“Will you call me every day?” she asked, tugging at my sleeve.
“Of course, I will,” I said. Saying goodbye proved to be harder than I had thought. On my next visit to Russia, she might already be a teenager.
“Do you promise?” My 5-year-old cousin looked at me with more expectation in her eyes than I could ever live up to.
“Are you just saying this to make me feel better or do you mean it?” I was baffled. At such a young age, she could already detect the lies in my promises.
“Of course I do.” I made a mental note to myself to call her as much as I could. But I had broken so many promises before that I knew it would be difficult.
It was my mom who was supposed to be her godmother. Her parents asked her the day before the actual christening. I think she was very honored because she adores children.
But when we stepped into the church, she turned to me, and said: “You should be her godmother.”
I was taken aback by my mom’s suggestion. I wasn’t caring, or attentive, or very kind. She, of all people, should know that I’m not suited for this part. I swear and forget people’s birthdays. I’m not a good example for a young girl to follow.
“I’m not religious,” was the first argument that came to mind. And I thought it was a good one too since ‘god’ was in the word ‘godmother’. It kind of implied that you had to go to church and stuff.
“Who cares? We aren’t either,” the parents of my cousin replied. They seemed to think that my mother’s idea was absolutely genius. I was surprised by their statement since I thought that living in Russia instantly made you an Orthodox Christian.
“Well… Are you sure?” I asked. I looked calm on the outside, but there was this voice in my head shouting “What the hell are you doing? Stop this!” since my mom had first brought up the subject. Not that I didn’t want to be this girl’s godmother. I loved her. She was clever, kind, and witty. She was still jungle wild. Kids grow out of it eventually, but she hadn’t yet. So I wanted to be her godmother. I just knew that I shouldn’t. But her parents looked at me with hope in their eyes and I yielded. “Alright then,” I said, faking enthusiasm, and felt a heavy weight settle down in my stomach. I picked up the girl and carried her through the door, to the room where she would be baptized.
Now she was crying, knowing that it would probably be years until I came back to Russia. It wasn’t my favorite place to visit. I always felt out of place, despite my family still living there. I willed myself to smile and kissed her goodbye. My mom and I picked up our suitcases and got on the train.
My cousin picked us up in Moscow. He drove a black, expensive car and had a bourgeois accent. He had this way of knowing everything best and that’s why we didn’t get along. I also know everything best, so we never agree on anything. When he heard that I was somebody’s godmother, let alone a godmother of his cousin, he was appalled.
“You do realize it’s a great responsibility, right?” he asked. “Not only are you responsible for her general education, you are also responsible for her religious education. Although maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe you’ll start going to church now.”
“I sure will,” I answered and wondered whether he’d hear the sarcasm. He didn’t.
“When my sister had asked me to be the godfather of her daughter, I really took my time considering the offer. Because it’s a commitment that you make for the rest of your life!” I gravely nodded. I couldn’t wait for the car ride to be over. “When Judgement Day comes, you’ll have her soul to answer for. Don’t forget that.”
When we finally got to the apartment where he lived with his wife and children, it was already midnight. I liked his daughter. She wouldn’t let her demanding parents get her down. Despite their strict rules, she still had the eyes of a dreamer. I thought of how lucky I was, with parents who let me get away with nearly everything. Not that there was that much to get away with.
But sleep was wasted on me. I lay awake thinking of how the hell I was supposed to fulfill my responsibilities towards my goddaughter. Not when it came to her religious education. I would probably do more bad than good if I tried to help her with that. But when it came to advice and friendship. Because I would be miles away. And what advice could I even offer her? And would she want it? I was feeling a bit lost and very underqualified.
Months later, I am still her godmother. I am doing a very shitty job, just as expected. I don’t have time to call, and when I do, I plainly forget to. Sometimes I send her a picture of my dog or ask her how she’s doing. She texted me once to tell me she loves me and I forgot to reply. I think this makes me a horrible human being.
But I’m working on it. Because she’s still five and maybe she won’t remember these first years of me fucking it up. How does a child’s memory even work? Hopefully, she will only remember the good years that are to come. When I’ll be a good godmother.