Father Bogdan began to grow ill after that. They were travelling more slowly than they had been and Svetlana was wary of anyone of large width. She had grown so accustomed to Father Bogdan and herself, however, that this seemed to be everyone. She slept fitfully, her nights interspersed with waking and screaming and Father Bogdan's comforting embrace. Travelling became the norm, as did visiting villages, although Svetlana never got too close or talked too much. They began to pass into warmer lands and suddenly, Svetlana found herself confronted with a mountain.
"We are to go up there?"
"All the way up?"
"No. We are not here to consult with God, we are here on a visitation."
"People live up there?"
"Of course, child. People live everywhere. We are an adaptive species. God created us that way."
"Would we be able to run down there?" She was quiet, lost on thought. Father Bogdan looked at her, knowing she was recalling that night. His voice was gentle.
"We shan't need to. These people are very dear friends of mine." Her face turned to his, a wide smile across it.
"That's comforting, I can't wait to meet them." The smile didn't meet her eyes.
"Come, the walk is arduous and chatter must be minimal."
The walk was indeed arduous. Svetlana found herself constantly out of breath. As they went on, she began to notice small things. A bee landing on a flower. A trickling stream, carving its path down the mountainside. A sheer precipice that made her head spin. God had put beauty in the world, a beauty she hadn't seen since that night. The air felt fresher, clearer. The sun looked brighter. Colours seemed more vivid. Or perhaps it was that she had just begun to notice them. She felt freer suddenly, as though she could pretend that a demon did not haunt her.
She hadn't thought of her in so long, had ignored her when she came, talked instead to Father Bogdan or anyone near. That night, the demon had been there. She had whispered to stay away from the priest. She had shouted to warn her. And by the edges of the fire, she had screamed at her to run. Perhaps she was not a demon. No, this is how she tricked people! She probably corrupted the priest and made him grab at Svetlana so she could save her and claim goodness. No, she would banish all thought of the demon from her mind. She would not give in now, not after she had been through so much. She must remember her mama's words. Oh, her mama. How long ago that was, how innocent and carefree she had been. It takes darkness to see the light for what it truly is.
"Svetlana, look." Father Bogdan halted, pointing in front of him.
"What is it Father? Oh..." In front of them sat a gorgeous valley, well concealed by the sloping path. Lush green grass waved lazily in the breeze, as a single cottage puffed out smoke to the sound of children laughing. "Is this Eden?" He laughed.
"No, child, though I imagine Eden would be similar. This is the Valley of Paradise."
"I can see why it was called that."
"Come, I would like you to meet someone."
Svetlana's eyes were wide with wonder as she wandered through the valley, following Father Bogdan. It was those eyes that defined her first encounter with the woman who would change her life. A basket rolled at Svetlana's feet. She picked it up, checking the contents. Inside were underclothes. Startled, she dropped them to the sound of tinkling laughter. A few feet away stood a broad woman, with long, light brown hair in a braid over her shoulder and twinkling hazel eyes. She had dimples in her cheeks and creases around her eyes from smiling. She spoke some words in a strange language, which Father Bogdan returned. Confused, Svetlana hesitantly repeated them. The woman laughed.
"This is Aloisa. She's an old friend." He then spoke to Aloisa in the strange language, mentioning Svetlana's name.
"Privet, Svetlana," Aloisa greeted.
"Privet." After a few minutes of standing and waiting, Svetlana realised that they were going to keep talking. She moved away quietly, not wanting to disturb them. They seemed so pleased to see each other.
A freckled boy with the hair colour of Aloisa gazed up at her from the potatoes he was planting.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean."
"Bist du OK?"
"I can't understand you, can you not understand me?"
"Du sprichst kein Deutsch."
"You don't speak Russian."
"Mutti, Mutti, wer ist das?"
"Bauer, sie ist die Svetlana." Aloisa called over. "Sei nett!"
"Sie spricht kein Deutsch."
"Lächelst!" The boy turned to her, smiling awkwardly. She gestured to herself, speaking as she did, hoping he would understand.
"I am Svetlana. Who are you?" After a few moments, he responded.
"Ich heiße Bauer."
"I am eleven years old. How old are you?"
"Ich bin elf Jahre alt." He held up ten fingers and flashed another, as she had done. She grinned. Hesitantly, he returned the smile. "Can I help?" She motioned to the potatoes. He nodded. They worked in silence, enjoying the routine of digging and filling, digging and filling. They used their hands rather than tools and the moist soil was pleasant to the touch. After they had done a few rows, Bauer spoke, though quiet.
"Du bist nett." He said, before sneezing.
"Ja, Gesundheit." They flashed each other little smiles and Svetlana couldn't help but feel that they had gotten closer.