My Brother, Nikolai

Submitted by Kyleigh on Wed, 08/18/2010 - 20:41

This is the beginnings of a story. It's been pulled together over the past few months... and I promised Anna I'd post it. :) You have to read it (think it) from the perspective of a girl, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, with a thick accent, Russian or Baltic-like... I'm not sure of the exact country they're going from. I guess it could be any war-torn country, in the past 40-50 years or so. I'd considered setting it in Lebanon, but I got some inspiration about the musical side of the family and needed to use Nikolai... long story! 

  We are going to America, my family and I. Things have not been good in our country for a long time. We are traveling on an airplane. None of us have ever been on one before. My cousin and I used to go out and watch the planes fly overhead. But that was before she died. We all came close to dying, when there was war in the streets. The war scared us all. We liked seeing the big planes, but sometimes they weren’t good planes. Sometimes they dropped bombs on us. They destroyed crops, so that there was very little food for us.

            But in America! They say it will be different there. They say the streets are paved with gold. The place we are going to, it is called New York, but also “The Big Apple.”

We often ask papa in his letters what America is like – papa has been there six months now – he says that it is not quite like what we think, we have to wait and see for ourselves.

There we will all be together again, except for my brother Nikolai. He played a big instrument - like cello, only bigger. Bass, he called it. My brother Vlad played the cello. And my brother Rami played something a little smaller - the viola. And me, I played the violin. My mama and I, we would dance. My papa would stomp his big boots on the floor and sing. Sometimes he would take the violin and play, and leave me to dance.We would dance, and dance, and dance, late into the night, until we were too tired to go on. Then we would go to bed, even though we wanted to play more and be with each other more.

That was before the bad men came. They took our food, they took our horses... they took my brother Nikolai. No one knows where he is now. I miss him. He would make me laugh. He was like a monkey - he climbed the trees and jumped and flipped... and played his bass, and showed me how. I would play, and Vlad would tease me because it was bigger than I.

My papa left before they came. When we took him to the boat to say goodbye, he stood Vlad and Nikolai and Rami before him. "You are the men of the family now," he said. "Protect your mama and your sister with your lives. Especially your sister. Let no man touch her, let no man take hold of her heart. Guard her the best you can." All three nodded.

Just two days later, they came with big weapons and loud voices. And they took Nikolai away. Vlad and Rami protected us, just like papa commanded them. But now they must do it alone, without Nikolai. Vlad is only seventeen, barely a man, and Rami is even younger. But I know they will do it. Papa has entrusted us to them - he is assured of their ability.

We didn’t play our music for a long time after they took Nikolai. Only Vlad felt like it, but when he touched his cello, only sad music would come out, so we told him to stop. Nobody danced. Even mama did not sing. We had no joy in our hearts, and so no music came out, except for Vlad, whose music sounded like weeping.


            Rami ran to the window and looked out.

“Plane!” he cried. That was one of the few words we knew in English. I could say “airplane,” “New York,” and “I don’t speak English.” Vlad could speak a little more.

I ran to the window. Mama was close behind me.

            “It doesn’t look like I thought.”
            “We’re not in New York yet – we’re in London.”
            “Where’s London?”
            “In England.”
            “Where’s that?” Rami wanted to know.


            There was a man who was so dark he was almost black. I stared at him for a time, but then Vlad reminded me that it was rude to stare. I noticed another man, this one white like us, but his hair was yellow, not black like ours. He was watching me. I looked down at my feet, where he was looking. I curled my toes in my boots. One of my toes stuck in a hole in the sole. He must have been looking, too, at my patched skirt. I felt ashamed of my clothes. He wore a spotless new suit. Then I felt indignant – we may be poor, but we are clean, too. And anyone who had been through what we’d been through would look just as ragged.

            Mama had our bag now. It was an old suitcase, falling apart and patched with all manner of things. We had only one suitcase between the four of us. Most of our possessions fit inside – a few clothes, and a Bible. We carried our few other belongings in bags with us. Our house and table had been sold to help pay for our plane tickets. We had to get rid of Nikolai’s bass. Mama wanted to make Vlad leave his cello behind, but Vlad would not. Rami had his viola strapped to his back, and I held the violin. Perhaps soon we might feel like making music again.


Author's age when written


It's set sometime in the past 40-50 years... maybe even more recent. I need to re-read some history to figure out exactly - the important thing is that they're fleeing the unrest in their country, but on an airplane. Though that may change, depending on what I decide about what country it's in.

You can feel this. It comes so naturally in pictures. I want more, which isn't unusual but is still worth asserting.

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief


For once, I'm left speechless by the sheer "wow" factor of this Anna said, it comes very easily in pictures in my mind...

And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

You're off to a great beginning with this, and I can't wait to read more.

Brother: Your character should drive a motorcycle.
Me: He can't. He's in the wilderness.
Brother: Then make it a four-wheel-drive motorcycle!

Thank you all! I'm glad you see it in pictures. It came in pictures.

Bridget - I'm not really sure yet. In my mind right now, it's going to be set in Romania, in the 90's, after the Berlin wall fell, but when there was still turmoil in Romania. He's taken by the rebels there (still not sure exactly who's who - I have lots of research to do first) - so perhaps drafter, perhaps just taken and put in prison. I'm not quite sure yet.

I like it and am eager to read more.

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle