After spending most of her childhood exiled in Siberia, much of it as a half-starved orphan, Maria is finally rescued by a distant aunt who takes her in and gives her a loving home for the first time in her life.
“Oh my little birdie …” my aunt would coo. “My buzzy … my little bee… ” I was always pawing her, bugging her. I couldn’t believe it… Somebody loved me! I was loved! You’re growing, and someone is appreciating your beauty – what a luxury! All of your little bones straighten out, your every muscle.
This wasn’t the only life-changing act of kindess the adult Maria recalled; an earlier passing sign of affection worked on her like a revelation. And before that, she realised she was human when someone gave her a bunch of flowers.
Source: interview with Maria Voiteshonok, in Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The last of the Soviets, trans. by Bela Shayevich (New York: Random House, 2017), p. 233
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