Maria was turning twenty-one. It was more than four years since her accident. Her mother, Lucy, noticed that she seemed to have aged many years, particularly in the last few months.
“Truth be told, at twenty-one, she knows more than you and I will ever know,” Lucy said to her husband.
Most of Lucy’s friends loved Maria. They still saw her as the sweet, little girl who was given to Lucy and Lenny later in their marriage and who then recovered from a terrible accident. They never bothered to look and see if Maria had grown up. Perhaps, it was better that way. Being a more recent friend, Verloren, was different. She could see who Maria was. Maria was what Verloren was not. Verloren was nice to Maria whenever Lucy was present but as soon as Lucy was out of sight, she would dismiss Maria as if she was not worth acknowledging.
These days, Lucy often found herself asking her daughter for advice. One afternoon in the cafe, Lucy said to Maria, “Verloren was teary today when she was telling me about her marriage. She gets interested in other men, and it never works out, and then she gets even more upset. I don’t know what to say to her. Do you think you could help her, Maria?”
“I would love to help her,” said Maria, “but she wouldn’t listen to me. She might listen to you, though.”
“What will I tell her?” asked Lucy.
“Tell her that her husband loves her, as best as he can,” said Maria, “but everyone is absorbed in their own worries. And tell her not to look for other men because they won’t be able to make her happy either.”
“I can’t tell her that,” said Lucy. “She’ll never speak to me again.”
“Well, it’s the truth,” laughed Maria. “She thinks that she can make herself feel better by gaining the love of someone she admires.”
“Don’t we all think that?” asked Lucy without shame.
“Yes, Mumma, we do,” said Maria. “And it doesn’t work for anyone.”
Another evening, Lucy and Maria were standing in their kitchen peeling vegetables for dinner.
“Why is Farkas so angry with us?” Lucy asked. “I don’t mind that he doesn’t come to our cafe anymore. I’m not offended, but whenever I see him on the street, he acts like I asked him to leave and he won’t even say, hello. It makes me sad because I don’t hold anything against anyone. Anyway, he came to our cafe for a long time and,” Lucy paused as she searched for the right words, “and I miss him.”
“Don’t worry, Mum,” Maria said softly. “It’s just him. In his mind, everyone has or is going to hurt him. He is protecting himself.”
“Why would he think that?” asked Lucy. “He must have friends who love him. Everyone has friends.”
“Do they?” said Maria. “Most have arrangements.”
The conversation was getting too much for Lucy. “Okay, darling,” she said, “please go get the hens eggs and bring some lettuce back with you from the garden.”
After dinner, Maria walked the few streets to Farkas’s house and left some eggs at his front door with a note saying, These are from Mum. She said that she misses seeing you at the cafe. Maria thought, If Mum knew I said that, she would kill me. She laughed and ran home.
A few days later, Farkas came to get his morning coffee from Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe. He ordered takeaway, had a little chat with Lucy about how good she was looking, and then went outside to wait for the order.
“I’ll take it to him,” Maria said when his name was called.
“Thank you,” said Farkas when Maria handed him his coffee. He then added, surprisingly, “I hate my name, Maria. If I had a better name, I think I would like myself better.”
“It’s a beautiful name,” said Maria. “It means wolf in Hungarian. I know this because wolves are my favourite creatures. They don’t like fighting but are fierce if they need to be. They are very connected to their pack and will be loyal till the death. They have all the intelligence and sensitivity of a dog but much more. They are noble creatures, Farkas. Why would you want to change that?”
No One Can Take Her
In the Leleks:
Maria looked straight into Erdo’s eyes and said, “I know who Amira is. I know why you called me that name last time I was here. She helped me with the nightmare. She talks to me all the time nowadays.”
“Yes,” said Erdo. “Is that a problem?”
“Yes, it is,” said Maria. “I hear Amira’s voice so often, I think she is taking me over.”
“And is that a problem?” asked Erdo.
“Yes,” said Maria. “I want to get rid of her.”
“I see,” said Erdo without emotion.
“Amira is not from this world,” said Maria. “She doesn’t belong here. She will destroy my life. She doesn’t give this life any value. I don’t think she even wants to stay here. I won’t be able to be a normal person. And I won’t even be here much longer. She will take us both away.”
“I see,” repeated Erdo.
“I am scared,” said Maria.
“I can see that,” said Erdo.
“I’m sorry,” said Maria. “I know it’s not what you want, but it’s too much for me.”
Erdo was not often sympathetic but he said gently, “Maria, it’s alright. No one is asking anything of you that you would not want for yourself. You are always free. No one has to be a martyr. God doesn’t want any sacrifice. He is not interested in sacrifices.”
Maria started to relax and said, “Oh, okay. Well, that is alright then.”
“I have an idea,” Erdo said enthusiastically. “Why don’t you leave Amira here with me? She and I can have a good ol’ catch up. She will be safe with me and she will wait for you in case you want her back.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” said Maria. “I will leave her here with you.” She frowned slightly and said, “She will be safe, won’t she? I wouldn’t want anything to happen to her. No one will take her away from you?”
Erdo laughed out loud. “Trust me. No one can take her from me.”
He walked off as if the thought of that was the most amusing thing he had heard in ages.
With delighted relief, Maria drove back to Waldmeer feeling like a normal person; a twenty-one-year-old girl instead of a ten-thousand-and-twenty-one-year-old sage.
On My Own
It was true that Maria no longer had to deal with the challenges that Amira brought into her life. However, what she did not foresee was that much of the life she loved had been created by Amira, not by her. Those parts of her life were fast dismantling.
Without Amira, Maria was a kind, uncomplicated, and natural young woman, but nothing more. For all Farkas’s resisting it, the thing that drew him to Maria was Amira. Amira could help him in a way that he could not help himself. She saw him as he truly was. Maria, on the other hand, could only see what was before her eyes. Farkas had no need of a twenty-one-year-old girl in his life. He could run rings around such a person.
Maria hardly saw Farkas in town anymore. Sometimes, she walked past his house on the hill to see if there was any life there. It looked like no one was ever home, but she couldn’t be sure. Maybe, he had gone away. Maybe, he was sitting in his house being a recluse. Maybe, he was having a fabulous time doing all sorts of fun things. Wherever he was, he had made himself invisible to Maria.
As for Gabriel, he soon noticed the change in Maria. He didn’t know why it had happened, but he did know that he felt bored around her now. Too kind to tell her the truth, he casually mentioned one day that he had lots of work in the city, at the moment. Charlie told Maria that Gabriel was busy with his city friends. Whatever he was busy with, it wasn’t Waldmeer and it wasn’t Maria.
I guess Gabriel doesn’t need the friendship of a young country girl who has only ever worked in the local cafe, Maria thought.
On the odd occasion, Maria would see him from the cafe window when he was in town. He didn’t let me know he was here, she thought sadly.
Maria supposed it was a consolation that Elise and the other girls of Waldmeer also had lost interest in her. They no longer bothered to give her sideways glances, speak in hushed tones, or make a point of looking straight past her as she passed them on the street. It seemed no longer necessary to undermine her.
Although a little puzzled by Maria’s sudden character reversal, Lucy and Lenny had become used to the unexpected from Maria. They decided it was best to go with the flow. It was their saving grace in life.
Charlie still loved Maria but, these days, she talked to her more as a little sister than as an equal. Or perhaps, rather than an equal, it would be more correct to say that Charlie previously treated Maria like a rarity; such as one finds in an old op shop, to be treasured.
It was a revelation to Maria that even though people could find the Amira part of her uncomfortable, unpredictable, annoying or illogical, it was also the part that people had the most faith in. Their faith was not misplaced. It was Amira who loved the most, forgave the most, understood the most, laughed the most, and had the most to give. Those who felt they had too much to lose by Amira’s presence, targeted her as an enemy. Now, both friends and enemies were gone.
Maria didn’t blame anyone for losing interest in her because she even found herself to be somewhat lifeless and lost. She wasn’t exactly unhappy with herself but she felt she was a shadow of the person she had been. She started walking on the beaches after work. She walked a lot. She was looking for something. The waves rolled in; one after the other, peaceful in their constancy. Maria needed silence. She got it.
The Long Beach
Maria walked every day on the long beaches of Waldmeer. She often felt alone; both on and off the beach. It was not quite true that she was alone because she still had Erdo and Charlie and her mother and father. Yet, she was alone. No Amira. No Farkas. No Gabriel. She wondered why it would matter so much that Farkas and Gabriel were both gone. She, previously, hardly saw Farkas. When she did, he was either outright angry with her or the anger was hovering just below the surface, ready to emerge if she did or said anything which he felt warranted it. And Gabriel? Why did it matter that he didn’t have time for Maria anymore? Maria always knew that he had a full and busy life in the city.
Why are they so important to me to be such a loss? thought Maria. I didn’t choose them to be in my life. They certainly would not have been obvious choices. One of them could be feral and the other lived in a different world. If I didn’t choose them, maybe, they chose me? she thought. They would have as little chosen her, as she would have chosen them. Who made the choice then? Maria wondered. These choices that seem to be made on their own, they bring as much sorrow as joy. Maybe more. Why? Are they designed to hurt us? Maybe they bring hidden grace but we struggle to find it.
Maria looked at the seagulls powering low over the wild beach. Her mind was very still and quiet. It is the light of love which connects us to others, she thought. That is what we miss. We miss the love. We answer the call of love. It comes from God and touches our soul. These were deep thoughts. Perhaps, Amira was close by.
It is one thing to lose people you love, thought Maria. It is another to lose yourself. That is a greater loss.
“Life is not worth much to me without Amira,” Maria said to the seagulls as they sat on the sand. “Even if I have no one else, I must have her.”
The seagulls lifted in one communal effort and turned to sea. Maria watched them go.
“I will get her back again,” she called after them.