“Katya wake up! Wake up!”
Someone tugs at my shoulder and my eyes flung open into the darkness.
“Come! Quick!” my brother whispers, dragging me off the bed. “We must go.”
He ushers me into the hallway, where a shape of a duffel bag takes most of the space on the floor. His hands are shaking as he fits me into my clothes. Tights. Dress. Boots. Coat. Then we sit in the dark. We wait.
“Everything’s going to be ok,” my brother keeps repeating, patting the back of my hand, his ghostly-white face tries to smile. I really want to believe him but I’m just a scared little girl, trapped among shadows of the dark hallway.
I don’t know for how long we wait, but when the door suddenly opens, and the blinding light bursts into our apartment, my mouth opens and my high-pitched scream pierces the quiet of the night. My brother scoops me into his arms, and, trying to hide away from the monster that looms in the doorway, I bury my teas-stained face into his chest.
Gradually, my ears adjust to the muffled whispers and my fears begin to fade away with realisation that the dark figure in the hallway is not a scary monster, but Uncle Misha, dad’s friend and colleague. In the charged room, Uncle Misha’s low voice is almost soothing. I loved to listen to his stories when he came to visit for birthday parties and public holidays, but it’s not the tale he’s telling now. His phrases are short and sharp. I want to ask him what’s he doing in our flat in the dead of the night but children aren’t supposed to interrupt when grownups talk.
My brother listens intently, then nods, pick ups the bag and the three of us sneak outside and hide in the nearby bushes, just before the car with no lights pulls-in in front of our block of flats and two men in dark clothes, with faces covered with balaclava masks, rush inside the building.
The rest is a blur, but I remember waking up the next morning in my aunt’s flat, feeling happy for not being sent to kindergarten. I remember us all spending the day watching the news and not believing that the videos of tanks shelling the White House in Moscow aren’t the scenes from an action movie but the actual footage of the events that unfolded in our city on that day.
It wasn’t until many years later, that I learned that on the night of the 3rd of October 1993, the members of the Supreme Soviet, sieged inside the White House in Moscow, issued an order to their supporters, to “deal” with the families of the high-rank commanding officers supporting the President and that our dad’s old friend, Mikhail Safronov, Uncle Misha, had declared himself loyal to the forces opposing the President regime.
I haven’t seen Uncle Misha since that night, nor our father have ever spoke of him again, but even now, sitting alone, in the dark, awoken by the bone-chilling fear and panic, I see Uncle Misha’s battered and unshaven face, smiling back at me from the back of the room. Even now, 25 years later, I still remember the yellow light flashing before my eyes and Uncle Misha carrying me in his arms through the dark, empty streets, leading me and my brother away from the fate that could’ve awaited us.