“And when it snows, Carmen dear, I’ll be there,” he promised me. So every day, when I wake up, I run to the window to check for snow. Every day, I imagine that I will wake up to snow piling up outside our door, and Papa will be walking towards our house smiling that big, big smile and his chin hair bristly like a hedgehog’s needles. But it hasn’t snowed yet.
Papa promised me, and Papa never lies. Besides, breaking promises is a bad thing to do, and Papa never does bad things. It will snow, and he will come back! But the problem is, it rains and rains in December, but no snow. It snows in December, right? So why hasn’t it snowed yet? Maybe Papa still has work to do wherever he is now. So he asked the sky to stop snowing until he’s ready to come back, so I won’t be sad when it snows and he’s not there. Papa doesn’t want to break his promise to me, that’s how good a Papa he is.
“Mummy, is it snowing?” the little girl asks, looking up at her mother. She asks her mother this every day, and she knows that her mother will never lie to her. She thinks that her mother wants Papa back as much as she does.
But she doesn’t see the tears her mother sheds—
“No Carmen, it’s not. Run along and play now.”
The little girl checks the window once more to be sure before putting on her raincoat in case it starts raining again. It is bright green, her favourite colour. Papa liked that colour too. Hopping in the puddles and making big splashes, Carmen watches the sky for signs of snow. None yet. But she clings on to the hope that one day, white snowflakes will descend from the sky like she sees on the television, bringing with them news of her beloved father. She spends the morning playing in the garden until her mother calls her back in for lunch. Her mother then passes her paper and crayons and heads to work, leaving the little girl to doodle trees and birds and Mummy and Papa and Carmen together. When her mother returns from work, she asks about snow before having dinner. Her mother then puts Carmen to bed, singing a lullaby about shoes made of glass and a princess who slept for a hundred years. The next day, she does this all over again.
It is many years in the future now, and Carmen is now a teenager. When she wakes up, she checks the window out of habit. No snow, but of course. That is Carmen’s first thought every morning. She makes clattering noises when she makes her way down the stairs after a hot shower and changing into her uniform. Kissing her mother on the cheek after a short breakfast, she jogs the fifteen minutes to school for the painting workshop she’d signed up for. Carmen carefully avoids the puddles, her music turned up high. From afar, the first thing one notices is the bright green ribbon keeping her long braid in place. Her day is spent painting still life, but she likes painting landscapes most. Carmen especially likes painting a vibrant green tree recovering from the snowy season.
“You’re very talented at this, for someone who’s never seen snow before,” says her teacher. Carmen just smiles and carefully dabs colour onto a dark figure standing alone under the tree. What he doesn’t know is that she’s been practicing painting this very scene for a long, long time now.
Carmen is now a grown-up and studying art as well as a second degree in history. She has travelled to Russia with her classmates to collect material on traditional Russian art as well as research Russian history. She remembers her mother mentioning that her Papa is Russian, but she has almost forgotten him by now. Carmen doesn’t care anymore, anyway. He knew that it would never snow in her equatorial country. Her Papa had lied, and Carmen had never truly forgiven him for that.
When visiting an art museum, Carmen is awed by the intricate design and effort put into the making of the Russian nesting dolls—matryoshkas, they called them. She recalls her own matryoshka set at home. They’re clumsily crafted, but the painting on the stomach of the largest doll is a beautiful scene—a green tree in spring, with a bright, cloudless blue sky as the background. She can barely remember anything about that set, except that it is linked to her father. Carmen shakes the thought from her mind.
On the last day of her stay in Russia, Carmen’s class visits a graveyard for Russian soldiers. The villagers inform her about a lone grave of a soldier who left and returned to fight for his motherland, only to be condemned for it. He lived in the village once, and someone buried him under a tree that he had played at as a child. An old woman offered to take her there. Intrigued, Carmen agrees. When she is led to the bare, snow-covered field, her breath catches in her throat.
I know this place.
She approaches the tree with trepidation and kneels down beside the gravestone, the old woman standing silently beside her. Someone has painted a small and shaky, but strangely poignant portrait of three people on a slab of rock, propped up beside the gravestone. It can barely be seen, but Carmen makes out the charcoal lines to be a man, a woman, and a small child. She brushes the snow away with shaking hands and reads the name aloud.
“Not forgotten. Died in battle, a brave man who fought for his country and the two women he loved most. Dmitri Vasliev. Husband of Amanda Nguyen, and… and…” Carmen can barely speak the last few words.
“And father of Carmen Vasiliev.”
Somewhere far, far away, in a distant country where snow never falls, the smallest matryoshka of a set of six bore a tiny portrait of a tree weighed down by snow. With the revelation in a country of snow and ice, the snow melted and a new, younger tree bearing the promise of new life grew right beside its parent.