Our Auntee Maria by Monica Arac de Nyeko
The next Saturday I sat at the veranda. I waited for our Auntee Maria.
Auntee Maria did not come. She did not come the Saturday after that, or the one after. On many of the evenings when we sat for supper, Daktar did not ask about Auntee Maria. We just sat and ate our supper. We went to bed. Six Saturdays passed. Auntee Maria did not come.
On the seventh Saturday which was the start of August when the dry leaves fall all over the grass and we spend the whole day sweeping and burning leaves, our Auntee Maria stood at the gate with a khaki bag. She was smiling.
Auntee Maria had just been smoking. The smell of Sportsman and oranges were in her clothes. But there was also the smell of new things, of cloves and lavender. I stood next to her in my tartan skirt and the white blouse which covered my neck in lace. Auntee Maria urged me to jump higher. I wanted to tell her that I was jumping not for the khaki. I wanted to tell her that was jumping for her. Where had been?
‘Ituk. You need to eat more food for those legs if yours,’ Auntee Maria said. ‘Here,’ she said in Acoli. I took the bag from her hand. I did not wait to walk with her, I ran to the veranda. I stood there. I waited for her. Ma too was waiting at the kitchen door. As soon as Auntee Maria arrived, she held her by her shoulders. Ma looked into her eyes.
‘Dyera, you are well?’ She said.
Ma called Auntee Maria dyera – my good friend when she was worried about her. Auntee Maria smiled. She nodded her head three times slowly emphatically as if each lifting and dropping of her head was an affirmation that she was fine. That she was thankful that there was no water in her eyes, no heaviness in her heart.
Ma and Auntee Maria went inside. They sat in the dinning room. Auntee Maria crossed her legs. She relaxed her shoulders resting her back on the sofa. Her bag sat on the table. She did not talk for a while. But she did lean forward. She rested her chin in her cupped hand. Auntee Maria sucked the roof of her mouth.
‘Dyera, you are well? Eh?’ Ma said.
Auntee Maria married her two hands together. She rested them on the table. I saw that in the way she curled her lips and shifted, she was holding back a smile.
‘Schola, how can I begin to tell you how happy I am?’ Auntee Maria said.
I kept my head low. I peered through the window, wishing I did not have to always hide behind the veranda wall every time. Auntee Maria crossed her legs. Auntee Maria’s eyes were bubbling with mirth. Seeing her like that, I knew there would be no crying. There would be only happiness. Auntee Maria extended her hands to Ma. She rested her palms over her fingers. She looked into Ma’s eyes like she wanted to draw closer, like she wanted to whisper to her in the language of a long and solid friendship.
‘I can see you are well,’ Ma said.
Auntee Maria took her hands off Ma’s fingers. She rested both of them over her heart, gently as if they too could hear the sound of her future, her happiness.
‘Everything is good now,’ Auntee Maria said.
They talked for a while. Ma mostly listened. She nodded. She agreed. Sometimes she looked down thoughtfully. Auntee Maria told Ma that the storm had passed. Her sky was clear.
‘Life can be good Ma. Life can be good sometimes,’ Auntee Maria said. Her body, her heart, her soul, everything in her body, every torn piece of her body, every broken point and every tear was gluing and stitching back itself nicely. Auntee Maria had just returned from seeing her parents. She had come to take her things. Her husband told her to stay. He was sorry.
‘He called me sweetie yesterday. Sweetie. Do you know when he last called me that?’
‘That is good Maria. That is very good,’ Ma said her voice cushioned with caution. Ma sat back. She crossed her hands over her stomach and turned towards the window. I ducked down.
‘Ituk. Come here.’
I lifted myself up, hurried over to the sitting room. Ma wanted me to make them tea and butter the bread with Blue Band. I poured the tea into clay mugs. I made to leave.
‘Stand there. Let me see Ituk,’ Auntee Maria said.
She turned to Ma.
‘She is growing up quickly.’
‘Yes,’ Ma said.
‘She will get a good husband one day.’
‘What good husband are you talking about?’ Ma said. ‘She will get your son.’
They laughed. Ma waved me away. I returned to the veranda. Auntee Maria slapped Ma’s shoulders again. At the veranda I thought about Auntee Maria’s son. I had not seen him often. I knew my memory of him was a lie. He was not that tall. He was not that big either. But he was much bigger than me, at least sixteen, which was nearly twice as old as me.
‘Maria, we are laughing now and I can see how happy you are but.’
‘No. No Schola. Let’s not talk sadness. It is a happy day.’
‘I know Maria. I know. But.’
‘But nothing. I am so happy Schola. I am so happy today. It just feels right this time,’ Auntee Maria said. Ma remained quiet and silence nested in their midst. Then she spoke much louder than I thought she should have.
‘Maria, I am going to say this to you,’ Ma said. Her words were heavy and solid like a rock.
‘You see Maria, you are like my sister.’ Ma sounded like she had nursed the words in her bosoms, like she had waited for them to spill out of her throat like vomit.
Ma looked Auntee Maria in the eyes. She wanted her to know she was not saying these things to stick thorns in her heart. She was saying them to keep her heart from bruising later. That was what good friends did. They carried their comrades in their arms like fragile clay and held them till the ground was strong enough for them to stand upright again.
‘Maria, pray that this storm-less sky lasts. Eh? Let it last. If it does not, you have to leave that man. You have to walk out.’ There was worry in Ma’s eyes. She had known Auntee Maria’s husband long enough not to be excited by him. She had watched him take Auntee Maria’s heart in his hands many times and romp on it with gumboots. The man was after all like a skin ailment. He left traces of spots on the skin. He could hurt again. He could be lethal.
‘Just be happy for me. Eh. Be happy. I know it. I feel it. It has never been like this.’
‘I am happy for you. Maria. I am. You know that.’
‘Let it be like that. Just be happy for me. Eh?’
‘Okay Maria, if you say so. Okay.’
Ma said goodbye to Auntee Maria that evening. They held each other for a long time. Then they waved goodbye.
‘I will see you again next Saturday.’
‘Next Saturday I will be here,’ Auntee Maria said.
Auntee Maria walked away from our house with no storms in her horizon, no flame on her heels, no hesitation in her footsteps, no whirlwinds in her hope, only tomorrow and the future which was full of promise. I stood at the veranda, sorry to see our Auntee Maria leave.
I know now the things, which happened after Auntee Maria left home. Ma repeated them to Daktar several times.
That evening when Auntee Maria arrived home, she found her son reading a magazine on their veranda. He was her only son. Beloved. Always and only him. The boy crossed his legs. He answered her greeting. He watched her place her bag on her sofa. She was smiling. He did not smile back. He was chewing gum.
Auntee Maria’s husband came out of their bedroom. His footsteps were barely audible. The boy sat, watching his parents from his chair. His father stood before Auntee Maria, his hand clasping his hip. With that tone of his: cracking and angry, he had just broken every promise, every hope, and every faith Auntee Maria had placed in him. He stood before her, demanding to know why she took too long at our home. Her husband told her she had come when the sun had sunk into the sky. What had she been doing? Auntee Maria did not say anything. She rested her back on a sofa. She did not look at him. She did not move.
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