The Little Girl in the Garden
by: James L. Choron
I moved out to Mamontovka in 1991. Up until that time, I had lived in Moscow, and only came out to our "Country House" on weekends. I like living in the country, although it does, especially in the winter, have its drawbacks. In the spring and summer, I usually walk the two kilometers from our house to the railway platform and take the train into the city. Its a beautiful walk, and I like being out in the fresh air. Besides, the train is actually faster than driving, since the traffic on the M-8 is absolutely awful.
In any case, I know everyone who lives along Kutuzovski Prospect, our main street, and the one leading to the platform. Mr. A.A. Shugapov and his granddaughter live in the one nest to the school, about half a kilometer up the road from my own house. I see them out in their garden almost every day as I walk along. Mr. Shugapov is in his late eighties, and very spry for a man his age. He is known for having the best garden in Mamontovka. His grand daughter is about five, and an adorable little girl, with braided, long blond hair and a face full of freckles… you know the kind, all knees and elbows… long legs and arms… not quite out of the "baby" stage. She makes a funny sight, kneeling there in the garden, dressed in a frayed old "workers" jacket over her cute little blue dress and a pair of her grandfather's old army boots that simply swallow her tiny legs.
Every morning, you can see either Anna or her grandfather in the garden, working around the plants. When I first moved here, I didn't know them… we only waved to each other as I walked past their ancient log house with the beautiful gingerbread around the eaves of the roof and around the windows.
One Saturday morning, in late March of 1992, I decided to take the train into Moscow and do a little shopping. I didn't have to work that day, which was unusual in those days, and wanted to take advantage of the free time, As I neared his house, I could see that Mr. Shugapov was standing out by the road, waiting for the mail truck when I walked by. I decided to stop and talk with him for a moment and get to know him. I had already heard about his fine vegetable crops and award-winning potatoes. We had a nice chat, and then, I asked him about his granddaughter. Actually I asked him who the cute little girl was who was so diligent in helping him in his garden.
The old man looked at me like I had two heads. There was a genuine look of shock in his face. He smiled thinly, then said…"You have seen my granddaughter?"
"Yes," I replied. "I see her almost every morning. I walk this way going to the train, and we wave to each other across the fence."
"That is quite impossible," he replied, looking at me a little strangely. "Are you sure that you've seen her?"
Something here wasn't quite right. I was at a loss for words. Then I described the little girl that I saw every morning, thinking that it might be a neighbor child that had taken to helping the old man.
"Oh, that's my Anna," he said… "but she isn't my granddaughter… she's my daughter."
"Your daughter?" I was startled. Judging from the old mans obvious age, that seemed a little far fetched to me, but, I had learned long ago to never be surprised by such things. In Russia, all things are possible, and May/December marriages are the rule rather than the exception… Extreme age differences are rare, but not unheard of.
Before I could make any further comments, the old man invited me inside for coffee, and a "little something to warm you up." Of course, I accepted. It was March, and there was still a little chill in the air. I followed him inside, and had a seat as he retreated to the kitchen to prepare our snack. I looked around his living room as I sat there on his overstuffed, leather bound sofa. As I did, I marveled at the little shrine that he had erected to his beautiful little girl. There were pictures of her everywhere. It was odd, since they were all in black and white, and some of them looked quite old.
In a few moments, he returned, bearing a hand painted wooden tray on which sat two cups of tea, a teapot, sugar and a small pitcher of cream. Under his arm was a bottle of vodka with two glasses balanced on the neck. He placed the tray on a small table in front of the divan, then sat the glasses down and started opening the vodka. He pointed to a framed picture of his daughter on the table. It had been taken in the garden, and she was dressed exactly as she had been dressed every time I saw her.
"That's her," I asked… "a beautiful child. You are a lucky man."
"Yes, she was beautiful, wasn't she," he said, a faraway look clouding his face." He poured the vodka slowly into the glasses, then handed one to me. "You're going to need this," he said.
"What do you mean, Mr. Shugapov," I asked. " What do you mean WAS lovely. She still is a beautiful little girl. How old is she? Five or Six?"
"She was five." He paused. "On her last birthday, she was five."
"I don't follow, you, sir. What are you saying."
The old man downed his vodka in one gulp, then told me "drink, then I will explain."
I took my vodka the same way he did, then he looked at me and said, "Dima," that's how I'm known here. Dmitri is the Russian equivalent of James, or one of them, anyway. "My Anna had her last birthday in October of 1935. I loved her more than my own life. We did everything together. She died of Typhus before her next one came around, with her mother… but… she's never left me… I just thought…" he paused and took another shot of vodka, this time straight out of the bottle… I just thought that I was the only one who could see her."
The story doesn't quite end here… In July, 1999, Mr. A.A. Shugapov passed away, at the age of 85, after a long battle with cancer. He was buried in the Mamontovka City Cemetery, alongside his wife and daughter. I attended the funeral, and assisted as a pall bearer.
Since that time, I have had the great pleasure of waving to Mr. Shugapov and his daughter, almost every morning, as I walk to the train… they are really together now, and always will be… He's not "old" anymore… he looks about 30… Anna still looks about five… They are happy, and laughing, and seem glad to see me… they ALWAYS stop weeding their little garden, or whatever it is they are doing, and wave…
James Choron is a featured contributor to this WorldOfTheStrange website.
Contributions include: !Is Ufology Dead?, King Bird Fifty, The Tunguska Incident - An Overview, School Days, In a Class By Herself, Dawn at the Alamo, Three Times A Hero, Lady With the Lamp, The Little Girl in the Garden
Website: http://wintersteel.homestead.com/home.html (dead link)
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