I think fondly of my Grandfather. We used to watch TV together after dinner, and in the evenings when there'd be nothing good on, he would get up from his armchair, shut the box off, then walk to the dining room table and sit. I would go lie down on the floor; the dining room had a rugged dark-grey carpet with yellow flowers on it, and I'd pretend I am lying outside in the grass. I'd look at the light in the ceiling and believed it was the sun blinding me on a hot summer day. My Grandfather would pour himself a glass of water and would tell me stories. One of my favourite ones was of Misha and his mountain of apples.
Misha was a farm boy. He was no older than I was at the time: perhaps 12 or 13 years of age, but he was tall and muscular, or so my Grandfather told me, for working at a farm was hard work, and such physical work was sure to make you strong if you kept at it for long enough. Misha did: he was a good worker, cleaning the pig-sty every morning, then helping his mother to feed the chicken and the geese, and later his father in the fields or in the orchard. The farm was in their family for generations, and their most prized possession was the apple orchard, with more than one hundred strong apple trees that produced the best fruit in the whole country.
The orchard was the pride of the whole family. Misha's great-grandfather had planted the first trees, which he'd gotten from a gypsy caravan and for which he'd paid dearly - ten pigs and all of his ten cows - and it was his dying wish for the orchard to live and grow. Misha's father often told this story at dinner. He always had a tremble in his voice when he told it - he remembered his late father telling the same story to him over the same dinner table. When he would start to talk about the orchard and its beginnings, everyone at the table would go quiet.
The apple orchard grew and grew every year, until it became the magical garden that it was during Misha's childhood. Each harvest, they would fill an entire barn with the most beautiful yellow apples, as bright as the sun and sweeter than honey. One day, not long after the harvest was done and the barns filled to the brim, Misha asked his father about the plans for the coming year.
His father looked at Misha and said nothing. "Since next year we're not sowing the field next to the orchard, I was thinking we could plant more apples there," said Misha helpfully.
His father said nothing still.
"We have good rootstock to move, we could do it in the winter."
"Not this winter." said Misha's father.
Another spring came and went, and Misha asked again his father about plans for expanding the orchard.
"The stock are growing nicely. We could graft over the summer and we would fill the entire orchard with fruit-bearing trees by next year's harvest."
"We won't have time. We need to build another barn for the apples," said his Father.
Misha didn't agree - they had plenty of room last year and he didn't see the need for another barn - but didn't question his father. And so he went and bought wood and hired men, and by fall they would raise a new barn. The Harvest that year was plentiful. All the trees in the orchard produced so many apples that they couldn't fit into their barn. The new barn had to be used. Misha wondered how his father knew that this was going to happen, but he never asked him, and his father never said anything either.
The following spring, Misha turned 16. Once again, he asked his father what to do about the orchard. This time, his father sighed, and said: "This year, there will be no apples. No use wasting time with grafting new trees, as nothing will grow and nothing will ripen."
Misha did not agree this time either, but, the same as last time, he didn't dare question his father. Summer came and went, and Misha fell in love. His first girlfriend was a freckled girl named Anna, and they dreamt the long summer days away, running in the fields, frolicking on hilltops or racing the horses alongside the river bank. The fall came and brought with it a frost unlike any they had ever seen. It rained for days, heavy rains poured down over the fields, rains with stones and ice that bent the wheat and broke the windows on houses. The apples never ripened. Misha's fresh rootstock trees were ruined, never to grow again. Once again, Misha wondered how to predict this, and once again his father kept silent.
The family emptied all the barns that year. They had enough food and hay put away, so that the animals didn't starve, and the humans kept warm. On Misha's seventeenth birthday, on a hot summer day, he went to his father.
"I have decided. I want to leave you."
His father looked at him, but didn't say anything.
"I am leaving to grow my own orchard," said Misha firmly.
"Wait for one more year," his father then said, "for the harvest will be good."
"I do not want to wait," said Misha. "Anna's father has an orchard too. He gave it to me. Good soil, and there's plenty of room for seedlings and for more trees."
"Where will you get rootstock? Where will you find a good apple tree?" said his father.
"In our orchard," said Misha. "You never let me grow it, so I will grow my own."
His father said nothing. Misha's mother kissed him goodbye with tears in her eyes. A year went by. The harvest was good and plentiful, just as Misha's father had predicted. All the barns on the farm were filled. When Misha returned and saw the barns filled to the brim, he went to find his father.
"Is there room in the barns for my apples?" he asked.
"There is not," said his father. "How many apples did you grow?"
Misha looked down and said glumly: "None. I did not grow any. I wanted to graft all my trees, so I could grow yellow apples like you do, but the trees were already with fruit, so I ruined them."
"They are not ruined. You can try again next year." said his father.
"I do not have what to eat. I have no harvest," said Misha, "and Anna's father says I need to pay my keep."
"Take a barn's worth of apples. I cannot sell them all by myself. Next year, the harvest will be good. You will come and take more," said Misha's father.
Misha thought for a second, then said: "That is generous, father, but I do not have a barn in which to hold them. The barn at Anna's father is small and filled with hay."
"I will need the empty barn. We have more cows this year, and I have no room for them. I cannot help you." said his father.
Misha came with men from the village and they took the yellow apples from the barn. He had them brought to his orchard and arranged into a large pile. When Anna saw them, she said they looked like a mountain of apples, and asked Misha what he wanted to do with them.
"I will sell as many as I can. And the rest, I will eat. They will last me through the winter." said Misha.
Next summer, Misha turned 18. He spent his birthday working in his orchard, from dawn until late into the night. He had finished grafting all the new trees, and had high hopes from next year's harvest. He had left the old trees untouched so they could grow their small red apples, which were sought after for they were cheap. The Harvest was good, and with the money he had made, Misha managed to build a small barn, next to the one that Anna's father had. Misha went to his father and brought home cart after cart, until he made a little mountain with the sweet yellow apples from his family's orchard. One day, he would fill this barn with yellow apples from his own trees.
That night, he had the most wonderful dream. His orchard was growing on her own, tree after tree popped out of the ground and grew as tall as the sky. Tree after tree his orchard would expand towards the street and over the hills, until it reached his family's farm and joined with his great-grandfather's orchard.
Misha woke up happy, and asked Anna if she wanted to ride. They took two horses and rode alongside the riverbank, and when they got back, they found Anna's father had been waiting for them.
"Misha, you owe me half of this year's harvest", he said.
Misha had already spent the money to build the barn, and when he explained this, Anna's father seemed not to care. He still demanded his money as if it was his fair share. Misha had no money to his name, and he dreaded the thought of going back to his father to ask for help. The only thing he had to give was his small mountain of yellow apples.
Anna pleaded with her father to let Misha keep his apples. He was a good lad, she argued, and he knew his craft; soon enough, they would grow their own yellow apples in their orchard, from the new trees that Misha grafted. But Anna's father was not to be fooled; he wanted the yellow apples now, and would not wait another day, let alone a few years.
Misha had to agree. By losing the apples, he had lost all of his income for the winter, and furthermore, he had to give up half of the harvest from now on. He felt he had no choice: he worked so hard on his orchard, and everything relied upon that work. He left to ride alone, only to find himself at his family's orchard. He saw his father walking alone among the trees.
"Will there be a good harvest next year?" asked Misha.
"I don't know, son," said his father.
"But you always know what will happen, father," protested Misha. "When I was younger, you never let me grow the orchard, because of bad omens that predicted a bad harvest."
"I don't believe in bad omens, son. I only believe in hard work and preparation." said his father.
"So then why didn't you let me grow the orchard?" cried Misha.
"Because, my son, "said his father, "this orchard has been thriving for generations. It does not need to grow larger for us to have more fruit. We merely need to take care of it, and it will provide. The trees will tell you what they need. We need to graft and clean and feed them, and make room in our barns for when the harvest is plentiful. And when it is not, we need to be ready. Did you find a good place for the apples you took?"
"I did. I built a barn to hold them." replied Misha.
"Good, then you have done what you could." said his father, and patted Misha on the arm.
"But I lost them," said Misha and bowed his head. "Anna's father demanded them, as payment for the orchard."
"Then you are not prepared," said his father, and took a step back. "I do not have more apples to give. I sold them."
"They sell fast," nodded Misha.
"You will be ok, my son?" asked his father.
"I will," said Misha. "Anna will take care of me."
That winter, Misha and Anna planned their wedding. Come spring, they would get married on the riverbank, beneath an old willow tree, and Anna's father would give her the orchard. They would wait for the summer, for the apple trees to bloom, and then for the harvest, when they would fill the small barn with a mountain of apples: of small red apples if their luck would fail them, or sweet yellow apples if their luck would hold.