One young man in particular caught her eye, and she felt that frisson of excitement, a feeling of something wonderful about to happen. She didn’t yearn for a relationship, nor did she believe in senseless fornication. At least, she thought she didn’t. Sixth form in the city seemed full of that, and while she may have been a late bloomer, she still believed in the relationship aspect, and so she floundered until she graduated.
As she set her sights on the hapless young man, she reaffirmed her decision to leave home. It turned out the hapless young man had his sights on something else, and Rebecca was burned at her first try. “Serves me right,” she thought. “School is for studying, Papa always said so…”
And so she began her second try at fitting in, at socializing, and at being someone else. At school, she was carefree, and she made sure to keep quiet about things at home. Her mama had always told her that people don’t like to hear about the bad things happening in other people’s houses, and Rebecca always tried to follow her rule.
One day she showed up early to school, having ridden her bike straight from work. She sat outside in the waning evening light, and enjoyed a bit of the fresh sea breeze that blew in over the fence at the high school compound. She was sitting underneath the famed almond tree, the one fraught with legend. As she sat at the bottom step waiting for more friends to arrive, she saw a stranger appear from the teacher’s house.
She smiled tentatively, following yet another Mama rule that strangers must be greeted with a smile (unless they were carrying Bibles under their arms and wearing ties – then slam the door and pretend to be deaf). He sauntered over, that was the best way to describe how he came over to introduce himself. His name was Eddie. Not short for Edward, or Edgar or any other possible name, it was simply Eddie. He was cursed to go around life with a name best suited to a child. And he was childlike in his enthusiasm, and he was handsome and devilish. Rebecca was in trouble. All inhibition flew out the proverbial window, as she delighted in her companion’s attention.
School was infinitely more interesting now; she had a playmate. He didn’t attend the same class as she did, and soon she found out he was in his last year of high school. The situation could have been potentially embarrassing, but as they were only friends (so far), there was nothing to hide. He hung around after class to wait for her, and she rushed through her desk work, flying out as soon as possible from her office, and anxiously looking around the bend, hoping he would not have forgotten her. He never did.
It was Eddie who told her about the little man that sat up in the tree waiting for the perfect hour, or for lovers trying to hide out in the yard, under its branches, to wreak havoc. He told her he had tried to catch him out by staying past midnight, waiting for the little man to pelt him with almonds, but it never happened. Rebecca knew that one day she would accompany him to try it out as well. She also knew there would be far more than waiting for a little (if legendary) man. She didn’t know how, but it was as though she’d met her soul mate, the one person who got her without her ever having said a word.
In one fell swoop, she forgot about the first person she’d been interested in, and she reveled in the friendship that Eddie offered. He was an escape, he was another life. To him, she could tell her dark secrets, her life at home was an open book. He listened sympathetically, and he made her feel better with stories of his own. He was instantly her best friend, the kind of person that made her open up and be comfortable, and he was not Papa.
It wasn’t like she had never had any friends before, but she felt that this one was special. He didn’t pressure her to meet at outlandish places, he didn’t require time constraints, he simply waited, and gave her time, and attention.
Her father also waited – every night after classes, he waited for her and they would ride home together. Their nightly ritual went on uninterrupted, with the exception of after-hours studies or special occasions. It was an existence that Rebecca appreciated, and she grew to feel less fear. The clenching of stomach muscles at the first thought of the day seemed to disappear, and her happiness was apparent. She bloomed. Friends were abundant, she had a special relationship with someone who could be more, her father was calmer, and life chugged along. She would have been happy to bottle the feeling of euphoria she sometimes felt, but as is often the case, an interruption occurred that jolted her core.
When Mama left, Rebecca was aware of her intentions. She helped her mother pack as many of her things as possible, and despite her feelings of abandonment, she knew that her mother had reached her breaking point. No amount of broken bones, slipped discs, and blackened eyes, or bruised and battered flesh – could have stopped her then if they’d tried. Rebecca remembered the day clearly. She’d been back from school, a long weekend which Papa was not a part of. He’d taken on a job that took him away for a couple of weeks, but as was his habit, he would pop up at home at the oddest hours, sometimes at midnight, or at 5 in the morning, waking up the entire household, hoping to catch them at something. He was always disappointed, for he would find his wife sleeping in bed, and if he popped in over the weekend, he would find her with his daughter. So they packed, preparing Mama for a lifetime of freedom from pain, misery and defeat.
The day after Rebecca went to school was the day. Isabella always said there were so many things that nearly went wrong. The nosy neighbor saw activity, and saw when mama started packing her clothes into a taxi. She called Papa’s workplace and somehow, he got the message that she was leaving. This neighbor was the same woman who kept the entire neighborhood up one night screaming bloody murder as her husband beat her head in, and cut at her with a kitchen knife. There truly was no loyalty amongst the women. Papa fairly flew down on his bike, intent on stopping her. At the ferry, he cursed aloud as he waited for the slow crossing. As Mama’s luck would have it, the taxi broke down on the badly potholed street right in front of the house. The rains had been especially bad, and hardly any cabs came by any more. The taxi called a companion for help, sensing from Mama’s pleas that she was desperate. He probably knew firsthand the desperation a woman felt, or he simply felt like doing a good deed. As Papa hit the entrance to the neighborhood, a cab screeched past him, and he pursued it like a madman. The cab was faster, and the potholes deterred Papa, so by the time he came round the bend on his street, the cab driver was placing the last bag and Mama was safely ensconced in the cab. Papa screamed and hurled insults, he brandished his machete, but the other cab driver took off too quickly before Papa’s blade hit the vehicle. Mama was terrified, and even though Papa didn’t follow them, she never stopped looking behind, waiting for the moment when he would show up and stop her, for good.
Rebecca heard all the dramatics from neighbors who became decidedly friendlier, while Papa’s version fit other pieces of the puzzle. Like the fact that there was another man in the cab who was not the driver. His face clouded over whenever he mentioned this detail, and for weeks, Rebecca sulked as well. Mama had said she didn’t know what she was going to do, and what sort of life she would lead when she left. She promised Rebecca that she could come and stay with her when she’d settled, but now she knew, Mama had been lying. Mama had never wanted to take her – because she was starting a new life with a new Papa. Once again, there was no loyalty amongst the women.
When Mama finally called to check on her, Rebecca didn’t hold back, and she found the ugliest, blackest words and insults from deep within, stored from all the nights of misery she had been through, and hurled them at Mama. All Isabella could do was cry, and her apology was simply words in the wind. Finally, at the word “whore” Papa wrenched the phone from her hands, and he simply hung up. They had clung to each other, and despite the agony of guilt and sadness, in that moment, Rebecca had finally felt some measure of release.
That had been nearly two years ago, and the old adage that time heals all wounds held true, for Isabella had known that Rebecca needed time. Forgiveness came easily when Rebecca saw the change in her mother, the once tight, hunted look in her eyes had been replaced with a twinkle that she had rarely seen at home. She bloomed with good health, and her weight came back on. Mama was plump and healthy, and happily in love. With a man 12 years her junior. That would take some getting used to, but Rebecca cared more for the fact that Mama had fought, run away and had won. She then knew she could as well.
So in the throes of Rebecca’s happiness, and on the cusp of perhaps a great love affair, the call came through: Mama was dying.
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