Sitting down on a bench near the house, Galina circled her face with her hands and thought. But she was not allowed to be alone with herself:
— Hi, why are you so sad!?
Tilting her head to the side and squinting her eyes from the bright sun, Galya answered:
— And you don’t get sick, but here, I’ve done all the housework, I decided to take a little break. I guess you thought I was sad, just tired.
Sitting down next to her, the neighbor asked furtively:
— I saw how our Vaska stopped at your house on his tractor. So are you in a relationship with him or what?
Galina frowned and muttered threateningly:
— That’s a long tongue you have, Marina. Everywhere you strive to use it, and then you get offended when they call you a gossip girl. Look, you’ll finish playing, for such immodest questions someday you will definitely get your hair pulled out.
It was obvious that Marina did not like her sarcasm:
— Well, yes, but you’re clean here: look at what kind of family you have, four children, and they grow up without a father. Who do you think the most gossip will be collected about?
Galya did not have time to answer this question, although she was ready to teach a lesson to the obstinate and insolent neighbor. Then another woman came up to them:
— Why are you messing with her, get out of here? And don’t look at me like that, I’m not a painting to you. I’m used to collecting gossip, and people believe that you’re telling the truth. Come on, Galya, into the house, I need to consult with you.
Neighbor Marina found herself in an unenviable position, and she had to leave in order not to incur anger even more.
Sitting down on a chair in the kitchen, the woman who came said:
— You see, Galya, my parasite began to carry money from home. I kind of thought at first that I had hidden the pay somewhere, but I forgot, but no, I double-checked everything. And recently, our accountant from the department saw my Vitya standing outside the store with his friends and sipping directly from a jar. I knew he would snap again, as if a demon had possessed him. Tell me something, Galya, I’m sorry that I remember, but your ex-husband wasn’t an angel either.
Galina leaned sideways on the kitchen table and thoughtfully replied:
— Well, yes, I suffered with him until he ran away at all. And, too, after all, all over the village, I used to look until I barely found a living person somewhere in the grass. It’s good that he disappeared, now at least he’s living in peace. The children help me with the housework, I hope we will not be lost. As for your Vitka, then take him to our blacksmith, he is an experienced man in this matter, he should help.
Thanking Galina for her good advice, the neighbor said goodbye and left her house. And at that moment, through the window, she saw Marina’s figure flash again. So it is that curiosity does not give her rest. Looking around the kitchen, Galya put a pot of borscht on the stove first, and then the kettle. Hearing ringing voices from the garden, she opened the window sash and shouted:
— Hey, workers, I’ve had enough of hosing down the beds there. Let’s go home, we’ll have dinner now.
The mother’s words acted on them like a magnet, and in a couple of minutes all four were in the kitchen.
Despite his age, the youngest child, who was only five years old, also helped as best he could. After washing their hands and sitting down at the table, the children began to devour the rich borscht with an appetite. Looking at her treasures, Galina sighed and, smiling, said:
— I don’t know what I would do without you, I probably would have died of boredom.
Hearing the last word, the children squealed with displeasure.
— Yes, okay, I’m kidding, of course, your mom will live forever.
Very healthy optimism, but at the same time, Galina did not tell anyone about how difficult it is to raise four children. Not in terms of money, although everything was not so rosy here, but in the sense that a lot of energy and nerves are spent on always maintaining a comfortable standard of living.
Working on a farm, Galina, quite often, agreed to field side jobs. On such days, I had to work until the evening. The local head of the village negotiated with other settlements where farm workers were needed. Naturally, he received most of the money from such business trips, but he did not offend his employees either.
During this time, the children got used to the fact that mom could be away from home all day. So they learned to cook, however, the simplest dishes, to wash with their hands and in a basin, and also to look after the garden. Therefore, Galina was not afraid that the children would remain hungry – she knew that they were her business executives and could shut up any citizen by the belt.
After dinner, the children began to get ready for bed, but with the permission of their mother, they sat down to watch cartoons. While she was washing the dishes, they giggled at interesting moments in the plots.
Listening to their ringing laughter, Galina thanked fate again and again for giving her such beautiful children. Yes, the ex-husband had a certain role in this, but he did not consider it necessary to engage in their upbringing. Well, this is his choice, and Galya did not condemn. He just one day secretly packed up all his things and sped away like the wind in the field. At the same time, she prayed to God that none of her children would inherit their father’s inheritance.
The cartoons ended, and the children went to their rooms. She had a good house, she got it from her parents, except for a large kitchen and a hall, there were three rooms in it, two of which Galina converted into children’s rooms. After wiping the dishes, she came up and kissed each of the children in turn, they responded in kind, and wished each other good night. Going out on the veranda, Galina filled the dog’s bowl with food and put it by the porch. The dog reacted instantly and came running.
— Eat, Venya, you are our best guard.
Stroking his withers, Galina was thinking about something, about her own, sadly tilting her head to the side. Suddenly, shuffling footsteps were heard outside the gate. The dog immediately growled and instantly threw the treat. Sniffing, he trotted to the fence and began to whine softly. What could it mean, and who suddenly came at such a late hour? Suddenly it seemed to Galina that it was Marina’s neighbor who had jumped in again. And to make sure of that, she called out her name. But in response, only silence and continued shuffling near the fence. In complete bewilderment of the one who came to visit, Galina, nevertheless, decided to open the gate. With a tremor in her hands, she pulled the metal bolt and the door opened. Venya wanted to jump out, but Galina drove him away. It was hard to see who was standing in front of her in the dark. And then she turned on another light bulb right over the fence. A bright light illuminated the face of the uninvited guest: a puny old man stood in front of her, and in his hands he had a rag bundle.
However, as soon as Grandpa adjusted his arm, it must have gone numb, what was lying inside this bundle suddenly moved. Unable to remember herself, Galina let the old man in, as if fate itself had told her to do so. Crossing the threshold of the gate, grandfather bowed, almost at his feet and said:
— Let me go, good woman, for the night, I have nowhere to go.
Crossing her arms in front of her, Galina looked at Venya and quietly replied:
— Yes, of course, come into the house. Only my children are already asleep, so we will talk in whispers.
The old man nodded and shuffled into the kitchen. There he sat down on a chair and finally unwrapped the package:
— I’m sorry that I fell on your head like a snowball, but I really have nowhere to go. My house burned down when a neighbor’s barn was set on fire, and my daughter didn’t want to let her in. So I go to strangers who will let me stay overnight. I’ve been wandering like a homeless man for two weeks now.
Crying, the old man opened the upper veil and showed:
— And I carry it with me, the poor child is suffering, and I feel sorry to give it to an orphanage.
Galina also started crying with him, but immediately covered her mouth:
— I’m sorry, I got emotional. I have four children myself, I’m raising one, and in a terrible dream I can’t imagine that someone will take them away.
The old man got up from his chair and walked over to her:
— You are a very courageous woman, it’s just a pity that you don’t have a strong man’s shoulder next to you. I also raised my daughter alone until she grew up and flew out of the nest. He thought that he would not leave his father, but, apparently, he was mistaken.
Jumping up, as if doused with cold water, Galina said:
— Give me your child, I’ll examine him and feed him now. Well, you can make sandwiches and brew tea. Of course, we’ve already had dinner, but you’re on the road, you need to refresh yourself.
The old man did not hesitate and began to manage the kitchen himself. Here’s an excerpt: Galina did not even ask where this guest came from and did not ask why he had a child in his arms. She was just doing what her heart told her and first of all, she decided to examine the baby. The girl was two months old, but not to say that she somehow looked bad. Most likely, that her mother was poorly, poorly, but fed her child. But what happened after that, that remained in question. As if feeling the touch of women’s hands, the girl woke up and began to act up. The old man, it was, rushed to check what was wrong with his child, but Galina made it clear with a gesture that everything was fine.
She swaddled the baby, and then took the milk out of the refrigerator and told grandpa to warm it up. Despite the fact that her children are no longer small, there are still nipples and bottles at home. So they came in handy, as if she knew that she would have to use them. A little later, the old man brought the cooled milk:
— Here, mistress, I would feed myself, but somehow I don’t have the strength anymore, I’m exhausted from wandering.
Galina understood everything and poured the milk into the bottle herself:
— Go have dinner, I’ll join you now. You and I will have a lot to talk about.
The old man bowed his head and disappeared behind an improvised curtain. He could be heard stirring the sugar in the mug carefully so as not to make noise. After feeding the baby, Galina rocked her and laid her on the sofa. In the kitchen, she sat down next to her grandfather and first of all asked:
— How did you manage to be left alone with a child in your arms?
The old man shivered a little in his chair, then took a deep breath and answered:
— So this is my granddaughter. At first everything was fine, and Vera was engaged in her upbringing. But then it was as if someone had replaced the daughter: she became irritated about anything, snapped at me if she lost her temper. In general, the devil has possessed her, I don’t see any other option. And one day Vera decided to give the child to an orphanage. Naturally, I resisted, but then there was a fire, and so many problems piled up that it was not up to the baby. — After taking a little breath, the old man continued. — I ran to various authorities asking for help with housing, but no one wanted to do it. As a result, I became homeless, as if I didn’t have my own corner. I thought that my daughter would take me in, but no, she just turned on me even more. It’s good that a friend let him into his house for a while, but then I had to move out from him. And then, one day, I come back to my daughter, and her child is lying on a bench in the yard. It seemed strange to me, and then I saw in the window, God forbid, how she was tumbling with this scoundrel.
Galina put a bowl of borscht in front of him:
— I completely forgot that he stayed, we didn’t eat everything. Well, what happened next, how did you end up on the street?
The old man took a spoonful of rich soup and tasted it, smiling, said:
— Here you are a real hostess, not like my daughter. So, I grabbed the baby and left the yard. It seemed to me that she wanted to get rid of it. And I didn’t think of anything else, how to leave that village forever, so as not to catch Vera’s eye. Maybe they’re already looking for the girl, I haven’t watched the news for a long time.
Shaking her head, Galina replied:
— Yes, no, it seems to be quiet, if there was something, then the neighbors would have already told me. By the way, where is the village you escaped from?
The old man ate some more borscht and replied:
— So thirty kilometers from here, just a stone’s throw away, it’s called Desyatkovo. But I’m not going back there, even if they do something to me, and I won’t give my granddaughter to anyone.
Grandfather began to cry again, and Galina handed him a handkerchief:
— Here, wipe your face, otherwise it’s all wet and red from tears.
After the old man finished the borscht, Galina washed the dishes and, pointing to the sofa in the hall, said:
— Lie down here, and I’ll stay with your granddaughter and don’t worry, nothing will happen to her. Tomorrow morning we will think about what to do next. But it seems to me that it is necessary to visit your daughter and strictly ask her for leaving the child in danger.
Grandfather nodded in agreement:
— Well, Galina, as you say, the main thing for me is that everything is fine with the girl. After all, the documents are not really issued for her, and Vera did not come up with a name, everything is careless.
The next day, Galina woke up earlier than usual and immediately cooked breakfast. She did not wake the children, but she roused the old man:
— Get up, it’s time to get ready for the trip. By the way, you didn’t give your name either, apparently out of excitement.
The old man spread his hands and whispered:
— I’m sorry, daughter, my name is Fyodor Petrovich, you can just, Grandfather Fyodor, as it will be convenient for you.
Considering that he was a stranger to her, Galina settled on the first option. After breakfast, they began to get ready to go.
— Fyodor Petrovich, we will take the girl with us, suddenly your daughter’s maternal feelings will wake up. And that’s what, I still didn’t understand, but what kind of scoundrel did you see in the window then?
The old man sat down on a chair, as if on a path:
— So it’s, like, Dad, though I’ve only seen him twice. Vera didn’t tell me anything about her personal life. And I wasn’t particularly interested, after all, she’s an older woman, not small, she knows who to meet, and who to avoid.
Galina understood everything and helped her grandfather to collect the baby.
— Now I’m going to run to my neighbor, he has a car, he will take us there quickly.
Soon they loaded into the car and went to the address of the daughter of this old man. It was obvious that grandfather was very worried, but it was understandable, because it was not known what was waiting for him there. And Galina herself was noticeably worried, thinking about how a mother could do this to a child. Where did she get so much cynicism from, or did her soul become completely stale?
On the way they were shaken up a little, but surprisingly the girl did not even whimper, she slept peacefully in her grandfather’s arms. Having slowed down near the right house, the driver turned to Galina and said:
— I’ll wait for you here, but if anything, just shout.
Nodding back to him, she got out of the car, followed by the old man. And just as they approached the gate, a shaggy woman jumped out. Moreover, a minute later a man appeared, seeing him, Galina almost fainted. It was her ex-husband, whom she had already forgotten about. Glancing at him, Galina asked menacingly:
— And here you distinguished yourself, damned, it wasn’t enough for you to have four children, so you decided to breed more?
The man grinned and wanted to show who was the boss in the house, but then the driver approached him:
— So, quickly stepped aside, and no more, not a step, otherwise I’ll lather your neck.
He obediently retreated, and Galina turned to the old man and almost in tears asked him:
— And this is your daughter, but she looks like a homeless woman? Fyodor Petrovich, let’s leave, and don’t give her the baby.
Soon the guardianship authorities became aware of this case, although, in fact, they should have initially controlled everything. This is their omission, but God is their judge. Galina suggested to her grandfather how to deprive Vera of parental rights. Having collected all the necessary documents, Fyodor Petrovich did so, especially since he himself did not want to give the baby. Surprisingly, Galina also offered to take the child to her for upbringing. She was scared when she found out whose daughter it was:
— No, Fyodor Petrovich, my heart will not stand it if the girl stays with this fallen woman even for a day.
The decision was made, and Galina applied for guardianship. As she later said:
— Where there are four children, a fifth will not be superfluous. I will educate everyone, the main thing would be health and strength, the rest will get better.
Galina’s children welcomed the unexpected addition to the family with great joy and warmth. They promised to take care and keep an eye on their little sister. Fyodor Petrovich agreed to stay together with a friendly family and is now settling in the third free room. Meanwhile, Vera was awaiting trial, and the same fate was prepared for Galina’s ex-husband. They will both answer for abandoning the child and did not even think that this would safely decide his fate.