Wednesday, November 09, 2005

At Baba Yaga's House. Pt 2

Monday came, along with Stephanie's eager anticipation at seeing Olga again. However Olga was absent from roll call for several days. Unrelenting Maths and a few late assignments were lightened only by a free Library period on Wednesday afternoon. This was turning into a punishing week in more ways than one.

Stephanie headed to the somewhat limited selection on Russia, choosing " Myths and Legends of Old Mother Russia" over "Post Kruschev Economic Reform". Settling into a corner away from snickering classmates, she became engrossed in an illustrated chronology of fairy tales, epic poems and songs, many originating in Kiev where Olga had come from. Especially intriguing was the ubiquitous presence of a Baba Yaga in many guises, presented in mediaeval sources as a nasty witch riding around in a mortar and pestle gradually becoming shown as protective woman even a Babushka Baba Yaga, a grandmotherly figure. The class bell rudely interrupted her. She glanced at the class teacher who was fortuitously involved with Maryanne Mayberry. Maryanne had the unfortunate habit of either asking too many questions or tying up the computer for undue lengths of time. Sometimes both at once which seemed to be happening now.

Quickly Stephanie stuffed the book up her jumper, trusting that the alarm system had been switched off by the exiting librarian and ran to catch up with her classmates. All except of course Maryanne Mayberry.

That night, having finally finished the chores her mother had decided were justified by her skipping lunch at the weekend, she was able to delve back into the book. Her only previous encounter with myths had finished with CS Lewis so this whole new world which was opening up to her beckoned irresistibly. There were similarities in these tales with the Baba Yaga she had met....a tribal elder looking after "her children" especially in their exile from their homeland. As here in a strange southern land of cloudless hot skies where tea from the samovar was replaced by a quick cappucino, although there were certain similatities between a charlotte malakoff and the pavlovas Steph loved. Not to mention all those mortar and pestles in Baba's kitchen she had used when helping to prepare lunch under Baba's direction!

Thursday saw Olga reappear at chool. She could not be drawn as to why she had missed school, shuffling her feet and looking somewhat confused. Her sox had slid even further, a bit of a better look, Steph thought. And excused herself to go to a music lesson.

After school , Steph found herself again heading off with Olga, in spite of the disaproving looks from her chattering friends. She was able to start quizzing Olga about Baba who apparently was expecting them for afternoon tea.

" Baba looks after us all" said Olga, in answer to Stephanie's bubbling questions. " In the old days Baba was wicked as the old legends say. And terrified everyone, everywhere, whizzing around in that mortar and pestle. Now she is kind and wise and a mother to us all. She appears where there is need and misunderstanding. There is always a Baba Yaga in our lives" she added mysteriously.

This time they entered from the back door, a mirror image of the front with two wild and profusely flowering roses framing the door. This time Baba did not acknowledge the girls' arrival. She was sitting in her favourite chair. Again the fire was alight. She was gently plucking the strings of a weathered balalaika with a far away look in her eyes. Occasionally she crooned what Steph surmised was a lullaby. After a while she stopped and noticed the girls hovering in the doorway.

The samovar was steaming in the corner and soon all three were sitting down to a bounteous afternoon tea of cold cuts and cheeses and cakes. No vodka this time. Stephanie rather wished that her mother, whose offerings rarely extended to home cooking, was present.

Stephanie told Baba what she had read of her namesake in the book. Of skeletons, houses that spun and their terrifying occupant. Baba was deep in thought.

" Back in the mists of time" she said " There was such a person. Everyone was in awe of her dark powers. Especially children who caused their parents concern." she said looking knowingly at Stephanie, who blushed.
" She lived for a very long time before passing to the underworld.When she reappeared she had changed." A far away look crossed Baba's face. " She realised her powers could be used in other ways. To be a Babushka, a caring grandmother. Using her experiences to give wise advice, tempered with love and promoting the understanding of those whom we do not understand. Their lives and customs and their beliefs. Because,"and here she gazed intently at Stephanie, "there will only be peace in this world when the differences are embraced with a willing love. We are really all the same you know."

Later that night Stephanie thought for a long time about the past week and the new experiences which had drawn her from her comfort zone. She knew the time had come to convince her circle of friends that some of these new kids with their strange accents and mismatched clothes came from lands of rich colour and traditions and wondrous stories. That it was possible , and desirable, to all be friends together.


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