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  • London, 1988

    You have to understand. The last months with her mother changed Zofia. Some would have said they had unhinged her. She went from a woman forged from patience, gentleness and simplicity, to someone with a seething anger and a new flash in her eye.

    She’d just turned fifty-three, had no husband, no children, and took care of her elderly mother, Agata, in the traditional way—until her death. The old woman wasn’t a burden to Zofia. Taking care of her was an honour; she loved Agata dearly.

    Change, when it came, swept over Zofia like a fuel. It ignited her life.

    * * *

    Agata’s middle-aged daughter fluffed and fussed pillows and blankets, gently raising her upright in the bed. Zofia then went off to the kitchen, two flights down, to get chicken broth and tea for her lunch.

    Agata’s large wood framed bed took up a good portion of the floor space in the small attic room. What she liked most about the room were the three knee-high windows overlooking the Shoreditch area of East London. She’d lived in this narrow three-story house for going on thirty years and still loved the noise emanating from the neighbourhood below. As she lay there, week after week, when her daughter went out to her job, she got to know and anticipate the comings and goings of her neighbours, the voices of their children and she even got to know the barks of the neighbourhood dogs. As the clock ticked, she knew when her daughter came and when she left. Agata’s body was failing but her mind and senses have taken on a razor-edged clarity.

    Noticing things more intensely, the quality of the light in the room, the taste of food her daughter brought her, even the way Zofia moved about the room, with an efficiency and calmness Agata recognized as both her own as well as her mother’s before her, Agata accepted as a sign of coming death.

    It’s interesting, Agata thought, as she watched her daughter fuss, how we can take on other parts of the people we are related to, not simply their looks but mannerisms too. Like the certain intonation or speech patterns siblings seem to share, or the way a knife is held to peel adopted directly from a grandmother, or the small matter-of-fact practical movements of compassion given by a daughter—all inherited, ancestral ticks.

    Agata, in her clarity, was also forming how to say what she need to say to Zofia, a story she still needed to tell her daughter, to set history straight, in essentially what Agata believed to be her final few weeks of life.
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