My mother came home one day at the end of her six to six, Monday to Saturday, self-employed job at the coal market with her all-purpose basket balanced on her head, and a battered old suitcase in her right hand. The ease with which she carried the suitcase indicated that it was empty. Depositing the portable clothes closet just inside our open front door, she walked a very short distance to the kitchen. Approximately forty minutes later, she reappeared at the front door, picked up the suitcase, and went into the bedroom she shared with my father to perform her nightly ablution in the cluttered privacy of the small room. When it was over, she reopened her bedroom door and, dressed in a long, worn nightgown, sat on the floor facing the open suitcase and a few piles of neatly folded house clothes she had pulled from the wardrobe and a big, cardboard box she kept on the floor. Wasting no motion, my mother began putting the clothing into the suitcase before she retired for the night.
The preceding episode in my family’s collective life story had already been neatly pigeonholed in one of my mind’s countless compartments and relegated to background status, when an incident at the standpipe brought it to the fore. That incident forcibly reminded me, yet again, of who and what I was and the price to be paid for my identity. It also gave me a small glimpse of the dark side of human nature and our overpowering propensity to indulge its destructive urges.
Andrea and I were at the standpipe in the cool of an early evening two or three months after my mother brought the suitcase home. We had come to collect water, but had temporarily put our buckets aside while we engaged in idle chatter. I liked this girl and had begun to think of the two of us in “boyfriend and girlfriend” terms. Some six months before, at this very standpipe, she had allowed me to touch her budding breasts, which had grown noticeably larger since that pleasant circumstance. It was that oft’ remembered event, more than anything else about Andrea herself that filled me with fanciful notions about her and the two of us.
One of us must have said the wrong thing to the other. How else to explain the radical shift from sweet conversation and closeness to open hostility? It was completely unbelievable! One minute we were enjoying each other’s company and the next we were hurling insults at each other. I don’t remember who made the first offensive remark that started the heated verbal exchange, but once it began, there was no backing off. We concentrated our attacks on each other, saying the foolish, untrue things meant to hurt and silence one or the other into submission. Then Andrea shifted gears and dropped a bombshell in my face that effectively terminated the exchange and me along with it.