ILLUSTRATED by ALEX TUGGLE
Little Ania was a very unusual little girl. First of all, she started out looking different. She wasn’t bald like most babies. She was born with the hugest mop of wiry black hair that you can possibly imagine. There was, in fact, more hair than girl, which made her very unusual looking indeed.
And then there was her name. Ania. Said like An-ya. She was named after her Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother who had lived on the other side of the world. But no one understood this, and people were always saying her name wrong.
Right from when Ania was very little she started making all kinds of problems for her mother. “Ania!” said her mother over and over. “Why do you have to be so difficult! Why can’t you behave like a normal child?”
“But I don’t want to eat meat and fish and vegetables!” cried Little Ania at the dinner table.
And she would bring her little knees up to her chin and hide completely behind her huge mop of wiry black hair. Whenever Little Ania was cross, (which was most of the time) she would curl up and hide behind her hair.
And so Little Ania ate very little, and when she did it made her sick, so she was very, very little indeed. She was only ever half the size of other kids her age. But Little Ania didn’t care, because this made it easy for her to hide behind her hair.
At school the other kids teased her about her great, wiry mop of black hair. “I’m surprised you don’t have birds nesting in your hair!” they said to her.
On her way back from school birds really did land in Little Ania’s hair. And by the time she got home they really had started making themselves little nests.
Little Ania liked having birds in her hair. When she got home she would try to sneak past her mother and run up to her room without being seen. But her mother always managed to catch her before she made it up the stairs.
“Ania!” cried her mother most every day. “Take that bird out of your hair! Honestly, why can’t you behave like a normal child?”
After she had taken the bird out of Little Ania’s hair her mother gave her dolls to play with. “Please, Ania, can’t you try to play with dolls like a normal little girl?”
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” said Little Ania.
“I HATE DOLLS!”
And she would rip them all up, and throw their little legs and arms and heads all over the room.
Not knowing what else to do her mother often put her to bed early. But Little Ania never really slept.
“GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…” she said all night long.
“Ania!” her mother would cry. “Stop growling and go to sleep!”
“But I hate this bed!”
“Please stop being so absurd!” said her mother. “All little girls sleep in beds! Will you never learn to behave like a normal child?”
But Little Ania never learned to behave like a normal child. She was so unhappy that she started to be sick a lot. By the time she was seven years old she was so sick that she ended up in the hospital.
In the hospital none of the nurses or doctors could figure out what was wrong. They tried feeding her lots of fish, meat, and vegetables and gave her the softest bed in the hospital and lots of dolls to play with. But Little Ania just hid herself behind her hair and said:
“gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…” and got sicker and sicker.
“I’ve tried everything to try and make her a normal, healthy little girl!” sobbed her mother. And she was inconsolable.
Little Ania’s little growl got softer and softer, until it could barely be heard. All the doctors and nurses were afraid that she was going to die.
Then, one night, someone spoke to her.
“Little Ania,” the voice said, “why are you so unhappy?”
It was late in the middle of the night and Little Ania was surprised. She had thought that she was alone. It was a strange voice, like a whisper, but full of music.
“Because I don’t like eating meat, fish and vegetables and I don’t like playing with dolls and I hate sleeping in beds!” she cried with the last of her strength. “I’m never going to be a normal little girl so I’m just going to die now.”
“Well, what would you like to eat?” asked the voice.
Little Ania had never been asked this question before. She pushed her hair away from her face and looked into the darkness of the hospital room. In the bed next to the window there was an Old Man. At least she assumed it was an Old Man, though it was the strangest looking Old Man she had ever seen. He was pulling up the bed sheet with both hands to just under his nose, so that all she could see was his hands, the top part of his head, and two very pointy little ears. His skin was very yellow, not yellow like skin but yellow like the sun. He looked very skinny and his yellow skin was very, very wrinkly. Ania thought that maybe he looked so odd because he was very sick like her.
“Well…” said Ania, in answer to his question. She thought for a moment, then she said: “I would like to eat… that lampshade.”
“Maybe you should then,” said the strange Old Man.
“OK,” said Little Ania. “I will.”
And she ate up the lampshade.
“MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” she said. “That was delicious!”
“What else would you like to eat?” asked the Old Man.
“I would like to eat……. that flower pot.”
“Maybe you should then,” said the Old Man.
“OK,” said Little Ania. “I will.”
And she ate up the flower pot. “MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” said Little Ania. “I’m nice and full now.”
And she patted her stomach.
But she still looked very unhappy.
“What’s the matter now, Little Ania?” asked the Old Man.
“I hate this stupid bed!”
“Well, where would you like to sleep?”
No one had ever asked her this question before either.
Little Ania thought for a moment. Then she said: “I would like to sleep……. under the bed. With no covers or pillows or anything.”
“Maybe you should then.”
“OK,” said Little Ania. “I will.”
And Little Ania climbed under the bed, with no covers or pillows or anything. “AAAAHHHHH!!!! This is more like it!”
“I’ll wake you up before the nurses or doctors come in,” said the Old Man. “That way no one will ever know.”
“OK,” said Little Ania. “Thank you.” And she was soon fast asleep.
In the morning the Old Man woke her up before any of the doctors or nurses came in. They arrived to find Little Ania sitting up in her bed. She wasn’t growling and she wasn’t hiding behind her great mop of wiry black hair. She looked better.
“It’s a miracle!” cried one of the nurses.
“Not a miracle,” corrected one of the doctors. “It’s the benefits of modern medicine.”
“But where did the lampshade and flower pot go?” someone asked.
“Little Ania,” said one of the doctors, “you mustn’t steal the lampshades and flower pots.” This made no sense, of course, as there was nowhere in the hospital room where she could have put a stolen lampshade or flower pot. But as there was no other reasonable explanation for the disappearance of the lampshade and the flower pot, the doctors and nurses left it at that.
“Nurse Price,” said one of the doctors. “Make sure the custodian brings in another flower pot and lampshade before Ania’s bedtime.”
And then they all left.
“Hee hee!” said Little Ania.
A little while later Nurse Price came in with Ania’s breakfast. Little Ania stared down at her food. She looked over at the Old Man, who winked at her.
“What’s the matter?” asked the nurse. “I thought you were getting better.”
“I am…” said Little Ania. “But you see…. I don’t like eating in front of other people. Yesterday I hid my food under my pillow until after you left. Then I ate it all up. That’s why I’m better.”
“I see…” said the nurse. “Well, it’s against the rules, but OK. If that’s what will make you better. But don’t tell anyone.” On her way out the door the nurse winked at her.
“Hee hee!” said the Old Man after the nurse had left. “That was very clever.”
“Thank you,” said Little Ania. The Old Man reached over with his skinny yellow arm, took the tray of food and dumped it out the window. Ania had never seen such a long skinny arm in her life.
That evening the custodian brought a new lampshade and flower pot and Nurse Price brought Little Ania some dolls.
“Since you’re feeling better, I thought you might like some dolls to play with,” said the nurse.
“Thank you,” said Little Ania, clenching her teeth. She knew the nurse was trying to be nice. But as soon as the nurse left:
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” said Little Ania.
“I HATE DOLLS!”
And she ripped them all up and threw their little legs and arms and heads all over the room. “Hee hee!” said Little Ania. “I haven’t done that in a while.”
But then she started to look unhappy again.
“What’s the matter now, Little Ania?” asked the Old Man.
“Why does everyone want me to play with dolls? I hate playing with dolls!” And she started to growl.
“Well,” said the Old Man, “what would you like to do?”
Little Ania stopped growling. She thought for a moment, then she said: “I would like to… ride around on a broomstick.”
“Maybe you should then,” said the Old Man.
“OK,” said Little Ania, and she looked about the room. “But there’s no broomstick in this stupid hospital room!”
And she hid behind her hair.
“I just happen to have one,” said the strange Old Man. He pulled out a broomstick from under his sheet. With his long, skinny yellow arm, he handed it to Little Ania.
“Hooorrraayyyyy!!!!” she cried, and jumped out of bed. “Come on you stupid broomstick! Fly!”
“Do you know how to fly around on a broomstick?” asked the Old Man.
“My mother would never let me try,” said Little Ania, and she started to look very cross.
“Try this,” said the Old Man. “Try saying:
Dolls are fine for some little girls, but if a bit unusual you be, hop on a broomstick and fly around, cause it’s the only way for some little girls, yippee!“
“OK,” said Little Ania. She said the funny little rhyme. Nothing happened. She said it a second time. Still nothing happened. She said it a third time and was about to give up when
She started flying all about the room.
“Hah! Hah! Hah!” she said. She flew up to the strange Old Man and gave him a hug and a kiss on the forehead.
“Thank you,” she said. “But… why have you been so nice to me? You don’t even know me. And how did you know how to make the broomstick fly?”
“I knew your Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother who had lived on the other side of the world. She’s the one who taught it to me.”
“You are very old then! No wonder you look so funny!”
The Old Man laughed. Little Ania noticed that his teeth were as pointy as his ears. “Sorry,” said Little Ania, thinking that she had been terribly rude.
“I wouldn’t want to look any other way,” he said, climbing out of bed.
Little Ania gasped. His whole body was the same bright yellow, and he seemed to have no flesh whatsoever, so that when he turned sideways he nearly disappeared.
“I’ve had enough of this hospital room,” he said, opening the window. “Shall we fly about out in the night a bit?”
“OK,” said Little Ania, and they flew out the window and into the night.
The strange Old Man taught Ania how to fly all about the night without being seen. He showed her how to land on the rooftops of sleeping houses, and how to get up to all kinds of harmless mischief, like making all the dogs in a neighborhood start barking all at once, or people who had been nasty to each other bump their heads on doors.
He also showed her some nice things to do. He showed her how to lure people together that were going to fall in love. And he showed her how to fly into open bedroom windows, to take away the nightmares of sleeping children.
Little Ania enjoyed all this very much. But after a while she started to look sad. “What’s the matter, Little Ania?” asked the Old Man.
“I miss my mother.”
“Well, maybe you should go see her.”
“But… what will she think of me, eating up lampshades and flower pots, sleeping under the bed with no covers or pillows or anything, and flying all about the night on a broomstick?”
“I think she will just be glad you’re better.”
The Old Man had been right about everything so far, so she decided to take his advice. And, after all, what else could she do?
So they flew together to her mother’s bedroom window. “I have to leave you now,” said the Old Man.
“But…” Little Ania began to protest. She wanted him to help her get up her courage to face her mother.
“I’ll see you again,” was all he said. And he was gone.
The window was open, and Ania could see her mother, by the lights of the neighborhood- sleeping under the bed! And with no covers or pillows or anything!
Suddenly her mother woke up and climbed out from under the bed. She turned on the light, so that although Little Ania was hovering right in front of her window, her mother couldn’t see her. Her mother sat on her bed and looked very sad. Little Ania felt sorry for her.
“I guess I will finally have to tell her,” her mother said to herself. “Poor little girl! It only gets harder and harder to be unusual in this world! I wish for her sake that she could have learned to be a normal little girl. But I can’t let her get any sicker. If the hospital can’t make her better then there’s no other way. But at least I’ll eat something first, to get up my courage to face my daughter!”
She opened up a tall closet door. Inside was chock full of lampshades and flower pots. Her mother ate up two lampshades and two flower pots, then got on her broomstick. She flew towards the window- and came face to face with Little Ania.
Mother and daughter looked at each other. They stayed this way for a long time.
Finally, they hugged one another and started to cry. They cried and they cried and they cried. They had seven years of crying to do.
When they were finally done crying they looked at each other again. And they started to laugh. They laughed and they laughed and they laughed.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” asked Little Ania.
“Because I didn’t want you to grow up feeling so unusual and different from everyone else!”
“But I’m not different from everyone else. I’m like you. And my Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother who had lived on the other side of the world. And that funny Old Man. You should have seen him mother. He had yellow skin like the sun and….”
“Pointy ears and pointy teeth and was so skinny that when he turned sideways he nearly disappeared?” her mother finished for her.
“How did you know?”
“Zbyszek!” said her mother. “I should have known.”
“You know him!” cried Little Ania, delighted.
“Come inside and let me show you something.”
Mother and daughter flew inside. Ania sat on her mother’s bed while her mother retrieved an album from her top dresser drawer.
“These are drawings someone made of your Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” said Little Ania when she saw the first picture. “She has birds in her hair!”
And indeed, in her great mop of wiry black hair there was a bird, in a nest, with three little baby birds. In the next picture her Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother was stirring a big pot.
The liquid inside was the color of the sun and there was a little head starting to form in the goop.
“Zbyszek. Your Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandmother made him to look after her daughters and her daughters’ daughters after she was gone.”
After they had looked at a few more pictures her mother put the album away.
“We can look at some more later. How about we fly about in the night for a bit?”
“Can we make all the dogs in a neighbourhood bark all at once and people who have been nasty to each other bump their heads and lure people together who are going to fall in love and take away the nightmares of sleeping children?” asked Little Ania.
“Of course,” said her mother. “And much much more besides.”
“OK,” said Little Ania.
And they flew out the window and into the night. As soon as they did a bird landed in Little Ania’s hair.
“Hah hah hah!” said Little Ania.
“Oh alright,” sighed her mother. So mother and daughter flew all about the night together, making dogs bark and people who had been nasty bump their heads and lovers find each other and taking children’s nightmares away, and much much more besides…
And all the while the bird started to make itself a little nest in Little Ania’s great, wiry mop of black hair.
- Total nr. of readings: 10,533 Copyright © The author  All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.
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