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Елена Троицкая
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My neighbor Antonina Stepanovna, the one who doubts everything
Елена Троицкая

An old neighbor came to me today and asked me to go to a corner shop for her and buy some bread. She's very old and can barely walk. But everyone knows Antonina Stepanovna. She was a schoolteacher once. They say she was very good, the children were always following her around. Five years ago, I saw a couple of men come to her door with flowers. Those were not young anymore, but far younger than the old lady. She invited them to tea and I could hear them laughing loudly, joking about old times. That was five years ago. I haven't seen anyone visit her since. In general, she almost never goes out lately. She is bored with other old ladies that spend their evenings on the bench in front of our apartment block. Antonina Stepanovna always stands out, especially among them. Firstly, she has a straight back. The teacher's posture cannot be taken away. She is not tall, but her posture somehow makes her seem very different from other old ladies on our block. She even looks differently, speaks differently, evaluates many things differently. She is not like others.

The grannies on our block are not evil, but they repeat word for word everything that was said on TV. Antonina Stepanovna objects to that. Not that she was arguing, or defending another point of view. She's doubtful. She questions things. Quietly, but argumentatively. She asks the questions "why", "why", "how is it known". The argument "well, they showed it on TV" does not seem significant to her and generally has no meaning. "And on another TV," she says, "they showed something completely different." "I don’t judge," the interlocutor retorts to her. "I'm just telling you what I saw myself." "Oh, but you need to judge," Antonina Stepanovna answers. – You need to reason, see links between things, draw conclusions and – make your own judgement. Who told you what on TV, that's their problem, why should it be yours." The debaters instantly fall silent.

And so she speaks on all issues. Our old ladies are not some country bumpkins either. Almost everyone used to work at the local industrial plant. When they were young, some of them operated complex machines, others did engineering work. None of them really are as simple as they look now. Once I heard their conversation about God. "I don't believe in God," says one old lady. "That's fate – yes, you can't escape fate." "And I believe in universal power," says another. "We call this force God," Antonina Stepanovna calmly replies. – And we also call your "destiny" God. The difference is that you don't know anything about your power-destiny, but we know a lot about God. We're talking to him." At this moment, it seemed, the old ladies had thought she started to lose her mind. "Tonya, don't talk nonsense! How do you talk to him?". "I talk in prayer," says Antonina Stepanovna.

Maybe at this moment someone there on the bench thinks that she is lonely, she has no one to talk to, so she is talking to God. But Antonina Stepanovna clearly argues everything in this matter. "But you don't doubt that at all?!" - "I doubt it, of course," Antonina Stepanovna sighs. "That's why I'm praying."

Antonina Stepanovna's friends think over this logic for a long time. And I understand her. Doubting people always have a lot of questions. I'll go get some bread, and then I'll ask her about God in more detail.