UNA,a ovel of inspiration and transformation by Mary Elizabeth Raines



...by the time they reached the village street the sun had already risen and there were small signs that people were awake. Soon the businesses and shops would begin to open. Una tried to make the girl walk faster.

When they were halfway down the road to the church, she noticed that a small café on the opposite side of the street had already opened for the day. There were lights on inside, and she smelled bacon and coffee. The fragrance hit her fiercely, like an unexpected blow from a fist, exposing her desperate hunger and neediness. Even though they were surrounded by warm buildings that could ostensibly offer shelter, food, sanitation, and comfort, none of it was available to them. Una felt the absurdity of seeing everything that they needed for survival so close at hand, and at the same time having it so completely inaccessible. Holding Kitty's slender hand to make the shivering girl keep pace with her, she hastened her steps and walked even more quickly down the street, hoping that nobody would emerge from the restaurant.

For the third time, Una moved up the sidewalk to the back of the church and cautiously approached the sacristy door, with Kitty at her side. She tested the doorknob. To her dismay, she found that it was locked. She tried it again, futilely. With a sigh, Una turned away, thinking that she would make an attempt to get in through the front entrance of the church. As she did so, she almost stepped onto a burlap sack that had been left on the grass just outside the back door. Curiously, Una peeked into it. Her heart gave a jump of joy. Inside was a round loaf of bread and two eggs, sitting on a nest of folded quilts.

"Hurry," she whispered to Kitty, carefully gathering up the sack. "We're going back! We've got what we need."

"You said I had to come along to help you carry things," complained Kitty, as she lagged down the street behind Una, scuffing her feet. "Why can't I carry anything?"

Kitty was still whining when what Una dreaded most of all took the form and became reality. Two soldiers in Nazi uniforms stepped out of the restaurant. One had a toothpick in his mouth. The men's eyes fell with disdain and suspicion on the ragged, disheveled woman and her grandchild. Still out of earshot, the soldiers spoke to one another and, readying their rifles, started to approach the two.

"Kitty, take my arm," whispered Una. "There are some soldiers coming. Walk faster and act normal."

"Gramma, I'm scared," whimpered Kitty loudly, dragging her heels even more and refusing to take Una's arm.

"Shhh," pleaded Una out of the side of her mouth.

Kitty's hysterics increased and Una stiffened, white-faced.

"I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared," the girl moaned. "They're going to shoot us! I know they are!"

The soldiers had already crossed the street and were getting closer. Desperately seeking a solution, suddenly and swiftly Una dropped the sack onto the road and slapped Kitty hard across the face, shouting loudly.

"Shut up, you goddamned little brat!" she yelled in a coarse voice.

Surprised, Kitty began to cry and scream in real terror. Una grabbed the girl's thin arm with one hand, and with the other slapped her on her face and bottom repeatedly and furiously, as the girl tried to duck away.

"Shut up, stupid. Shut up, shut up!" she cried, punctuating each slap with a shout. "Idiot!"

The soldiers grinned at one another and relaxed their hold on their rifles. Una continued to yell at Kitty and pommel her, scolding with a deliberate crescendo of severity and volume as the soldiers passed them.

"Don't you ever run away from home again, do you hear me? Look at you, running away without even wearing a jacket, stealing..."

"Gramma, I didn't..."

"Shut up!" screamed Una in a shrill voice. "Me leaving my work to chase after you in the cold in these ridiculous old clothes. This is humiliating! I should turn you over to these soldiers, right now-that's what I should do. Idiot! Don't you ever run away from home again!"

The soldiers, who were now behind them, guffawed. Una picked up the sack and grimly marched forward, shoving a stumbling, terrified Kitty in front of her.

"Hurry up. Wait 'till we get home. Then you're really gonna get it, you little crybaby!"

She moved faster, shoving her granddaughter down the sidewalk, a howling Kitty trotting ahead. Above the masquerade of Una's clenched jaw and scowl, her eyes brimmed with anguish. She prayed that the soldiers would turn onto a side street at the end of the block. When she finally had the nerve to look back, she saw that her prayer had been answered; the soldiers were gone. Even so, she kept up the charade until they were well into the fields. It was only when they were safely at the edge of the woods, near the spot where they had left their robes, that Una put down the sack and pulled Kitty to her. The girl's face was red and beginning to swell, and she was crying.

"Oh, my honey lamb, I'm so sorry," cried Una.

She held the girl tightly as the child sobbed in her arms, and rubbed her frail body with her hands moving in soft swirling circles, as if wishing she could erase the effects of her blows with her caresses.

After a few moments, Kitty drew back and looked up at her with moist eyes, sniffling.

"Gramma," she said, "don't feel bad."

"I tried not to hit you too hard, but I know it hurt," said Una, cupping Kitty's face tenderly. "Do you understand why I had to do that? Please, do you understand, Kitty?"

"The angels told me you had to pretend in front of the soldiers to save me," replied Kitty. "They told me you really do love me."


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