Bratki

Hania is a wily figure. Whereas Antonia is bird-like, her sister is different. Antosia made it clear that she never wanted anything to tie to the modern world. She still lights the house fire stove, embroiders on her old-fashioned circular plate, doesn’t have a cleaning cloth in sight.

Hania, on the other hand, used to seem like she was comparing herself to us. She’d swap places, come back and look dissatisfied with her own life. She always retreated to her section of the house, the one part of the house I’d never been invited to see.

She came out of her house and said, ‘When you’re mum was little, we all walked to the next valley. I was smaller than them. I cried all the way!’

‘Why did you cry?’

She smiled. ‘I was just like that.’

Now she’s just like that and she isn’t. No Michał, no grandchildren, no shouting. No worrying about a kid who should have been the same as everyone else. There is something of the hiding mountain creature in her; a furry mammal, long-tailed and fleeting.

‘Look,’ I said, showing her my phone. ‘I can see who my husband calls and who calls him.’ I opened up the recents page of the phone which, although he has another phone, Apple still marks with his ID. Hania liked that. ‘And he has a bank card that every time he spends money pops the information up on his phone. How much, where and how much money he has left.’ She liked that too.

‘My pension comes in the post,’ she said. ‘I don’t even have to go out.’

I nodded. Touché. Yes, Hania is thoughtful. Well-informed. Keeps a beautiful garden. She led me around its plank ways.

‘Somedays I’m not up to it,’ she said. I looked around. Really? Blue delphiniums stood like a welcoming party. Long-haired carrots, mint: lemon, pepper, orange, a leathery kind, peonies, asters, dianthus, apple trees, courgette, salad in thick rows. Yellows and purples and greens. A carpet of thyme. Small mischievous violets called bratki, or brothers, popping out and reminding everyone what it’s like to be wild.

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