All happy families are alike but an unhappy one is unhappy after its own fashion.
That winter the onset of the Siberian chill fashioned a new kind of icy coldness and distance between the siblings.
But then there was also the arrival of the stranger.
Ivan, being the man of the house, in their father’s absence was younger than his sisters but still bore the brunt of certain expected tasks, although he resented their lack of respect and the constant teasing he received from them.
He was fixing a couple of tiles on the rickety roof when he spied the distant figure approaching over the snowy waste.
“Alexandria!” he shouted down.
The youngest of his three sisters poked her head out of a second floor window.
“Are you finished up there Ivan?”
“No! Look…… Someone’s coming! I think it’s father!”
“Where?” Alexandria followed her brother’s pointing finger and scanned the pristine plateau, “How can you be sure? It’s too far away.”
“I’m not sure but who else could it be?”
Half an hour later Alexandria had filled a bath and gone to fetch some clean towels. On her return, she entered the bathroom to see her sisters and brother surrounding the chair in front of the bath on which the stranger sat. Galina was helping him off with his shirt as Ivan stood back with arms folded, shoulders hunched and a grim expression on his face.
Galina looked over at Ivan, “And what is wrong with you dear brother? Why aren’t you helping us?”
“We don’t know who he is… He hasn’t answered any of our questions…or even said a word! And you….you seem intent on treating him like a prince!”
The stranger’s eyes rolled underneath his thick, dark eyebrows to look at the boy and from beneath his overgrown bushy beard, his cracked red lips quivered with effort.
“Ivan!” The poor man’s suffering from frostbite and probably won’t be able to speak for days…… if at all! And you…..you want to interrogate him?”
“Dear sister, need I remind you we are at war?!”
“I don’t see any markings on his shirt or coat to convince me he is our enemy. To my eyes he is an unfortunate traveler and we are the only people able to offer him help in this barren place. If father were here…..”
“Do not presume to know what our father would do!”
Galina glared at her brother but he held her stare defiantly.
Alexandria’s meek tones broke the deadlock, “Galina….I think he is ready….perhaps we should…?”
“Yes Alexandria of course. We should all leave our visitor to finish undressing and to take his bath in private. You, can check in on him from time to time Ivan….”
“I am not leaving this room….”
“Ivan! I am the oldest here. You will give this man the respect and privacy he deserves!”
Ivan grumbled for a moment and shot his eldest sister a defiant glance “Very well…” and then turning directly to the stranger, “But I shall be sat on guard outside that door!” He pointed to emphasise his words.
“Ivan!” Galina turned to the stranger, “Please accept our apologies on behalf of our brother. We hope you will enjoy your bath. Meanwhile we shall try and find you some suitable clothes and prepare a hot meal…..Ivan! Come now…Alexandria, put the stove on to warm some soup….” And with that the stranger was left alone.