Do as I say, Not as I Do

sadness-1325507_1280photo credit: MariangelaCastro; Pixabay

***

Some children have no access to good lessons in story-books but even those who are blessed with story-books are sometimes misled by the actions of adults. What are we teaching our children?

The little girl in my story is placed in a precarious position by her own mother. Though she doesn’t know to verbalize what she’s feeling, we can sense her embarrassment. Can there be a happy ending to this story? Would it kill us to behave differently?

***

“Young lady– obviously, you don’t know who I am. I’m Mrs. Manzanilla from Refaccionaría Manzanilla,” my mother announced in Spanish in a voice too loud for my liking. I wanted to run and hide. The way she said that, and the dignified way she looked when she said that made the poor cashier take a nose-dive into the deepest recesses of her brain. I saw it in the way the cashier tipped her head. She wanted to try to understand what this lady in front of her was talking about. As far as the young girl was concerned, there was only one Refaccionaría Manzanilla in the whole of Macondo and this lady was not that Mrs. Manzanilla. She knew.

She knew for a fact that Mrs. Manzanilla had never set foot into a Save Big Store; that instead, she sent her housekeeper into the store twice a week to drop off a grocery list. And that the necessary items then got delivered to the mansion. And besides, Mrs. Manzanilla’s daughter and she were thick-as-thieves. She knew exactly what that Mrs. looked like.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Manzanilla, but I’m just following the protocol of a report from our security personnel. They’ve instructed me to ask you to step aside and to request that you voluntarily return the items that they saw you stash into your two bags.”

“And I say, you are wrong! I have no need to do such an outrageous thing as stealing from a place like this. I demand to see the manager.”

The girl makes a phone call.

It was a busy Thursday evening and people were stocking up on items in anticipation of the long holiday weekend. The buzz of the cash machines, the intricate bustle of the happy shoppers and the upbeat tempo of the music in the store, drown the embarrassing tone of the commotion going on in front of me. But in my insides, a volcano was erupting. I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to be around to see my mother get escorted to the police station.

On my back, I carried an overstuffed rucksack that was ripping at the seams. My mother carried a small Buston-bag with wheels — just as conspicuous looking as mine.

“Oh I understand,” my mother volunteered, “you see our overstuffed bags and think the worst… well-I-never! …” she slams her fist on the counter. “We came here with our luggage because we’ve just arrived from a short trip. We stopped in to pick up a few necessities. And you immediately assume that what you see us carrying in these bags are items stolen from your shelves. Well you are wrong…wrong, I tell you!”

Any minute now, any minute now the earth will rumble and swallow me up whole, I think. That will be better than this. I start to sweat cold.

The people in line at the cashier where we stand get directed to a different line. They look at us with scorn for disrupting the rhythm of their shopping experience. But that is all they do. To them, we are nobodies. No one bothers to know more, but to me, of all the inconsistencies that I’ve seen and come to understand since turning nine, this has got to be the worst.

And people will talk, a nagging voice announces inside my head. They don’t seem interested in the heated discussion going on right now, but someone will remember. 

I start to pray…

They escort us to a room in the back; the office. They ask us to wait.  My mother gives me a side glance and the zip-it-up sign to keep my mouth shut. No need to tell me Mom, I think, even if I wanted to, words have left my thoughts moments ago. All I have now is prayers. And those won’t buy me a pardon… 

Inside, we see a row of monitors displaying every aisle in the store.

We are dead, I think, then I hold my breath. Just then I notice that the monitors show a lot of static on the screen. I exhale. But the exertion of exhaling, or perhaps it was the part about holding my breath, makes me feel light-headed. I lean on the wall and close my eyes.

I hear the voices of men talking and above theirs, I hear my mother’s unwavering voice. I do not know for how long this goes on; I remain fixed on my prayers.

“Come on child, let’s get out of here.” Mother takes my hand and together with my uncle, the owner of Refaccionaría Manzanilla, we walk out of Save Big.  He calls us a taxi.  He hugs my mother and pats me on the head. Mother and I sit in silence in the taxi until we arrive on the front steps of our house.

I drop my rucksack and make a dash for the chicken coop. I remain inside thinking I’d rather stay with the chickens than with her.

Moments later she comes to call me in for supper. “…besides, it’s time for the chickens to roost,” she soothes.

I begin to cry.

***

Thanks for reading.

An Unduplicatable Experience

Photo credits: Christina Sicoli, Unsplash

**

I’m the mother of two little boys who are now in their twenties. I don’t do much mother-ing anymore, but the fact that I’m still a mother will stay with me until the end. Here’s a comparison make on the subject of motherhood. I hope you enjoy it.

**

MOTHERHOOD IS LIKE FLYING SOLO

“Oh, if they weren’t so cute, I’d send them back and get my refund,” some tease.

“How is it that they smell so good? I roll in the same field and end up smelling like a cow while they — they smell like morning dew,” exclaim others, “hahaha.”

These people are talking about their children…

Those not yet in the parent-club do some eye rolling and utter ‘as ifs..’ But for those already smitten by the likes of children the puppy-love faces with the knowing raised-eyebrows are priceless. So what is so mystifying about children, or better yet, what is so mystifying about becoming a parent? I’m here to help shed some light on the subject.

Being a parent is like going on your first solo flight — repeatedly — as every day brings new emotions similar to those, I’m told, as flying solo. I embrace that notion, somehow; the somehow comes from the obvious realization that children do not come with instruction manuals. Still, let me try to demystify the idea of parenting.

Ideally, a child enters your world after a nine-month pregnancy, and it is then that you become a parent.
The average instruction period for flying lessons is ten-weeks. Ideally, at the end of those lessons, you’re ready to take your first solo flight.

For soloists the anticipation of that day is similar in its uniformity but different in its meaning as undoubtedly learning to fly is an exciting experience unduplicatable. Well, with all the ‘elements of planning’ that are required in giving attention to sequence, the application of motor skills and coordination, the crucial simulations, and let’s not forget, all the confidence building that is required, a pilot-to-be is prepared for his/her solo.

The same ‘elements of planning’ are required of parents-to-be. The difference being that unlike flying, the brain of a parent-to-be cannot simulate the experience until the moment the experiences start happening. And I say experiences because new ones arise daily.

I want to put you, my reader, in the driver seat. From here on, let me talk to YOU.

When you arrive at the airfield, you envisage everything you studied and worry that you might be forgetting something important. You want to check your notes but the instructor is right there commanding you to breathe instead. You manage a smile and a nod.
You climb inside the plane and you breathe in deeply. Now you’re on the pilot seat. You methodically complete the checklist of the plane’s controls. That was easy, you think.

You might feel the urge to look over at the seat beside you only to find it empty. You glance out the window on your left and see your instructor standing in the distance. You wave but she doesn’t see you. You breathe again. The only noise in the cockpit is the purr of the engine and a voice over the intercom. You are alone.

You touch your headphones, waiting for a signal from the control tower. All clear for takeoff, you may proceed, says the voice in your ears. At that moment, your breathing steadies, your brows furrow in concentration, and your feelings of anxiety leave you.

You start the engine and release the brake. Next you open the throttle a little, you feed more gasoline to the engine. The propeller whirls faster. The plane starts moving forward. You taxi onto the runway, facing into the direction of the wind. You wait. A voice from the control tower comes through your headphones again. Permission to take off, it says.

You open the throttle wide. The plane accelerates down the runway. On your right sits a stick — a control. When pulled back it lifts the nose of the plane; when pulled forward it drops the nose of the plane. You also know that to increase speed, you need to push the stick forward. Your right-hand rests on the stick.

The plane is now traveling fast. You can feel it trying to leave the ground. “This is it,” you say to yourself. Ever so gently you pull back on the stick. You see the nose lift while the ground suddenly drops away beneath you.
You are flying!

In the ten weeks of instructions, you have been told many things. One that you need to recall for this solo is: go no faster than eighty-five miles an hour. You know the plane has a maximum speed of twice that speed, yet you stay within the eighty-five miles.

You are constantly watching your airspeed indicator. You see the small clock face slowly creep up: 20, 30, 50. You know that if it drops below fifty-five miles an hour, the plane will stall. The airspeed reaches 60 knots, you ease back on the throttle. You cannot see the runway anymore, only sky.
You are flying!

You and the plane climb to five hundred feet. You’re on top of the world; or at least high enough to make your first turn.
I repeat: It is time to make the first turn… A turn? Yeah, you knew that was coming. You’ve simulated turning, remember? Now get turning. A turn!
You wipe the sweat from your hand on your trousers and immediately return it to the stick.

You push it gently to the left. The wing on the left side drops, the plane makes a turn, or bank as you have learned to call it. Everything is going well, but there are so many things to think about that you hardly notice the view. You breathe in slowly.

After making three more left banks, you’re on your final approach. The voice from the control tower gives you the all clear for landing. Landing! Crap, you think, now you have to land this thing! You glance over at the the seat next to you, again, you find it empty. Your brows furrow. You reduce the amount that the throttle is open. You can feel the plane begin dropping. Not too fast. Not too steep an angle, you remind yourself. Come in too high and you’ll overshoot the runway; come in too low and you’ll fall short.

Your brows are still furrowed but your breathing is stable.
You brace yourself.
The runway comes rushing up toward you.

When the plane is inches from the ground, you close the throttle restricting power from the engine. You pull back on the stick to raise the nose. The engine power dies. The wings no longer support the plane; the plane drops.
You make a perfect landing! YOU make a perfect landing!

Nice landing, you hear over the radio. You grin.
A feeling of exultation cascades over you as you ease down the runway.
You come to a complete stop.

Parenting is like that!
Everyday! Unduplicatable!
Only, you never stop the engine.

Enjoy your flight and don’t forget to take in the view!

**

This article was first published in Medium under the title of ‘Motherhood is like Flying Solo’. If you enjoyed this post kindly leave me a brief comment and/or share with others who you think might enjoy it as well. Thank you ever so kindly. Blessings, Selma.

Their Ears, Not Pierced

by Selma

February and March had me busy working on this contest piece. I worked hard on it, submitted and Short Fiction Break Magazine published it. Yay!

I didn’t win the contest but certainly emerged a Winner in more ways than one. I invite you to Please read in its entirety. Thank you. And I’d be thrilled to read your comments to me there… Thank you.

http://shortfictionbreak.com/their-ears-not-pierced/

But, if you don’t want to visit that link, here it is again. Open.

THEIR EARS, NOT PIERCED

“The Heresy of one age becomes the Orthodoxy of the next” Helen Keller

I sit on a bench outside the airport newly arrived on my flight from Asia. Two little girls sit beside me. They’re either twins, or very close in age. Their ears, not pierced. They are wearing dresses that reveal chubby arms with rubber bracelets of many colors. They are completely absorbed in their iPads whose cases match the color of the dresses they wear. They don’t acknowledge my presence and neither does the young mother. She stands swaying from side to side tapping her baby’s bottom with a rhythmic beat as she hums softly. The baby, she carries in a sling. The baby’s hand is all I can see because it is dressed in a hooded-Pikachu-romper. Yellow. The young mother’s gaze is focused on the street and she is obviously waiting for her ride. I close my eyes for a moment and immediately, I’m transported back to a time when there were no iPads.

Both of my sisters and I wanted to sit by the window on the bus. We wanted to look out the window to see the villages go by. We wanted to see the dogs barking and chasing after the bus. But we were too little; the windows too high. More than once people sitting on window seats offered that we sit on their laps. Mom would let us. But the roads soon lulled us to sleep. We’d wake up with our cheeks stuck to the unfamiliar necks of sweaty people; the necks of people whose faces we didn’t ever remember seeing before. Who were these people we’d think and then we’d give out a cry for our mother.

Once I remember being awakened by a pair of hands with rough nails caressing me down the front of my little body under my little dress. The unfamiliarity of the hands alerted my senses and startled me awake. And yet another time a woman shoved me way under her own blouse and had me sucking on her breast like a baby. The salty taste of her skin made me feel like gagging and woke me up with a tremendous start.

Growing up in Macondo my friends and I always saw it as a good place to grow up and a good place for raising kids. There was nothing the townspeople wouldn’t do to help young mothers. It was as if the entire town was involved in the raising of children.

As young girls learning about our place in society, we all agreed that here, mothers did a lot to help their children form lasting friendships by exposing them to other children. Someone was always ready to attest that growing up their mothers were good at making play-dates for them, at hosting parties, picnics and outings. That observation was uncontested. Sleepovers at friends’ homes were unheard of though. For that, mothers here relied on their own sisters and sisters-in-law and employed the assistance of cousins. In my case, sleepovers with my cousins meant a 5-hour bus ride in the company of strangers.

In my mind I can still see my mother carrying one baby boy, a big over-stuffed bag holding books, blankets and baby clothes and three little girls running behind her. The day before the trip we were made to understand that we would be wearing our cousins’ clothes because though he was still too young to notice that he was a boy, society required that mom had him dressed in boys’ clothes at all times. This was mostly as a tribute to dad for having reached that coveted goal of procuring a boy — dad’s trophy.

Girls were produced at a-dollar-a-dozen but boys had to be special-made. So that when a family was blessed to introduce a son into the world, God forbid they’d ever be mistaken for a girl. In those days, no boy-baby ever knew the joys of wearing pink and orange and purple or variations of those colors. So cloaked in that mentality, mom did as she was told.

Those early practices of sharing clothes and riding buses molded us. They taught us that we belonged in a community of girls and that we had each other to rely on when we needed support. Every bus ride ended being a happy time; unhappy incidents, if any, only lived on in our minds.

In the Macondo that I know, there has always been a strong belief that girls have to endure much grief and pain throughout their lives starting with the miracle of birth. Of course there were male-doctors and nuns ready to assist in the delivery of a baby, but neither the doctors nor the nuns had first hand experience of what the pain was like. Epidural anesthesia was unheard of then as it was understood that the price of the miracle was the pain.

“Our main job as women is to carry a heavy banner and to make it look easy. No matter what, you cannot give any hints of how heavy or painful it all is. You do that, and all the other women will continue supporting you. Fail, and you stand alone.” That’s the mantra my friends and I heard repeated often growing up. Thus, when in the throngs of the delivery, wet towels would be shoved into the mouth of the mothers to prevent any sound of agony from escaping into the waiting room.

If a boy popped out, the doctor himself would shout it out in siren fashion:  “…itsa booooooooooooy!!” And this would ring through the town by word of mouth. A celebration, tailored for the father, would then begin and it would continue until the mandatory 5 days of rest for the mother was over. Acquaintances and family alike would drop in on the father to offer a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. A small present that almost always consisted of clothes for the baby — blue, would accompany the well wisher.

On the other hand, if a girl popped out, there would be no such announcement. The doctor would exit the room, seek out the father’s eyes, and just nod a sympathetic nod. At this, the father would lower his head in an apologetic gesture and his buddies, standing at sporadic locations, would read into the father’s demeanor, wave and walk away saying “better luck next time buddy,” under their breaths. The new mother would still qualify for the mandatory 5 days of rest and one day, during that short rest-period, the baby would get her ears unceremoniously pierced to comply with their antiquated belief concerning girls and pain.

Everyone knows that babies cannot fend for themselves. They need feeding, bathing, cleaning up after and more. But unlike other countries where independence is encouraged in boys and girls, here in Macondo the practice of doing everything for the boy would continue. Never allowed into a kitchen, sisters would turn into maids for their brothers. And brothers would take their sisters for granted never really conceding to the idea that what they were doing was unfair.

There I sit out on the bench, thinking all these things in no particular order. I am tired and sleepy but forcing alertness. The tropical breeze on my face, arms and toes titillate my senses. I slip off my sandals, crack my toes, open them wide then rotate my ankles. The girls and their mother are still there. I stand next to the bench, leaving my sandals where I sat, clutch my hands and stretch my arms long causing my back to curve. I proceed to stimulate my body into alertness with my various stretch poses and then as I am in limp-pose with my head touching my knees, I hear the mother speak for the first time.

“Come on girls get your things, dad and grandma are here.”   I straighten up and remain standing. I glance over at the girls as they scurry around trying to fit little feet into their rubber polka-dot boots. Then holding their iPads by the small handle they stand shoulder to shoulder by the edge of the sidewalk giggling softly. Dad gets out of the car and kneels down on bare knees to embrace his girls.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy,” they repeat over and over. They each kiss daddy on his cheek and the next moment one of them is on daddy’s shoulder and the other one is hanging on to one of his arms. With the girls stuck to his body this way, he stands and kisses his wife on the forehead and pats the sleeping baby on its hooded head once. I don’t mean to intrude, but my eyes get fixed on his ears. Dad is wearing earrings. On both ears!

“He couldn’t stay awake for daddy huh?” he says, rubbing the baby’s head again but looking into his wife’s face. “That’s okay,” then he discreetly pinches her on her hip. “I have missed you terribly honey,” he whispers close to her ear. Then sliding the door of the minivan open he places his giggly-bundle inside and directs them to the back seat.

Grandma sits in the middle of the seat so the girls position themselves on each side of her. They strap themselves in, kick off their boots again, raise their legs and the next moment they are staring into their screens again while grandma strokes their hair one at a time. The baby in his Pikachu romper, a boy I come to understand, is strapped into his purple car-seat and off they go back to their lives.

My ride into town doesn’t arrive for another hour. I expected them to be late as usual; only people in Asia are punctual, but they just wouldn’t let me plan on a bus-ride. Too dangerous they said. So I wait. Out here I see people come and go. Teeth flashing in open laughter on the faces of some, mostly the newly arrived passengers and restrained smiles on the others.

“Those girls are studying medicine, and those will become pilots and engineers,” a voice says to me from inside my head.

“Yes,” I say to the voice absentmindedly. “Still in its nascent stage, but things are different now. I wonder if they can feel how much the winds have shifted. I get the impression that Macondo is ready to embrace the change that is being soldiered on by those kids returning with knowing-laughs on their faces.”

“They are the lucky ones,” I reassure my imaginary companion sitting on the bench now. I sigh long and feel a weight lift off my shoulders. My whole face breaks into a smile.

“I’m glad I made this trip. Ten years away is a long time.” I speak the words aloud to my companion again, “I’m one of the lucky ones too!”

I hear the buzz of dreamland calling me. I yawn such a great big yawn that tears spring from my eyes. I go over to the food-stall and get a coffee-smoothie and I plead with my mind to keep watch for just a little longer. I sip my smoothie and wiggle my toes.

“Change’s a-coming”, I inform my toes this time.

An off-duty taxi drives up to the curb; its radio blasting. I recognize the song playing and I smile from ear to ear.

“Oh Michael Buble,” I say out loud, “you and me both. I am feeling good!”

Thanks again. Selma

Kids see Things that Adults can’t see

by Selma

“Today I am a round blue thing mommy. What am I?” said little Donny. As soon as he posed the question to mom he hugged his legs firmly and started swaying from left to right and back again; he laid curled up like a little fur ball on the floor. Sure that he had mom’s attention, he stopped swaying to receive his mom’s response.

“Hmm, let me think,” said his mommy, “are you a furry, round blue thing?”
Mom thought that perhaps he was pretending to be the little blue furry kitten pictured in his story book the night before. Why would anyone think of painting a kitten blue anyway, she remembers thinking.

“No. No fur on me”, laughed Donny, “keep guessing mommy.” He swayed to the left and again to the right and then stopped, eagerly awaiting mom’s answer.

“Well, are you a round blue thing that enjoys being kicked around?”, his mother asked.

“Mmhn. Maybe. You can kick me around but that’s not what I am for”, said the boy with his eyes dancing on mommy’s face.
Mom was sure that the little boy was talking about the nice blue ball that his grandparents had recently sent for him. But, right after thinking that, a more recent image arose in her mind: “No ball kicking inside the house,” dad had said in an authoritative voice. Dad was bent over picking up the shattered pieces of the broke lamp. “Balls are for playing outside; not for inside the house — things get broken and hurt”, dad had punctuated. Dad’s reprimand had made Donny cry but he never kicked his ball inside the house again.

“Hmmn are you a round blue thing that likes to bounce up and down then?” asked mom.

“No mommy. I cannot bounce. God didn’t make me for bouncing. Just for rolling.” replied the little boy.

“No?”, Mommy said in surprise. “You’re not your new blue ball?”

“No mommy. I’m not that.”

Mom looked away from the magazine she was paging through to get a clue from the things he was playing with at the moment. No mention of round blue objects in the story books he had around him nor anything blue in his vicinity. He was playing with his toy cars but those were not blue. Mom couldn’t decide what to say to him.

“Well, I’m afraid I will need you to give me a clue because I cannot guess what it is you are today Donny”, she said.

“A clue?” He was intrigued . He got off the floor and walked to where mom was sitting. “Well, daddy loses it every day and he cannot go to the office without it. So every day he spends a lot of time looking for it. It’s daddy’s very important thing.”

Well, John is always misplacing his keys, that’s for sure thought mom, but Donny specifically said that he is a round blue thing. Keys are not round, mommy thought.

“I give up Donny. I cannot guess what you are”, she said at last. Even with his clue, she really couldn’t guess what he was pretending to be today.

“Mommy, today I am the little round blue marble on daddy’s keychain. The one he uses to start the car with.” He said this and then he folded his arms feigning anger, or perhaps that was pride on his face?

“Oh my Donny. You had me on that one. I would never in a hundred years have guessed that today you were the little blue marble on daddy’s keychain”, she ruffled his curly hair. “Now it’s mommy’s turn to ask you a question. Why is it that you are a round blue thing today?”

“Because today I am that little blue marble that’s hanging from daddy’s keys. The End”, said Donny. He emphasized the ‘the end’ just like mommy did at the end of every story she read to him.

And with that mommy knew that there was no point in her prodding him for more clarity. Today her son was feeling like a little blue thing that was very important to his daddy. It was no use trying to play detective or psychologist. Kids know what they know.

There is no Love in Violence

“Domestic violence rarely affects only those directly involved in the abusive relationship.” ― Asa Don Brown
Short of stepping on Curly’s tail, Becky stormed into the living room, slammed the screen-door shut and hurried to her room.
“What?” her mother asked from the kitchen, “back already? Did you forget to take something?” her mother continued.

Becky didn’t answer. Her footsteps were heavy as she went up the stairs. She closed the door to her room, pressed the play button of her CD player and turned the volume on high. She got inside her closet and sat on the floor on the corner closest to the window. The evening was pleasant and the sound of the birds on the tree outside the window was silenced by the sound coming from inside her room.

Her mother finished rinsing off the dinner dishes and wiping her wet hands on her apron, rushed upstairs to see what the matter was with her daughter. She knocked on the door with the secret code they had settled on for the month, but no tap-tap, the code of acknowledgement, came from inside the room. Mother knocked the same way again and again, but again Becky didn’t reciprocate. Mom turned the door knob and realized that the door was locked from the inside.

“Becky, open the door. Let me in. Becky, what happened? Did something happen with you and Margo?” Mom was getting worried. This was so out of character for her daughter.

She waited a few more minutes and knocked again. “Becky,” she said, a little more impatient this time, “talk to me. Open the door.” Becky got out of the closet, lowered the volume on her CD player and unlocked the door. Then she sat on the floor next to her bed. Mother knocked again and this time Becky reciprocated by tapping on the side of her bedroom table with their coded tap-tap. Mother turned the door knob and entered the room.

“Honey, did something happen to you over at Margo’s house?”
Becky hugged her knees and looked away from her mother. Mother followed Becky’s lead and sat on the floor next to her daughter.

In the short year that they have been neighbors, Becky and Margo have become best friends. They walk to and from school together, they spend endless hours playing outdoors and talking on the porch-swing, they walk up to receive holy communion together at Sunday Mass and apart from the fact that each girl has their own house chores to do, they are inseparable. Once or twice a month Margo’s mother has invited Becky to come along as Margo’s guest for a family dinner at a sort-of-nice restaurant in town. The dinners always left Becky a little perplexed but she dismissed the feelings Because she could not find the appropriate words to form the thoughts about the feelings, even in her own head. This being the case she never got around to saying anything about this to her mother. When mother would ask, Becky would talk about the food instead of the feelings she would bring back from the dinner experience with the Romanos.

“Yes, I decided to sneak in on Margo instead of calling out to her. When I looked in through the screen door I saw Margo kneeling on the floor. She had her hands stretched out infront of her and I saw her daddy loading her arms with heavy books.”

“You mean that it was like some kind of punishment?” her mother asked.

“Yes, exactly. It had to be. Margo looked sad and scared but she had her arms stretched out and her daddy kept putting book after book for her to hold in her outstretched arms. At one point, Margo got tired so she relaxed her buttom on the back of her legs and her daddy hit her on her back with a book,” replied Becky suppressing fresh tears that burned to come out.

“And you saw all that? ” her mother asked holding her daughter’s hand with one hand and wiping a tear off her own face with the other.

“Yes. But the worst part is that Margo saw me looking. I think that I will never be able to face her again. I am embarrassed to have seen what I saw. And I am sure that Margo is embarrassed for it as well.” Becky’s words punctuated the conversation and a long silence, thick as a morning mist, permeated the room. Her mother didn’t know what to make of the situation. And she didn’t want to say something out of place without thinking things over first, so mother and daughter just sat there on the floor.

In the year since they have been neighbors the mothers have not become close. They have exchanged pleasantries but unlike the girls, their relationship hasn’t advanced beyond that. For starters, Mrs. Romano, Margo’s mother is a career woman. She works from 9:00 – 5:00, sometimes later and like the rest of the neighborhood, Becky’s mother refrains from approaching Mrs. Romano to allow her the space she and the neighbors think she needs. Come to think of it, besides attending Mass with her family on Sundays and the occasional dinners out in town, Mrs. Romano seldom participates in anything in the community. Mr. Romano, on the other hand, works from home. According to Margo he is a translator of German Novels. He is at home all the time and it is he who attends to Margo and her younger sister when they return home from school. He is very polite yet reserved with the neighbors. He attends school meetings but doesn’t socialize with anyone at school. According to Becky, the Romanos move to a new town every two years or so and before coming to Macondo, they lived in Los Alamos. Apart from that, no one knows anything else about the family.

*****

“The abuser does not believe, however, that his level of authority over the children should be in any way connected to his actual level of effort or sacrifice on their behalf, or to how much knowledge he actually has about who they are or what is going on in their lives. He considers it his right to make the ultimate determination of what is good for them even if he doesn’t attend to their needs or even if he only contributes to those aspects of child care that he enjoys or that make him look like a great dad in public.” ― Lundy Bancroft Bancroft

Do Little Girls still Dream about Getting Married?

“A Wedding dress is both intimate and personal for a woman–it must reflect the personality and style of the bride.”— Caroline Herrera

Lucille has long wavy brown hair that when loose, cascades down to her tailbone. Today she has it arranged in a long thick braid that swirls around her head.  Baby’s breath adorn it and there is no denying that she looks ever so radiant in that hair style. Her face is powdered and she wears a little dab of blush on her cheeks and mascara on her eyelashes. She is pretty, to begin with, but today she looks ever so beautiful.  It’s her wedding day.

“Lipstick later, after you’re in your dress because we don’t want it staining it accidentally,” says Nicca.

Six women stand in the room. It is the room that mom always keeps locked.

“Too many pins and needles that could pierce little fingers,” is all my mother would give us as an explanation.  We were never allowed in there.

Today we stand at the door looking in. Next to Lucille stands the seamstress, Ms. Rose to everyone except us. Mother is there to help Lucille get into her wedding gown. I have seen my mother do this countless times before, but every time the admiration comes from new people so the whole experience feels different every time.

“What a beautiful piece of material this is,” my mother had said the day the mailman brought the box containing the white material. But mother said that about every piece of cloth she ever worked with.  I have seen her hold all her pieces of material with reverence and then after that, seen how my mother’s beautiful eyes glow like beacons on a dark night at sea. That glow always made her face look younger. After that initial reaction, mother would never expose that beautiful material again in our presence until it was unveiled on a day like today.

The dress is laid on the floor with a crinoline arranged inside of it. Wearing only her stockings and undergarment, Lucille is made to stands on a low ladder. Two ladies hold her outstretched arms and from up there she slides the bottom half of her body smoothly into the skirt of the wedding gown.

“She looks like a mannequin there standing like that,” my sister whispers to me.

“I know,” I say. “I want to be a bride too someday,” we both giggle.

Mother proceeds to help Lucille with the sleeves, helping her insert one arm first and then the other in slow motion.

The embroidery on the sleeves and on the bodice, with the pearls and small beads in the shape of happy tears and the boat neckline that fits her perfectly, all these alluring points elicit compliments mingled with tears directed at the bride.

“Oh Lucy,” exclaims Lucille’s mother, “you look so beautiful in that dress. Good choice! Look at that everyone — what a beauty this daughter of mine is.”

“Yes, beautiful Lucille,” the others repeat. They can’t seem to come up with other words besides beautiful.

“She looks like Cinderella,” my sister and I agree, “just like a princess.”

My mother stands behind Lucille buttoning the long line of silk buttons. Pride swelling on her face as she hears the others complimenting the bride.

Someone kneels in front of Lucille and helps her to slide her feet into what seems to us like tiny glass slippers. Lucille looks down at her shoes and then straightens up. Her motions exactly like those of Cinderella in the movie. She looks at herself in the long mirror someone rolls in front of her and with her hands on her cheeks, tries to conceal her delight.

“No crying please,” warns Nicca, “that will ruin your makeup and it will stain the dress. No, no, no!”

But Lucille is not crying. She is happy. This is the day that she has been waiting for. She is on her way to marry the man that crawled into her heart a little at a time.

“Oh, happy day,” she says with a smile, and forcing her eyes off the mirror, she looks around the room. She finds my mother standing by the door and extends her hands out to her. My mother walks up to her and she and Lucille clasp hands.

“You look beautiful,” mother says to her.

“Oh, Ms. Rose thank you. The dress is even more beautiful than in the catalog. You are a real magician with those hands. Thank you.”

The wind is still as the beautiful bride walks out our storefront door. She has lipstick on her lips, a bouquet of lilies in her hand and a long tulle veil on her head. Escorted by her mother, Lucille walks the short distance from our house to the church. She walks erect, with a radiance emanating from her soul and she demurely acknowledges the well-wishes from the onlookers.

My mother holds our hands and walks us closer to the church. We see Lucille let go of her mother’s hand and clutch onto her father’s arm. The women who walked with her from our store disappear inside the church and then a procession of young women, all wearing clothes of the same color line up behind Lucille. The bride and her entourage disappear inside the church as the happy wedding bells toll loudly announcing the ceremony.

 

The Fabric of our Lives

 

That evening there were twelve kids at our lawn party. The grownups were noisily conversing, or arguing with each other, as it had seemed to us kids, to notice that the littlest boy was eating away at the candy from the colorful bottle he found next to the ketchup and the relish on the food table. Some of us had already gotten used to seeing that plastic bottle sitting on tables at every party that it made us think that not having it meant a lack of proper hospitality to our neighbors.  On one similar occasion, we had been made to understand that we were only allowed to have one tablet for the entirety of an evening. The tablets contained in the bottle came in all different colors and each color was a different flavor. Leonora and I were fond of the color purple and we each took one of the grape flavored tablets when offered.  The tablet wasn’t caramelized like hard candy and neither did it dissolve easily in our mouths. Yet its sweet flavor was released slowly enough to entice even the young palate of children. The part about these being for heartburn and sour stomach, never registered as anything other than grown up talk, as none of us knew what having a sour stomach or heartburn even meant.

Leonora and I lived nextdoor to each other on a street closest to the beach. Never did a day go by without I going over to Leonora’s house, or she coming over to mine. Our houses were separated in the middle by a green mesh fence that was removable. Long iron poles with hooks at the top and at the bottom held the mesh in place. The mesh ran all the way around the four corners of our yards. Our families each raised chickens and they didn’t want our chickens to roam too far away from their respective coops. This fence was a good fence. At times it acted as a great net for when Leonora and I played badminton and also for secretly calling out to each other when we didn’t want anyone else to hear us calling. A few simple kicks in the right place and our suzus would ring out with secret messages to one another. Some messages would say ‘meet you at the library or at the park in 10 minutes’, or ‘I’m angry or sad’, or just plain-old ‘wanna come over’.  We referred to our fence as our very own Morse-code device.

Our parents were friendly to each other as well, but they didn’t have a way to calling out to each other like we did. Our mothers would stand close to the fence and talk and laugh with each other, but that’s all they would do. Except that on some special occasions like national holidays or long weekends, we’d shu all the chickens in after their morning strolls around the yard, lock the coops and roll back the fence on the side where we shared a green lawn. Our parents loved to have cookouts. They would set tables to sit our two families and sometimes they’d even invite one or two other families. Then there were the other tables on which they’d place the food and drinks for that day. Both Leonora and I liked it when our families did this, as then we were allowed to stay out longer than usual without having to think about whose turn it was to do the dishes or to empty the trash cans or tiresome decisions like that. We would eat and drink as much as we wanted and we’d play games as long as we could.

The food was always very good, but it always disturbed us to see our parents and all the other grown-ups eat too much and drink too much of everything.

“This is an amazing party,” the other kids would say at regular intervals, and then we’d move on to continue playing our childish games.

I really don’t remember when or who it was that introduced our family to our first bottle of whatever that was, but I remember that the introduction was followed by  “It’s what they take in such and such a country for heartburn and sour stomach”.  Since then, that good old bottle of whatever that was has been an integral part of all our celebrations.

Minutes later, Mrs. Garcia was running behind Mr. Garcia who carried little Marvin curled up and unconscious in his arms. In her haste, Mrs. Garcia left her shoes behind in the yard. Mother found them and had me and Leonora run after Mrs. Garcia to return the shoes.

The couple and the boy were nowhere in sight. Stopping by their house revealed to us that home was not where they had headed to with their child.

“Let’s go to the hospital,” I said to Leonora.

The Macondo hospital wasn’t  far from where we lived, so holding on to one shoe each, we raced each other to get there. A full day out in the sun and now the exercise found us gasping for fresh air when we arrived.  We gulped down a big breath of air to replenish our starved lungs but copious amounts of  Dettol, Bleach, pee and Pledge furniture polish scurried in instead. It wasn’t a pleasant smell.  Neither Leonora nor I had ever been in the emergency room before, so the unfamiliarity of the smell and the place had us feeling light-headed and weak at the knees. We determined to take short sporadically paced breaths and sat there and waited.

People came and went in the emergency -room, yet no one seemed available enough for making a quick inquiry about the whereabouts of The Garcias.  We waited for a while longer thinking that perhaps The Garcias were being held up in consultation with a doctor, but they never emerged again.

“We’ve been here long enough already” Leonora reasoned after a while, “new patients have gone in and have left already. Perhaps The Garcias didn’t come here after all.”

On our return home, we had no energy for running.  An unfamiliar odor had impregnated our nostrils, and it seemed to have penetrated all the way up to the farthest recesses of our brains causing us to walk with lethargic movements. The early evening sea-breeze felt good on our foreheads but we refused to let it into our lungs for fear of what that salty combination would smell like. We each still carried a shoe in one hand just like before, but for some reason, the shoe too came to reek of the smelly emergency room. We held it with a little trepidation then.

The adults had cleaned the place up well, put all the garbage in bags and left-over food had been properly distributed among the families. The tables were folded and returned to the shed, and the mesh fence had been hung back to the poles like before. There was no news of little Marvin or his family. The women had collected all the tablets that were scattered on the ground and they noticed that the yellow tablets were fewer than the other colors. No one dared say what this could mean so they said nothing for fear that the possibility could be true.

That evening the party disbanded with a shadow hanging over every adult.”Please God,” they prayed, “don’t let this be true.”

 

 

 

In the Home-bound Train

Life is like a journey on a train… with its stations… with changes of routes… and with accidents!

Young people in latest fashion loiter the narrow streets, chatting, socializing. A couple of kids on skateboards here and there and an occasional cyclist now and then fool the mind into thinking that this is a small busy town in the outskirts of Paris perhaps. Middle age couples stroll by hand in hand and yet older couples, judging from the way they are dressed, hurry along en route to somewhere important. Sitting next to the window of the restaurant it’s hard to tell that we are two floors underground a busy train station. The imagery was all created with intention. This is Paris. Wrong. This is Musashikosugi, a station a couple of stops away from Tokyo Station.
Yesterday I boarded a clean and polished train from my suburb and embarked on an hour-long ride to meet an old friend at a posh restaurant newly opened. This station is exactly half way for the two of us. It had been 4 years since Hiroko packed house and moved away to where she is now. But it has been over 20 years for me since I visited this station. I have good memories of Musashikosugi. Memories of Lulu and Rocio and Monica and Elena and the gang of Nikeijins, second-generation people with Japanese roots, visiting their parents’ homeland for the first time and like me, hoping to learn the language afresh. We were all new to this country back then and enrolling in Japanese Lessons here was what brought us into each other’s lives at this particular station. The station was unpretentious and rather quaint and inviting then and we roamed its corners after lessons so as to prolong our time together.
But now, the place has been bulldozed and in place of its quaintness vulgar high-rise buildings and underground cities have been constructed. There’s no stopping this trend. It’s all hip and good. No matter who we are and how much we know of this station, we relish the novelty and bask in the exaggerated reality of the area at the expense of the quaintness that gave the station its character before.
So, I went to Musashikosugi to meet an old friend for an early dinner. We got lost in our chatter trying to summarize four years into a few hours. It was really nice seeing her and hearing about all the exciting things that have transpired in her life. I also updated her about things going on in my life.
But while we chatted there was a big accident at precisely that train station. It stopped normal train traffic for hours. But since life was dream-like under ground, we were totally unfazed. Not until we were ready to say our goodbyes and head our separate ways, did that reality become part of ours as well. Infuriated for the delays, thinking only of myself, and how this inconvenience was going to steal me of my sleep, I joined in the commotion and tried to find an alternative commute back to my normal life. All to no avail. But in the process of letting go to the moment, I inadvertently remembered something that I had read online a couple of years before. I will share it with you. There is a lot of insight to it and it does a better job at expressing my thoughts today when I consider how close I came to being a victim myself in that accident. I could have been just another one of the passengers pulled out of the wreckage and you wouldn’t have me to tell you this story today. I am glad I’m still here but as of today, I am living my life worthy of several others whose lives have been cut short by that terrible accident.
                     “The Train of Life
       Life is like a journey on a train… with its stations… with changes of routes… and with accidents!
At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side.
However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone.
As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends,children, and even the love of our life.  Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum.  Others will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize that they vacated their seats!
This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells.
Success consists of having a good relationship with all the passengers…requiring that we give the best of ourselves.
The mystery to everyone is:
We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down.
So, we must live in the best way – love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are.
It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty — we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.
I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life.  Reap success and give lots of love.
More importantly, thank God for the journey!
Lastly, I thank you for being one of the passengers on my train!”
On my return to my home, I had to make several detours. It was very inconvenient.
I am now closer to home but not quite yet, I messaged my husband that evening.
I wrote those words as I sat inside the train which slowly became crowded with exhausted passengers also trying to make it back home after a full day at the office. It was way past my usual relax time at home. I had a marvelous time with my friend but by that time I just couldn’t wait to slip into my pajamas and to hit my pillows.
I confess that yesterday I didn’t take a book to read as it just wouldn’t fit into the little bag that I chose for my outing. So the next best thing for me to do was to text a few lines to friends in a conscious effort to not fall asleep and possibly miss my stop. The girl sitting next to me swayed from left to right and her head occasionally touched my left shoulder. She carried a book bag. She was a student so I figured that she must have had a full day of studying and socializing and more than me, couldn’t wait to hit her pillow at home.
We are all on our way home…
My experience yesterday made me look at those words from a different angle and once the train started moving smoothly once again, I wrote my last message for the night to my husband: Finally, I wrote, now we will all be able to get home before this night turns into tomorrow because when tomorrow comes it will already be yesterday’s news.
Next stop is the end of the line for me. See you soon honey.
***********
  “Next stop is the end of the line — your hometown.  Throw off everything and get off.”— Noriko Tsubota

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