by Michal Reibenbach
I was on my summer vacation when my stepmother approached me and said, “Anna, there’s a woman who wants you to come and visit her.”
“Who is she? Why does she want me to visit her?” I asked.
“It’s a woman who once had a little girl who sadly died, and she would like to once again feel the presence of a little girl in her life,” my step-mum explained.
“I don’t know, it sounds really weird to me,” I said.
“Why don't you try it; you have nothing to lose?” said my step-mum in an endeavor to persuade me.
I hummed and hawed for a little while; and finally said, “Well, alright then.”
The day upon which my step-mum and the mystery woman had agreed that I should visit her soon arrived. I shoved some pajamas and a toothbrush into a nylon carrier bag, while my step-mum gave me directions which she had written down on a piece of paper. Thus equipped and holding the piece of paper in my hand, I set off unceremoniously by foot into the direction of the woman’s house. After a short while I found myself slugging along a muddy path; the length of which grew a row of silver birch trees to my left side, and which cast down shadows over the path; to my right side lay open fields in which there were some horses, grazing.
After about half an hour's trudge, I immerged out of the shade of the trees, and into a bright clearing. In front of me I saw a row of newly-built modern villas, and since the ‘mystery woman’ lived in the first villa I managed to find it straight away. I approached the door apprehensively and knocked on its door hesitantly. It was opened by a slim, elegant woman, who wore her prematurely greying hair scooped up into a bun.
“You must be Anna?" she said, "Welcome; I’m Edith, and I’m very pleased to meet you, please come in”.
I felt greatly relieved that she seemed to be a pleasant lady; I stepped over the threshold and followed her through the luxury villa.
“Come… I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping,” said Edith.
We climbed up some winding stairs and arrived at a small, very white, clean room.
“Do I have to remain in this bedroom all the time?” I asked her.
“No, you can go wherever you like,” she answered, and then added, “My husband has gone to fetch a princess for you to play with.”
I was extremely surprised at this information, and thought to myself, ‘A princess! What sort of a princess?’ The picture which conjured itself up in my mind was of a beautiful woman, clothed in exotic flowing garments and wearing a crown on her head.
Out loud I asked, “What sort of a princess?”
“She’s a wonderful person, you’ll see,” replied Edith, then she withdraws from the room and left me to my own devices. I placed my pajamas on the bed, and put my toothbrush into the drawer of the bedside table. The house looked so costly and clean, which made me scared that I might break or soil something; so I decided to remain sitting on the bed with my legs dangling over its side. I turned on the radio which stood on the bedside table and twisted the knob around until I found some pop-music. As I sat there listening to the music, I felt quite excited at the prospect of meeting a princess!
About an hour later, Edith appeared at the door of the bedroom, “Anna, please come with me; our wonderful princess has arrived,” she said. I turned off the radio, jumped off from the bed, and followed her down the stairs and out of the house in curious anticipation. She then led me to the end of the garden. There on the gravel driveway next to some bushes stood a windowless van. I wondered to myself, ‘what sort of princess remains to hide in a dark van?’
I followed Edith around the van to the part of it which was hidden from view (from the neighbors) by some bushes, and to where the sliding door of the van was open; I peeped into the van in happy expectation, however, what I managed to see from out of the darkness was a fat girl sitting in a wheelchair and to my amazement she was completely covered in hair, saliva drawled from her mouth and her eyes stared blankly back at me. She reminded me of an orangutan.
“This is our beautiful princess, her name is Anna just like yours; I would like you to be friends, and for you to play with her,” said Edith.
Well, I just stood there in complete shock; I was unable to move or to speak… I was after all merely twelve years old and I’d never seen anyone like her in my life before. I was desperately trying to work out in my mind, “How do I play with her? What shall I do?”
After a short while, Edith became exasperated at me and flew into a rage. She began to scream at me, “Don’t just stand there gaping at her; talk to her, play with her… after all, this is her beautiful house, not yours- for God’s sake!
Well, now I was also in a panic because of her hollering, so I bolted back into the direction of my own house. I completely forgot about my pajamas; I just ran as fast as my legs could carry me--I splashed back down the muddy path, all the while thoughts thrashed around inside my head like a storm. At first, I felt guilty for running away and for hurting ‘the princess’s' feelings and came to the conclusion that I was a nasty person. However, I also began to feel angry at Edith for shouting at me; for lying to me about her daughter by claiming she was a wonderful princess-- and what she had said about ‘the princess, having a beautiful house- The fact that they were rich didn’t entitle her to make me feel like poor trash!
As I continued to flee I became quite short of breath. After a while I began to feel sorry for Edith; for she was a mother who was ashamed of her daughter, who lied to everyone by telling them that her daughter was dead, and who hid her out of sight from her neighbors. I realized that for a while she had wanted to replace her daughter with me; perhaps she’d suddenly had a bad conscience, and regretted her decision. That was why she’d sent her husband off to fetch her daughter ‘her princess’, from the institution where she was looked after, and to bring her home. Why hadn’t she explained ‘the princess’s’ true condition to me before I met her, prepared me?
Finally, I got fed up of so many thoughts thrashing through my head and decided that grown-ups and the whole incident with the ‘princess’ were issues just too weird to bother my head about; having come to this conclusion, I stopped running and walked the rest of the way home at an easy pace. Upon arriving back at our house I let myself in quietly by the back door but my step-mother heard me, “Back so soon, did you enjoy yourself?” she called out.
“Yes,” I lied as I hurried up the creaky stairs to my untidy bedroom.
About the author
The author did military service for two years, was a model, a florist, a nurse and did ceramics.
In her twenties when she was five months pregnant she became a paraplegic as the result of a car accident.
She has two sons and six grandchildren.
She lives in Jerusalem.