Mia’s Day – A Short Story

Mia went down to the caves from time to time in the summer. There was less water to wade through and the drips from the ceiling seemed warmer than in winter. She wasn’t afraid of the creatures crawling along the walls. They were tiny with many legs and hard shells. The occasional spider darted across her hand as she felt along the wall of green slime. She would shudder, but didn’t scream. She had learnt that screaming was for a state of emergency only. She also learnt that the little black things above her head were bats, not birds. Her books told her that they couldn’t be vampires, so that was alright. In fact, being in the caves on her own was absolutely fine. This is how she liked it.

 Soon she came to the paintings. She put down her torch and placed her palms and fingers over the hand prints on the ceiling above her head. She had grown since last time. There were three hand prints, each one bigger than the last. Mia decided they were birthday prints, that every year on the ancient child’s birthday, her mama did a handprint with her so they could see how much she had grown. Mia used to do this with her papa and mama on the kitchen wall and in letters sent to dida and baba. Her fingers splayed across a large sheet of airplane light paper for sending abroad. She hadn’t seen her grandparents since before the war.

 Mia sat for a while, took out a paper napkin, unwrapped it and ate the piece of babka as she sat and stared at the hands on the wall. After a while the show began. The hands started a dance across the wall, making puppets with their fingers, miming the life they knew, pretending to light a fire, to make a garment with needles. Mia giggled as she watched, crumbs from her cake falling to the ground which delighted all the small creatures. A treat for her was a treat for them.

 Every time she came to the caves the hands would share a story or two. She understood what they were saying. She wondered if the ancient child had been to school. Mia missed going and hoped to return soon. It was time to go back home. She picked up her torch and clambered out to the top of the hole into the forest around her.

 She put the torch in her basket and a red hat on her head. Now she was Red Riding Hood, walking along the path, listening for a wolf. She had to call in at Jovan’s house and collect some yarns for weaving and knitting. This is why she had her basket that day. Mia was hoping for some stuffed cabbage leaves for her tea later. She was still not very good at cooking, but could make a soup and pancakes if she had to. Mostly Jovan and his wife made sure Mia had something to eat every day.

 Nobody inside. A parcel and note had been left for Mia behind the large pot of basil. She looked carefully for a snake. It wasn’t there. She popped everything in her basket and carried on up the steep cobbled street looking out for the wolf all the way home. Wolves and snakes were everywhere at that time, watching everyone who came and went in the small town by the river.

 Mia placed the cabbage leaves on the stove top for later, then took out the hanks of yarn, dyed in gold, red and green. She had enough to make a few pairs of socks to sell at the market, to soldiers and townspeople who would readily buy or exchange goods for her beautiful designs. She might have enough left to make a small rabbit for Marija’s baby.

 She sat by the window in her kitchen, where she could look out for dangerous beasts as well as ones she would welcome in to her home. The window slightly open for fresh air and warmth of the sun, her radio on, she listened to music, Mia put one hank at a time over a chair and wound a ball of yarn from each one, going clockwise until all were ready for making.

 She flexed her fingers, wriggled them, then looked at her hands. She kissed each one as she whispered blessings quietly to herself. Now there would be magic as she made each sock. She picked up her five small thin needles of wood and rubbed them to warm them up. Then she began casting on, ten stitches on each of four needles bringing them together in a circle. She rocked in her chair like baba used to, whispering long poems, smiling, calling on all her spirits to help with the making of each sock.

 They came in one by one, the rabbit, the deer, a crow. Sitting with Mia in her kitchen, they all recited poems, nodding as Mia finished each sock with a flourish, combining the red, green and gold. She made four pairs in one afternoon, long socks ready for autumn. Now for the rabbit. With a quick final cast-off the small animal was done. She had accomplished much on this day. Yarns and needles gave her peace, focus in a world full of worry, longing, of missing all who had abandoned her a few weeks ago, or was it months.

 Mia couldn’t remember. She only knew what she had made, sold and bartered. She only knew there was Jovan and his wife Milena at the bottom of the cobbled street, that the wolves appeared at any time to claim a victim. She hoped one day the troubles would end and she would be free, perhaps rescued by someone, taken away or that everyone might return and the town would be busy again. The rabbit, deer and crow left. Mia closed the window and went to put on the stove to warm her cabbage parcels.

 

Knitted Baba Doll via Pinterest

City of Lights – a short story

Mia’s eyes were drawn to the lights on the hills around her. She found looking out in the evening both comforting and hypnotic. Her heart slowed down and she felt relaxed enough to try to sleep. She liked to watch the sunset, when the sky was clear enough. Its rays lit the windows of houses on the eastern hillside, creating an orange glow, an aurora radiating across the old valley.

She lived in a city full of life now. She loved it and was afraid too. In her corner of the mill town Mia watched the world go by every day. She felt safe because no one could see her. Her home was as high as the birds, in the tops of trees surrounding her. They flitted among the bare branches oblivious to the traffic at the busy junction below.

Sometimes owls and foxes haunted the nights, hooting, screeching and screaming. This she did not like, the sounds unnerved her, reminded her of where she had been before. She preferred the ravens and blackbirds during the day.

The city had a smell – dirt and car fumes. Although chimneys dominated the horizon, they were redundant now. Mia couldn’t imagine what it was like to have been around when the mills were open and busy. She was grateful for not being able to smell burning wood, hair and flesh anymore. She was content with her urban landscape and the smell of pollution.

Sirens and fireworks rang out at weekends from teatime onwards. Mia was anxious on first hearing them and didn’t want to leave her home to go outside. So she stayed in, all weekend, looking out at everything around her. The city was safe from her vantage point.

Soon she learnt to draw again. There was no one she could call her own in her new world, although the church provided some contact with others as well as tea and biscuits. But Mia didn’t want to pray, she wanted to return to her flat and observe again.

She drew all the day birds – the family of ravens who talked constantly as they moved from branches to gutters and back again. The pair of doves amused her. They huddled together over the junction, fat from eating her neighbour’s leftover chapatis, the branch beneath them bending towards the ground, struggling with their weight. Blackbirds sang day and night by her street lamp. The small birds in the hedges, cursed one another – blue tits telling the chaffinches to find somewhere else to live. Then the starlings appeared. There was nothing more beautiful Mia thought.

All of this she noted in her drawings. She became numb to the sound of sirens passing below at the junction. The blackbirds accepted her presence at the window every day and sang on her sill. Mia felt the peace at last, in her corner of the world.

 

If we all look for peace, we will find it, together.

 

Knitting in Venice

As I walked down all the tiny streets and over bridges in central Venice I was bombarded by design and fashion. Most of it was luxurious. Some of it was fronted by men selling contraband right in front of Prada’s windows, calling to the tourists to buy their genuine look-a-like goods. At times I felt uncomfortable with this contrast between high-fashion couture set in air-conditioned shops and the men who stayed put on the streets in the sun until caught – which seemed to rarely happen.

I looked out for the original, small artisan seller. Paper, glass and jewellery makers were dotted about here and there. I recall my mother and her friends being very fond of Italian gold – it has a certain patina and weight that distinguishes it from all the others.

Then I found a yarn shop with  smiling knitters inside, despite 38C of heat every day…and like all yarn people, were extremely helpful. They told me their story and all about their yarns. We talked in a combination of English and Italian, enabling each other. We decided to stay in touch to share.

Dio benedice i maghi italiani!