What was the difference the between a legal or illegal miscarriage or abortion? I wasn’t sure. My parents rarely spoke about politics. I understood more from arctic tundra than I understood from newspaper headlines. These things, these politicians, did not concern me. I felt politics was something reserved for old, angry men in penguin coats–since those were the only ones I saw on TV. I don’t think I ever heard women speaking about politics; that conversation always felt somehow exclusive. But standing next to Baba, I could feel her anger. It filled up the entire room, all the way up to the ceiling, and then came flooding into me.
The woman, who must have been grandmother’s friend, sat beside her, alternatively saying, “It’ll be okay,” and, “we’ll get through this.”
There was a sudden knock on the door. I opened it to find a newspaper on the doorstep, and a girl, walking away quickly. Her long, soot-black hair made waves as she walked back to her bicycle, which lay on the side of the dirt road, on a patch of dandelions. The girl picked up her bike, turned around, and looked me straight in the eye, her face sharp and worried.
“Thanks!” I called after her.
She shrugged, then called back: “I’m Hana.”
I wanted to tell her my name, talk to her before she rode away, but she was already gone. I picked up the newspaper and there it was, in thick black letters, across the front page: “Polish Government to Enslave Women”
* * *
Baba led something she called a consciousness-raising circle. She’d read about it in a magazine once, the consciousness raising circles that started in the U.S. in the late 60s. She always wanted to help women, and since grandpa was mute she missed having someone to talk to. Baba told me the idea cemented when she saw Ewa, the woman who was at the house that morning, at the marketplace wearing sunglasses. It was an overcast day, the sky opaque and dim. Ewa was reaching to buy a bag of plums, she lowered her sunglasses to inspect the quality of the fruit, and there were two bruises, blue and purple like the plums; one on each of her cheekbones.
Baba held the consciousness raising circle every two weeks. Women from all over the village would come, she’d serve tea alongside her famous blackberry cakes, and they’d talk.
“About what?” I asked.
“About everything, about the things that you cannot talk about anywhere else,” Baba smiled.
“Men, magic, violence, our power, our oppression, our day to day lives– anything and everything. Come tonight and you’ll see.”
I picked up the newspaper and there it was, in thick black letters, across the front page: “Polish Government to Enslave Women”
Magic? That sounded strange, to say the least. I didn’t understand why women would need to talk about any of those things–or why they couldn’t do it over the phone. But at least something was happening in this dull country. I wanted to know what this consciousness business was about, and I was interested enough to find out.
In the evening the kitchen filled with the scent of rising dough and sugared blackberries. My grandpa arranged the chairs into a circle in the middle of the main room. Then he went off into their bedroom to nap, as he usually did during these meetings. The sun set out the kitchen window and the heat of the day gave way to a nice coolness. Ewa arrived first. She lit seven tall candles in the center of the room, then arranged a half circle of crystal stones, each a different color. In the middle, she placed a long pheasant feather.
“For good energy,” she said.
This was only getting weirder. Was this the source of the rumors in the village– about my grandmother being a witch? Of course, magic wasn’t real. But could my grandmother be silly enough to believe it? I never believed in any of this stuff, feathers or crystals, nor did my parents. None of it was scientifically proven. Although, I remember my mother once saying that crystal oscillators were used in various technological devices–to do what I wasn’t sure.
Minutes later, women arrived. Baba instructed me to sit next to her as a circle formed.
“Welcome everyone, as you can see, my granddaughter, Ada, is joining us tonight,” Baba paused and the women around the circle smiled at me brightly. “I’m sure you all have heard the news. Today is a difficult day. But we’ll come together and fight for a way to live in dignity. We will do what women have always done: go on.”
The women around me nodded, some closed their eyes, exhaling. I felt suddenly conscious of my body, my face. Did my suspicion show on my face? Should I be feeling a certain way? I couldn’t tell, which only made me more self-conscious.
“But first thing’s first. Let’s do our rounds. And since it’s Ada’s first circle, please introduce yourself as well.”
The women went around the circle, each introducing herself, saying a thing or two about herself, then describing how her day was. The way these women spoke was different than I’ve ever heard before. They spoke about being tired, depressed; they spoke about menstruation and menopause, about being busy taking care of their children, their husbands. Almost every woman mentioned the news. Some said they had daughters, that they spent their morning crying, that this couldn’t be happening.