IT Ma’am has a thing in the evening on Wednesday. By “thing” I mean we go to her house for tea and drinks and dinner in the usual Country X fashion. Something has happened—at tea time, she has brought butter tea for all the staff—but I don’t know what it is. It’s a hectic day and I don’t ask and I am not paying attention to the conversation around me that might have explained. Then it gets to a point when it feels embarrassing to ask.

So she has a thing and I go to it along with a bunch of the other ladies and some of the gents turn up too, but I have no idea why.

IT Ma’am’s sister has died. She died, I think about 2 years ago. She was just finishing up college, I think, or just about to start, and she fell sick very suddenly and severely and died. So IT Ma’am has a large photograph of her sister in her house and when the ladies go to sit in the alter room, that is the first thing that some of them notice. I’ve seen it before. I don’t think anything about it, but for Country Xers, I guess this is very odd. They find the reminder too painful and don’t keep things like this around.

So VP Ma’am comments on this. She comments on it about five times, because that’s how she is. She will cycle back to the same topic again and again and again. It’s one of her odd little quirks.

I don’t put this together until the morning, but of course this reminds me of Nata and her death and all the things around that help me remember her, and it makes me think again that remembering her helps me. It helped me a lot more than trying to avoid being reminded, although that approach got me through for a few decades.

While we are finishing up dinner—it’s maybe 20 minutes before we leave—the ladies are busy discussing some local gossip that seems to involve a girl in Class 8 and being pregnant. I ask the purveyor of the gossip what she is saying, and she doesn’t tell me. Maybe she can’t—her English is not very good. Or sometimes they get embarrassed saying these things to me directly. When they think I can’t understand or maybe just have forgotten I am there and don’t understand, they feel free to talk about whatever they want, but they feel embarrassed to be discussing a pregnant girl when they are aware they are telling me. I guess some of them think butter won’t melt in my mouth. Anyway, I’m left out of the conversation and for a while I just make shit up, which I do sometimes when I’m getting bits and pieces of things. They mention the principal in connection with this, so I start to imagine he’s the father of the Class 8 girl’s unborn child, but that’s just disturbing.

Anyway, I’m drifting. And what happens is I start to get these memories of Nata sitting in my lap that are so vivid they feel like hallucinations. Not making out—just sitting and talking with maybe some light, affectionate kissing. Nata has this lovely bird-like quality at times, a graceful kind of restlessness, where she’s never sitting still, but it’s somehow not annoying. It’s just really, really alive.

I used to have this idea of Nata that she was always protective of me, and that she always needed to relate to me in a way that reflected that a slight imbalance of power between us because of our ages, and that she only accepted nurturing and protectiveness from me when she was really about to fall apart.

But I have realized since then I was wrong. I thought that because I only had certain kinds of memories. I didn’t have access to another set of them that were entirely different because they were in the same box as the times when she really did need protection, and the pain of those memories overwhelmed every other memory I might have.

So I didn’t used to have these memories of holding Nata in a nurturing or protective way when things were sort of normal—when she wasn’t bleeding or in terrible pain. I’ve been getting this other kind for only the last few days.

What I get out of them is partly that, while Yuri and the johns and in some ways just society in general saw her as having no value, she had this view of herself as having value at least some of the time. I mean, when she was with me, she felt special, because she was special and had value to me. And she felt this sense of specialness often enough that it’s a part of her—maybe she has it from having had a loving, nurturing childhood in Russia too, but it’s partly from me. And this sense of specialness sort of allows her to unfold, like a flower blossoming. It is what gives rise to this sense of aliveness, because it makes her feel she can be her full self.