When I was a little girl, I went to church. Our church was an illegal one: the building was unregistered.
We would sit on the benches made from stolen floorboards and listen to a man dressed in black as he read us tales of angels coming to save righteous men from evil, their swords clean and their trumpets blaring.
The man dressed in black was old. He was sick. His Bible was missing pages.
One day in March, my mother turned to me and said clearly, "Masha, I want you to remember something for when you grow up." Maybe she knew she was dying. "God loves murderers."
I just looked up at her, thumb in my mouth. My mother was still a beautiful woman. She was young when a man at an after-riot party had given her a child inside of her, a bruise on her face, and a few kopeks for her trouble before running away forever.
So I watched the dirty gray sunlight washing through her sickly blonde hair, watched it illuminate the dark hollows of her eyes, watched her face, and asked, "Why, mama?"
She ran a finger across her rosary, counting the beads. Maybe conversing with saints, maybe worrying about rent. I could never tell. "Because there are too many people on this Earth, so He needs a way to get rid of some."
She knelt so she could look at my eyes. "Masha, we are like rats everywhere. Rats in cages sometimes eat each other, or they trample each other. Or they chew the cage to bits."
I knew the principal of this. We lived in Moscow. Even then, we drowned in the desert of tired, dirty people walking the subways and alleys and roofway levels every day.
I tried to make sense of her words with all of my four-year-old heart. "So then God, He doesn't love rats?"
Mama gave me a hug, the corners of her eyes crinkling and her eyebrows arching up in a painful smile, and picked me up.
"Oh, Masha, no. No, He loves everything. But especially murderers."