A companion story to Ghosts
If she hadn't heard the children getting restless Alenka was sure she could have slept longer to make up for the time she had lost while up with Luka the night before. Careful, so as not to wake her still sleeping husband she eased from under the covers and rose.
"Morning, Mama." Juraj looked away from the television program he was watching, his contribution to keeping his smaller sister occupied until their parents awoke.
"Good morning." Alenka drew the covers back across Luka's shoulder as he turned in his sleep, rolling into the warmth of the mattress she had left behind.
"Morning, Mama." Maja added her greeting to her brother's though slightly delayed as she seemed more caught up by the program then he was.
"Good morning, Beba." Alenka smiled to the two then walked over to where they sat. "What are you watching?"
Juraj found himself shrugging slightly, a gesture he knew his mother was not always thrilled to see. "We missed the beginning...I'm not sure, but it's a cartoon so I thought it would be okay for Maja."
"That's fine, why don't you both start getting dressed, try and be quiet though, I want to let Tata sleep a little longer." Alenka had already started for the closet, and as she reached it she withdrew the dress she had packed for Maja to wear. When she had laid it out on the children's bed she returned to take her own dress out as well. "Maja...time to get dressed now..." She found herself repeating the request as she withdrew the rest of her daughter's clothes from the small dresser.
"But, Mama...I want to watch this..." The small girl's voice held the words longer then necessary as she remained where she was.
"Maja." Alenka let her eyes settle firmly on her daughter. "It's time for you to get dressed and if you wake Tata before you finish..." She left the rest unspoken, the words unneeded as the child had already begun to rise.
"Do I have to wear my church dress?" She fingered the fabric as she reached it, then lifted her eyes to her mother.
"Yes, you do. We talked about this already."
"Yeah...I even have to wear my tie..." Juraj added his words helpfully as he slipped his dress shirt on in place of the t-shirt he had been wearing.
"Juraj...take you clothes in the bathroom to finish would you please." Alenka made the request quietly, knowing that if he persisted the conversation might become louder as Maja continued her protest of the dressier clothes.
"Sure, Mama." Scooping his slacks up, the ten-year old made his way for the bathroom and shut the door behind him as he entered.
"Why can't I wear my jeans?" Maja wasn't giving up and instead of starting to change she wrinkled her nose at the dress her mother had chosen.
"Because I said you were going to wear this." Alenka took a seat on the children's bed and extended her hand to her daughter. "Come here, Beba." Alenka found herself glancing to the other bed to assure herself that Luka hadn't yet woken due to the conversations. Seeing that he now lay fully on his stomach with a pillow pulled tightly to him reassured her and she once more brought her full attention back to their youngest child.
Neither Maja, nor Juraj were the type of children who threw tantrums, which wasn't to say they wouldn't engage in a good argument if they thought they stood a chance of winning. As her mother had sat Maja had known that there was little chance this argument was going to turn out to her benefit and so it was with some reluctance that she walked over and accepted her mother's offer of the seat on her lap.
"What's going on?" Alenka had lowered her voice with the question. "You knew we had picked this dress." She paused to see if her daughter would answer as she settled herself.
"I just don't want to wear it now..." Maja didn't know how to explain that it wasn't really the dress she didn't want to wear, but the meaning behind wearing the dress that she was finding difficult.
"Beba...what is it? You can tell me." Alenka knew her children too well to let the question go and as her daughter's face became more somber and her voice quieter she persisted. "You've never argued about dressing for church before."
"But we're not going to church..." Maja's answered touched on the deeper reason.
"No, we're going to the cemeteries...to see where Tata and my first families are buried." Alenka rubbed her hand across the small girl's back.
"Can't I stay here?" Maja leaned into her mother, letting her head come to rest on the woman's shoulder as the question came.
"I'm sorry, Beba...no. This is something Tata and I want to share with you and Juraj, something we need to do as a family...we talked about this, remember?" As she spoke Alenka continued to rub her back, hoping the gesture would somehow comfort her if words failed.
"Yes..." Maja hesitated, her fears rising again.
"What is it, Beba?" Alenka recognized the apprehension in her wavering response.
"You won't make us stay there too will you?" With the words finally out the small girl buried her face in her mother's shoulder.
"Maja...Beba..no..why would you think that?" Alenka found it next to impossible to conceal her shock and she looked quickly to where Luka slept unaware before forcing her eyes back to her daughter.
Maja was out of words to explain her fears and simply buried her face deeper into her mother's shoulder for comfort.
"Tata and I love you, Beba...what happened to our families before was because of the war, there is no way either of us would leave you." Alenka lifted her daughter so she could fully see her face. "This is so we can say good-bye...something neither of us have been able to really do before." If she had wanted to say more she was stopped by the bathroom door opening again and Juraj's appearance.
Turning to see her brother Maja swallowed the tears that had escaped and looked back at her mother. "Promise?" She asked the question quietly in confirmation.
"I promise, Beba...are you ready to get dressed now?" When she received a nod in response she kissed Maja then released her so she could get down before she rose herself. "Time to get dressed then..." Alenka offered the girl a smile as she gathered both their clothing then glanced to Juraj who had already returned to the television. "Try and keep it low, I'll wake Tata when we're dressed, okay?" She offered him a smile with the question.
"Okay." Juraj flicked his eyes from the show only long enough to respond and then looked back, prompting a deeper smile from his mother. If only it was all that simple...
to be continued...