A Pause (Running Part IV)

    With nothing strenuous to do any more, the children put on some weight. Until they did, Lisa had never noticed how unhealthy her children were. As for herself, there were evenings when it was all it took for her to finish her evening meal before retiring to her hard bed on the floor. Her time at the shop had extended beyond the bustle of the market days, and now included the slow but steady off-days. Market days brought in such a big number of people that Lisa was overwhelmed at times, and was left wondering how Mr. James had dealt with the crowd before.

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    His life had taken an unexpected turn, taking in the family and offering her a job at his shop. He could see her struggling at times to handle the work, but while she may have been slow in the beginning, she never complained. He let her take on more responsibility, taking off to do other things, meeting with other merchants and leaving her alone.

    Lisa found herself tempted by the many things in the store, yet her conscience kept her in check. Before, she would have helped herself to whatever she pleased, using the feminine wiles that had gotten her out of many scrapes. Now, she merely thought of the cost, and the disappointment she would see in her benefactor’s face. She held off on her desires to grab things: snacks, treats and trinkets. Instead, she began taking rounds around the marketplace after her work was done, buying a few things, and with her smile, getting a few extras on good days.

    He had suggested that she head home earlier, while the sun was still up. Today was one of those good days, when the butcher had a few pieces of leftover pigs’ tails, and tomatoes were cheap at the other stall. She could already see something delicious for dinner – of course, Kayna would help. Now that she had all the time in the world to play, she still preferred to stand at the stove stirring something and cooking small, cheap treats for her little brother and sister. Lisa stood at the bus stop waiting for the bus to take her down past the cemetery and by the little clearing where she could walk to the house.

    On the bus, she sat close to the front, holding her purchases closely. At one point, she would have looked around at those who sat in the bus as well, but today, she was tired and was looking forward to a good meal and hours of rest. Despite the constant stopping of the bus, she still made good time, with the sun up for another good hour before it hit the horizon with streaks of purple or orange or pink and gold.

    She walked with a purpose, holding the bag of treats in her hand, mouth watering at the thought of the twice boiled pig tails topped with a rich tomato and pepper sauce. She wanted to make tortillas too. Too much rice lately – she smiled at that thought. There had been a time when there was no rice - now here she was, making a choice. The house they were staying in was around the bend, and she could almost hear the sounds of her children, whooping, shouting… Screaming.

    The shrill sound of Nisa’s scream almost made her heart stop. Lisa started to run, her slippers slapping against her hardened soles as she ran past the overgrowth and out into the clearing. Nisa stood in the middle of the yard, screaming while James tried to open the door. They were locked out. Both children turned at the sound of their mother’s arrival and simultaneously pointed to the house. “Kayna,” was all they said.

    Trembling, Lisa reached the door and tried to open it. It had been locked from the inside, from which strange, grunting sounds could be heard. She screamed for her eldest, running to the window. She saw a man lumbering over her daughter, who had obviously been struggling valiantly, but was quickly losing the fight. Kayna flailed and kicked at him while her mother struggled to clamber up the window to help. Sheer effort and force of will brought Lisa almost headfirst through the window. She grabbed the heaviest thing she could find, a pot, and charged at the man hands swinging.

    The clang of the pot on the man’s back stopped him for a moment. He turned to face her, and Lisa’s poor choices came at her in a rush. The man she was meant to have run to this last time had come to find her. He had found her babies; he had tried to hurt her babies. The pot still in hand, Lisa got ready to swing at his head as he headed for her. He stopped suddenly but the glancing blow to his temple had an effect. He stumbled and Lisa swung again, connecting with a satisfying crack. The pot was an old one but it served its purpose in stopping him. He fell hard, and Lisa turned to her daughter.

    Kayna’s shirt had been ripped and shredded in places where the man had pulled at her. Her head hurt from where he grabbed her hair, but most of all, what hurt her deep down, was the memory of his breath that stank of liquor, and the stale yeasty taste of his nasty mouth as he had tried to kiss her. The other children had scattered, and she had fought so hard, throwing punches and kicking. Her one saving grace was that he was drunk – had he been sober, she would not have been nearly as successful at fending him off. Her mother held her as she stood still, breathing heavily and trying not to cry.

    James knocked on the door; Nisa’s screams down to great big sniffling sobs. When the door opened, they came in slowly, seeing their mother, but hugging their sister.

    On the floor, he did not move, and Lisa gingerly checked to see if he was breathing. He was, but it was shallow and so light that she felt safe to move all the children out of the house. Together they walked to another house, looking for help again.

    In their yard, fat curly pig tails lay scattered from where the bags had fallen. Tomatoes had splattered, creating patterns of red on the sun-baked grass. Soon, ants covered the fallen food, feasting on the family’s long-forgotten meal.

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