“Girl!” Zhara’s voice rang out of the window and to the garden, shrill and aged. He coughed from the effort and thumped weakly at his chest. The girl who’d been tending to the fruit trees turned her head towards the small cottage and smiled, waving before wiping her hands on the sides of her clothes and making her way to the porch door. She brushed her feet vigorously on the worn sack which served as a welcoming mat before entering the kitchen.
She walked quickly through to the back room which had been designated as her own and poured some water from a jug into a bowl. Carefully she washed her hands to the elbows, emptied the water out through the window and onto the grass outside then refilled the bowl to wash her face. Over the seasons she had become rather adept at the task and now rarely spilt even a drop onto the wooden floor throughout the process. She then proceeded to strip off her working clothes, placing them neatly in the corner of the room, and donned a loose fitting dress. Zhara chose to call it a dress, though it was simply a length of material sewn hastily together to accommodate the girl’s form, and lacked definition or style. The girl didn’t mind, though, and had taken to sewing her own ‘dresses’ in the same fashion.
Wearing the loose-fitting rag and a pair of animal skin boots she made her way back into the kitchen and to the table, where her evening meal had been set out. The two sat in comfortable silence, eating and listening to the sounds of the descending darkness. When the meal was finished the girl stood to clear the table and to remove the now boiling pot from its place atop the coal stove. She poured the water into two cups and added the herbal leaves from the tree which grew in the garden then returned to her seat across from the old man. Zhara took his cup in both hands and blew on it lazily. He then set it down and looked intently into the girl’s eyes.
“You’ve never told me,” he began, “and I’ve never asked. But I’m afraid curiosity has finally gotten the better of me.” The girl looked up from her cup and her brow furrowed, confused by the old man’s trepidation.
“Who are you?” he finished.
“What do you mean?” Her voice was small and unsure of itself, or perhaps of the meaning of the question asked.
“Where are you from? What is your name?” Zhara sighed as he realised the girl had no idea what he meant. He thought back to when he’d first seen her, emerging from the woods in the faint light of sunrise. She’d been frail, her bones likely as brittle as frozen twigs. She’d been shaking from so much time spent naked and exposed to the elements. At first Zhara had thought her to be about twelve, she’d been so small. But as he fed and nurtured her to health she had come into her own and was clearly not a pre-pubescent. Never had he questioned her about her origins, assuming that with time she would come to trust him and speak about herself. However, that cold morning had been more than seven seasons ago and she’d still never spoken a word about herself.
“Must I come from somewhere?” She asked meekly, now examining her hands.
“We all come from somewhere.” Zhara said softly.
She looked up from her hands and into his face, her own a play of confusion and intrigue. “Did you come from somewhere?”
Zhara nodded slowly, realising that he’d never spoken about himself, either. “I was born and raised in this village.” He offered, and told her of his mother and father, his children, and his wife. She listened, fascinated by this tale of other people and how their lives had all intersected with his own.
“Where are they now?” She asked in wonder.
“My parents died long ago.” He said, then added sadly “my wife and children… Not so long ago, I suppose. They caught the Creeping Death and…” his voice broke off.
The girl reached her hand across the table to take his and stroke it. She didn’t know what a Death was, but she understood the word creeping meant slow and knew from his voice that this Death must be an awful thing. “I’m sorry.” She said earnestly and the two fell into a heavy silence. The girl wondered if ‘died’ was a form of ‘Death’ and decided it must be. The sounds of the night filled the room for a long time as they slowly drank from their cups, each lost in their own thoughts. When both were done the girl ventured to speak.
“If everybody who comes from somewhere and is somebody dies,” she said thoughtfully, “then I think I am content being nobody from nowhere.” Zhara looked at her in disbelief then smiled widely. She returned the expression gleefully and stood to take the cups to the washing bowl where she washed them and the dishes from the meal.
Zhara stood and yawned loudly. “I can’t keep calling you girl. You’re a woman now.” He commented.
“Then call me woman…” she offered.
Zhara considered this, then shook his head. “No,” he decided. “I’ll call you Naiara.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but it sounds like the peace of innocence, and I think it suits you.” The two exchanged another smile and he retired to his room for the night, leaving Naiara to wonder where she’d come from as she cleared the kitchen and added coals to the stove to keep it burning through the cold night.