by Eric Kivisto
Frosty air nipped at the noses of the students as they rushed around to greet their friends. Everyone was bundled up in various styles of scarves and jackets, some of them proudly bearing the school crest while others displayed the family name and homeland flag of the pupil wearing it. It had become a sort of trend — a defining mark of Westmont Academy’s student body, if you will. Even on regular days, where everyone’s dressed in their smart-looking navy blue uniforms, a quick glance around any room will reveal all sorts of flag insignia — pins, buttons, even hair ties and neckties if it’s an American student. There was no doubt that the students at Westmont were proud of where they came from.
Pavel never quite understood it. Sure, he wasn’t ashamed of having been born in Russia, but he certainly didn’t feel the need to flaunt it everywhere he went. As he stood by himself, glass doors and the school’s walls protecting him from the winter air, he began to feel as though he was the only one that thought that way. Even sweet, quiet, hardly-there Claire could always be seen sporting the Canadian maple leaf on some part of her person, whether it be her black-and-red backpack or her t-shirts on dress down days.
“Hello, Pavel.” A soft, sweet voice gently tugged Pavel from his thoughts. As if summoned by some unconscious call, Claire Williams stood beside him, her hands lightly gripping the strap on her violin case. Sure enough, she had her backpack slung across one shoulder and a Canadian flag pin secured to her blouse. “How are you today?”
“Good enough, I suppose.” Pavel sighed, his mouth still struggling to form itself around the words. English was still a new language to him and he wasn’t sure if he adored it for its subtleties or despised it for its difficulty. “And you?”
“I’m well.” She smiled softly, pale violet eyes peering through the thick lenses of her glasses at Pavel. “Do you have a club meeting today? Usually you’re on your bus by now.” Pavel shook his head and looked outside again.
“Just waiting for either Papa or Alexei to pick me up.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, sighing deeply. “Looks like it will be Alexei. Probably with Alexander.”
“They’ve been spending a lot of time together lately, huh?” Claire followed his gaze to the black Kia that had just pulled into the parking lot. Through the driver’s side window, the two could see Pavel’s older brother, Alexei, laughing and smiling at someone else. Pavel shrugged.
“I guess so.” He waited for Alexei to get out of the car. “I have to go now. Have fun at string practice.” He waved farewell to Claire, who waved back with a sweet smile.
“Sure thing! Have a good evening.” Pavel turned back to give Claire one last smile as he pushed the door open. The cold air hit him, sending a small shiver down his spine. He pulled his plain black jacket tighter around himself and quickly walked towards his brother’s car. As he walked, snowflakes began slowly drifting towards the ground, and then started to fall all at once. By the time he reached Alexei’s car, his dark hair was covered almost entirely by snow. Alexei chuckled slightly.
“I think this is the most you’ve ever looked like me.” He joked, brushing some of the snow off of Pavel’s head. While Alexei had the same hooked nose, sandy blond hair, and violet eyes as their father, Pavel got their mother’s straight nose, raven hair, and pale blue eyes. It wasn’t uncommon for people to mistake the two for cousins as opposed to brothers.
“Hello to you, too.” Pavel shook off the last bits of snow before climbing into the back seat. “Hello, Alexander.”
“Hey, kiddo.” Alexander, mid-way through tying up his long black hair, looked back over his shoulder to greet Pavel. If Alexei’s eyes could be called pale violet, Alexander’s were a royal purple — nearly black. Overall, Pavel had always thought that Alexander was rather handsome — a good match for his brother — but it was the shade of his eyes that fascinated him the most. “How was school?”
“It was good.” He shrugged as he buckled up. From the driver’s seat, Alexei gave him a look.
“No whacky stories from history class today?” Alexei questioned, eyebrow raised. Pavel shook his head. “That’s a first.” Shifting the car into drive, he pulled out of the parking lot and began the drive home. The first half of the trip was rather silent.
“I take it Xander will be joining us for dinner tonight?” Pavel broke the silence, briefly looking up from his phone. Alexei hummed merrily to confirm. “Does this mean I actually have to put effort into English grammar?”
“Yes,” Alexander smiled back at him. “Yes you do. Practice makes perfect, Velly. The same goes for everything.” Pavel made a face at the nickname.
“Easy for you to say, Mr. Speaks-three-languages.” He leaned forward to poke Alexander’s cheek. Alexander burst out laughing and reached back to poke the tip of Pavel’s nose.
“I only learned English so quickly because that was the only way Maria and I could speak to Fidel and Theresa when our dads started dating. Spanish followed some point after that.”
“So, how do you explain the three different German dialects you speak?” Alexei briefly glanced over.
“Oh, that’s because my family couldn’t decide which country to stay in, so my cousins and I all grew up in different German-speaking countries, speaking wildly different versions of the same language. It’s lead to some rather silly debates.” Alexander sighed, smiling slightly as he recalled some of the scenarios. “Like the one time I tried to cook something with Ann back when I was, like, ten. It took us half an hour to establish that the recipe needed two large tomatoes, and then another fifteen minutes for us to agree upon what a tomato was actually called.”
“…Wow…” Pavel said flatly. “How different could it possi-”
“Very.” Alexander and Alexei chimed in, cutting off Pavel’s sentence. Pavel sat back, uttering a small ‘okay then’. There were a few more moments of silence that only ended when Alexander’s phone dinged.
“Who’s that?” Alexei asked.
“Luana. She wants to know what people are doing for Christmas break.” Alexander typed a message back and hit send. “So, what’s your break look like?” Pavel answered first.
“A lot of sleep and waiting for January. You?”
“Travelling to see grandparents.” Alexander said. “We’re going back to Vienna for the first week, and then Barcelona for the second week.”
“Sounds like fun.” Pavel hesitated before finishing his thought. A heavy kind of sadness had come over him, weighing down his limbs and making him feel small. “I kind of wish we could go back to St. Petersburg for Christmas…” Alexei’s face fell.
“You know that’s not safe for us, Vel.” His voice was quiet. “Especially if she’s still there.” Pavel winced at the second half. He knew Alexei was referring to their mother, who had been the very reason their father had made the decision to move out of the country. He had to admit that she was a cruel woman, although it hadn’t always been like that.
“I-I know…” He averted his gaze, hoping to hide the tears that had begun to well up.
“And it’s not like we could stay with Babushka; she’s taken Mama’s side on this.” Alexei continued, his tone growing increasingly saddened. He had a point. St. Petersburg, the hometown that Pavel missed so dearly, just wasn’t safe for them to return to. Even after nearly five years, he still felt homesick.
Alexander cleared his throat slightly, shifting awkwardly in his seat. He was beginning to regret bringing up Christmas. Sensing the general discomfort in the car, Alexei sighed. “In any case, Aunt Yekaterina’s going to be coming over with Uncle Sadik, Ludmila, and Nadezhda for dinner and presents on January sixth and seventh. I think Aunt Natalya will be coming, too.” Despite the ease in his words, he seemed tense. Pavel nodded as he pulled his headphones out of his bag and plugged them into his phone. He turned on his music and sat staring out the window. In spite of all the bad things that had happened to his family in St. Petersburg, he couldn’t shake that homesick feeling.
Eric Kivisto is a grade 10 student who enjoys writing, reading, art, and music. This piece is part of a larger fan-made project containing several original characters – part of the same series as his first Viking Voice piece, Helena.