“Nonna Sera! Wait, mother has asked of you to do the ironing first and to continue what you were doing afterwards. The lords and ladies of Vendila are to come tonight. ”
At the sound of vendila she stopped and turned to look at the little charming blonde, hair bouncing as he ran towards her, smiling his gummy smile. After a 5 second stare she turned back and resumed to walk slowly muttering,
“I will do it once I’m done drying the clean white sheets boy.”
“but Nonna…”, the child had now reached up to her, gasping for air, pulled at her neat skirt and went on,
“…Mama said so and she…”
“Let go off me!!”, the grey haired old maid shouted, pushing him away, her already wrinkled face crinkling some more.
Little Angelo lost his balance and fell. Out of nowhere four other maids came up to his aid and dusted off his clothes.
“Young Master! Why, she has done it again, disrespected you just like that. Don’t you worry now we will make sure to let Lady Hans know of her behavior”, said one. The rest giggled in the back. To their surprise, the seven year old got up and pushing them aside ran off yelling,
“There’s no need. Nonna’s nice. She’s just tired that’s all.”
Ignoring them all, Sera who were walking away paused, her lips twitched and were threatening to form curves from the sides but what came over her in a flash left her just like that.
In that mere moment she remembered something that were once precious to her, which she were constantly reminded of whenever she looked at that boy, that gummy smile, but that exact face rekindled some thoughts of her past, those of which she were better off not thinking about. Shaking her head Sera took in a deep breath and pushed the trolley of freshly washed sheets towards the back laundry.
Meanwhile the shocked younger maids couldn’t believe their ears. How come that old hag always got away with it? They never dared what would have had happened to them had the Madam been in one of her foul moods, if they were responsible of such behavior.
After 10 years
A carriage stopped around 8:40 in the morning. The sun shone brightly on him as he got out. Angelo, now a handsome youth of seventeen entered the drawing room and Lady Hans embraced him, for her son had come home after so long.
After his mother was satisfied with him, Angelo looked through the main rooms, laundry, the great kitchen and the back garden. There was washing, cooking, cleaning, polishing and dusting happening everywhere, for a grand feast, the boy thought to himself but to his curiosity he couldn’t find what he were looking for.
Feeling sulky as he was going up to his chambers, he saw a glimpse of the back of a chair in front of the kitchen fireplace, and his sullen face at once brightened at the thought of the person who quietly sat there, sewing. Forgetting that he was no longer a small boy, Angelo ran up to her, the person he had missed the most while he were sent off away to study in the west.
Without saying a word, he dragged a stool near her feet and sat.
To an outsider it would have looked such a beautiful sight. The gorgeous young master who sat at the feet of the grandmother figure, looking up at her, smiling. The fire that merrily danced in the background, as if it knew how happy the he were.
Sera at first ignored him but she couldn’t concentrate so out of irritation she was about to tell him off but when she looked at him she couldn’t bring herself to. Instead she looked back at him just like that and unconsciously said,
“Look at how well you have grown up boy.”
“You’ve grown old as well Nonna Sera. Seeing that you didn’t send me away the moment you saw me”, the boy smiled.
She exhaled a deep sigh. He was right. Maybe she had grown old after all the years. She smiled internally. Maybe it wouldn’t harm if she could hear him out this once.
“Tell me, why is it that you always end up here. Have you got nothing else to do?”
“Why Nonna Sera, are you sure?”
She nodded yes.
“You are the last from the land of waters correct?” he whispered. The woman stared at him. She didn’t expect this coming from him.
“Where there were streets of water and people used boats to move?”
She was speechless, her voice gone, throat dry. Sera did not know what to do.
After a pause Angelo continued,
“I want to know what happened.
When I was little, just the thought of water streets fascinated me but as I grew older, I began to think that there is no trace, nothing of that place left, as if someone purposely wiped it off.
So… tell me.”
Sera looked into his eyes. At first she thought to send him away. Like she did in the past. But something about him was different, he was different from the type of people his father and grandfather, and their friends were. She licked her lower lip and started:
“Dated 16th December I came back home from sewing school. But there was no home to come to. Burned down to ashes. I had never seen anything like it.
The neighbor’s kids Romeo and Sofia I saw crying, their faces blackened with ash. A boy came running from a far; he had a little pretty girl in his arms.
I asked him what had happened, that where were my parents, that if they were safe. He didn’t respond and instead handed me the girl and told me to keep Valentina safe. He pointed towards the fast flowing street, and then towards a boat and told me to take the three young ones, and
that he will try hold the arms men of vendila off. I told him we weren’t to use that street, for it was forbidden the flow was too strong.
Then Stefanno smiled that gummy smile of his and said,
“Sera, everything will be fine once you get to the other side.”
I didn’t panic. I also had lost the capability to comprehend anything. Instead I did as told and got in the boat that he pushed.
16th December that year I turned 19, 16th December that year I turned an orphan. 16th December that year I turned into a survivor. But just then I couldn’t feel anything.
The water flow was so strong I had to tie Valentina and Sofia with myself and held Romeo tight close to my chest. It started to rain. The pale hungry kids cried and cried.
We reached land. And got loaded into a four wheeler along with many other children. It was just like how I had read in books they do with hens. It was my first time seeing one.
No one knew what was happening. They fed us cold wet bread whenever they remembered. A time came when most kids stopped talking.
This silence finally made me realize what actually had happened. I had lost my parents, my family, and my neighbors. The village I once called home was no more. The people I used to call parents were no more. I was now alone in this devastated world. And then one tear rolled down my cheek followed by another. Pulling the three kids near me I pathetically cried myself to sleep.
It was a long time before when the four wheeler finally stopped; they opened the back door and told us to get out. Moving my legs was so hard but I managed to get out. We were at the gate of what they called the Great Hans Manor; a lady took us in and told us we will have to earn our own living. We were fine by it and of course very grateful.
I forgot about the other people that were loaded in the four wheeler and the four of us were taken in at the Hans Manor.
We were to be servant girls and boys, each given our set of clothes and chores for the days. However whenever I tried to inquire about what had happened, no one really said anything, as if
nothing had happened. A time came when little Valentina and Sofia also forgot and they also got away from me.
Then one day when I was serving tea when the Hans had company I overheard them talking. Apparently the Hans were great friends with the Vendilans. I overheard them talking about the same incident. And how everything had worked just fine, they had got the land they had been wanting for years, and also got extra workers for free.
That’s when it dawned upon me. That the people who supposedly gave me shelter, and the people who burned down my village, were all the same. All in for their own benefits.
The reason I was kept shut in this manor was to keep in the terrible secret. And I couldn’t do anything about it for what could a lowly servant girl in a foreign land could possibly do.”
When she finally stopped, she found herself heavily breathing, eyes all red. Looking below at the lad, she was shocked to see Angelo’s tear stained pale face, his once fresh collars now soaked wet. She wiped her eyes and stormed out the kitchen into the hall, filled up the water bucket and started scrubbing the painfully clean floor. She realized what had happened…
…And Sera hated it. She simply hated it. She didn’t want people to be agreeable since it saved her the trouble of liking them a great deal. Or so she told herself over and over. Deep down in the pits of her heart a soft voice hummed
It’s a lie. A lie you tell yourself.
For surely you just don’t want to get hurt again.
Years and years have passed but it’s fresh on you as it were but yesterday,
When they were ripped from you your loved ones.
True pain it is you have felt.
So you shun away people, young and old
Those who try to get closer to you now
But child that’s no way to live a life,
For there is no life without love.
But Sera Vermillion oblivious to soft humming, wiped off those small drops of sweat that had formed on her high forehead, and kept on scrubbing the white marble stoned hall of Hans Manor. This she had been doing for the past 63 years of her life.
Contributed By : Momina Butt