Today, exceptionally because it is Sunday after all, you can if you wish get acquainted with not just one but two characters from The End of the Road, Kuba and Amelia. They come together because I couldn’t bring myself to let them deal with death, cataclysms and war on their own. They are only children.
Kuba is a feral orphan living in an abandoned post-Soviet observatory somewhere in The Carpathians. He suffers from a debilitating stammer, but at least now he is trying to communicate with the world; previously he was an elective mute. He is a clever boy. He has self-taught himself the most complex arcana of astronomy. He finds Amelia half-dead and offers her shelter in his observatory despite her aloofness towards him. She is a good girl from a good home while he is a stray, but where they come from makes no difference to where they are going to end up.
What follows is a short extract featuring both children.
“Everything will be fine as long as they wash their hands before eating, sit at the table together, say Grace and don’t use bad language.”
That’s what Amelia’s mum used to say – that was her recipe for happiness for the whole family. Amelia has committed that recipe to her memory. She now follows it to the letter. Kuba has accepted the idea of washing his hands – he believes in germs. He wouldn’t mind sitting at the table together if they had a table. He has cooperated on this front by converting a metal cabinet into something that resembles a kitchen table; if you take out the drawers, it looks like it has legs. Amelia isn’t convinced that this is a proper table, but it will have to do for now. Apart from occasional slips, he can also live without the bad language, but he draws the line on saying Grace – he believes in the god who gives them food like he believes in gremlins and winged fairies. Amelia mumbles her thanksgiving mumbo-jumbo and looks at Kuba down her nose; she will go cross-eyed if she keeps doing that.
Today she is serving fried spam from the tin. Two slices each. She insists that nobody at her table (Kuba thought it wasn’t a table, but now it apparently is) will eat with their hands, so they share a penknife. Each time after Kuba uses it, Amelia wipes the blade pointedly on a hanky. That hanky has more germs on it than the whole of Kuba’s mouth. He doesn’t waste his breath trying to explain it to her. She is a stuck-up little madam, but having her here stops him from going feral. If she wasn’t here, he wouldn’t bother with dressing, washing or… eating at the table together, for example. He would spend his days and nights with his eye glued to the telescope, watching the sky and the incredible transformation it is undergoing. He would be taking more detailed notes than he is taking now, recording the disappearing stars, the order in which they disappear and the speed with which they do it. That would give him a good idea of precisely when the Black Hole is going to swallow the Earth. But with Amelia under his feet and sticking her nose into everything he does, he has to limit his investigation to the bare minimum so she doesn’t get wind of the imminent apocalypse and doesn’t start panicking. Kuba can’t handle panic. Panic does not resolve anything. All it does is to make his head hurt with all the grinding and juddering of his brain cells like when you scrape metal on metal.
So he keeps the end of the world away from Amelia. What good would it do to tell her anyway? She would not be able to stop it. As it stands, she is already rather emotional. She has nightmares, can’t breathe properly at night and she cries a lot.
To read Tony’s extract click here
To read Agnes’s extract click here
To read Alyosha’s extract click here
To order The End of the Road click here