Here comes Nadiya, hurrying around a corner on almost silent rubber soles. Her light brown hair is billowing behind her as she runs, and she can't help thinking that her mother's mother wouldn't approve. Grandma had wanted her only daughter to have blond children, like herself.
Slightly out of breath she stops in front of a flight of stairs leading to a grand door. She takes two deep breathes, smoothens the short skirt, which had ridden up her thighs, and climbs the stone steps.
Fifteen minutes later the young woman, now dressed all in white, enters a completely white room.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Blake! It's time for your walk."
From the bed of white sheets and cushions, and old, kind face smiles at her. "Hello, Nadiya. It is so kind of you to accompany me."
Nadiya smiles back at her protégé. "You know how much I enjoy spending time with you, Mrs Blake. Let me help you out of the bed."
As they walk slowly along a white corridor, following a single blue line, with Mrs Blake leaning on Nadiya's arm, a conversation starts that will change both their lives forever.
"Do you believe in heaven, girl?" asks Mrs Blake.
"Heaven? Are you thinking of dying already?"
"At my age you have to think about these things."
Nadiya laughs. "You are not even eighty yet, Mrs Blake. You have a lot of life left to live."
"Possibly, yes. But what should I do with it?"
"Well, you could enjoy it, for example. Sit in the sun and dream, read a book or something. Find a new hobby."
Nadiya leads Mrs Blake to a bench, and together they sit down in the autumn sun.
"If you insist, though, I could tell you a story. It is about a girl named Nadiya, who is only just five years old when she meets an angel. I've never told it to anyone before."
"I would love to hear it," says the old woman.
Nadiya had an older brother. He was seven then, and a bit late to start school, but it was finally happening. Even though there were no traditional school buildings anymore, the school enrolment ceremony was happening at the old school in town. The weather was warm and dry, the sun luring people to come outside into the playground.
Nadiya was terribly bored by all the talking she was supposed to listen to. She crept away from the crowd, silently, and settled down in the shadow of an unkempt hedge that marked the playground's boundary. She wanted to play Angry Birds on her wrist computer, but the sunlight was so bright she could hardly see the hologram. Annoyed she lay back on her back, staring at the sky.
A fly came to investigate the intruder, buzzing in lazy circles around Nadiya's nose. She tried waving it away, gave up, and turned her head towards the hedge so she wouldn't have to see the insect anymore. Instead, she saw a hole in the tangle of branches. Intrigued, she squeezed through the hole. She would go home, it wasn't far, and have some fun there.
The street on the other side was empty, which was strange, but still the familiar street they had come up earlier that day. Nadiya was about to set out for home when a voice spoke behind her.
"What are you doing here?" The speaker, most likely a male, sounded reasonably surprised.
Nadiya turned around slowly. Behind her, next to the hedge, stood a... man? He was dressed in the brightest white clothes she had ever seen. His skin was also very light; it almost didn't stand out from his dress. The most prominent feature of him was the huge pair of feathery white wings he was wearing on his back. Nadiya wouldn't be deceived, though.
"This is quite an impressive outfit, mister," she said. "Are you a doorman for the school enrolment?"
The man smiled. "You could say that I am a doorman of some kind, I suppose. My name is Arthur."
"You don't think you can trick me into giving you my name, do you?" Nadiya asked, grinning.
"I know your name, Nadiya."
The girl took a hurried step back. "How can you know that?!"
"I know a lot of things," said Arthur. "For example do I know that you are very courageous. Many people are terribly frightened when they see one of the angels of the Lord, but not you."
"That's only because I know angels don't exist," Nadiya explained, with a hint of uncertainty.
"Is that so? In that case, I think it would be better if you returned to your family. They must be missing you by now."
"I don't want to go back! The ceremony is terribly boring. Why can't you tell my parents that I've gone home?"
"They would not be able to see me. Adults can't see angels on the other side of the hedge. And now go."
Arthur ushered Nadiya back through the hole.
On the other side, she could hear her parents' cries of relieve even before she could see them.
"I never understood what he meant by 'the other side of the hedge', but then, I never believed that he was an angel until my own school enrolment. There were no people in angel costumes, and when I complained about that, my parents told me there never had been something like that."
Mrs Blake stares silently ahead, lost in thought.
"Are you all right?"
"Oh yes, fine, Nadiya, thank you. And thank you for telling me this story. I hope I will meet an angel someday, too."
Three days after this conversation, Anne Blake will vanish from the nursing home without a trace. She will leave a letter for Nadiya, telling her not to worry and apologising for leaving. In the letter, she will also thank her for reminding her of something she has never quite gotten over.