Notes of Solidarity is a new daily series of mini-essays, poems, and reflections on the Russian war on Ukraine by some of Wales’s leading literary figures. Here, author Tyler Keevil finds fear and hope in a tentative conversation with his daughter about the crisis in Ukraine.
On the drive home from school your daughter shows you her sunflower. A paper cut-out, painted yellow and blue. Until now it’s been tucked in her rain-soaked rucksack and the petals are creased, the ink starting to leak. But she holds it up defiantly in the backseat.
She tells you the whole class made one. To put in windows, to hang on walls. To show that we all care. You’re trapped in traffic and can’t help thinking of those images from the news. Lines of vehicles. Carloads of refugees. That maternity ward. The theatre. The children.
Your daughter says, ‘I think we should just give him what he wants. Then he’ll stop.’
You try to explain – awkwardly, tentatively, parentally – that what he wants is not so easy to grasp. That it involves other people’s homes, their land, their country and culture. Them.
‘Oh,’ she says. ‘Well, he can’t have that.’
The traffic falters forward, halts. Your windshield wipers smear rain back and forth, leaving streaks. These conversations are becoming common. The war has infiltrated your daughter’s psyche far more than the pandemic did. A tangible, physical threat: bullets, bombs, missiles, soldiers. Not the phantasmal presence of particles in the air.
‘He must have some good in him.’
Startled, you glance in the rear-view. Your daughter is gazing out the window, clutching the sunflower across her body like a shield. Paper-thin protection. The ink staining her fingers.
‘Does he have any kids?’ she asks, hopefully.
You say you think so. He has children. That seems odd but it’s true.
‘Then part of him must be kind. We just have to reach that part.’
The tail lights of the car in front flare red. Stopping again. You yank on the handbrake, turn to look at your daughter directly. Wanting to say something reassuring and candid and real.
All you can manage is, ‘It’s a nice idea.’
Your daughter meets your gaze, seeing right through the deceit. ‘Will we be attacked?’
You assure her that it’s very, very unlikely that anything could happen here.
‘What if it did?’
‘I’d keep you safe,’ you answer, automatically. ‘We would leave – go live with Granny and Granja.’
You wonder what you’re truly saying, what you’re teaching her: that running is the solution?
‘The fighting will be there too,’ she says, ‘if it’s World War III.’
You open your mouth, gawp vacantly, say nothing. Awestruck by this simple revelation. Then a horn blares twice, alarmingly loud. Turned around in your seat, you haven’t noticed that the traffic has moved another ten feet. You wave, gratefully, to the driver behind who has saved you from having to answer. You swivel to face the front, feeling furtive, fugitive, and shift into first gear. The windows are fogging and you can smell your own sweat. Fear.
Your daughter says, ‘What if there’s no place left to go?’
She is ruminating, thinking aloud. You assure her that will never happen. You repeat that you will protect her, like a mantra. But the more you say it the less convincing it sounds.
‘Can we stop talking about it now?’ she asks. ‘Can we just go home?’
You tell her that you’ll be there soon, relieved you can at least provide that small solace. It takes a few more minutes for the knots of traffic to untangle. You’re left wondering, not just about what you could have said, but what you could do, if it came to that.
That night, sleeping with her crumpled sunflower above her bed, your daughter has a dream. She tells you about it in the morning: her tone focused and specific and prophetic. The dream is one of smoke and dust and detritus. The sun a faded yellow blossom behind brown clouds, which aren’t really clouds. And your family is escaping, fleeing your home. Stuck in chain-links of traffic. Soon the cars have run out of petrol. You all need to walk. Until it’s time to run. But you can’t run. You are wounded, or sick, or failing, and your daughter must carry you. Somehow, in this dream, your daughter has the strength to carry you.
For more information on the Russia-Ukraine war, including ways you can help, please click here.
You can follow all contributions to Notes of Solidarity from Wales Arts Review here.
To find out more about the work of Tyler Keevil visit his website.
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