After dinner, Mammy went to have her cigarette in her rocking chair on the veranda, Theresa had to give Franc her bath, and I cleared the table. This was turning out to be a nice day after all; tiring, but nice. Maybe if we’re lucky Mammy would even tell us a long-time story.
As I was taking the last few dishes into the kitchen, I caught my foot in the mat, slipped, and let go of the glass I was holding.
Tick, tock, tick, tock
Now slow it down.
As the glass fell, my eyes saw it tumble a few times before it finally hammered the floor.
Splinters! Don’t walk! Don’t walk!
So many things went through my mind, it was as if my brain had kept a film of the last time this had happened and was playing it back - frame by clicking frame, in front of my eyes - in very small black and white pictures tinged with spots of red. The glass crashed on the wooden floor, and I felt my heart dive there with it.
Tick, tock, tick, tock.
Now speed up.
Within a fraction of a second Mammy was standing there with that familiar look on her face, wide nose flaring. She glanced at the broken glass with a look of satisfaction. This look would’ve puzzled me, except that there was too much terror racing through my blood to be anything but terrified.
Before she looked behind the front door where she kept the two-by-four, I knew what was coming.
Mammy picked up the wood and walked towards me. I didn’t actually see her move, one second she was at the door, the next, right in front of me. There was nowhere for me to run. What am I talking about, I never run – too scared. Besides, she always says that if I make her have to run after me, I’d get a lot more licks.
She twists my arm behind my back and my knees hit the floor. The blows come straight after in a downpour of, Thud! Thud!
My arms, they’re way too small, way too thin, but the thud, thud, they keep coming.
The pain - electricity through my bones - rockets me to my feet and I jump around on one foot. The more I jump around, the more the hits rain on, and the more she chews her lips.
I cry in pain but not loudly, I always keep it in. She now grabs my wrist as she starts to beat my legs, all over, again and again, speeding up. I try to turn again, but this time she’s holding me so tightly that my whole arm is twisted over and above my head.
I can’t move, I can’t get away from the fire on my skin, charring me all over. I can’t get loose.
Pain. Too much pain!
It’s in this position that she hits me again, again, again. Every time the licks land on my skin, I feel - rip.
The lashes come harder and harder. I hear them in my head and I cry out inside, please stop, please stop. Oh my God please make it stop, please, please.
My knees are now giving away I can’t stand. But, Yank! She yanks my little body up by the arm and keeps beating.
“You want to break her?” Theresa demands. I think she has Franc in her arms because she very carefully puts down something which is wrapped up in a bath towel, and comes over. At this point I’m half sitting on the floor, tears streaming down my face, body fire-working into flames of red, sizzling pain.
Theresa pulls the piece of wood from Mammy’s hand, Mammy drops me and goes for her, punching her several times in the face and chest.
“Don’t you take me on!” Mammy shouts, spit flying from her mouth. “She know that she get licks when she break m’ things.”
“People don’t beat children for accidentally breaking things, and they not your things, they Esther’s things!” Theresa shouts, leaning in dangerously close to Mammy. “I hate this wood. Ah getting rid of it!” she storms out of the house.
“Clean up that glass!” Mammy shouts at me. “And you, sit down!”
It’s only at this point I notice naked Franc, with a green towel draped round her shoulders, standing in the biggest of our three chairs – the ones with steel legs - staring at us.
Taking it all in, and swallowing it down.