5 pm in Kyiv is when you call me from Beijing. It is 6 pm where I am standing in my living room in beautiful Rome, sweaty from a walk, holding the phone to my ear. You are at the other end of the line. Sometimes when we are like this, I imagine a string made of our words connecting us, all the other places it has to pass to be in between two women talking. I am going, you say. I think about the things I could say back:
The attacks on the capital are worsening every day. Your parents, most of your family, have left by now. Your friends from home are flung across Europe, or gone. I think about the first time one of your old school friends went missing, during the first weeks of the war. Whispering about how he’d gone to fight, how small his baby was, that his wife was waiting at home but there had been silence now, for weeks. How angry you sounded, how proud.
You called me from your work when the magazine you were editing changed the language in an article to soften the reference to what was happening. It’s important to stay neutral, they told you. They’re right about one thing, words are important, you said to me, the imaginary line between us taut with worry and you wept, furiously. I feel so impotent over here, you added at the end. All the flights are shut down.
I want to tell you that if you go, every silence will scare me. When I went to Palestine you said, I will be worried, but never once did you say – you should not go – and so I do not say it now. These are your people, your home, your nation. I love them for you. But you are my best friend, and so I fear this war the most.
It is 5 pm in Kyiv and sirens are blaring, but I am not there. Odessa is a jewel, you tell me. Kyiv is a pearl. You paint your country like a treasure box. When this is over, we’ll come back. I do not know what it means to walk the streets of a home I grew up in, slick with blood and the pressing, air-heavy threat of radiation. If this were me, I would be a howling wound. But you, you are quiet, and determined, and fierce. A resistance.
It is 5 pm in Kyiv, the treasure box, and sirens are blaring, and you are there, and so it is as if I am, too.
Stay safe, my friend. See you soon.
Flavia Brunetti grew up bouncing back and forth between Rome and San Francisco. As an adult she’s lived between Italy, Tunisia, Libya, Palestine, Niger, and now back to Italy where she works for an international humanitarian organization and wanders Rome in search of espresso and gelato. She is the author of the novel All the Way to Italy. You can find her work published in the Open Doors Review, The New Humanitarian, Writer’s Digest, and others. You can keep up with Flavia’s work and travels on Instagram at @whichwaytorome and flaviinrome.com.