The little girl’s tears fell like sudden rain in Nina’s heart. The sorrow of a child always moved her. Their eyes were so clear that to see them clouded was agony. And there she was, in her plaid school dress, stomping her feet on the asphalt surface of the road, waiting for the yellow bus.
She was alone. No observing adult, no chattering little friend. Only that bluebird on the branch overhead. But he had his own concerns. Three crows sat silently nearby, plotting against him.
“Hi! Is it okay if I wait with you?” Nina asked.
“Who are you?”
The little girl nodded absent-mindedly. Her eyes were dark.
“Now tell me your name,” Nina said.
“That’s a pretty name.”
Debbie shook her head. She was in a bad way.
“Tell me why you’re sad today.”
Debbie said nothing.
“It’s because of your grandmother, isn’t it, sweetheart?” Nina asked.
Debbie nodded solemnly.
“Because she got mad when you broke the china dog?”
“Are you friends with her?” Debbie looked more alert now, less pulled down within herself.
“I’m friends with everybody.”
Debbie considered this.
“And you called the little dog ‘Patches,’ right?” Nina asked.
“But, he wasn’t a toy, was he? He was something your grandmother treasured, because someone she loved had given it to her a long time ago.”
The bus would arrive soon, the driver would open the doors with a cold whoosh, and Debbie would climb up the steps and be gone.
“Close your eyes, open your hand, and think about Patches,” Nina said.
Debbie did as Nina asked. Her tear-stained face was fierce with concentration.
“Now close your hand, wait just a minute, then open it,” Nina said.
When Debbie uncurled her tiny fingers, a smooth black stone lay on her smooth palm.
“Where did that come from?” she asked.
“I’ve never seen it before.”
“No, but you’ve felt it, haven’t you?”
The rumble of the school bus grew louder. Debbie went on staring at the stone Nina lifted gently from her hand.
Debbie didn’t remember the incident, but Nina did. The musty patch of forest she called home was littered with many stones, each loosed from a soul in torment, carried in the pocket of Nina’s green dress, and dropped quietly to the ground. Sometimes the stone bounced a further distance; some stayed right where they landed. Over time, the soil might shift or accumulate a layer of needles from the evergreen trees all around, and the stones rearranged themselves.
This business of collecting sorrows began when Nina realized she could see inside people. She’d been called a lot of things—a psychic, an empath, sometimes even a witch. Her family abandoned her, finding her trait unnerving. No one could keep secrets around her, and people held on to secrets hard, often against their best interest.
Changing a sorrow into stone had taken time to perfect. Pain had to go somewhere, but it had to be easily carried, which eliminated the option of taking away with her tears, or sighs, or desperate glances.
Nina had by then collected so many sorrows that the grief in her own heart was deeper than the forest night. Each stone had come to weigh on her as if it pressed into her very bones, pulling her closer and closer to the earth.
She could find another line of work. She was that clever.
You must free yourself.
She didn’t know who spoke those words. Maybe no one did. Living alone could make you imagine things.
Come on. You know how.
She focused on her distress, letting it sweep through her as tears ran down, and a wail escaped her lips. In her palm lay not an ordinary stone but a flawless diamond that gave a rainbow as it caught a sudden beam of light. This was a rare gift, and it made Nina think. It was one thing to remove pain, but what of granting pleasure?
After she left the forest, the down and out on city streets might find themselves holding one of her diamonds. Some kept them for their beauty alone. Many, though, sold them and found they’d left despair behind but not always for good. Those that squandered their fortunes quickly on bad habits were soon returned to alleys and doorways. But even they hoped for better times to come again and found that hope is its own gift, one that makes all others possible.
And as for Nina, who’d gone from stones to diamonds, she opened herself to the further mysteries of the universe until she could no longer sit, stand, or lie without pain, and then was borne away by loving hands.