Her hand pushed her hair behind her ear, and quickly went back to holding the branch above her. Perspiration bled through her pores and ran down her body. Her muscles trembled, but she still flexed them upwards. She had to; if not, she would fall. Her eyes remained steadfast on the mangoes above her head, and her ears remained poised for the rod of instruction emanating from Miguel’s mouth. He was down on the ground.
“Allison, the mangoes right above your head. Just go up again and pick them and throw them for me!”, Miguel yelled from his safe place.
“Shut up!” she managed to shout. He closed his mouth, embarrassed in front of his friends, Marc and Kris. “Come up here if you know how to do it. If you are man, come! If is you that is man, come!”. Kris and Marc could do no more to hide their smiles; and although embarrassed before, Miguel insisted that the mangoes above her should be picked and thrown for him. Because of course, why else was she up there.
The eruption of the wind caused unrest among the leaves, and they whispered loudly. Clouds came from the east and all went dark quickly. Allison, by then had thrown her first mango, and the opportunist, Miguel, to mark his territory, bit into it and was all but done with his afternoon activities. He removed his shirt and sat on it upon the grass, the fruit’s juices dirtying his mouth and chin. One foreboding droplet told of a rain that would soon come, and the second and third, fell on Allison. She had heeded the warning. She stretched her petite yet long self all she could, and touched the mango of her eyes. And, as if nature herself were against the gang of children, the branch snapped. Allison fell and the mango did not.
The downpour hushed that Sunday afternoon, sending all the children back to their mother’s houses; for a shower and their afternoon lunch. Allison remained on her back porch for some time, but observing how strong the rain got, and remembering her mother’s growing worry, she, out of prudence, went inside.
She put one foot inside, lingered, then placed the other. Hurriedly she closed the door. "I don’t see her", she said to herself. She started for upstairs. "Shower. Then change. And be down for lunch before she even realizes. Perfect." The plan was fool proof. She pushed her bedroom door all the way. Then stopped.
Her mother was sat on her bed. Gently, she was smoothing all the creases out of the sheets. She smiled and hummed to herself. Sylvia was not the nicest- looking woman. But she dressed elegantly and that was enough to balance the scales. She wore a knee length yellow dress, that in contrast with her brown skin, blended almost too perfectly. She had black gloves and black heels. Her hair was combed perfectly and no strand stood out. She seemed to have showered a great deal today for the scent of her soap was in a battle with that of her perfume for dominance. Lavender- that was her perfume. A delightful scent.
She turned her face to Allison and contorted it. She frowned at Allison. She opened her mouth to speak, but only a sigh could come forth. She turned to face Allison completely.
“But look at you, Ally”, she pressed her palm to her face and shook it with disappointment. “Look at you. Aren’t you ashamed?”
“What now?”, Allison retorted. “Ashamed of what?”
“You’re muddy!” she shouted. She lost her composure. She was standing up now. “Look at your clothes. Look at your perfect skin. What would your father think of this when he returns from work tonight?”
“Yes, mother I’m muddy.” She entered her room now. It wasn’t as she left it. It was cleaner. The clothes were in the baskets and the windows were open. The teddy bears were all packed on her bed. It was all wrong. “Muddy mother, this is what happens when you go out to play.”
“Play? With whom? Play? Who does that? Who goes out to play and returns like a pig?”
“My friends, mother- Kris and Marc and Miguel from down the road.”
“Kris and Marc and Miguel? From down the road? Miguel? What kind of mother names their child that?”
“Miss Russell, that’s who, mom. And have respect for his name. It’s.... unique.”
“Miss Russell? Oh. That fornicator from the ghetto. Miss Russell? She’s anything but a “miss”. A miss is earned, darling, not given out with the weekly financial aid.”
Allison did not answer. She had often found it best to leave her mother without answers. She would get the hint soon enough. What she did do, was pick out an outfit for dinner this evening. She had to wear one of her dresses- it was what her father most approved of. She found a cute little olive-green dress, with white flowers strewn around it. She had a pair white heels the dress would look beautiful with. Perfect. That's what she would wear. She navigated passed her mother, who just stood there watching her, to one of her clothes hangers that was on the other side of the room. In her wake, she left the drawers open with clothes spewing from them; her baskets on the floor with her clothes falling; her dresser door ajar. And that was perfect, too.
“Ally”, her mother broke the silence. “You know I worry for you. You and these boys out in the savanna all day does not bode well. People talk around here. And you, you are on the cusp of womanhood. You should keep to yourself and look for the company of boys who are better than these - these street children.” She placed her hands around Allison’s shoulders and squeezed them. “You are a girl, after all. You mustn’t be doing these things - running around, screaming. You will be a woman soon. And women must be seen, not heard.” She held Allison’s face now. “You do understand, don’t you?”
“Good. Now head to shower quickly. Your father will be home soon.”
Allison had grown accustomed, yet intolerant of her father’s daily tardiness home for dinner. The day’s work in the office would be done by half past hour, and the drive home would not typically exceed a half hour. Generously, if the traffic was being stubborn, and the drivers more so, it would take him an extra fifteen minutes. This thus begged the question why it was nearing seven o’clock and the man was yet to arrive. Every evening he would show up with this sob story about having to give a colleague a ride home, or something.
Allison sat at the dinner table, restless in her dress and shoes. Her mother had made a soup for dinner, that she placed before them, but refused to let them eat; highlighting the fact that father was not home yet, and that if the breadwinner, who works tirelessly to provide for them, does not eat before them, it would bring a curse upon the entire family. And so, the soup sat there for nearly two hours, getting cold.
The headlights from the car shone through the dining room window, and father had finally arrived.
“Quick”, Sylvia started, “Put your scarf back on, Ally, your father’s here.” Allison decided to accessorize her quaint dress with a white silk scarf, but removed somewhere along the first hour.
“Why?” she asked. “He should’ve reached earlier. He doesn’t deserve to see me in it.”
“You are being difficult, sister”, her older brother by two years, Avery, spoke up to lambaste her. “You’re always there to make life difficult for us all. Why can you not just comply?”
“Sorry” Allison said. “They didn’t cut my balls off at birth, you sissy.”
“Children! For shame! It’s every dinner with you two. Disgraceful!”, Sylvia cut them asunder. “Goodness with you, Ally. Just wear the damned scarf. And Avery, go whine somewhere else.”
Father entered and the room was silent. He greeted them all with a broad smile, and, apologized for his lateness. He loosened the tie round his collar and set it on the table. He unbuttoned the first three buttons in his shirt, and removed his blazer. He removed also his watch and shoes. He was white, and had blue eyes. While motioning through this quiet and awkward process of partly undressing, he smiled and his cheeks turned pink. Once all this was done, he rested himself on the back of the chair and exhaled.
“Work was tiring”, he broke the silence, and swallowed his first spoonful of soup. “The board meeting was worse.” His voice was calming, like a good cup of tea at an evening. It was in no way intrusive, and it was polite. It hadn’t forced them to listen intimately to every word leaving his mouth, but it hadn’t spared them either. The gravity would pull them in and they would fall. But fall as if on pillows of finest kind, so calming was his voice. “What about you all; how was your day?”
“Oh Peter, today was quiet and serene. It was heavy-”, Peter cut her off.
“Oh, so is that why I heard the most vulgar argument when I was entering?”
“The children were just-”
“Quiet. The children have mouths, Sylvia. They will speak for themselves. Avery, what happened?” Avery looked at Allison and scoffed. It was his time to speak. “Well, Allison was being uncooperative and harsh to mummy. So, when I intervened, for mother’s sake, of course, Allison attacked me. She was so unwomanly, I nearly died.”
“Hmm. Allison, what say you? Were you unwomanly?”, he asked, looking her dead in her eyes.
“No. Just human and truthful.” With that, Avery and Sylvia went livid, shouting at her, Peter, themselves, at this blatant remark of disrespect.
“She cannot grow up and move pass to save her soul, that poor child”, Sylvia spoke to Peter from across the table. “Do something with her wont you.”
“She must’ve not taken it from far, then.” He had finished his soup already. “Leave the poor child. To get her out your hairs, I’ll take her along with me tomorrow.”
It was hardly “take your daughter to work day" today, Monday. But Peter loved to bring Allison along with him on Mondays. Allison watched the houses go passed as her father’s SUV sped through the suburbs a ways way from where they lived. He went to pick Maggie up, his boss. Maggie sat to the front of the SUV, Allison was to the back. Her father’s left hand, as he maneuvered the car quite proficiently with his right, lay on Maggie’s lap. It was as if his hand were this colonizer in the New World; establishing itself a colony and taking dominion in the surroundings. The veins of his hands were flexing. He held her lap tightly. The two of them were lost in conversation. They were driving round for ages; evening had already crept onto the sky, and Allison hadn’t noticed. They stopped at a gas station for gas, and Peter went into the service station for some motor oil. The two of them sat, for some time, in a silence that was neither heavy nor spiteful.
It wasn’t the first time Peter picked Maggie up with Allison present and it bothered neither of the females. They would often hold deep conversations with each other and laugh from time to time. Allison had recently graduated from calling her “Miss Russell” to Maggie. Much to the discomfort of Peter, the two would drown themselves in more modern talks, that had centered, men not understanding the evolving modern world, or simply, skin routines. Peter would often shift the former conversation to the latter. There were times Miguel joined in on the rides, too. This was quite beneficial as Allison had a person to speak with.
“What’s your tale of woe?” Allison asked Maggie.
“What do you mean “tale of woe". I... don’t understand.”
“I mean, you’re subjecting yourself to a married man with two children. So, what is your tale of woe.”
“Love, my dear. That’s my tale of woe.” The silence returned soon thereafter.
They returned home that evening, and Allison felt she owed that much to her mother. That she would owe that much to any woman. And so, she had told Sylvia that Peter was cheating; that the fornicating Miss Russell was so fornicating with her own husband. She told her mother that, if for no other reason, to spite her.
“My darling, I know your father is cheating. And I have known for some time now. And he has been cheating for ages now. But what wife would I be if I left him for that. All men cheat. But wives have a responsibility to ensure that children like you, his in-house children, please him. And that I, his wife, is nice to him. He’s taken care of me, and your life is privileged. And again, I am his wife.” And that was the last time Allison spoke of her father’s infidelity with her mother. And yes, every Monday, she went with her father.
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