It was a dark and gloomy morning in the village of Myrrh and most of its inhabitants had decided to stay in bed a bit longer than usual. The sky was overcast and a soft, constant drizzle was falling from it. Lila was still in bed, her covers drawn over her face. She often slept like this, to the great dismay of Willow. She often rushed to Lila’s bedside, fearing that she had accidentally smothered herself in her sleep. Willow had always been protective of Lila, ever since the day she had found a newborn baby on her doorstep, nearly seventeen years ago to the day. Willow sat down next to Lila at the foot of the bed, the memory of the day she found Lila rushing over her.
One evening, near the end of autumn, Willow left her cottage to collect a few plants in the Forest. As usual, Thing accompanied her. After a successful gathering, the old woman returned home with Thing flying beside her in the form of a raven. ‘Mistress,’ asked the raven. ‘What is that thing on your doorstep?’
‘I don’t know. It looks like a basket of sorts,’ she replied. ‘Maybe one of the townspeople sent me a gift. Though, I doubt it. I’m not as popular as I used to be. I foresaw too many misfortunes, I fear.’ Willow chuckled and quickened her pace, curious to see what lay on her doorstep.
When they were a few steps from the basket Willow said, ‘Stop. Maybe it’s a trick. I think I might have seen little Jeremy Mudd and his naughty friend Phineas earlier today. I could have sworn I saw them carrying the very same basket. Yes, that’s what it is. A trick!’ She felt pleased at solving the great mystery of the abandoned basket.
‘Mistress, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m sure I saw the boys carrying a wicker cage containing two forest mice. I am certain of this as the darker of the two mice looked good and plump for my dinner.’ Thing flew from the woman’s shoulder and perched himself on the handle of the basket looking more curious than before.
‘Oh, all right! I shall open it. I do not know what the fuss is all about.’ She walked towards the basket very slowly, like a tigress stalking her prey. Peering into the basket, she saw a jumble of old blankets. The next moment a high, sharp cry escaped from amongst them, causing both Willow and Thing to start.
‘What magic is this?’ Thing flew back to the woman’s shoulder.
‘It’s not magic, Thing,’ Willow said, frowning. She could not believe her ears. It cannot be a baby, she thought. Who would have left one here? I am no mother! She bent over, picked up the tiny bundle, and pulled aside the blanket to reveal a newborn baby.
‘Oh, no,’ said Thing, screeching loudly. ‘Not a baby!’
‘It’s beautiful,’ Willow crooned, clutching the baby to her bosom as a sudden rush of maternal instinct took over her body. ‘Where did you come from, my dear? Is there no note from your mother?’
‘Is it male or female?’ asked Thing.
‘It is a girl’, she said.
‘How can you tell?’
‘She smells of rose water. Mothers put it on the brow of their new-born daughters as a blessing.’
‘Did your mother put rose water on your forehead too, Mistress?’
Willow smiled at Thing’s question. ‘Yes, she did. It is an old tradition.’
‘But, Mistress, surely we’re not keeping it?’
‘We’re not. I am.’
‘Then I suppose it needs a name,’ he said ruffling his inky feathers. ‘We can’t keep on calling it it.’
‘You’re right. But what shall we call her?’ Willow looked at her surroundings for a fitting name. ‘Juniper … Rose … Raven. No, no, that won’t do,’ she said shaking her head.
‘What’s wrong with Raven? I’m a raven!’ demanded Thing.
‘Oh, you know very well you are none of the sorts, my dear friend. But she is not a bird.’ The woman looked down and saw a piece of parchment at the bottom of the basket, peeping out from under the blankets. She bent down and picked it up. In a thin, slated hand was written, Lila.
‘A fitting name - Night,’ Willow whispered. Tears began to well up in her eyes, for she knew the handwriting. The young woman had been like a daughter to her. She looked behind her, amongst the bushes, hoping to see her, but there was no-one there.
‘So?’ asked Thing, ‘What does it say?’
‘She’s to be called Lila.’ Willow held the baby’s head tightly to her body, shielding her from the cool night air.
‘Lila it is then.’
Willow quickly fashioned a crib out of a piece of elder wood that lay in the spare room with two flicks of her hand. She placed the soft blankets that were in the basket into the crib and then gently laid the baby in it. Willow went to her closet and took an armful of sheer silk sheets, draped them from the rafters, tied together the ends in the centre and hung a magically glowing lantern from it, making the room look like the inside of a colourful circus tent. She hung a diaphanous cloth over the window as a makeshift curtain, letting the moonlight shine through it, casting the beige walls in a dove-grey film. Willow stared at the little baby, who lay silently in her cot, suckling her thumb, snugly wrapped in her soft blankets. She was sleeping so peacefully, totally unaware of what had happened to her.
‘Sweet dreams, my dear.’ Overcome by a sudden wave of helplessness, Willow started weeping. Thing perched himself on her shoulder.
‘What is the matter?’ Thing asked, nuzzling his smooth head in her neck.
‘Why did she do it, Thing?’
‘She probably had no alternative. She wanted a good life for her offspring. One she couldn’t offer it herself.’
‘But why me?’ Willow sighed.
Willow stood up from the seventeen-year-old Lila’s bed. She didn’t want to revisit the painful memory of that night. Willow leaned forward and pulled the blanket away from Lila’s face, kissing her on the cheek. ‘Sweet dreams, my dear.’ And for a moment, with the moonlight lighting only one side of her face, Willow thought she was looking at Lila’s mother. One day, I promise.