Searching for Gita, the Little Pearl: Part 4
Except from Part 3
Mrs. Wronski was convinced she would reunite with Gita that day. On her way to the school Mrs. Hargrove invites her in for tea and asks her why she searches for a six year old daughter when it is physically impossible for her to have a child of six when she is so old. Anna is traumatized and runs off. Later, Mr Neville comes by the store looking for Anna Wronski. He and Mrs. Hargrove go to her house and find her.
"Mr. Nevile? Mr Neville, come here please. I found Mrs. Wronski. It's not good."
Mr. Neville was right there and they went up to check on Anna. "Good heavens, she's in her outdoor clothing, even her scarf and her boots," he said. He checked her pulse. "She's still alive."
Mrs. Hargrove took over. She shook Anna hard and leaned down to her ear. "Mrs. Wronski," she shouted. "Mrs. Wronski, wake up."
"You could be a little softer, Mrs. Hargrove."
"Nonsense." She shook Mrs. Wronski violently and yelled once more in her ear.
"Mrs. Hargrove, you are being entirely too rough." Just then Raymond was in the bedroom doorway.
"MA!" he said. "Quit shaking and shouting. Mr. Neville, will you call for an ambulance. Hopefully it won't be too long of a wait." He went to the bed and checked her out. "It feels like she's got a fever. Ma, take her boots off, see if you can find some slippers or extra socks." He went to the hall closet and found another blanket. Mrs. Hargrove found one slipper wedged in between the bed and the nightstand and looked under the bed to find the other. She pulled on Anna's left boot but it wouldn't budge. She yanked hard, with the same results. Then she tried the right one. Same thing.
"Ma, stop. You're going to dislocate her legs. Leave them on."
"Probably the edema," Mrs. Hargrove assessed. "Poor thing."
Three hours later Anna was admitted to the hospital.
Test of Wills
Rufin Wronski was cremated to save money. Borys Kowalski, Rufin's best friend, Gita's godfather, and the one who had been saying for years that Anna Wronski ran off to America with another man, was displeased by Gita's decision. "Rufina, it is a disgrace to cremate the dead. Rufin was my friend and your father. He deserved the traditional casket and burial."
"My name is not Rufina. It's Gita - legally, and my preference. Please address me as such from now on." He bristled at such disrespect from a woman. "Secondly, there was barely enough money for cremation let alone a casket with all the trimmings. Fortunately, Father has a family plot so I can bury his ashes at almost no cost."
"You speak this way to a man and to your godfather," Borys said, "after alI I have done for you and Rufin?"
"I am a thirty-six-year-old, independent woman. You have only done for me and Father what was expedient for you, to give you a hold over us. Father was your puppet. And if you wanted more for Father's funeral, why did you not offer to help with expenses after all he has done for you, and because you are supposedly my godfather? Surely you know how little money there is. "
His face flushed at her audacity. "Enough has been said. I am leaving. I hope Rufin is not looking down on you right now. He would be..."
Gita opened the door and stood aside so Borys would leave. "Goodbye," she said, extending her arm toward the threshold.
Borys stepped forward and stopped to glare into her face.
She drew herself up taller. "Goodbye, Borys," she said again.
His face went to resignation and he stepped out the door. For the first time in his life, a woman had stood up to him. Like most bullies, he had backed down. He waged a war within himself as he drove home - the bully Borys versus the humiliated Borys. "I'll get back at that ungrateful little brat," he murmured. "Just like I did Anna, her mother."
Rufin Laid to Rest
Thirty-two people showed up to Rufin's graveside service under the pretense of paying their respects. The truth was they disliked Rufin, having had run-ins with him, as he often did Borys Kowalski's evil bidding. Borys was a high, powerful, elected official who was as corrupt as a man could be, full of guile, greed, and arrogance. He held most of the citizens under his thumbs. But he had had Rufin do his dirty work, thinking people wouldn't figure him out as the power behind Rufin. The thirty-two in attendance each had something great to lose if they got on Borys Kowalski's bad side. So they came.
Borys gave Rufin a glorious eulogy; Gita did not know the man he spoke of. "Rufin was a man of integrity," he said solemnly. "He was a proud, loving father who made heroic sacrifices for her." He sent a lightning fast glare at Gita. He smiled with a nod of pride for his friend. "He worked hard to provide for her, to give her a warm, happy, safe home, and to raise her into a respectable woman because she had no mother." His voice held a chill as he said it. People recoiled. There were whispers and looks of pity toward Gita, either for being abandoned by her mother or having to endure Rufin as her father and Borys as her godfather.
Fury set Gita's cheeks afire. 'Rufin was an abusive wretch, just like you,' Gita wanted to scream. Around other people, Rufin had played the role of affectionate, loving, father. The truth was, the real reason she was the woman she was today was because of the love and nurturing of her godmother, Ula Kowalski, whom she called Aunt Ula. Also because of her childhood friendship with dear Sasha, and the love and grace of God and her church. Tears threatened to erupt. But she would not cry and she would not scream foul. She stiffened her back, clamped her lips tight and prayed for God to keep her composed.
When Borys was finished he invited people to say a few words if they cared to. There was uncomfortable silence and people looking down at the ground. A storm front had moved in during the service and at that moment the sky opened up with a torrential downpour. A crack of thunder pierced the air. Saved, people ran for their cars. Borys, Ula, and Gita remained in their places, each one scooping up some soil, which was mud by now, and threw it over Rufin's urn in the grave, then left for their cars. The gravediggers cursed the weather and closed over the urn with mud.
Borys and Ula helped Gita by having a reception at their home. It was not out of kindness on Borys' part. It was a classy affair meant to remind people of how important and generous he was. A good fifty-six people came.
"Amazing," said Ula to Gita, "how many more people show up when there's free food involved." Gita dearly loved her Aunt Ula who had been friends with Mama since high school. She always said she didn't know what happened to Mama. But she would tell Gita stories about her mother, and she treasured every one of them. As Gita and Ula bustled around the kitchen getting food together to refill the tables, Ula looked around and whispered to Gita. "Gita, I have something for you. Come here tomorrow morning after Borys goes off to work. Go to the back door. It's about your Mama."
The Secret Gift
The next morning Gita rushed through her morning routine. She could hardly stand waiting to go to Aunt Ula's. 'What could she have to show me about Mama?' She hoped it was photos of her. Rufin had removed all her mother's photos from the house. After a year of Anna's absence, little Gita could barely remember her face. She prayed to God every night to help her remember Mama's face.
When her preparations for the day were done she paced the living room, watching the clock as if it held all the answers to life. Finally, eight O' clock arrived. 'Borys should just be leaving now. I'll wait another five minutes, then set out.' As she was getting her coat on the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Gita," Ula whispered. Hold off coming until I call you. Borys is delaying...Oh, here he comes." The phone went dead. Gita prayed Aunt Ula had not been found out. For twenty minutes she paced, waiting for the green light from Ula. Finally, the call came. Ula told her to come the back way and make sure she wasn't seen. Gita rushed out the door and walked through a wooded area for a quarter mile. She looked around the whole way to see if anyone was nearby. So far, no one. She turned into the alley and slipped into their backyard and to the back door. She rapped softly. Ula opened the door and pulled her in.
"Did anyone see you, Gita? Here, let me take your coat."
Gita shrugged it off. "No one saw me, I'm pretty sure. What is it, Aunt Ula? I've nearly died from suspense. What do you have to show me about Mama?"
"Come with me," Ula said, wiping her hands on her apron. She led Gita upstairs where the two bedrooms and bath were. Then they rose up another narrow staircase and Ula reached up to pull down the attic door with three stairs on it. They climbed up into the attic. It smelled of mothballs, mystery, and antiquity. The room was full of boxes, a grand full-length mirror, two trunks, an old-fashioned iron bed, a worn sideboard, stacks of books, records, and a phonograph. A large dark curtain hung at the opposite side of the attic. Ula took Gita's hand and led her behind it. There was more of the same junk but there was a small closet door. Ula pulled out a flashlight from her apron, moved some boxes out of the way and opened it. They stooped down and went in. Ula pulled a chain above them and a dim light bulb illuminated the closet. They sat on some cushions and Ula reached for a box and put it in her lap. Gita's heart was racing with anticipation.
"Gita, I have had these hidden for many years. To my knowledge, Borys knows nothing about them. If he knew I had them and was showing them to you his wrath would come down hard on me. But Rufin is dead now, and you deserve to see these without risk of his temper."
Ula lifted the lid off the box, and just as Gita had hoped, it was full of photos. She forgot to breathe as she reached for the first photograph. Mama was a young woman.
"Mama," she whispered. "Oh, Mama." She laid her cheek upon Mama's and wept. "Mama, oh Mama," was all she could say. Ula looked outside the closet worried at the noise of Gita's sobbing.
"Hush now, darling Gita. I know you can't help it, but we must not let anyone hear us. Borys seemed suspicious this morning. He could come home at any time to check up on me. Gita's sobs quieted. But she still held the photo to her cheek with tears raining down her cheeks.
"Gita, we must not go any further with this here at my house. I have an idea. Stay here, I'll be right back." Ula closed the closet door, went downstairs and out to the back utility room and grabbed a large wicker basket. As she was heading back to the attic the phone rang and she stopped to answer it. As she listened to the caller her face went white and she began to tremble. "I have to run, Mrs. Kapinski, thank you for calling." She raced to the attic with the basket and found Gita still crying and looking through the box of photos.
"Look, this one is of Mama and me," she said.
"Shh, never mind Gita. You can look at them later. Mrs. Kapinski called and said she ran into Borys at the bank. He said he was heading home for lunch. He rarely comes home for lunch. I knew he was suspicious. We must hurry. Come, Gita."
Ula grabbed the box of photos and put them in the basket and threw an old musty blanket over them. They ran to the garden shed. Ula took the photo box and hid it under a large, overturned clay pot and shoved it under the counter and put a bag of fertilizer in front of it. "Now," she said, follow my lead."
In order to completely distract Borys, Ula had a plan. Despite the stress of the situation, she and Gita picked flowers to fill the basket and take it to Rufin's grave. Ula was known all over town as being a prize-winning gardener. Even Borys was proud of her, though he rarely told her, only other people. Ula looked around to see if Borys was home yet, then turned to Gita. "Gita, do you remember that your Mama was quite a gardener too?"
"Yes, I think I do. I remember picking flowers with her, filling a basket like we're doing today. I must have been four or five. Father let the garden go to weeds after Mama disappeared. He wouldn't allow me to keep it going."
"Ula?" bellowed Borys.
"Stay calm, Gita," Ula whispered. "Yes, Borys, out here in the garden."
Borys came out the back door and stood watching them suspiciously. Ula and Gita acted nonchalant, chatting and giggling as women do.
"Hi Uncle Borys," Gita said. "Aunt Ula and I are going to take these flowers and put them on Father's grave."
'So, now it's back to Uncle Borys,' Borys mused. He wasn't buying their act. Just yesterday he and Gita had butted heads and now she was acting like his adoring niece. He scratched his head and squinted at them in the sunlight and walked over. He would play the game also. He knew they were up to something.
"Ah, what a lovely gesture, Gita. Ula, it's nice of you to let Gita pick your award winning flowers."
"Of course I'm letting her pick them. Gita isn't just anyone, Borys, she is our beloved goddaughter. Yesterday's storm chased everyone away. We cannot let Rufin's grave go bare."
Gita shifted the basket and remarked, "Oh my, so heavy." She buried her nose into the floral cargo and sighed. "Oh, Aunt Ula, smell them. Utter heaven. I know Father will be pleased if he can see from heaven."
'Nonsense,' Borys thought. Gita was sure not thinking Rufin was in heaven, nor did she care if Rufin would be pleased. Their act was sickening and an insult to his intelligence, but he volleyed next. "Gita, they do look very heavy, allow me to carry them for you, daughter."
Gita forgot their act and a gave a shocked look at Borys. Borys went over and put his hands on her shoulders. "Yes, Gita, now that Rufin is gone, I am your father and Ula is your mother."
Ula gave Gita a 'Keep it together and keep the game going' look. Gita composed herself.
"Yes," said Gita, "Well, I'd like to carry them since he is my father." The dig to Borys was not unnoticed by him, but he chose to ignore it for the sake of the game.
"Yes, it's such a beautiful day," said Ula.
"Let me drive you," Borys said. "See, there are a few clouds gathering."
Gita was taken by surprise. "Well, okay. We're ready anytime you are, Uncle Borys."
Borys crossed his arms and looked down his nose at Ula. "Ula has no time to go. She is supposed to have lunch ready for me when I return and she has many household duties. While you two were out picking flowers, work went undone." He stared Ula down. She feigned fear and subservience.
"He is right, Gita. I have work to do. And you can join us for lunch when you get back."
"Well, all right then," said Gita. "It's so nice of you to take me, Uncle Borys." She looked to Ula, who winked and mouthed "It's going to be okay."
During the drive, Gita pondered this side to Aunt Ula she had never seen before. She had always taken Aunt Ula for the stereotypical abused wife who lived in dread of her husband and did whatever he demanded. Clearly, she had learned a thing or two over the years. Gita offered a silent prayer for protection for Aunt Ula and buried her nose into the flowers again. "Don't they smell heavenly?"
"Yes, my car will smell like perfume for days," Borys chuckled. "But it's all for a good cause, is it not, daughter?"
Dark clouds gathered over Gita at his calling her daughter again. She bit her tongue.
Borys' guess was there was something beneath the flowers that the ladies were hiding. That they were going to such lengths to deceive him he knew it was something big and he was going to catch them red-handed. He stopped the car and turned and smiled. "We're here, daughter." He was taking pleasure in trying to undo her.
They walked to the grave. Gita stole a sidelong glance at Borys and smiled to herself. 'He thinks he's about to catch me hiding something under the flowers.'
He glanced sidelong at her and was dismayed to see her smirking. "Oh, look," he said, "there is Rufin right there. My what a mess after the storm." They stood looking down at the mud and sod grave of Rufin Wronski. "Well, daughter, aren't you going to lay the flowers down?" He couldn't wait for her squirm and hem and haw.
Gita set the basket down and hefted the heavy mound of flowers out and laid them on the grave lovingly. Borys grabbed the basket and said, "Ah ha." But when he looked into it there was nothing. He threw the basket down in anger. "I know you're hiding something, Gita." He pawed through the flowers three times and came up empty.
Gita smiled into his angry face. "What did you think I was hiding...Father?"
Borys grabbed her arm. "Let's get this straight, you little wretch, I am not your father and you are not my daughter. I'm going find out what you and Ula are up to, and I will make you both very sorry."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Uncle Borys. What could we possibly be hiding, for heaven's sake? And since when has Aunt Ula ever tried to cross you? Look, it's about to rain." They ran to the car just missing the first drops by seconds. They drove in stony silence. Gita noticed his jaw tensing and a cross look on his face. She began to feel uneasy. 'He is not going to give up. Oh God, my Father, do not let Borys find out our secret. Bring a distraction to him so that we can get the pictures to my home. And thank you for this great gift of Mama's photos."
Borys dropped Gita off at her house rather than have her join him and Ula for lunch. Gita had barely stepped out of the car when he floored it and took off. Gita felt amused at Borys' fury at the cemetery. But once she sat down to some hot tea, fear began to take hold. Borys was smart and ruthless, an imposing foe. How sad it was that she and Ula had to hide a simple box of old photos and play these games to avoid Borys wrath. She prayed for God once again to set things right. Then she felt God nudging her to pray for Borys. 'Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.' Gita sighed. She did not want to pray for Borys, but she knew it would please God, so she prayed that Borys would see his need for God and turn to Him. "Perhaps," she whispered, "this would bring about a reunion with Mama, too."
When Borys got home Ula had lunch ready and waiting. He looked down at the meal and said "I'm not hungry. I'm going back to work."
"Back to work?" said Ula. "I worked hard to make this meal."
"What is that to me? Save it for my dinner." He went upstairs, changed his pants and shoes, and returned downstairs. As he put on his coat he stared at Ula hard. He moved as though to kiss her goodbye (which he rarely did) but instead grabbed her chin. "You think I'm stupid, don't you?" he snarled. I'm watching your every move. When I find out what you're doing I'll crush you and your prize-winning garden. You hear me, Ula? I'll crush you." Spittle flew from his mouth and hit her face.
Ula did not cower. She was done cowering. The temptation to knee him in the groin was overwhelming but wisely restrained herself. Instead she pulled out of his grasp. "I hear you Borys," she said, "I'll have dinner ready when you get home."
© 2017 Lori Colbo