— Do you believe in magic? — The old lady asked in a stern voice. She watched the child with her only eye from behind her hood. The boy did not even open his mouth. He looked at the old lady’s bony hands. Her knotty fingers almost got confused with the wood of the crook which she was resting on.
A harsh guffaw escaped from the gap-toothed mouth of the old lady. — You are right, young boy.— The woman bent to see the child closely. Her decrepit face stuck out of the red ragged hood, showing a blind milky white eye. The boy stepped back, shaky. — Magic doesn’t exist! — the old woman concluded emphatically, as she hit the ground with her staff. — True power is here...— she whispered while pointing to her head with a twisted fingernail, and she sat on an old stump sighing.
The boy didn’t know what to think about that woman. He had heard the odd rumours on everyman’s lips. She was “the witch of the oakwood”, they said, the one who had ruined the harvest, poisoned the cattle or bewitched youngsters to devour them in her ramshackle hut... but he could only see an eccentric and exhausted old woman. Even so, the fragile woman imposed a deep fear in the boy’s heart... Or maybe it was the fear imposed by the murky stories he had heard? The boy sat on the grass confused, staring at the old lady with curiosity.
— Cat got your tongue?— she asked. — These devil kids… they barge into your property and just stay there like idiots... — she complained and turned round to look at the sun hiding behind the mountains, just like she was expecting to see it nodding, admitting that she was right.
— You have got a hunchback, lady...— the boy let out the first thing that came to his mind. Then there was a brief silence.
— A hunchback?... — The old lady turned around back to him, frowning, but soon her gesture turned to laugh. — ... no... no, my son. Decades bring wisdom, so much, that you can’t keep it all in your head. Why do you think tortoises have those huge shells?.
The boy shrugged his shoulders.
— Daddy says they carry their house on their back...
— Don’t be a fool!— She interrupted the boy while hitting her thigh with a hand. — Where would they keep the wisdom of centuries of life? — The old woman burst out laughing and blinked her blind milky white eye at the boy.
He smiled. He was starting to like the old lady. He played nervously with the shirt fabric as he watched her. Finaly, he swallowed saliva and dared to ask it:
— Then… Are you a witch or not?
The woman laughed with a howl. The naive impertinence of the boy took her by suprise again.
— You terrible boy…— She muttered and showed a crippled smile which resembled more a ramshackle cage than a mouth. — A witch… mmmh, yes, I could be one if I wanted to. Would you like that, little brat?
The boy watched her with a gleam of fear in his eyes, but he was making an effort not to look frightened. He didn’t answer. The old lady bent to pick up a dandelion and held it strongly in fornt of her face. The boy noticed how the feathered seeds formed a perfect globe on the top of the flower’s stem. The old woman breathed in deeply and blew out, making the seeds fly away, spreading them among the trees. The seeds disappeared of sight, floating with the wind like tiny cotton swallows.
— It is possible that each seed become a new flower... — She continued, setting her good eye on the kid. — It depends on you what to do when you find one. You can pick it up and blow its seeds away, just like I did, knowing that its colourful legacy will delight your eye next spring. Also, you could smash it and make sure its seeds won’t spread... or maybe you can simply let it be.— She explained to the kid with a nostalgic sparkle in her eye. Then, her face turned severe. — Listen, boy...— The old woman made a pause to swallow and moisten her throat. — I choose to be a simple old lady in the presence of a kid, I choose to be the wind that spreads the dandelion’s seeds, and I choose to be a witch facing a bunch of ignorants who I don’t want near me... I’ve chosen to be a crazy old woman... who dies in solitude…— She added in a tiny voice about to break. The old woman turned around ashamed and dried a tear with a ragged sleeve. She stood up with difficulty and started to walk towards her hut. The night was at the doorstep.
— Go away, brat.— She said, turning her back to the boy at the gate.
The boy contemplated the fragile old woman, saddened.
— … Lady… You don’t have to be alone! — He dared to say. — Tomorrow I will come back with my friends to keep you company, you will see we’ll have fun! — The boy turned around with a smile stamped on his face, and ran back home. — This poor woman was just so alone... she would be thankful for our company. — he said to himself while jumping at full speed over the ferns.
The old woman was still standing at the hut’s doorstep, resting on her crook. She couldn’t hold her tears back because of the thrill. She had treated the boy in the same way than she did with the dandelion, and the next day there would be more like him... her mouth watered.