To me, now, she was an old Russian babushka or, rather, Baba Yaga. Fierce gimlet eyes, teeth mostly missing, nose and chin almost forming the horns of a crescent moon. Thinning strands of hair mostly hidden under a scarf. Her rickets-riddled bandy legs, covered in rumpled hose emerging from under a woollen skirt, seemed barely to support her; a dowager’s hump completed the picture.
She had been a governess to young Indian princes back in India but was now confined to a bedroom in my parents’ home — a room which, though lacking the fowl’s legs of Baba Yaga’s hut, sat fug-ridden between the front and back of the house.
I rarely went into my grandmother’s room and if I did I always took a deep breath outside before entering the smoke-filled room, and left as soon as was possible after shallow breathing became a strain.
I dreaded my mother’s insistent command, Kiss Grandma! and tried desperately to avoid any drool which had migrated from the cavernous mouth to the sunken cheeks.
I thought I had got away with hiding my feelings until my sister maliciously reported back to her my comment, “Grandma smells!” There was no love lost between us siblings, or between Baba Yaga and me.