Searching for Gita, the Little Pearl: Part 2
Excerpt from Part 1
Old Anna Wronski spent most of her days searching for her little girl Gita at Roosevelt Elementary School in her neighborhood.
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.
Pearl versus Red
"Today." old Anna Wronski said as she ate her breakfast. "Today my Gita and I will be reunited." She remembered the day Gita was born, the happiest day of her life.
"Rufina," Rufin said to the nurse. "Her name is Rufina Roza Wronski." The nurse was about to write it down when Anna spoke up.
"Wait, no," Anna said. "Now that I have seen her face I realize she is not a Rufina. She is a Gita."
"Gita? What do you mean she looks like a Gita? She has red hair, Anna. Rufina means red haired woman. My name, Rufin, means red haired man. She is her Father's daughter with her red hair, so she should be named Rufina."
The nurse and Anna shared a look. "Rufin, look at her face," she held the baby up to him. "Gita is written all over her. She does not look like a Rufina. They haven't written it down yet, so it's not too late."
"Anna, you lost your mind during childbirth. Of course she looks like a Rufina - red hair Anna. Are you blind? Why do you insist she looks like a Gita?" He shook his head, incredulous.
"Yes, she has red hair, but Gita means little pearl," Anna said. "See how white and delicate her skin is? She is a precious treasure like a pearl. She shall be Gita Rufina Wronski."
The nurse went to write it down but Rufin protested loudly. She held her pen mid air above the blank document, looking from Rufin, to Anna, to the poor baby who just wanted to crawl back into her mother's womb until her parents stopped arguing over her name.
"Now just hold on. Anna, her middle name should remain Roza. We agreed on that if it was a girl. Rufina is "red haired woman," and Roza means "rose." She is a red rose. Her middle name will be Roza. Now stop this foolishness."
"Rufin, anyone with half a brain can see clearly she is a Gita. Since she undeniably has red hair, her middle name can be Rufina. Nurse, what do you say?" Anna and Rufin looked to her with anticipation.
The nurse once again looked at the baby with red hair and white skin; then at Anna, a confident, intuitive woman; then at Rufin who also had a point and good reasoning but lacked the fine art of compromise. "I have learned," she said, "not to interfere in such situations. A name is a very serious matter and not for a nurse to decide."
Anna and Rufin glared at her. Both were hoping she would side with them. "I will come back in a few minutes," the good nurse said. "You need time to work through this. I have other babies to tend to - babies with names already."
"Wait," Anna and Rufin both said.
"Her name will be Gita Rufina."
"Anna is mistaken. Her name will be Rufina Roza."
The nurse had run out of patience. "I have an idea," she said. "Mrs. Wronski, you hold the baby and say to her, "Hello Gita Rufina," and see how she reacts. Then you, Mr. Wronski, hold her and say "Hello Runfia Roza," and see how she reacts. Whichever of you gets the best response can name the baby their way."
Rufin and Anna looked at one another and nodded in agreement.
"All right, ladies first," said Rufin.
Anna looked deep into her baby girl's eyes and said matter of factly, "Hello Gita Rufina. You like that name don't you daughter?" Little Miss Wronski had a wind of gas and smiled. Anna nodded sharply and confidently and handed her over to her father.
Rufin held her out in front of him, smiled deep into her eyes with tenderness. "Hello little Rufina Roza. You are a red rose, are you not?" The baby glared up at him with indignation and let out one sharp squawk. To hold on to his dignity he yelled out, "See, she is overcome by such a beautiful name."
"Nonsense," said the wise nurse. "If looks could kill..." She positioned the pen onto the document on the line titled "Name" and wrote something, then looked down at the scowling baby and said, "Gita Rufina Wronski, it is very nice to meet you. Let's get you a bath." She whisked little Gita off and left her parents to make peace.
"It is a man's place to rule over and overrule the woman. I will call her Rufina Roza. I don't care what you say," Rufin said.
Anna folded her arms stalwartly. "Very well, Rufin. Her name will be Gita on the certificate and I and everyone else will always call her Gita, except when she is naughty, then I will call her Rufina."
Little did Anna and Rufin know then that Gita's scowl at her father was a portent of things to come.
As Anna was putting on her coat and scarf she felt both amused and sad at the memory of naming their newborn daughter. Out the window she could see it might rain today so she donned her boots. Her ankles were barely swollen today so they fit well enough. Today was the 30th anniversary of losing Gita. Perhaps this was why the idea of finding Gita today filled her mind.
Gita got out of bed and stretched. Warm, shimmering sunbeams pierced her sheer bedroom curtains filling her room with light, yet a heavy cloud of melancholy enshrouded her as it often did when she dreamed about Mama. Thirty years to the day Mama disappeared. Rufin had said Mama did not want to be a mother or wife anymore and ran away with another man.
"I don't believe you, Father," six year old Gita had said, arms folded and frown secure.
"It is true my Runfina Roza. Uncle Borys heard from a reliable source that Mama and a man booked passage to go to America, to find a new life without you or me." Rufin's face turned to disgust. "Your Mama is a tramp, Rufina Roza."
Gita stomped her leg. "I am not Rufina Roza. I am Gita Rufina. And Uncle Borys is lying. Mama would never leave me, never." She did not know what a tramp was but she knew it was bad and Mama was not one. "My Mama is not a tramp."
Rufin knelt and grabbed Gita by the shoulders and gave her a shake. "Don't you ever talk disrespectfully about Uncle Borys and don't you defy me, Rufina. From now on, you are only Rufina. Gita was your Mama's name for you. Gita is no more. Mama is gone. Therefore you are Rufina, red haired woman. You are your Father's daughter."
Gita pulled away and with tears pouring and said "I hate you, Rufin. From now I will call you only Rufin, you are no longer my Father, and Mr. Kowalski is not my Uncle. You are both liars. Mama would never leave me." She bolted out of the house, ran behind the garden shed and up the hill of tall grass and continued another quarter mile into a thick stand of silver birch trees sobbing all the way. She heard Rufin calling her in the far distance and growing angrier. She hid in some grassy shrubs on the other side of the trees and soon fell into a deep sleep. And then someone was shaking her. Startled, she awoke to see a boy a couple of years older with red hair and freckles just like her own. His face was filled with concern. She liked him immediately, before he said a word. She knew they would be best friends forever. Perhaps one day they would marry.
"Are you all right?" asked the boy.
Gita rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and sat up. "I am. Who are you?"
"I am Sasha. I was walking through these woods and saw you. I thought you might be sick or hurt. Are you sure you are okay? What is your name?"
"I am Gita, and yes, I am okay. I ran away from Rufin. I will no longer be calling him Father."
"Why? Did he hurt you?" He sat down next to her.
"He grabbed me and shook me. But that is not why I ran away."
"Why then?" Sasha asked.
"Because he said Mama didn't want to be my Mama anymore and left us to go to America with another man, as far away as she could. He is lying, I know it. He said Mr. Kowalski had proof. They are both lying. Mama loved me. She would never leave me."
It was then they heard the voice of Rufin, and other people calling for her. He was still calling her Rufina. The others were calling her by her real name, Gita. "Oh no. They are coming for me." Gita was panicked and clung to Sasha.
"Don't worry, Gita. I am Sasha - my name means protector. I will protect you. Look, it is near sundown. Take my hand and follow me. I know just where we can hide." They ran fast at first, trying to get as far away as they could before dark. When the sun was almost gone, they came to a large creek and stopped for a drink. Then they scampered up a woody bank.
"There it is," said Sasha. "That big oak there. We can hide behind it until morning. No one can find us. It's my secret place. It is magic."
It was dark now, but by the light of a full moon, it looked like the biggest tree Gita had ever seen. The trunk was so large, she thought a barn could be hidden behind it. She put her hand on the massive trunk and felt her way around the entire tree, amazed at how long it took. Then her stomach growled. "I'm hungry," she moaned as they sat down.
"Here," said Sasha. He placed a piece of bread into her hand.
"But where did you get this?" she asked.
"I always carry some sort of food when I am out walking. I have some candy, but we must save it for tomorrow."
Gita gobbled the bread down. "Sasha, what about you? Did you save some for yourself?"
"I am full. I am okay. Come now, lay down and sleep."
Gita obeyed. Sasha lay his jacket over her and put his arm around her. There they slept in perfect peace.
The early morning sun penetrated Gita's eyelids, calling her to a new day. She opened them and looked around for Sasha. She didn't see him anywhere. "Sasha? Where are you?"
Sasha came out of the woods. He had warm bread wrapped in a kitchen towel and a thermos of fresh, cold creek water. "Here, breakfast," he said. "Eat, drink and be merry as the Good Book says." His smile and cheer were so endearing Gita's heart skipped a beat. She wondered about the meal.
"But where did you get this warm bread, the towel and the thermos?" she asked.
"I am resourceful," he said.
"What is resourceful?"
"It means I'm smart. Now let's eat. I'm starved." They sat under the great oak eating and talking as if they were the only two people in the universe. After they were filled Gita became anxious. They stood together in the sun.
"What am I to do today, Sasha? I don't want to go back to Rufin."
He stepped up behind her, put his hands gently on her shoulders and whispered in her ear, "Gita, you must go back."
"No, I can't. Rufin and Mr. Kowalski are liars and Rufin says mean things to me and about Mama. I can't bear to go back. The world is terrible without Mama and it will be terrible without you. I love you, Sasha."
"Gita, listen. If you don't go back they will come looking for you and if they find us together, we will never see each other again. If you go, we can meet here often when you can get away."
"But how will I know when to meet you?"
"Come this Saturday. I will be here all day and wait for you. Then we will plan the next time."
"I'm afraid, Sasha."
"Gita, little pearl, I will always be here waiting for you. If you are in danger, run if you can and meet me here. I will protect you, me and this big oak tree. It is magic, remember."
Gita went home. She told Rufin she had gotten lost. He was so happy to see she was safe. But soon he was back to saying bad things about Mama and was mean when Gita argued with him about her. After school and on weekends she went to the oak tree and spent many happy hours playing with Sasha, her protector.
Rufin Wronski was no longer. He died three days before having been in a diabetic coma. Gita made her way to the kitchen and made her morning coffee. She poured a cup and stepped out into the sun. A tear spilled down her cheek. "Oh Mama, Sasha, Rufin is dead now. Where are you? I miss you so badly. I am all alone in the world. I cannot bear it much longer. Lord Jesus, bring them back to me. Bring Mama and Sasha back."
A breeze ruffled her red hair. It felt like hope. Hope was all she had now and she would not let go of it.
Oh, but you must
Old Anna walked past Hargrove's Grocery on her way to the school just as she did every day. She was deep in happy thought about her reunion with Gita today. Mrs. Hargrove stepped out of the front door, opening for the day. She watched old Anna pass by. There was something different about Anna today. Her steps were quicker and lighter. She was smiling and talking to herself. Anna was known to talk to herself, and she did smile occasionally, but there was something different today and Mrs. Hargrove had to know what it was.
"Hello Mrs. Wronski," Mrs. Hargrove called out. Anna was just about to step off the curb to cross the street. "Beautiful day we have today."
Anna looked up at the gray clouds and felt the ever so light drizzle on her face. Usually, she found this kind of weather depressing, but the drizzle was exhilarating. Nothing could be bad today. She stopped and waved at Mrs. Hargrove, beaming. "Yes, yes, Mrs. Hargrove. Beautiful day."
Mrs. Hargrove nearly fell over in shock. "Why Mrs. Wronski, you've been holding out on me. You speak better English than you let on."
Anna laughed and waved goodbye, stepping off the curb to continue.
"Oh, Mrs. Wronski, I was wondering if I might have a word with you. It's very important." She could not work a single hour this day with the mystery of Anna Wronski's changed person consuming her thoughts.
Anna waved again. "No, not today," she said. "School waiting."
"Oh, but Mrs. Wronski, Anna, it is very, very important. The school will be there when we are finished and it's early in the morning. Come have some coffee or tea."
Anna sighed and turned toward the pushy, nosey grocer and her measly establishment. 'No,' she said to herself, 'I will not let this busybody ruin my day. I will get this over with quickly and be on my way.' She reached Mrs. Hargrove who gave her a hug and stood back to let her in. Mrs. Hargrove had never hugged her before, only been bossy and rude, except once in awhile when the children taunted her while she was shopping. Then she would rush to Anna's defense with everything in her. It reminded her why she best not get on Mrs. Hargrove's bad side today. Who knows what she would do to her? She stepped through the threshold into the warm store.
"Welcome, Anna. Thank you for coming in." Mrs. Hargrove never called her Anna, but perhaps this would make Mrs. Wronski more amenable to opening up. "Follow me into my home." At the back of the little store were two steep steps that lead to a door into her apartment.
'Follow me here, follow me there. I am sick of following her.' Anna thought. But she followed Mrs. Hargrove into the apartment. It was dark, the heavy living room curtains still closed. The dim light over the stove was on but illuminated nothing. As if reading her mind, Mrs. Hargrove opened the living room drapes and turned on the light in the kitchen. The house smelled like heavy musk. Anna turned up her nose.
"Here, come sit down." Mrs. Hargrove indicated a chair at the kitchen table. "Do you prefer coffee or tea, Anna?"
"Tea, Mrs. Hargrove."
"Oh come, let's not be formal. Call me Edna. We've been acquainted for ever so long. Tea it is." She set the kettle on and took out some Entenmann's cream cheese danish - one raspberry and one lemon. She wrapped them in foil and put them in the oven to warm.
Anna rolled her eyes. "No thank you," she said.
True to form, Mrs. Hargrove said, "Oh, but you must." As she waited for the tea and pastries she began to casually grill Anna in a friendly, concerned voice while trying to come up with the important business she had promised.
"And how are you these days Anna? It looks like the edema in your ankles is getting better."
"Yes. Your business?" Anna prodded. 'Let's get on with this you old busybody,' she thought.
The kettle whistled angrily and the kitchen filled with the smell of warm danish. In moments tea and pastries were on the table and Mrs. Hargrove sat down.
"Now, tell me all about your day ahead, Anna." She dove right in with her interrogation.
"School. Always school."
"Of course. But Anna, may I ask why you spend so much time at the school? People say you look in windows all day, staring at the children. You must love children an awful lot. Here, let me put some butter on your pastry."
"No thank you."
"Oh, but you must." She slathered butter all over the rich pastry making it a globby mess. "So as I was saying, what brings you to school every day?"
"I look for Gita."
"Gita? And who is Gita, dear," knowing full well by rumor who Gita was.
Anna's heart skipped a beat. She forgot she was annoyed and spoke openly. "Gita is my daughter. My little pearl."
"Your little pearl?"
"Gita means little pearl."
"Oh, how lovely. And why do you search for her at the school? No offense, Anna, but you are much too old to have a daughter of school age. More tea?"
Anna was slapped in the face by the statement. Of course Gita was of school age. "No, my Gita is six years old."
Mrs. Hargrove was stunned for a moment. It was true. Anna Wronski was crazy in the head. She played along. "Oh, such a lovely age. Tell me, why do you search for her at school every day? She lives with you of course?"
Anna became visibly upset. Mrs. Hargrove was playing games with her head. "I must go," she said and stood up so fast the kitchen chair made a loud scraping noise across the floor.
"Oh, no Anna, you can't go just yet. I have important business to speak with you about."
"I must go." Anna walked quickly to the door, surprising Mrs. Hargrove greatly at her speed.
"Oh, but you must stay, Anna. You simply must."
Anna turned on her. "Mrs. Hargrove, you simply must shut up." She left then, and wept all the way home, confused, angry, and suddenly heavy with fatigue.
© 2017 Lori Colbo