I didn’t see her all week, so when I finally ran into her at the Sunday market I had to talk to her. Baba sent me to buy a few things for a soup she was making; leeks peeked out of the plastic bags that weighed down my arms. I called out to her across the crowd.
Hana smiled and gestured for me to come over. She was buying cherries, whole bags of them.
“Why so many? Are you starting an orchard?”
“Ha-ha. No. I’m making jam.”
“Jam? You know how to make jam?”
She nodded, “it’s not like it’s hard. If you want I’ll show you,” she picked up her bicycle.
“Okay, hop on. You can ride in the front.”
“Yes… unless you have somewhere to be?” Hana asked sarcastically.
I shook my head.
After a few awkward shuffles, I managed to hop onto the handlebars and we rode away. Hana pedaled frantically through the village, the breeze felt nice in the morning heat. From time to time, I felt her face against my arm, peering over at the road. We sped towards a dilapidated brick building, its balcony left without railing, forever unfinished. Hana stopped before the front door. I hopped off the bike.
“I like your house,” I said.
“You don’t have to say that. It’s a shit hole.” Hana grabbed her bags of cherries and walked into the house. I followed.
Inside everything was dark, there were empty cups and piles of dirty dishes on tables, crumpled bags of chips, and coffee spills on the couch. It looked as though the house had been ransacked. We walked to the kitchen, the window was open, most of the counters filled with empty jars, waiting for jam.
“First you boil them with sugar and apple juice,” Hana moved about the cluttered kitchen effortlessly. Her hands became alive–like two small doves–rinsing cherries, opening and closing a cookbook, measuring out white sugar with her palm. “Okay, after it boils you can stir it.”
I took the wooden spoon from her hand and did as told. There are some people who inspire a sense of authority without fear, Hana was one of those people.
“There’s that meeting I told you about tomorrow, if you’d like to come?” I said, making my voice as casual as I could.
“The consciousness raising at my grandmother’s house, I told you–”
“Oh, you mean the witch circle?” Hana smiled.
“It’s more of a political group.”
“Okay, tell me. What sort of politics do you discuss.”
“Well, you know the abortion ban that the government is trying to pass?”
“I heard of it, yes.”
“Well, it’s horrible, and it will hurt women, and we have to do something about it.”
Hana took the wooden spoon from my hand and stirred, much faster than I did.
At once conversations erupted around me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Hana. About her life, which was so completely different from mine, with the burden of an alcoholic father, the chores, the dust, the eternally unfinished balcony.
“But what can be done about it? What can you or your grandmother change?”
I wanted to give her a quick response, to convince her that the meetings were important, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I never thought about it, just sort of assumed my grandmother could do anything she set her mind to.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but it seems silly to me. That’s all.” She said, not looking away from the cherries sizzling in the pot.
A stone dropped in my stomach: now she was never going to come.
Suddenly, a door slammed. A slurred male voice broke into the house: “Hanaaa!”
“Oh shit. It’s my dad, you should go.” Hana picked up my bag of leeks and shoved it into my stomach. That’s when her father walked into the kitchen. He was tall, slouching, and bobbing his head like one of those toy dogs you put in the back of the car. In his hand was a half empty bottom of vodka. He reeked of it.
He saw me standing there and yelled: “Heeey! Girlss!”
I felt instantly uncomfortable, a bolt of electricity over my skin.
“Who’s the friend Hana? She’s pretty, why don’t you introduce us?” Her father moved closer, slurring his words, bubbles of spit formed in his mouth.
Hana took me by the arm and pushed me past her father and out the kitchen door, “She was just about to leave.”
“Come on Hana, why are you always such a–” He called after us. I couldn’t hear the end of the sentence. Hana had already slammed the door behind me.
* * *
The following day, I hadn’t seen or heard anything from her. I was left with the uncomfortable image of her drunk father. Hana had never told me anything about her family, she never mentioned her mother, so I assumed there wasn’t one. I never imagined where she lived, or how she lived. Turns out, she had reasons to keep it from me.
In the evening, the consciousness raising circle gathered once again. Baba had something special planned, she told me earlier, a surprise.
“So, what is it? The surprise?” Ewa turned to my grandmother, slightly impatient.
“Black Protest,” Baba announced, as though we were all meant to understand what that meant. “I read in the papers that there are protests being organized in all the major cities. They are being called ‘Black Protests’ to mourn the death of women’s rights,” Baba continued, “I think we should organize one in the nearest city, in Warka.”
At once conversations erupted around me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Hana. About her life, which was so completely different from mine, with the burden of an alcoholic father, the chores, the dust, the eternally unfinished balcony. All these things were foreign to me. I suddenly felt as though I lived in a different world, so far away from the countryside, so far away from Hana.
“How will we get there?” someone asked, and I zoned back into the conversation. The discussion of a protest felt stupid after what Hana said. Maybe she was right: it was silly and pointless.
I raised my hand.
“You don’t need to raise your hand here, honey, just speak,” Ewa smiled.
“Okay. Well, what’s the point of the protest? What will it change?”
“It can change a lot of things. The government can see us, for one. They can see public manifestation of disagreement, outrage, and resistance, I think it’s a good idea,” Ewa replied.
“When someone, especially someone who will never get pregnant, takes your rights away, you fight back. We can’t just disagree in silence, we can’t afford that. We owe each other more than that,” Baba said.
“So what? We’ll just walk into the streets of Warka and everything will change?” I asked, this time sarcastically.
“We will wear black, we will make signs, we will occupy public space, we will be loud and unapologetic.” Baba said, “Whether anything changes, we won’t know unless we try.”
I wanted to object further, but all my arguments had run out. Maybe Baba was right after all: you don’t know unless you try. So, when Baba took out a sheet of paper and asked for volunteers for the different jobs, I agreed to paint the signs. I also decided I’d try to talk to Hana.
* * *