Telling Tales 45
The Angry Visitor
Her name was Marya and she lived in a small hut where she enjoyed being dead very much every day. She had as much food to eat as she wished. She worked as hard as she wanted to. She traveled a great deal, but always stayed close to her home so that she could be back by dark. She missed her mother and younger sister, but she never felt lonely or suffered a lack of companionship, although there were no other people to be found.
Until one day she heard cursing and shouting and screaming, the sort of sounds that come from an angry grandmother’s mouth. And the sounds were very loud indeed. She doubted that she had ever seen a grandmother as angry as this one must be. She met the woman in a clearing a three hour walk from her house. She was stooped and wrinkled and vicious with rage, her words all but incomprehensible through spit and fury.
“Can I help you?” Marya offered.
Her own voice shocked the crone into momentary silence, but she shot back almost immediately, “Who are you to help me?”
“You’re the first visitor I have met in these lands besides myself. It’s not bad here. It’s quite lovely, in fact. Are you hungry?” From a leather and silk lined pocket, she withdrew a warm loaf of bread that hadn’t been in her pocket a moment ago.
“I’m starving,” spat the old woman, but she didn’t make a move from where she stood. “What do you want for it?”
“Nothing,” answered Marya. “Please, eat. You are welcome to stay with me in my house, but it is a good walk from here. I sought you out when I heard you. I wasn’t as angry when I arrived, only confused. I’ll help you build your own house if you like.”
“I’ve got a house. I don’t need another one,” said the other.
Marya pondered the new arrival. “As you like. I’ll leave you alone, then, but I’ll leave this bread here in case you want it, and I’ll mark the path back to my house in case you decide to visit.” Then she did just as she said she would and three hours later was safe in her house.
Not long before nightfall, the old woman appeared at her door. She was not as angry now, and the change in mood had wrought a marvelous change in her face. Were she not so old and were she not the only other person Marya had met here, she might not have recognized her. “I’m sorry for my outburst before,” the woman began. She looked around at the house, saw the saws and axes on the walls, and the muscles that lined Marya’s arms and legs. “You built this place yourself?”
“No one else,” Marya agreed. Then she urged the woman to sit before the hearth, where several logs lay stacked and ready for lighting. From another pocket, she withdrew a lump of coal that had not been there before, blew on it in her palms until it caught fire, and set it under the wood. From an empty net by her counter, she pulled a fresh fish that she prepared for their dinner. Afterwards, she straightened the old woman’s hair with a comb made of bone and wrapped it neatly in a bun under a fine silk net that another person might have mistaken for a cobweb on the wall. By the time she went to sleep, the old woman’s face had softened and there wasn’t the slightest glimmer of anger in her eyes.