Tatiana was born on a miserable night, into miserable conditions, on the day her mother died. To say it was a dark and stormy night would be too generous. It was another gray cold wet twilight in a long series of grey, cold wet twilights. It was the kind of cold that never freezes into pretty ice patterns, but only chills you to the very bone. The kind of weather that makes a body long for warm socks, a hot fire, and a nice cup of tea. Only, the trash sorter’s family had none of these things. The trash sorter lived in a cement walled cubby covered by a rusted and corrugated tin roof, which leaked pitifully.
The mother labored all day and all night and another day again on a pallet on the dirt floor, while the Trash Sorter stood helplessly over her, shielding her from the leaky roof. In his heart he thought “Perhaps it would be better if the child did not live, to be born into a world such as this, to starve with us in these conditions.” He never said the words out loud, but every now and then a tear slipped from his eye as he watched his dear wife’s suffering. Truly she was his only comfort, and she moved further and further away from him, into the liminal space between worlds, into the place when finally, her pain would end. Oh that the child would be taken too!
It was then that the dark woman in bright clothes entered their lives. She stood silently at the door of their hovel. The Trash Sorter did not know how long, but finally, he looked up and noticed her.
“May I enter your home?” she asked in a low, soothing voice.
“If you would want to come to such a place as this, you are welcome,” answered the man.
She stepped through the doorway, and removed a scarlet shawl from her turbaned head. Instantly the room felt a little warmer and brighter somehow. The woman knelt next to the man’s wife.
“I am Hope. Thank you for offering me shelter here. I will do what I can for you while I am here.”
“Can you save her?” the man pleaded
“No, but I can ease the way a bit,” she said, dipping the edge on her shawl into a puddle of water and mopping the wife’s brow.
The woman stroked the wife’s head with the damp cloth, humming a low, soulful melody. In the moments that followed, a child wailed, and the weary mother slipped into the next world.
Hope unwrapped the colorful turban from around her head and swaddled the child in it. She held out the girl baby to its father.
The trash sorter turned away. “What sort of life will she have? What can I give her? Her mother is dead, I cannot even get her milk.
Hope surveyed her surroundings. She closed her eyes, deep in thought. In the meantime, the Trash Sorter left to bury his wife. When he returned he found Hope with the infant to her breast. She did not speak again, but rocked and nursed the infant for the next three weeks, and the child grew remarkably the entire time.
When the child reached the size of a four year old, Hope put her down and spoke her final words to the man “I have given Tatiana what I could. You do the best you can to care for her. It will be enough”. With that, she wrapped the turban back around her braids, put the shawl over her head, and walked out into another grey twilight.
“All I have is hers, ” the man swore.
The Trash Sorter looked down at the naked child. She had doe wide eyes and a cherub faced haloed in brown ringlets. She shivered. He sprung into action, sorting through a pile of discarded rags he’d gathered to sell to the textile merchant. He found a yellowed undershirt shirt that hung to the girls knees and a little apron with a pocket that he tied over it. He then offered the wide eyed child the rest of the vegetable soup he’d made of that day’s finds. It was little more than three half rotted carrots and a bit of onion in a thin broth, but the child smiled, drank the broth, and stuck one of the mushy carrots into her pocket. With that, she was out the door.
The next morning, Tatianna returned without a word. In her arms she held a half dead chicken. It was scrawny and starved, and one of its wings had been torn by a beast. Tatianna patiently fed it bits of carrot, and bandaged its wounds from her father’s rag pile.
The Trash Sorter ought to have scolded her, he knew. She needed the food more than that scrawny bird, and the bandages she tore came from the better of his finds. Those rags represented hours and hours of collecting, and if there were enough, might bring in some money for grain or even a bit of meat. Instead, the piles of things he brought inside to stay dry and sell often became fodder for one or another of his daughters projects.
And then there were the holes. The child was forever digging . Daily the trash sorter tripped over another of her holes. And sometimes, sometimes the rotten vegetables he collected went missing, and they both went without supper. The child lost the cherub face Hope left her with and began to grow gaunt. Still the Trash Sorter could not scold her. He tried. He did. But when she looked up at him with those doe eyes, it was as if she were a fairy princess, and he her loyal subject.
No. The final straw was not until the entire rag pile went missing, on the day he was due to bring it to Giuseppe, the textile merchant. They had not eaten in several days, as his vegetables disappeared into the gullet of that cursed chicken. Now this!
He screamed at the child, “What have you done? Do you want to starve? Enough with these games!”
The girl spoke for the first time. “My Father, I do not understand your anger. I have only used what was mine.”
She took him by the hand and lead him outside.
“I’ve used a few of my gowns to build a holding for our subjects, “she said. At the rear of their hovel was a stick fence, woven with cloth. Inside the fence, in a colorful barrel turned on its side, the chicken sheltered three little chicks beneath its wings.
“I’ve used the scraps from our feasts to plant gardens on the roof.” She pointed to a rope ladder leading to the top of their hovel. The trash sorter climbed. He finally got the answer to the many holes the child dug, as he surveyed small, neat rows of carrots and potatoes, and lettuce.
And from that point on, the Trash Sorter trusted his child’s strange way of doing things. As time went on, they had eggs, and vegetables, and even bread, and he became a man of many friends, known for wealth in poverty and for his hospitable generosity. And he knew that whatever he gave his daughter, it was always enough.