There was a faint light on in the house farthest from the one they had left, and closest to the edge of the uninhabited. The house was fairly respectable, and it seemed that whoever lived there cared about the appearance of his hut. It had been painted, perhaps a year ago, and there was a cleanliness about it that showed some pride. There were no items lying around, strewn mindlessly. There were some rubber tires cut into planters, holding a few night blooming flowers. The fragrance was almost sickly sweet, and in the back of her mind, Kayna thought of her grandmother’s death flowers.
The yard was only clean up to a point, and it was at the edge of the property that the scraggly weeds started. Someone obviously only cared about that place. They stood at the front, not sure what to do. Lisa, usually so confident, hesitated at the bottom step. Only her heavy son made her move forward. Her hesitant knock was faint, and Kayna despaired that they would have to sleep in the yard. Despite its cleanliness, she feared the snakes and creatures that could come in from the thick weeds around. They waited for what seemed to be an eternity, and Lisa was about to knock again when the door opened slightly.
The man who stood before them had a hard, round paunch sticking proudly out above his shorts. He didn’t look too old, but he certainly was not young. He wore glasses that shone slightly in the faint glow of the backlight and that of the watery moon. They could not see his eyes as they traversed from head to toe on each of them as they stood before him, but they felt the slight tingles of unease.
“What?” His voice was smooth, deep and smoky.
“We need a place to stay, just for tonight.” The wheedling tone of Lisa’s voice irritated Kayna, and it reached down past the sleeping point of the smaller children, and they stirred. The man looked at them intently then opened the door wide as his smile spread. Kayna thought of crocodile teeth for some reason, but her mouth curved up in response, hope winning over fear.
The door open, he stepped back and indicated that they should step in as well. Lisa, usually confident, stepped in almost reverently, repeating the same word over again. “Thanks.” Her son sighed and snuggled closer to her neck as sleep once again stole over. Kayna carried Nisa, whose weight suddenly registered on her tired, 12-year-old arms. The bag she held on to just as tightly, and as she stepped across the threshold, she felt a sense of finality. Almost immediately, she wanted to turn back, convince her mother to follow her and run as fast as she could.
Inside the house, the cleanliness continued. There were shelves with books, and those were neatly organized. There was a table and four chairs, all tucked away into the table. There was only a bottle of ketchup and pepper in the middle. On one side there was a wood bench, covered in a sheet that had been folded several times, almost as if to make a cushion on the bench. A bare bulb hung in the middle of the room they stood in, giving off a faint glow to all corners of the building. There was a wall dividing the living area – an actual bedroom. Further past the table and chairs was a small, neat kitchen, with a real stove that probably had a working oven. It was clean, with no signs of burnt food or stray scraps on it. Not like the one they had left, which was just two burners that sat on a stone, with food bits falling through all the time.
He was speaking again. “I have a small room where I keep a few things, and you can sleep in there. Or you can sleep right out here. All the rooms are cool.” He indicated that they could take the sheet and lie on it. Lisa stepped as if to take the sheet, but he crooked his finger for them to follow him. Not sure how much longer she could carry Nisa, Kayna followed obediently after her mother. The room was about the size of the old room they had, but there was no bed. Instead, a hammock was strung and tied up. As if by telepathy, they chose to stay in the room. He loosened the hammock and both younger children were placed in it. They stirred and opened their eyes briefly, before gravitating towards each other and lulled back into the sleep of innocents.
He stepped away, heading to his room, and Lisa sat on the floor. Her hangover was kicking in brutally, but she could not do anything other than be grateful for the hospitality. The next day, they would step out and try and get their things from the old place, before heading out to her new man. He had said they were welcome to stay. Somehow, the thought of moving again was not appealing, and her tired, pounding head told her to curl up and sleep as long as she wanted.
Kayna watched her mother as she suffered her ‘headache’. It happened every time she drank rum. Hangover, that’s what it was. She heard enough adult talk around her to know what was happening, but at that moment, she felt sorry for her. She also felt sorry for herself, and Nisa and James.
The man returned just as she felt the prickling at the backs of her eyes. In his hands he held two flat pillows and a thick blanket. He held them out, and Kayna took them gratefully. He seemed almost kindly and uncomfortable, and she wondered if her mind was lying to her about him. He was being nice.
“Goodnight,” he said. He turned away and went to close the door before going into his room.
With the thick blanket laid out on the floor, and a pillow each, mother and daughter lay down. Tired bones almost melted into the floor, cushioned only by the heavy blanket, yet the most comfortable they had been since their flight – perhaps, even before.
When they awoke, the sun was nearly halfway across the sky. Outside, the sounds of cleaning and washing up indicated that the man was up and probably had been up a while. Lisa dreaded getting up, and almost selfishly wanted to beg to stay a while more. Her daughter had been awake a little while longer, so she had heard when the rustling started, which meant that their host had also slept in. The sounds of cleaning could mean he would expect some food. Wanting to thank him properly, she decided to get up. Her back groaned in protest, but she made her way up, and slowly stepped out of the room.
He was still wearing the shorts from the night before, and no shirt covered his chest. He was in his own house – he wore what he wanted.
Turning at the sound of her footsteps, he fixed a small smile on his face. “Sleep okay?” She nodded. “Good.”
“I think we will try and get our clothes from the old house and leave today.”
Lisa came out of the room, tugging at her loose nightdress, feeling exposed for the first time in a long time. He made her uncomfortable, but he had taken her in. He had taken in her children. She was being unfair. He looked at her, knowing exactly who she was, but smiling kindly instead. Trailing behind her were the two younger children.
“Why don’t you stay and eat something?”
Nisa and John looked at their mother, begging to stay. Not able to ignore the hunger pangs any more, she nodded. Kayla’s stomach did a funny little jump, but she listened to her mother. The kind man proceeded to pull out some pots, and soon, the smells of food filled the air.
One more day, perhaps, one more night…then they would leave.
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