With Maria gone from the village picnic grounds life suddenly seemed hollow and meaningless. The excitement and buzz in the lead up to Sundays had disappeared. People went listlessly through the motions of essential daily business. Life was grey and dull. Remorselessly one grey day moulded into the next grey Groundhog day.
How could the absence of a silly old scary stick scarecrow make such a huge impact on the whole community? My seven year old mind just didn’t understand. Yet I felt the loss just as keenly as everyone else.
I’ll never forget the day the village was woken up to the pealing of the Church bells. In the middle of the week. That never happened unless there was a major catastrophe or a fire.
In no time at all everyone in the village was gathered in the Town Square. Murmurings and mutterings filled the air as people tried to work out why the bells had been rung. No-one knew. Oh there were plenty of wild stories circulating around about what might be happening.
A war had started. We would all be evacuated into bomb shelters. A plague was on its way. Everyone had to be innoculated or we would all die a horrible, painful death. A great engulfing fire was wielding its way towards our village. It would be burnt to cinders. Those who survived would be homeless. Each successive rumour grew more gruesome and horrid as we stood waiting for someone to tell us what was happening.
My heart clamped tight in my chest. I fought the panic and the tears, clutching hard at my mother’s hand for reassurance and comfort. She was too distraught to notice my struggles in the midst of her own.
Then the great wooden doors to the Church swung open and the Town Mayor stepped out. Silence filled the square as we waited with baited breath. What words of doom would he cast into our midst? Would this be our last day ?
Harrumph, the Lord Mayor croaked, as he cleared his throat. Again. And again. People started fidgetting and shuffling their feet impatiently.
Citizens of this fair village, he bellowed in his loud voice, well you may wonder why the Church bells are pealing in the middle of the week. Let me assure you there is nothing to fear. The bells are ringing for joy. A great burden has been lifted from the shoulders of every man, woman and child!
The Lord Mayor was a rotund, important looking personage. Today he was dressed in his official Mayoral Robes, resplendant with great golden chains hanging around his neck, his shoulders draped in a deep red velvet cloak that hung to his ankles. On his head was perched a tricorn hat sporting a great big ostrich feather. In his hand he held the Staff of Office which he banged hard on the steps three times. He had a penchant for theatrics. Today he was in his finest form.
Once convinced he had our full, individed attention again, he droned on at great length about how difficult life had become since The Disappearance. Of course he was referring to Maria. People nodded their heads wishing he would get on with it. Everyone wanted to know what the good news was.
Finally, with his hands raised to the heavens, he paused dramatically. Then he said, I am sure you are eager to know what has happened to lift the heavy burden from our shoulders. What the good news is. What has caused the bells to peal mid week. Good Citizens of this fair village, it gives me great joy, great pleasure, great excitement to announce that MARIA HAS RETURNED! Yes, she who disappeared from our lives and left us devastated at her loss, has returned to us!!
There were gasps of wonder. The villagers couldn’t believe their ears. As one, led by the Mayor in his majestic clothes, we traipsed through the village to the picnic grounds. As we rounded the corner, we saw her. People clapped and shouted with joy, tears streaming down their faces.
In no time at all the picnic grounds were filled with hampers of food. Maria was back ! Halloween had returned to us. All was well again.
The mystery of how Maria appeared, disappeared and reappeared has never been solved. And you know what? No-one cares. She’s back and that’s all that matters.
© Raili Tanska
THE MORAL of the story about Maria is that life is a celebration of community, relationships and connections.
The background to the moral of this story