Frances C. Sky: Cousin Belka, the Egg, and the Hairs on My Head

To my great sorrow my hair was thin and wispy and I envied eight year old cousin Belka’s thick braids beyond anything else she possessed. It may have been a wife’s tale that great grandmother Anna had told me but I was impressed by the possibility that using birds’ egg yolks to wash my hair would make it thick and beautiful.
I was six then when I passed a building which had a birds nest in a corner of a window. Directly below lay a whole egg, possibly a robin’s. This treasure seemed heaven sent. Carefully I cradled it in my palm and proceeded almost on tip toes to get home as soon as possible and shampoo my hair so that by morning there would be the miraculous transformation I had heard mentioned. Just then a firm hand clamped itself on my shoulder and spun me around.
“What have you there, Fruma?” Belka demanded of me.
“A pebble, a stone you wouldn’t like it,” I stammered.
“Show me,” she ordered, digging her fingers into the fleshy part of my arm.
Squirming with pain, I opened my hand revealing the egg as though it was a priceless jewel.
“Hmm,” she mused, examining it. “I want it.”
I begged and pleaded that I might keep it. Meanwhile she extracted from me the reason for wanting it.
“Oho,” she leered, so you want to have hair like me. Nothing will help yours. It will help me keep what I have,” and with uncanny adroitness she snatched the bird’s egg from my stretched out hand and ran swiftly and expertly, as well she could in her sturdy shoes, over the cobbled roads to her home and doting mother. Behind her she left a teasing stream of triumphant chuckles to further the pain of frustration in a childish heart.
In pursuit, but not so swift, running as fast as my bare six year old feet could carry me, I followed. Perhaps my progress would have been better if hot, scalding tears hadn’t hampered my vision, and the lump in my throat had gone down. But there I was, breathless and sobbing, having arrived much too late to forestall the slamming and latching of the ponderous outer door. My small fists beat a futile tattoo on its unyielding surface. Suddenly, the door swung inward and I was face to face with my stern faced aunt.
“Stop that, you naughty girl,” she chided me. “Go away and let me get on with washing Belka’s hair.”
At this, I really burst into torrential sobs. Miraculously the lump which had interfered somewhat with my breathing slid down, as though washed down with the flood of my tears.
“Oh, please,” I pleaded, “make Belka give me back my egg. I want it to wash my hair. It took me so long to find one and great grandmother Anna says my hair will get thick and glossy if I shampoo my hair with it.”
“Humpf!” was the response to what I thought was heart rending appeal. “What good would it do your few stringy wisps of hair. Belka’s hair is thick, beautiful and the yolk of the egg will make it even more so.”
How true it all was. Realizing this and deeply hurt at the taunt I turned away from the derision in my aunt’s eyes and went home sad and beaten.
Many were the injustices and indignities heaped on my childish head but none of the bitterness stayed as did the episode of the stolen bird egg. This incident, I felt, I should never forget to my dying day. For years I was convinced that if I had washed my hair with the egg, I would have had a luxurious growth of hair like Belka’s. The sight of Belka sauntering down the street, swinging her thick braids from side to side was often too much for my undeveloped mind and I would spend sleepless nights visualizing all manner of revenge which ranged anywhere from cutting her hair off to having some dread disease necessitate their removal.
Could my Aunt Manya have seen into the future, though, how gladly she would have relinquished the coveted egg to me if by so doing her adored Belka could have changed places with me, in North America.

Comment by Shirlee Sky Hoffman:

I wrote the following poem in reaction to this story. For me, the most striking aspect is the irony of the way the “life plot” of the two cousins played out, although by posting this story, I have, in fact, given Belka’s life a more lasting presence. (Additional Notes: For this post, I melded two versions of the same story and supplied the title.)

Scrambled Eggs Thicken the Plot

my mother’s bit-older cousin,
stole the bird’s egg
my child mother had finally found,
the egg Bubbie Anna said
would make her thin tresses
look full and round.

pretending just to consider,
snatched the egg
and ran straight home.
Uneven race,
her shoe-shod feet
beat my mother’s bare ones,

hid behind the door
my mother hit
with frantic fists
while rivulets of despair,
thicker even than her cousin’s hair,
streamed down.

smirked into her mother’s skirt
while auntie’s whisking words of truth
shooed my mother off:
“For goodness sake, Fruma,
on your limp mop, what difference would
one egg make?”

thirty-some years later,
thick locks presumably intact.
My mother,
her head still sparsely covered,
knowing Tante Manya would have given
a thousand golden eggs
to have Belka usurp her
once more.