He was 7 when he answered the door to the witch, who came in search of a little food for her belly. His parents and siblings were out amongst the trees gathering in the harvest. He had been left behind to mind the house and the barn, and to keep an eye on his grandmother who was near the end of her life.
The witch knocked three times, and when he answered she looked down and asked him if she might have a little food. She said for just a little food to relieve her aching hunger she would tell his fortune. He wasn’t sure what his father would do, but he felt bad for the woman and he didn’t think listening to her would bring any harm. They had some leftovers from breakfast, a hearty stew of beef and broth.
This he gave to her in a little dish with bread, along with a handful of cherries from yesterday’s harvest. He stepped outside and bid her sit down and when she finished her food she grabbed his hand. She looked at it for a moment and then closed her eyes to the sun.
“You will suffer much. But then you will cross a great body of water. You have plenty and when you are 84, you will die.”
She smiled kindly at him and walked off down the old dirt road between the gutted marks worn in by constant wagon wear.
Less than ten years later, rebels blew up that family farm. What town folk were left in that war-torn village found the grizzly remains of two babies and an old woman in the doorframe of the house. The old woman had been shot in both legs and left to burn, while the babies, one not old enough to even crawl and the other not old enough to leave his great-grandmothers side were lying dead nearby.
The boy, now 15 spent the night hiding in an outdoor chimney. It took him hours work his way out as dawn approached and the rebels were finally gone. They had burned down 5 farms that night. Every part of his body was asleep from such a long and terrifying night in the oven.
He was conscripted not a week later into the army and, having no where to go he went willingly. He hated the war. All the marching and death. Within months, the war was over and “his side” had lost.
He spent the next six miserable years in a prison camp in Siberia. When they finally discharged him, they thought he would die of malnutrition before he ever reached home soil again. The joke was on them, his entire village, his home no longer existed. What was left of his family were exiles, strewn across what was left of a once-great empire.
He made his way to a small town where he knew some distant relations had lived. The luck owed to him finally paid back for there he found his father, mother and younger brother. He spent the next few years there, rebuilding what he could of his life in that war-torn shell of a city.
When his girlfriend fell pregnant he married her. They raised their small family in a one-room bomb shelter, shared with a great aunt from her mother’s side. They had no electricity, water, or even windows. When the opportunity came to move to Canada, he grabbed it with both hands and never let go.
They travelled to Canada aboard a ship and when they arrived they lived in a single room offered to them by his younger brother, who had come not a year before. They both worked three jobs manual labour and saved and borrowed enough to buy their own home.
This home they divided into six apartments, of which they only retained two rooms for themselves. They still worked their jobs and every penny went into the bank.
Several years and two more children later, they were an established middle class family living in the suburbs with a car and reliable income. The kids never knew hunger, everyone was clothed, and most importantly to the boy, who of course had long ago become a man, was that they were all safe.
They built a cottage with their bare hands and the help of relations. They eventually acquired a winter home in Florida when the man retired. They saw their children wed and enjoyed their grandchildren and eventually great-grand children.
When the man died, he left his wife enough money to live comfortably for all the rest of her days and still leave college funds for the grandchildren. When he died, there was sadness, but also much celebration of such a life as his. And he lived to the ripe old age of 84, just as the witch had said.