Saint Nikola’s Shoes

That night, while the neighbors sang in the living room hugging each other over the plates filled with food and their glasses of red wine, I was falling asleep next to my sister in the bedroom. And Saint Nikola finally arrived.

He walked into our bedroom slowly, letting a little bit of light into the room, as our door that always screeched remained as quiet as the night. He floated toward our bed without a sound, his feet bare. As he stood by my bed, in a tall black dress and white beard, he whispered, in Old Church Slavonic, but I understood.

“Ruza, do you know who I am?”

I lifted my head off of the feather pillow, my lids heavy. “Yes. I met your picture in the church,” I said.

“You have a gift,” he said. “You’re different than your sister, your parents.”

“What kind of a gift?” I asked.

“You’ll know, you’ll see things before others. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Use it wisely.” His hand floated up in the air and landed on my head gently.

“And your shoes? They are coming.” He petted me and vanished.

“Wait! Saint Nikola, how is Radica, my big sister?” I asked, but he was gone.

“Saint Nikola, Saint Nikola, come back,” I whispered, but the room was silent.

I looked at Loza, her dark hair covering her face, but she was sound asleep. I got up to look for Saint Nikola, but when I opened the door and crawled from the hallway into the kitchen, there was my father with neighbors, all of them raising glasses, drinking each to the bottom, turning it around and slamming it on the table or throwing it on the ground. Then they continued singing old Serbian folk songs, my mother and other wives standing around them, waiting on them.

There was no sign of Saint Nikola. I opened the front door enough to poke my nose out. Darkness and snow wrapped around each other as if trying to warm up. No trace of Nikola.

When the clink of metal dishes and utensils woke me up the next morning, I ran to my mother to tell her what happened, all excited.

“Mama, Saint Nikola was here last night!”

She smiled. “Of course he was, he’s always here.”

“He was in my bedroom, he told me I was special, that I’ll see things, know things before others.”

My mother dropped the tin plate she held in her soapy hands. It hit the floor then rolled away, leaving a trail of foam on the mud floor.

She squatted next to me, making me taller than she was, her knees snapping.

She grabbed my upper arms tightly.

“Who told you to say that?” Her face was stern, serious as illness.

“He said it to me. Saint Nikola,” I said, my voice trembling, tears beginning to collect in the corners of my eyes.

“How did this…Saint Nikola look like?” she asked, her eyes wide.

“Like that icon in church, white beard, long black dress.”

“What did he say?”

“He said I was special.”

“And did Loza see him too?”

“She was asleep.”

She stood there squatting, holding my arms, looking into my eyes, trying to read them for lies.

“Stay here, don’t move.” My mother let go of me and ran out of the house yelling: “Branko, Zora!”

I looked out of the slightly ajar door. Zora came first from her backyard next door, then her husband. My mother told them something, crossed herself a dozen times, waved her hands left and right in the air, bowed to the ground and began crying. Zora hugged her. I opened the door a little more.

“Maybe it was just a dream,” Zora said. “I didn’t see the priest around last night. He wouldn’t do such a thing, no way.”

“I don’t know. Remember how he looked at her in the church?”

“But he’s a priest. He’s God’s servant,” Zora said scratching her head.

“He’s also a man, a Serbian man,” Mika said looking at her own opanci.

My father came out of our barn, listened to my mother, and looked for me through the window with his regular, calm, unburdened eyes. Then he hugged my mother, saying: “I’ll talk to Ruza. We’ll get to the bottom of this. Don’t you worry.”