First Blood

I ran down the stairs and saw my Grammy pulling luggage out the front door.

“Oh, oh! Wait for me!”

I promptly hurried to our room upstairs to get dressed. It was empty. Mama must be in the bathroom again, I thought. Huffing, I hopped on one foot trying to get a better look in the mirror— I was wearing my favorite blue jumper today, the one Mama had bought for me from work, and I smiled, thinking about how smart I must’ve looked in it. I stuck my hand inside my denim overalls and gently smoothed out the creases from my yellow Hercules tee shirt; I then flashed myself a goofy smile. I’m so excited! I wonder where we’re going?

I quietly left the room, combing my hair with my tiny, rather scrawny fingers. On my way down, I picked up my school socks and shiny blue Snoopy shoes; my schoolbag, which I had also picked up, was sitting against the wall. I plopped down on the floor at the center of the hallway like I always did when I needed to put on my shoes, at the same time happily and methodically placing my other things on the little blue plastic chair beside me.

I silently grumbled as I put my shoes on. I hate shoelaces. I impatiently bit my lip and undid the knot a third time.

I heard the door swing open. “Where in the world is everyone?! It’s time to go!” The door slammed shut. “Jesus!” It was my uncle, Teijo.

Oh no! I guess he must already be done fixing the car…

“Baby?”

I looked up, turning white. Waaah! It’s my mama! I panicked with the shoelaces. “I- I’m almost done!” I cried out.

“Wait, baby, I…”

“There!”

I only managed to tie one set of shoelaces. I looked up at her readily, with a smile. “Ready~!” I said in a sing-song voice.

My mama opened her mouth, but nothing, no words, came out. Instead, she looked at me quietly, almost hesitatingly; she then turned her attention to my Grammy who had just entered the kitchen.

“Satoko, it’s time to leave,” she told my mama.

I saw my mama nodding. “I know.” She glanced at me.

“I’m ready!” I said again in the same sing-song voice, smiling widely, my eyes glimmering with excitement.

Grammy and Mama exchanged looks.

“Does she know?”

I watched my mama gingerly, painstakingly, put down her bag. “Not yet…” She descended slowly as if shouldering an immense amount of pressure and difficulty. She reluctantly knelt, then crouched, in front of me.

“I’m ready!” I said and smiled for the third time, in response.

She faltered. She put a hand on my shoe.

I blinked, confused. It dawned on me for the first time just how sad she looked… And I wondered silently why.

“Baby? You have to stay home with Grammy and Grampa today,” she finally said.

I picked up my bag, hugging it against my chest. “Huh? Why’s that?”

“Because Mama has to travel on her own today.”

Huh? “But I already packed everything!” I half-confidently flashed her a toothy grin. “And I brushed my teeth like you always tell me to!”

“That’s… That’s very good, baby…” she said gently. “But Mama will not be going sightseeing today. Mama has to travel for work.”

My mouth suddenly felt dry. For a while I didn’t—couldn’t—speak. I didn’t know what to say, or what to think. “Okay, but… You won’t be gone for long, right? You’ll be back here tomorrow after work and I’ll see you when I wake up, like always.”

“No, baby, I- It’s- Today it’s—” Her voice lowered to a shudder. “Today it’s a different day. A different morning. Mama won’t be— won’t be home for a while.” She looked down briefly.

“A while?”

“Maybe a few—a couple months.” My chest suddenly felt constricted. “But I’ll come home every Christmas, when school ends, and during your birthday.” It hurt. “I promise. Three times every year. I promise.” She held up her hand, palm side up, in front of me, like we always did when making serious promises.

My eyes welled up. I held my hand back, refusing to meet her fingers and acknowledge her promise. All of a sudden I found myself unable to see anything but these stupid little droplets of water—tears, as it turned out, hanging off my lashes.

“B- But, I… Mama…” I choked up. My whole body started to shake. “That’s too long!” I screamed. I burst explosively into tears in that odd, quiet-yet-loud manner I always did, all curled up with my head hung low. I hugged my jacket and my schoolbag, which I had stuffed the previous day with clothes, food, and toys, and everything I had thought I would need on such an important journey, tighter against me. “I- I don’t want you to go!”

I sobbed into the front of my pack, tears, snot, and drool miserably and angrily staining the fabric. My legs felt strange, like jelly and also solid concrete—weak, sad, and heavy, all at the same time.

I looked up and saw my mama holding out her arms, reaching for me. “Baby?”

I looked away bitterly, my bag and shirt and jumper and face streaked and puddled with tears. Mama wasn’t crying, but I noticed she looked very sad. Grammy looked very sad too. And it hurt. It just hurt. “Come hug Mama, Kirby,” my mother called out softly.

“But why do you have to go?” I cried out, squeezing my bag tighter. “I don’t understand… I don’t want you to leave!” I wailed harder, louder than I ever did in the past. “I don’t want my mama to go!”

“Mama has to, baby,” she replied sadly. “Mama has to so you can eat, buy toys, watch TV, and go to school.”

But I don’t want you to go!

“But Mama doesn’t want to go.”

Why can’t I go with you?

“I would bring you with me if I could.”

It’s just not fair!

“I wish I could.”

If my father were here, would you still have to go?

“But if I don’t do this, nobody will.”

Where is he?

“And I want you to have all the best things.”

Why isn’t he helping us?

“I want you to be happy.”

WHERE IS HE?

“Live a good life.”

It’s not fair.

“I love you.”

I shook my head, my nose suddenly all red and stuffy. “It’s just… not fair…” I croaked, letting my mama pull me to her and sit me on her lap.

“I know… I’m sorry.” She stroked my hair and kissed me on the forehead. “Baby?”

“Mmhmm?”

“Mama loves you very much.”

I looked up and noticed she was smiling. But it was a sad smile, I noted, and suddenly it hurt even harder. “So very, very much.” She kissed me on each cheek and hugged me tight one last time. “Be a good girl, okay, baby? Be a good girl for Mama. Listen to Grammy and Grampa. Study well. Eat your meals on time. Don’t sleep very late. Make friends. And whenever I come home, you can tell me all about your adventures. Okay?”

I whimpered, nodding weakly. “Okay.” I couldn’t even be bothered to wipe my tears away anymore. All I could do was cry, and cry, and cry some more. I felt too devastated to do and be anything else.

She kissed me again on the forehead, and on both cheeks, that same bittersweet smile painfully never leaving her face. “Good girl.” She patted my head gently. “I promise. I’ll call you when I get there.” Another kiss. “I promise.”

 

© Dylan Balde, 2013 and 2016.

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