Searching for Gita, the Little Pearl: Part 1
Old Anna cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed up against the window pane of Mr. Timmons’ third grade classroom at Roosevelt Elementary. Her round, pudgy face was framed with a faded red scarf with strands of coarse gray hair poking out.
Through the window she beheld little girls with plaid pinafores, pleated skirts, and home sewn dresses with rickrack trim. There were blonde, brunette and auburn pigtails, ponytails, cute pixie cuts and bobs. But none of them looked like Gita, her little pearl.
The air was heavy, gray, and wet from the ever present Pacific Northwest drizzle. Anna was tired, cold, and hungry and ready to call it a day. She must stop at the market on the way home to buy sausage and cabbage for supper. She made her way to Hargrove’s Grocery, a tiny, worn establishment on the corner of 7th and Goldman in the skyline district, a lower middle class neighborhood. The door protested in creaks and moans, tempered by the sing-song jingling of bells to alert the grocer a patron had arrived.
Mrs. Edna Hargrove, proprietor, hearing a customer had arrived, grabbed her dentures that rested on the counter and shoved them back into her mouth. Her tongue thrust about to position and secure them in place, but they continued to slip around.
“Hello Mrs. Wronski?” she said to the stooped old babushka. “What can I do for you today?”
Anna turned around in slow motion to answer Mrs. Hargrove.
“Kielbasa’s in the back cooler case. Let me show you,” said Mrs. Hargrove, knowing full well Anna knew exactly where it was.
Old Anna followed Mrs. Hargrove, carrying her burlap shopping bag that had seen better days. Mrs. Hargrove noticed how swollen Anna’s ankles were. They were bulging out of her ancient loafers. The edema seemed to be inching up her legs every day.
“Here it is, Mrs. Wronski. Delivered fresh today from Freeman’s butcher. Only the finest sold here.”
Anna nodded and picked up the sausage wrapped in crisp, white, butcher paper and put it into her bag.
“Kapusta,” she whispered to herself, heading to the produce table.
“Yes, over there in the produce. Follow me.” Mrs. Hargrove pushed past Anna in order to lead her.
Old Anna knew Mrs. Hargrove liked to look important by directing people and showing customers her expertise and good judgement of quality. They stood at the produce table. Anna chose a cabbage, eyed it carefully, added it to her bag and sprouted a nearly toothless smile to indicate her gratitude and the end of her shopping needs. She turned to go to the check stand.
Mrs. Hargrove looked at Anna’s swollen ankles again. “Wait, Mrs. Wronski, look at these beautiful carrots. They would go nicely with your meal.”
Anna shook her head firmly. “No. No.” she said, waving Mrs. Hargrove away.
“Oh, but you must.” Mrs. Hargrove shoved a bunch of carrots into Anna’s bag.
Anna’s feet and legs were too painful to argue. She nodded thank you and let Mrs. Hargrove lead her to the front counter. Mrs. Hargrove weighed the produce on the old rusty scale. She jammed her fingers in her mouth to adjust her teeth, then picked the produce up barehanded and put it into Anna’s bag. Anna would have to wash them extra hard. When all the groceries were weighed, bagged and paid for the door burst open with loud clanging, thuds and all sundry of loud noises. Two fifth grade boys pushed and shoved each other to the freezer case to look at the ice cream treats.
“I want that Nutty Buddy,” said the boy with a cowlick.
“I hate nuts,” said the other, who wore spectacles attached with an elastic band. “I’m going to get this fudge bar.”
They stomped to the register and pushed Anna aside. She cried out in pain and nearly fell.
“Get out of the way, Anna Banana,” said cowlick.
“Yeah, you old bag,” said spectacles.
“Listen, you uncouth Cretans,” said Mrs. Hargrove. “You leave Mrs. Wronski alone or I’ll call the cops. My son Raymond is on the force and he’ll be here before you can say, ‘I’m an uncouth Cretan.’ In fact, I want you to leave right now. Go on.”
“We got ice cream, we got money, and we ain’t going until you ring us up,” said spectacles. He glanced at Anna. “Look at that big, ugly black hair on Anna Banana’s chin.”
He reached to pluck it but Mrs. Hargrove intercepted and rounded on them with more name calling, and a very fine grand finale.
“Okay, you little ankle biters.” She pulled out her coffee and cigarette stained teeth and shoved them toward the boys. “Get out of here or I’ll bite you with these.”
With shrieks of horror the boys ran out of the store leaving their ice cream behind. Old Anna doubled over with laughter, something Mrs. Hargrove had never seen. Anna waved goodbye and headed home.
Three blocks took thirty minutes for Anna, what with the pain and swelling slowing her down. She winced while making her meal and could barely shuffle over to the table to eat. After she finished eating she took her dishes and put them in the little dish tub of hot soapy water. She had too much pain to stand and wash them so she went to bed. She elevated her feet on a stack of pillows then snuggled into her down covers.
Anna's ankles and feet were significantly less swollen the next morning. This made her very happy because she did not want to miss a day of searching for Gita at the school. Anna went to the bathroom and prepared her bath. She poured in some bubble bath some of the lady teachers at Roosevelt had given her for Christmas. She rarely used it and did so sparingly when she did, wanting to make it last a long time. She could not afford to buy some for herself. Every penny went to her basic needs. She only bathed once a week to save on her water bill. Her medical needs were growing and she had to save where she could. Most of the time she did not go to the doctor because she did not have the funds, and the blood pressure and thyroid medication, though not really expensive, taxed her income. Without the two medications Anna would not have the ability to search for Gita.
Today Anna had a feeling she would find Gita. She wanted to look her best and smell good. Gita always told her, "Mama, you smell like flowers." Then she would bury her little face into Anna's neck and inhale her fragrance. As Anna bathed she laughed out loud at the thrill of the memory.
Today was the day, she just knew it.
© 2017 Lori Colbo