Daina steps out into the front yard and a rush of icy air hits her nose. She quickly zips her coat and shuts the door behind her, marveling at how clean it looks with its fresh coat of paint. Motina is still sleeping soundly. Good. She doesn’t want to hear about how she should leave Laima alone.

Yesterday, straight off the plane, Motina had showed her around, a satisfied gleam in her eyes. The newly painted walls. The old pine floorboards finally free of dust and grime.

“What do you think, my sweet?” Motina asked, offering her potato blynai with an eager smile.

Something about the encounter grated on Daina’s nerves. Too enthusiastic. Too late. Too many questions left unanswered. Why only now? Where were you before? Where were you when it really mattered? Was it easier to let go of me than this miserable house?

She has almost forgotten how cold it gets here. Daina digs deep into her pockets and follows the familiar cracks in the sidewalk to the intersection near Laima’s house. Faces zip by: scarves and hats, gloves and briefcases. And yet, the street is hushed, not alive like the Guttmans’ neighborhood. People walk briskly, focused, umbrellas tucked beneath their arms, headphones blaring in their ears, as if the frost has turned them to ice cubes.

Daina catches sight of Laima’s green bag turning toward the main avenue. She is lugging something brown and clunky. It’s hard to tell from afar. Daina breaks into a run, then slows as she nears Laima. Treading softly, she draws up behind her friend and clamps her palms across her eyes.

“Aaah!” Laima struggles to shrug her off, but her arms are full.

“Laima! It’s me!”

Laima subsides. “Who?”

“Come on! Guess!”

“No. Waaay!”

Daina releases her grip, and Laima turns with a smile warmer than the sun. “This is crazy! What kind of vėlė are you? Am I looking at your spirit?”

“Guess it was time to come home, huh?”

“Home?” Laima doesn’t mean to taunt, but the way she says it makes Daina flinch.

“We have our home back. Have you not seen my motina around?”

Laima’s eyes flit off Daina’s shoulders. She shifts the bulky instrument she’s holding and talks of that instead.

“This thing is heavy. Ever seen such a beauty, Daina?” She sits on a nearby street bench and lays its boat-shaped, linden body on her lap, rippling through a string of notes, for show.

“Wow. That’s… that’s so cool. Since when do you play the kankle?”

“Old grouch Mazeika opened an advanced music class after the national contest. Motina signed me up, and I agreed. Guess I missed you, hah?” Laima laughs.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 633)