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The Bag Lady and the Butterfly


As told to me by my grandmother:I grew up in Cefalu near the water. We played as children into the nights and there was an old bag lady who would wander the street. Her husband had died years before and she lived childless and penniless. One night we watched her standing in the road, staring up, transfixed. She followed a butterfly to a wall in the alley. Quite peculiarly she took a small piece of dried meat from her pocket and put it in the wall. Several times she was witnessed doing this. 

One day she was nowhere to be found, and we’d assumed she had died. Life continued on and soon I’d grown into a young woman. I had always wanted to help people so I became a nurse. The resident Doctor had been attending a woman who was of vast wealth and living isolated and asked me to help him as she was close to death. I travelled with him to her home, full of beautiful extravagance and no one to look upon it. When I entered her bedroom, she called me over. “I remember you Elena. You played as a child in the streets under the stars.” Shocked, I asked who she was. “I was the lady you watched, you followed me many nights.” I told her we’d thought she’d died when she no longer walked those streets where we played.

And I asked her how she found herself in such luxury. She smiled and said, “I was lonely. Nobody would speak to me, many times I would stand at the water’s edge and speak to myself. Then one night, a beautiful butterfly came up from the water and I followed it. It came to rest in the place where a brick was missing, a hidden space in a wall. When I peaked in it was dark, but I heard a voice. It said, “come here and feed me when I am hungry. And when the time is right I will reward you”. And so I did. I gave food even when I had none to give. And many nights I slept hungry. One night I went to the wall, and listened. “Your kindness is repaid. Reach in and take what is yours.” I was afraid but I did, I put my hand inside. And in the wall was a key, 7 gold coins and a folded piece of paper.

That paper was the deed to this home, that had belonged to the family of my husband. The last survivor of that family was now gone and the key opened every lock in front of me. The little butterfly repaid me.”

The old woman died and had chosen to be buried at sea.

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