The Sunflower Sisters

Supplied © Illustration of a row of three sunflowers


As they became friends and learned to care for each other they discovered that people are people the world over

“Dobri den, Siobhan. Dinner is ready soon,” Elena called from the kitchen.

Siobhan, exhausted after her 12 hour shift as a children’s nurse, wasn’t hungry. The sound of Elena’s exuberant son, Artem, jumping on the wooden floor in their bedroom made her envious of his childhood energy.

Siobhan slipped off her shoes and coat. She could never sleep straight after a shift, needing time to de-compress, so, drawn by the scent of fresh basil, she headed for the kitchen.

“I have made pesto pasta. Your favourite?” Elena sounded uncertain.

“It is, Elena.” Siobhan loved homemade pesto pasta. Maybe she was hungrier than she’d thought. Tomorrow Elena and Artem would be gone; her flat quiet again. It would be strange.

Her guests had arrived last year, landing in the chill of the late evening. Artem was wrapped in a blanket, just his nose and his scared, wide brown eyes visible. Siobhan hugged them. They were strangers, but not strangers, having spoken via video call over previous weeks.

Elena and Artem spoke more English than Siobhan spoke Ukrainian. “Dobri den~” had been her first words to them. Hello. Then “laskavo prosymo”. Welcome.

The last year had brought challenges. Siobhan knew crossing borders wasn’t easy. She had arrived in this bustling city from rural West Ireland 15 years ago to embark on her nursing training. Anthea, her neighbour, had rapped on her front door shortly after she’d arrived.

“You need feeding up, young lady,” she’d said. “Take this and make sure you finish it. I understand your situation.” Siobhan, worn out from the journey, took the foil covered bowl, smiling at the older woman’s welcome.

Siobhan had taken a gentler approach. What Elena and Artem had left behind was unimaginable. For Anthea and Siobhan, returning to their respective homelands was a pleasure and a comfort.

“Dancing on the beach, rum in one hand, handsome young man in the other,” Anthea chortled as she reminisced about her visit to Jamaica to see family last year.

Both Elena and Artem were silent for the first few days, rarely emerging from the room they shared. Siobhan had filled it with warm duvets, soft toys and lovely toiletries, knowing they were no substitute for home, but might be of comfort.

Occasionally she heard quiet sobbing, though she respected their privacy.

When she placed bowls of homemade borscht outside their bedroom door she was under no illusion she’d perfected the recipe, like the time she’d attempted rice and peas for Anthea. “Overcooked,” Anthea told her, with little compunction.

Siobhan’s heart had soared when Elena appeared carrying empty bowls.

The months following had been peppered with misunderstandings and heart-lifting successes. Artem brought a friend home from school. Elena shook her head when Siobhan asked politely if she would mind emptying the dishwasher. It transpired she was about to begin preparing dinner. Siobhan learnt to be more direct, Elena to read between the lines. Paperwork got sorted, they fell into a routine, and Elena started working as a housekeeper, job-sharing with a local friend, Kateryna, her confidence growing with her increasing independence. Artem helped Siobhan in the garden; he was keen on sowing seeds.

He frowned.

Will I still be here to see the flowers?

“Maybe, Artem,” she replied. In truth, she didn’t know.

Tears followed phone calls from home, but there was laughter too. Siobhan learnt about their lives in Ukraine. Different, but, unsurprisingly, with similarities to life here. Like she and Anthea discovered as they became friends, people were people the world over.

Now they were leaving.

Siobhan found the envelope when she returned home from work the next day.

The note of thanks from Elena and the picture of the three of them drawn by Artem made her eyes prickle with tears.

At the weekend Siobhan took the sunflower seedlings she and Artem had sown, and borscht and dumplings, when she visited them in their tiny garden flat.

This time Elena hugged Siobhan first.

Thank you, Siobhan, our wonderful friend. You’ve given us hope.

Siobhan returned the hug.

“I will put them here, Siobhan, so they grow,” Artem said, taking the seeds and placing them on his own kitchen window.

“I think they need a little water,” Siobhan said, “after their journey.”

Artem nodded, filling a glass from the tap and tending to the seedlings with care.

“Look, Artem, they are already seeking out the sun,” Siobhan said.

She knew that one day Elena and Artem would return home, but for now they were safe. That mattered more than anything.

More uplifting and romantic short stories:

Read Breakfast With Timothy, Behind Closed DoorsSweet DelightsThe Midnight BakeryThe Right Choice and A Winter’s Kiss, plus many more in our archives.

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.