incessant throbbing, her stomach raged from within her as she began to move. Shura suddenly sensed she had been laying dormant for a long while.

    “How long have I been asleep?” she asked The Jailer.
    “Four days,” he said.

She noticed then, that he was eating a slice of something on a tiny tin plate. Shura felt her mouth fill with saliva as her stomach churned with want, and she could not help but stare.

    “Why have you not woken me for meals?” she asked, her voice slightly desperate.
    “We have been fasting, Tygresk.”
    “Why, Christ is born. It is now Epiphany.”
    “Epiphany?” she realized she was merely repeating his words but could muster nothing greater. Epiphany, she thought. It cannot be.
    “Yes. The Night of the Kings.”

It meant that well over a year had passed since she had come to this place.

    “The other guards are marking the baptism of Christ—priests are performing the Great Blessing of Waters.”

Shura remembered this procedure. She recalled the Christians who resided beyond their shetl boundaries engaging in this water ritual—apparently all over the country people spent Epiphany cutting holes in the shape of the cross within the ice of lakes and rivers then dipped themselves three times in the freezing water to honor the Holy Trinity. Whether to symbolically wash away their sins or to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth she did not know or understand, all she knew was though her own community’s traditions could often be puzzling, this appeared to be downright madness.

    “Back in Poland we call it Trzech Kroli [2]” he said, brushing off the crumbs that gathered atop his shirt and trousers. “Huge parades are held.”
He wiped the corners of his mouth with his sleeve. He must have caught Shura’s starving glare upon him for he paused, taking a moment to swallow properly.
    “Polish style Three Kings cake,” he indicated to the now clean plate, “made with a coin baked inside. Whomever gets it is king or queen for the day—lucky in the coming year. Some woman in the village here makes Polish pastries if you request 'em, and she's taken a terrible fancy to one of the guards. Delivered it yesterday. Stale.” he shrugged, “Anyway, I have come to say farewell. Tomorrow you are to be taken to Irkutsk.” He placed the tin plate at her feet licking his fingers, then stood staring at her with his usually vacant eyes -- full in this moment with the knowledge that this was to be the last they ever saw of one another.
    “Szczesliwego Nowego roku [3], Tygresk.”

Shura looked down at the empty tin plate: settled among the flakes and crumbs lay the coin.

     What luck.

[1] Polish: baby Tiger

[2] Three Kings
[3] Polish: Happy New Year

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