Blizzard. The snow spun and filled the air with white curtains, opaque, white, and cold.
Little Maya looked out the window, when a knock on the door startled her. The girl ran quickly to the door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, your mother, Leonora. Open the door, please.”
“I can’t,” said little Maya. “My grandmother told me not to open the door to anyone.”
“Yes, that’s right, what your grandmother ordered you, but I’m your mother,” Leonora continued, worried that she couldn’t see and hug her daughter.
Leonora stayed little longer, with her ear close to the door and heard Maya’s light footsteps drift away.
Maya went to the stove, opened its lid, looked at the smoldering fire, and quickly tossed in a log. Then she took the metal rod and stirred as her grandmother had taught her.
She was back to the window and saw a female figure wrapped in a huge scarf and a thick coat, struggling with the snow and wind, trying to move and stay warm. It wasn’t her grandmother. The woman was tall, slender, probably the one who had knocked on the door a while ago and told her that she was her mother.
Maya ran to the stove again, put the tea kettle on, and waited for the water to boil. Then she dropped in the linden leaves, and, as her grandmother had taught her, she waited a few minutes for the tea to brew.
She went back to the window and saw the slender woman closer to the window, shielding her face, and only her huge, black eyes were visible.
The woman knocked on the door again. Maya asked: “What is your name? Where do you come from?”
“I’m your mother, Leonora. I came from far away. Please open the door. When do you expect your grandmother to be back?”
“Grandma went to the farm to help for the delivery of a baby goat and to bring some fresh milk. She went with Sivcho, who pulled the cart.”
“Please, Maya, don’t keep me outside on the cold. We’ll wait for your grandmother together.”
The child walked to the door, pulled the latch, and saw the frozen face of a woman of striking beauty in front of her. She ran back to the stove and waited for the woman to come in.
The slender woman removed the thick scarf from her head. Her brown hair was carefully tucked away with a clip of rusty-gold color, and she wore beautiful earrings. Her skin seemed to be tanned by the sun.
Maya’s heart was pounding, waiting for her guest to speak first.
Leonora approached Maya and stroked her head. Then she sat on the stool by the stove and began to warm her hands. She took out a box of sugar-coated fruits from her bag.
“Do you want linden tea?” Maya offered.
“Yes, I love linden tea very much. Your grandmother, who is my mother, taught me to brew it here on this stove,” she said and handed the box of candied fruits to Maya.
Maya served tea in her favorite cup and looked at the woman in the eyes. She had seen those eyes, remembered them. These were the eyes from her dreams. Then, as if she heard a familiar song, she was distracted for a moment, but she looked back at Leonora. Chaotic thoughts swirled in her little head, about the connection between this woman, the song, and those eyes.
The door opened. Grandma Kalina, all covered in snow, stood in the threshold…
“Maya, please get the milk can, right here by the door.” She looked warmly at Maya when she saw Leonora. Grandmother Kalina ran with tiny steps and hugged her daughter tightly. Tears streamed down the old woman’s face, and Leonora kissed her mother and started to cry.
“Mom, Mom, how much I love you…”
Maya followed this moving scene, with the can in her hands. She didn’t know what to say.
Grandma Kalina moved away from her daughter, approached Maya, and said to her, “This is your beautiful mother. She has preserved her beauty of which you have inherited a great deal, my grandchild.”
Leonora got closer to Maya, knelt at the level of her eyes, and hugged her.
“How many times I have dreamed and dreamed of this moment—to come back and hug my dear girl.”
Maya did not move, instinctively feeling something familiar, something she had always felt subconsciously, but still had no idea what exactly.
She ran away with a timid smile and threw a log into the stove again. The log-burning stove was her refuge. The old woman watched her granddaughter’s movements and felt a heavy strain by the girl’s behavior. She went to her and said, “Now it is the time to tell you the truth about your parents, here, in the presence of your mother. Now I am the happiest mother and grandmother. My favorite girls are next to me, and I will never lose you!”
“Tell me, Grandma, tell me.” Maya sat on the small sofa next to her loving granny.
“We lived a good life filled with joy, laughter, health, and with the people we love,” started the old woman. “We worked from morning till evening on the fields, feeding the animals, but we were also able to have joy, to sing, to meet friends. A young and very handsome man appeared in the village. He bought the best house at the end of the village, renovated it, turned it into a castle. He often organized gatherings with dances and lots of food. The hardest working guys of the village worked for him. His lands were fertile, his wealth increased, and his kindness was legendary.” Grandma Kalina stopped and looked at her daughter’s sad face. She grabbed her arm and continued. “At one of the parties, for the first time we also took my beautiful daughter, Leonora. Throughout the night, the master of the castle danced only with her. His gaze did not shift from our Leonora’s beautiful face. At the end of the evening, he saw us at the door with presents.
“We got home and my husband said, ‘Kalina, we’re going to marry our girl to this lovely boy. Did you see him dancing with her all night and sent us home with presents?’
“Our daughter listened to us, and her eyes sparkled. She had fallen in love with the handsome, young man. We organized a wedding. The whole village was invited, and our daughter became a real princess. A year later, they got a baby, a girl of unsurpassed beauty. And just when happiness was full, the biggest misfortune happened. Robbers attacked the house, not only robbing it, but also killing the handsome landlord and abducting my daughter. The only thing my Leonora was able to do was to hide the baby, wrapped in a blanket in a wood stove that had not been used for years and had holes. This is how some air could pass through in the stove… When we heard about the misfortune, your grandfather and I ran into their castle, searched all the rooms, shouted, and wept, until we finally heard a baby cry coming from the empty stove. Your grandfather opened the lid, and your little face, Maya, calmed down. We went back to our old house with you. We looked after you, looked for news about your mother, but there was no sign.”
Maya looked at her grandmother and pressed hard against her shoulder. Leonora’s eyes were even bigger, like dark mirrors in which Maya gazed with that peculiar, subconscious feeling that these were the eyes she dreamed of very often.
Then Leonora said: “Mom, let me tell you what happened when they tried to kidnap me.”
She turned to Maya. “Every night I raised you up with my hands and looked into your eyes, which are the same as your father’s, and I sang to you a baby song, and you smiled as if you understood everything.
“In the evening, when the robbers attacked and killed your father, I hid in one of the rooms, wrapped you in a blanket and hid you in the stove. Just as I was escaping out the window to the garden where we had a concealed rifle, one of these robbers reached me. He grabbed my hair, and when he pulled me toward himself, I was able to hit him on the head and escape. I ran a long way through the woods and reached a well. I hid in it and heard them pass the well. When I came out, I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t remember anything. I wandered through the woods, climbed trees. I looked wild, rugged, and was very hungry. I reached the doorstep of a house and left without strength. I fell asleep at the gate.”
Grandmother Kalina listened to the story, learning for the first time of her daughter’s torments, and Maya squeezed her grandmother’s hand even harder.
Leonora stopped, sipped her linden tea, and continued. “I woke up in the morning in a soft, comfortable bed. I tried to get up but had no strength. Then an old woman approached me and handed me a glass of an infusion of herbs. She said, ‘Drink, girl, you seem exhausted. Now, I’ll get you a snack.’
“At first, I didn’t talk. I looked at this good woman’s face, but I didn’t know who I was, what to say, and what to do. I had become a kid. Every day I began to recover, and my old woman friend read stories and she cooked. It was clean, warm, and cozy.
“My new friend told me that she had lived alone for years and that she had everything she needed and that she used to be a nun. Her name was Trayana. She violated one of the oaths and was forced to leave the monastic home. Thus, she isolated herself from everyone and everything. She cared for me and didn’t feel it as a burden. On the contrary, she prayed every night to help me improve, and even began to hum. She sang beautifully. One evening she sang a song I thought was familiar. I asked her to sing it again. We both sang, and tears rolled down my face. I felt a strange pain in my chest, but I still didn’t understand why. The nun hugged me and said that I would gradually recover and remember who I was and where my loved ones were. I didn’t know I lived that way for five years. Gradually, I regained my memory, and a cry of a child erupted in my head. At first, I didn’t know why.
“One morning I heard someone bang on the door, and I was scared. Such noise was made the night we were attacked with my husband. I jumped and hid behind the door, terrified. Granny Trayana, the nun, opened the door, and a middle-aged man appeared in front of her. Granny Trayana jumped for joy and hugged him. It was her brother she hadn’t seen for years. We sat at the table. The man looked at me, asked me who I was, but I still didn’t know. Then he placed a jewelry box on the table and said: ‘I was in the big city, beyond this mountain, and the trade is lively. I managed to buy this jewelry, my dear sister.’
“Grandma Trayana looked at the jewelry and said, ‘Yes, how exquisite and masterfully crafted.’ The old woman handed me a hair clip and a pair of earrings and said: ‘Here. They are for you. You are young and beautiful.’
“When I took them in my hands, I shook. This was my jewelry. I turned to Granny Trayana’s brother. ‘These are my jewels,’ I said, trying to remember how I knew that.
“‘I bought them from a market trader,’ the man said. ‘I didn’t suspect they could have been stolen.’
“It was evening, and I went to bed. My eyes stared at the ceiling. I couldn’t sleep. The next morning, I jumped up, picked up my hair clip, put it in my hair, put on the beautiful earrings, and looked myself in the mirror. Then I heard my husband’s voice: ‘How beautiful you are. You are all the beauty in the world…’ Gradually the voice stopped. I then knew who I was. I hugged Trayana and told her my story. Her brother listened, while she wiped her tears. Then he promised to bring me back to my village, but it took him time to find a carriage. And here I am with you.”
Little Maya looked at her mother’s face, the beautiful hair clip woven into her shiny hair, and the earrings that looked like drops.
“I also know who I am,” Maya said, looking at her mother, hugging her grandmother.