We were so much part of them that we could not miss this great moment. When the timidity of the early sun changed to a bright flush of living gold, we ran to join the workers in the fields. Ahead of us was our friend and faithful companion, a dog called Riabczyk.
He was all white except for a black button nose. He kept us company from early morning to night. Dogs usually absorb the moods of children more easily than those of adults. They integrate themselves forcefully into the lives of children because of the latter's spontaneity.
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Our dog always seemed to adjust his movements to the rhythm of our life. Sometimes it seemed to us that we were jumping with his feet or barking with his friendly voice. The dog and we were one. This harmonious flow of busy happiness was sometimes interrupted by disasters. One day Riabczyk followed a rider on a horse who was passing on the road behind our farm. For some reason he started to bark at him.
Then we suddenly heard a shot from the side of the road. The dog came running to us with a bleeding mouth. After several days of groaning, Riabczyk died.
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We cried bitterly, carried him to the top of a hill, and buried him at a spot we could see from our windows. Although the farmhands treated us like nuisances, they missed us when we were not around. Occasionally they got help from us. We loved to listen to the metallic whisper of the swinging scythes and to the sighs of the clover and rye falling like wounded heroes.
The workers used to laugh at our screams when we hurt our bare feet on the sharp stubs of the cut rye. At noon, when the sun was in the middle of the sky, work stopped for luncheon and rest. The food was meager: black bread, raw onions, potato pudding, and sometimes cold tea or water. Then, within a minute, the farmhands' tired heads would fall on bundles of rye in heavy sleep. We watched how the sun would play on their noses and how they struggled through their sleep with fleas trying to enter their open mouths.
While they were sleeping we jumped to the horses having their luncheon of grass. What fun we had stroking their thighs and plunging our fingers into their manes. If we were lucky we could gently caress one horse's silky nose. The horse would answer with a look of tender detachment, by sneezing or raising his ears.
We were then sure he had returned our friendship.
Another outlet for our energies was riding horses. We were not permitted to disturb the farmhands during their day work. But at sunset we joined the workers in the fields, when they were ready to return to the farms. I remember with pride that I was three years old when I first rode a horse.
My playmates argued that I was too small for this heroic sport. I felt humiliated and resented this inequality. I could not wait endlessly to grow up. I bribed myself into my first horse ride by offering a croissant to our farmhand. He ate the croissant with one hand and used the other hand to put me on the back of the white horse. I grabbed its mane and the world around me started to move as fast as a whirlpool.
The sun was shining in my eyes. I saw nothing but the neck of the horse. When I approached the farm and the stables, my frightened mother and our barking dogs greeted me. Then I descended the horse, having achieved much cherished equality with my playmates.
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As I continued to ride the white horse every day, the feeling of joy deepened. I looked with pride from the horse downward at the earth, and my perception of the world unconsciously gained a new dimension. The climax of farm life was the return of the entire animal world at sunset. The farm received each of us like a loving mother. First came the sheep and the cows, in a serious procession, some still chewing a last mouthful of grass.
When the impatient shepherd put the sheep to run, the whole herd would descend upon the farm in a cloud of dust. The first duty of the evening was to care for the thirsty. We, the happy gang of children, busily helped water the animals. The water was poured from buckets lifted by hand from the well. I can never forget how intensely they drank.
It was as if new life was entering every part of their bodies. Their nostrils were enlarged and their eyes fixed as they sucked the water into their necks. There is a difference in the quenching of thirst between men and animals. Usually a man drinks when he wants, but an animal drinks when man wants it to drink.
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Desperate thirst exists always with animals, and fulfillment is overwhelming. In the upper part, men are drinking coffee in a Parisian cafe. In the lower part, a worker and a horse are drinking directly from a stream with absorbing intensity. The reception for our four-legged friends was like a huge cocktail party, crowded and noisy, all the animals clamoring for attention under the caresses of a sinking sun. Its rays set afire the windows of our house or tossed playful reflections on the horn of a cow or the shining steel of scythes put to rest. LOG IN. Genocide Studies International.
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