Vitalien assessed the situation. After five years of selling salted flying fish to her scattered patrons, two indicators revealed it was time to quit. She had no education, but she was not stupid; nobody had to tell her that other women selling the same commodity as she did and the introduction of fishing vessels in the various communities would continue to negatively affect her sales. The returns she now got were simply not worth the grueling effort she put into the venture. She communicated her decision to Harold and they both agreed he would sell some of his share of the fish and bring the rest home for their own use. The questions which then arose were: what would she now do to earn some additional money to take care of their ever-growing needs? What could she do? What was available to someone like herself? Continue reading The final journey – part 4
Cover mile after mile of unrelenting distance on foot to communities as far west or east as Anse-La-Raye or Dennery. Continue walking even when exhaustion permeates flesh and seeps into bones and placing one foot in front of another requires a superhuman effort of will. Call out to patrons “Volan salé! Volan salé!” with your mouth tasting of dust which is also in your eyes, nostrils and throat; repeat the call at periodic intervals although it appears that nobody is buying today. Give your best smile and inquire about one’s health and that of her family when a sale is being made in spite of the frustration of this being a bad day.
Return home on rubbery legs that threaten to collapse beneath you. Get there between five-thirty and six amidst the long shadows of approaching dusk with the dust and sweat caked onto your skin and wolf down whatever little is available. Try not to think about your friends cleaning up and indulging in the luxury of healing sleep while you busy yourself in preparing for the next day. Harold has brought more fish which must be made ready for the road tomorrow before you can release some of the massive exhaustion build-up.
The fins and scales of each fish must be carefully removed before it is cut open along the length of its white underbelly to expose the entrails within. The entrails are scooped out and an incision is made on either side of the bony middle so the upper flesh containing the profusion of tiny bones can be removed. Great care must be exercised when removing those tiny bones as you don’t want too much flesh taken out with the bones. Wash the fish in one basin—discarding the water at intervals—and put them in another basin for salting before transferring them to the big, white bucket. Your children are in bed and asleep before you’re finished. Then place the pemi and breadnut paraphernalia together for Thomas so his chores can be a bit lighter in the morning. In the privacy of your cramped bedroom, you perform your nightly ablution with the weight of the day’s activities pressing down upon you. Finally, drag yourself off to bed and scream silently in self-suppressed outrage as your man reaches out to claim your tired flesh. You will, as always, submit to him.
Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from the story, “The final journey”, from the novella, “House of Tears”, now available on Amazon Kindle.
Dressing for the road was a two-minute affair. Slip on a coarse, fairly worn petticoat over her panties and a loose-fitting, sleeveless, knee-length dress over that. A long scarf or mooshwehr covering her head, wound firmly around her forehead and tied at the back of her head, another tied securely around her waist, and a pair of cheap, but sturdy shoes that left her toes and heels exposed completed her outfit. She was ready for the road! Look at her sleeping children on the bedding-covered floor and feel a slight pang at the remembrance of the passing of Theresa and Felix soon after their birth, before gently shaking Thomas awake so he could secure the door from within when she went out. She didn’t have to give him any instructions; he already knew all he had to do. Then lift her bucket of fish to her scarf-covered head, step out of the open door into the dark cool of the morning, and watch as her son closed the door after her. Continue reading The final journey – part 2
Sometimes there was quiet accusation in her eyes; eyes that had lost their humor and once-bright spark of vitality. Those eyes, for the most part, now reflected sadness, and a consuming self-pity that often moved her to voice regret. Regret that she had made so many children and so many sacrifices for their sake. Regret that she had accepted a lifetime of abuse, unwarranted criticisms, and the disdainful airs and graces of self-deluded people—all in the name of fulfilling her role as a woman and, more important, as a mother. And lying on her bed where she was confined because her leg muscles had atrophied, she would stare off into space with one of her Parkinson’s-affected hands cupping her chin. Continue reading The final journey – part 1
He died the day after my thirtieth birthday, on November 11, 1988—forty-three days before Christmas. And the skies wept along with us. Continue reading A Christmas prayer
The big sack of coal felt painfully heavy on my left shoulder. Struggling with it along the road, I was not even sure how I had managed to lift it, unaided, onto my shoulder. It must have been desperation. The desperation of knowing the reopening of school was only a couple of days away. The desperation of knowing my only pair of “good” shoes was now beyond repair and I did not have enough money to buy another. The desperation of knowing I could not face my father again to borrow one of his two pairs of black shoes. How did it come to this? I was a teacher, single, and not quite twenty, with no burdensome responsibility as a bank loan or children making demands on me. Although my monthly salary was not anything grand, when I apportioned part of it to my mother, I was still left with enough to take care of my needs. So why was I in this predicament? It was simple. I was addicted to gambling. Continue reading The Damascus road
I still don’t understand so many things. Relationships. Love. Family. Once upon a time—a long time ago—I thought I knew what those things meant. I thought everything could be nailed down to simple black or white, right or wrong, innocent or guilty. For me, there were no intervening shades of gray—only two absolutes that infallibly showed one thing or the other. I didn’t know or care to think about the nuances of human nature, of life itself, which could produce such interminable variations in the color on life’s complex canvas. If I had known then, I might have asked about the lack of display of affection between my parents, or why they chose to remain together all their lives even though the very act of doing so was paradoxical when measured against their conduct. Continue reading One step ahead