Friday, 18 May 2012
The Promise to Rescue - Part 1
The Promise to Rescue
(A Short Story by Claudia Williams)
Winsome and her mother lived together. Winsome was eight years old and was very smart for her age. Her mother was very proud of Winsome, as she always got high marks in school. They lived in a very small house. Actually, the house had only three rooms – the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen. Winsome’s mother used a part of the kitchen as a small living room. The settee, hassock and a centre-table made it so. To get to the kitchen from the living room, you had to part the curtains she put up to separate one room from the other.
Every night, Winsome’s mother, Elaine, would check Winsome’s school-work. Then, she would help her with her home-work if she needed any help. Winsome then made sure that she packed her books in her bag for the next day. Elaine made sure that Winsome’s uniform was ready, too. She could only afford two tunics and two blouses. So, she made certain to wash one set every night. She hung Winsome’s blue tunic over the shower curtain rod in the bathroom and put the white blouse behind the fridge. They slept in the same double bed. In the morning, after she had her shower, she ironed the uniform. While she ironed, Winsome ate her breakfast. Elaine didn’t eat breakfast. When Winsome finished eating, she would climb up on the little stool by the sink and wash her plate and fork and cup. Afterward, she would go to the bathroom to bathe and brush her teeth. Her uniform would be ironed and ready for her by that time. Her mother, would spend the next fifteen minutes or so hot-curling her hair, then combing Winsome’s hair. Both of them walked to the bus-stop together every morning. This Thursday morning was no exception.
“Good morning, Miss Green!” Winsome’s high-pitched voice did not catch the old woman by surprise.
“Morning, Winsome darling. How are you?” Miss Green replied smiling. She gave Winsome her full attention.
“I’m fine, ma’am!” The little girl answered with her usual liveliness.
“That’s nice. Morning, Elaine!” Mrs. Green turned her attention to the adult.
“Morning, Miss Green, you alright?” Elaine asked.
“Yes man, I’m alright,” she answered. Miss Green was seated in the bus shed as she and her neighbours waited for the bus. She was strong for her eighty years. Her voice was haughty and when she walked, her steps were sure. The entire neighbourhood knew her.
Elaine had met her when she came to live in the neighbourhood nine years ago. She had just moved from the country to work in Kingston. Not long after that, she met Winsome’s father. And not long after that, she got pregnant with Winsome. She moved in with Rupert who had grown up in the neighbourhood. Rupert – that was his name. He agreed that they should not have the baby out of wedlock. It was not a big wedding, but it was a nice one. Her parents drove in from the country and her brother and two sisters came too. His father and mother were both living abroad in the US and neither of them could come out for the wedding. They still had not got their papers right after twelve years. She was only seventeen weeks pregnant at the time, so it didn’t show to all that. A few close friends attended, but none of them knew about her pregnancy. She had confided only in her sisters and her mother. Rupert had told his best friend – his best man.
About a year after Winsome was born, Elaine was at home watching TV one evening. She had just put Winsome in the crib when she heard a knock at the gate. Her first thought was that the noise would wake the baby. When she heard the knocks getting louder, however, her mind started to wonder whether something was wrong. How could it be? She hadn’t heard any gunshots fired for weeks now.
“Elaine! Elaine! Come quick! Elaine!” Marcia, her neighbour to the left was banging on the zinc structure. By the time Elaine rushed to the door and opened it, Marcia was already on the top step. “What happen, Marcia?” Elaine could feel the bottom of her belly sinking lower and lower as she looked into Marcia's eyes. Her neighbour, who, just a moment ago was shouting her name, could not find her voice. She just stared into Elaine’s eyes and kept shaking her head. After a few seconds, Elaine asked again. “Marcia!” She was surprised at the level of her own voice that now sounded frantic. The sound brought Marcia back from space. Tears brimmed her eyes as she replied, “Elaine? Is Rupert,” she mustered as her voice cracked on “Rupert”. Elaine’s belly hit rock bottom.
All of a sudden, she felt weak. No. Not weak. Weak meant that there were still some dregs of strength to get you to the closest chair. She felt numb. Lifeless. That was it. Her mind formed the words but she could not utter them. Why could she not utter them? They were simple enough. It was a simple question. She looked beyond Marcia who had taken a seat on the top step. Her eyes rested on the small stream of people who were making their way to her side of the street; to her yard. She had witnessed this type of procession before. She had even been a part of some of them. It was the usual. Somebody was first with the news, then, as fast as the news travelled, the people from every street and lane would make their way to the house in question. Yet, it wasn’t the usual. For the first time, it was her time. She stared at the crowd that had congregated outside her gate, spilling over on to the sidewalk. She stared, but at no one in particular. Then the words came, out of the blue, into thin air. “What happen to Rupert?”
“Dem shot him, Elaine. The man dem open fire pon the taxi when it stop up the road. Dem just let off somebody and, next thing, pure shot a fire!” Marcia replied as if programmed.
She hadn’t noticed it, but, by this time, the yard had slowly filled up with neighbours. Most of them had a similar version. The police had opened fire after it stopped to let off “Winji”. It was not clear whether Winji had been the target but, all they knew, two of those in the back of the car had received gunshot wounds. Rupert’s was the only one that had been fatal. Even Winji survived – although with life-threatening injuries. The accounts differed on how many persons were travelling in the back but, generally, they were pretty clear on who fired the shots.
Seven years. That was almost as long as it had taken to get her life back together. If you could call it a life – or one put back together. Between her siblings who nagged her to “get the hell out of there!” and her parents, especially her mother, who broke Elaine’s heart with her pleading, Elaine’s will-power was tested. Leave, of course. But to where? It was hardly an option. The three-room structure became her property and many of the neighbours were there for her. Nothing ever came of the shooting. After a while, she had stopped going to the police station for information. About six months after the funeral, she decided to give it a rest. After all, Winsome needed her. The blessing was that their daughter was just a baby when it happened. That was also the downside. But, Elaine took it one day at a time. She purposed in her heart that she was going to do everything she could to make a better life for her daughter.
The bus pulled up and Miss Green, Winsome, Elaine and two other people got on. It was already packed. The little E-20s didn’t have much room to begin, but, that never deterred the driver nor conductor. They squeezed in, with Elaine making room on her lap for Winsome. The child held both her school bag and her mother’s work bag in her lap. As the music – if you could call it that – blared over the speakers, most of the passengers cast their looks outside. A couple of the brave ones tried holding telephone conversations, shouting into the mouth-pieces. The less brave listened in, trying to make sense of the lewd lyrics, and certain pieces of the two or three cell phone conversations they could catch.
After stopping to pick up and let off passengers, the driver finally reached the school. There was a crossing guard at the light. Winsome slid off her mother`s lap and clutched her school bag.
“Okay, Mommy! ” Winsome said, as she gave her mother a peck on the cheek. Her mother hadn’t taught her that. She had picked it up from one of the shows on Nickelodeon. But, oh how it pleased Elaine! "Bye, Miss Green!" Winsome shouted from outside the mini-bus, as she waved to the older woman. The child's view was terribly distracted by the other passengers and the closed door, but, she waved just the same. Elaine craned her neck to watch her as she approached the crossing guard, along with three other children. The driver of the bus in which she was still sitting, knew better than to move. Elaine watched through a little space between a couple heads out the front windshield as the crossing guard stepped out, held up her sign, then beckoned the children to come. They were safely across when she beckoned the driver to go ahead.
"That little one going to be bright, you see?" Miss Green said to Elaine after they began moving again.
"She is already very bright. You should hear her read!" Elaine beamed.
When Winsome was younger, the teachers tested her ability to read and write. They were very impressed with how she did. To their surprise, she read all the words. Not once did she stumble over any of them. And, when it came to her writing, she had good penmanship. They did not know that Winsome’s mother used to teach her at home before she started primary school. That very day, the teachers arranged for Winsome to skip Grade One. So, at six years old, Winsome joined the Grade Two class. The other children were about a year older than her. But, Winsome was not afraid. She had never been one to show fear. Her mother had always secretly admired that about her.
(To be continued with Part 2 of 2 on the 28th of May.)