Mesha woke up on a haystack in a barn. It wouldn’t have been strange for this to happen twenty-five years ago because she grew up out in the country and on a farm with horses. But it was strange right now for the simple fact that she had gone to sleep the night before in her bed.
She sat up and looked around, her blue eyes seeing rather well in the dark, and picked at strands of hay that had gotten caught in her long blonde hair. She was in the loft of a barn, that much was obvious. But she didn’t know where she was, or how she had gotten there.
The first of the birds were chirping as they found their worms for breakfast and quickly gobbled them up. She saw she was near a ladder that went down to the ground and figured she’d better have a look around to see just what was going on.
She got to the bottom and turned around and saw the very beginnings of the day. The pale blue light from behind her gave just enough light to see the huge wheat field. She walked out of the barn and knew she wasn’t near her home. The next thought she had was, “I think I AM in Kansas, Toto.” The thought made her chuckle as the impact of her not being where she was supposed to be hadn’t fully registered yet.
A dog barked in the distance. She turned to her left and walked around the barn. She faced the rising sun and saw a meadow full of pink and white hollyhocks and tall green grass. About two hundred yards away there were covered wagons arranged in a circle. It took her a moment to register this because she had never seen them before. These weren’t the covered wagons she had seen in the old John Wayne movies she watched with her dad when she was a little girl. These looked like traditional gypsy wagons!
She turned around to walk back the way she came and for the first time realized the barn she had come out of wasn’t a typical barn either. It seemed to her to be some sort of white-washed stucco, or maybe it was dried and hardened mud. And the roof was made of thatch!
Also for the first time, she began to feel a little panic rise up in her chest because she had no clue where she was or how she had gotten there. A cool breeze passed over her and she shivered, not knowing if it was from the breeze or out of her growing panic. With the breeze came the smells of a fire and she assumed it was coming from the circle of gypsy wagons.
Seeing no signs of activity in the house nearby, she reluctantly started toward the circle of wagons to see if she could find out where she was. A dog ran up to her and trotted next to her with is tail wagging and it reminded her of her own dog. In fact, the similarities were uncanny, from the light khaki color between his eyes and the random pattern on his back. The only real difference was this dog was a little bit thinner, more than likely from a lack of food and more running around. And of course it couldn’t be hers because she wasn’t anywhere near her home.
As Mesha got closer to the band of wagons, the dog darted away and disappeared under a wagon and behind the big wheels. She admired the intricate wood work on the side of the wagon and ran her fingers across it. Looking up there were two small windows with dark red curtains covering the people on the inside from the morning chill. She could only imagine who was in there or what their story was. She was brought out of her thoughts by someone clearing her throat.
She turned around and saw a young girl of about twelve or thirteen years old standing behind her. As soon as their eyes met, Mesha knew there was a connection between the two of them, but what it was she didn’t know.
“Hello,” Mesha said quietly. “Who are you? Where am I?”
The little girl smiled and said something in what sounded like Russian. She looked as if she expected an answer, but Mesha had no idea what else to say, let alone what was asked of her.
“What,” she asked. “I don’t understand you. Where am I? Where is this?” She opened her arms and looked around motioning to the fields and the house that was behind the barn. The girl only smiled and made a motion that she could only mean as “Follow me.”
Mesha walked around the wagon and soon was in the middle of a little community of gypsies. They had tables and chairs sitting close to their wagons and small camp fires were blazing to help keep the chill off the mens’ bones as they sat down and smoked their pipes talking about the day’s work ahead. A few women came out of the wagons and put bowls of something, Mesha couldn’t tell what, in front of the men and they heartily ate. Some children were playing with the dog that was the first to greet her as she approached the circle.
She was led to the largest of the wagons and was told to sit at the table. Without understanding the words, she understood the meaning and sat down, watching the daily routine of the little wandering community.
A moment later, she heard shuffling in the wagon behind her and the door opened. She heard tentative footsteps on the stairs and a few moments later stood before her the matriarch of the community. She didn’t know how she knew, only that it was true. The girl helped the old lady over to the table and into the chair. As soon as she sat, the girl went back into the wagon.
Mesha sat there, not knowing if she was supposed to say something first or wait for the old lady. So she sat quietly and watched the community wake up and start the day. The girl came out of the wagon carrying a tray with two cups and a teapot. She poured one cup and gave it to the old woman and poured another one for Mesha. The girl smiled at Mesha and left.
There was something so familiar about that girl. There was a bond there, but she still couldn’t place it. It seemed to be right on the edge of her thoughts but she just couldn’t grasp it. The silence was broken by the old woman.
“You do not know where you are, no?” The old woman spoke in a thick Russian accent.
“No, I don’t,” Mesha answered. She took a sip of the hot tea and was pleasantly surprised. It was very good and wasn’t like any other tea she had ever had. It had some sort of berry flavor with a hint of woodiness. As if they pulled the branch off the berry bush and steeped it in the water.
“Then you do not know when you are either.” The old lady smiled as if she was going to enjoy telling her. She took a sip of her tea and motioned for Mesha to drink up.
Obeying the old woman without a thought, she took another sip and in disbelief stared at it as she put the cup down. The flavor was stronger than before, yet there was nothing in it to make it brew. She noticed little swirls of something in the otherwise clear liquid and thoughts of poison or drugs seeped into her mind. She felt fine and then something else dawned on her.
“You know English?”
“I know a great many things, child,” the old woman said cryptically. “I know your name and where you are from. I know you will not believe me when I tell you where and when you are. They never believe.” She chuckled and continued to drink, eyeing Mesha closely.
“So where am? When am I?”
“You are in Ukraine. Part of the Soviet Empire. The Great War has just ended. You’re grandmother, Malenka, has not yet gone to the United States for she is just a girl of twelve or thirteen years. She will escape the Holodomor which will happen in ten years time from now. That will be her reason for leaving her family and moving to your country where your mother will be born and your brother and your sister.”
Mesha looked at the old woman in disbelief. The old woman had used the same “thought” as she did when she first saw the girl outside the circle and estimated her age. She hadn’t even realized she’d done that until just now. And how did she know about her siblings? “You mean, I’m in the past? In Russia?! You’re right, I don’t believe it.” Without thinking she took another sip of tea and the wonderful flavor seemed to explode in her mouth. She looked at the nearly empty cup in amazement. Her mind raced with questions she didn’t know how to ask or in what order to ask them.
“You have many questions, I know. They will not be answered as you will soon be returning to your home. You will have to figure out the meaning of this on your own. You are not dreaming, child. Trust me.”
“But how? I don’t even know you? How can I be back in time halfway across the world? It’s impossible! Who are you?”
“You know me even though you have never met me. My blood runs in your veins. You have a bond with the girl don’t you? You’ve felt it haven’t you?”
Mesha couldn’t believe her ears. How did the old woman know this? “Yes. There is something about her that is so familiar.”
“Malenka,” the old woman cried out. The girl came out of the wagon and stood next to the old woman. She spoke something in Russian to her and the girl went inside and a short time later came out with a tiny package wrapped in brown paper. She handed it to Mesha and smiled that very familiar smile. The girl turned to the old woman and said something to her. They had a short conversation and the girl went back inside the wagon.
Mesha looked at the package and noticed that it had her name written on it in the neat and orderly penmanship of a child in school. It had her name on it!
“You’ve been expecting me?”
The old woman smiled. Her smile too seemed familiar. “Yes, my granddaughter and I have been expecting you. She made this gift for you. She said you are very pretty and that you have her smile.”
Mesha’s mouth was open but words were not coming out. “You mean,” she stammered. “That’s my grandmother? That’s my grandma Molly?” She swallowed hard, her mouth dry. She picked up the cup of tea, but before she could drink, the old woman interjected.
“Stop! You must not finish that yet, for when you do, you will be returned to your time. Open your gift first.”
With trembling fingers she untied the string and carefully unwrapped the paper. Inside she found a long piece of cloth with a red triangle at each end with a little design in it. The point of the triangle was attached to the long, tan piece of cloth with small, rectangular indentations of a different texture all along the length until the point of the other triangle was reached. She felt its coarse material and felt the bumps of the rectangles. She looked up at the old woman.
“It is called a lestovka. A prayer cloth. It was supposed to be made of leather, but we didn’t have any so we improvised.” She smiled. “Unfortunately, we are almost out of time, my child. When the tea gets too cold and the flavor dies down, so does the effect and you will be stuck here with us.”
“There is no time. Drink up. You will figure out the meaning of this some day. I am sorry I cannot give you any more. Goodbye my great-great granddaughter.”
Mesha didn’t want to go, she had so many questions, but something made her drink the last of the tea and just as the flavor peaked in her mouth she bolted upright.
Something was ringing. She looked around and found herself in her bed, in her room, in her home. The phone on her nightstand was ringing. She looked over and saw it was her mother.
She shook the cobwebs from her head and thought she had just woken up from a dream. A very realistic dream. She picked up the phone and answered it.
“Hi Mesha. How was your visit?” Mesha heard the chuckle on the other end of the phone not believing what she was hearing. Was this a joke? Was she dreaming? Was it a coincidence? What did she do yesterday that would make her mother ask how her trip was. The questions came faster than the answers and vaguely she heard her mother saying something to her again.
“What? What did you say, mom?”
“I said look in your other hand.”
Mesha looked down and under her hand, laying on the bed beside her, was the lestovka and the piece of paper with her grandmother’s handwriting on it.