Christopher shook his head as I oozed past him and said, “Doan know why Esther left she children with you, look at this one,” he smiled and nodded in my direction.
Mammy called me ‘that one’ or ‘this headache’ too, but never by my name unless she was shouting for me when I was in another room. So at first I thought he was siding with her, but then I looked at him and saw that he was smiling, and became even more confused. You never knew exactly what to expect with Christopher, he had very big lips, so smiling, snarling, snickering – they all sort of rolled into one when they reached his lips.
“She locked up in the house all day,” he continued. “Bony, malnourished and pale, she is. She don’t go nowhere, don’t do nothing, don’t even smile.”
“When was the last time you smiled, little girl?” he turned to me.
I started to answer, even though I had nothing to say. I’d learned that you always answered. Always.
“No?” he asked.
“When was the last time you laughed, eh?”
Again, I started to answer, with no words in my mouth.”
“No?” he asked again.
“Do you ever laugh, eh?”
By this time, I realised that he was asking what my English teacher called rhetorical questions, so I made no attempt to say the answer my brain held captive.
No! No! No!
“See,” he turned back to Mammy. “She waiting to escape just like we all waited to get away.”
“You don’t dare get on my nerves now,” Mammy replied.
“Look at the neighbours’ kids, they all runnin’ ‘round, and playin,’” Christopher continued as if Mammy had said nothing.
“I doan believe in keeping neighbours close, I like keeping them at arm’s length,” Mammy cut in.
“Maybe they keeping you at arm’s length,” Christopher said. “Ever thought ‘a that?”
The two of them could never live in a house together and not argue. Theresa said that they were too much alike to ever get along. She said that Mammy let Christopher get away with lots of bad things, so he runs wild sometimes.
I had a feeling he wasn’t making things better for me, but for the time being, I was thankful I could put off the shame of taking my clothes off. He seemed to be baiting her just to get her angry. I wasn’t sure why.
“You destroy us, that not enough for you, so now you destroying yuh grandchildren,” Christopher continued, “turning them into mad people.”
“I hope when you get yuh children, they talk to you the same way yuh talk to me. I am yuh mother I had fourteen of you, yuh shouldn’t talk to me like that.”
“You always talk ‘bout having fourteen children, how many us alive? Eh? Seven! Only seven!” Christopher shouted.
“I sorry I had yuh,” Mammy shouted back. “You bad seed!”
“I didn’t tell you to get pregnant again for the married man. He tek you to court and disowned Theresa when you ask him for child support, and a year later, you had me. Not my fault. Blame you self.”
“I want you outta my house tomorrow!” Mammy barked at him.
But why didn’t she hit him?
“Yeah, use me money out then chase me away. See if you can get rid of me. I staying until I want to go.”
Mammy suddenly looked at me and shouted, “You like this, no, people blaming me for you.”
I was keeping my distance because I knew that there was always a way for the blame to find its way to me. I didn’t want to be like the cat, so I put my head down and moved towards the wall by the front window.
“This is what you like, no, me getting blame for you,” Mammy said, stomping over to where I stood willing my body to become invisible, but before I knew it, she had slammed my head into the wall. Part of my head hit the wall but my forehead met the window frame and the room went dark for a minute. Christopher put on his shoes and left, slamming the door.
“Wait till he get his children,” Mammy said.
Little did any of us know, he would die child-less.
Christopher came back in the early hours of the morning and peed in the wardrobe. He was drunk. I woke up and saw him at the cupboard, I heard the wet noise but it didn’t register. Mammy woke up too, but not in time to stop him. At least he had got a cup from the kitchen and held it under the pee. That might have helped, except it was a tiny cup, and he peed lots of pee.
From that night on I felt like he was my friend, because even though I went to bed with a sore head, he had saved me from the shame of once again having to strip down to my bare skin, in order to take my beating.
He didn’t know, or did he? That although the beating hurts, taking it naked was steadily sweeping my eroding soul into a sea of dry, aching dust.
Flying away . . .
Sailing away . . .
Light as a feather . . .