When she was in grade school, the mean kids would call her ‘beaky’, ‘eagle-face’. And, sometimes, in sadder times, when such abusiveness went unpunished, even ‘Jewgirl’. Her mother would hold her close, whispering ‘take no notice … children can be so unkind’ … ‘you are beautiful’ … your nose is a gift from your grandmother’. Sobbing and gulping, Krystina Kwaterski had wished her grandmother had kept her nose to herself.
In one of those huge sweeps of synchronicity, seventy years earlier, Krystina’s grandmother, Vera, had stood before an SS officer on the outskirts of Konigsberg and recited the catechism to prove she was a Catholic and not a Jew. With her baby brother in her arms, the eleven-year-old Vera then fled Konigsberg ahead of the tide of Russian forces sweeping in from the north. Her journey would take her to the Black Forest, on to London as a post-war domestic, and finally to the welcoming sight of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The only possessions Vera carried with her, an anchor to the past, were her mother’s handglass and hairbrush. The very same, bequeathed to her darling grand-daughter, which Krystina now holds in her hands on this frosty New York morning. Barely a day passes, as she goes through the delicious ritual of brushing her luscious hair, without her thinking of her grandmother. The way, for as long as she can remember, that her grandmother would stand behind her, combing Krystina’s hair, singing old Prussian folk songs, talking of the forests of silver birch, and the smell of pumpernickel bread baking in the oven.
This morning, ice on the streets, Krystina is aglow with the events of the night before. How the dearly departed Vera would have loved the wickedness, the beauty of the story. Even though Krystina had broken one of the few rules she applied to herself. No one night stands. But he was handsome beyond belief. And Blessed was his name. Last night at Oliver Mtukudzi’s first New York tour, downstairs at that new club in the Village, Krystina fell for Blessed Mubvunzo as easy as falling off a log. This Shona warrior, this sculptor of stone, who would, one day, be feted as a master craftsmen of an ancient art and tradition. As she brushes her hair, reliving the passion, the surprising intimacy of their night together, how can Krystina know the events that will unfold? That Blessed will walk up behind her, kiss her gently on the neck, and whisper ‘we will be together until we are old’. How can she know, as her body tingles to the quick, that they will bring to the world a daughter, and call her Precious Mubvunzo-Kwaterski (to ensure no one else on earth can have such a name)? And how can Krystina imagine that one day this daughter, tall and proud, with skin of the gods and a profile of unsurpassed elegance, will brush her thick black wavy hair, lovingly holding in her hand the mirror of her great-great-grandmother?