Father told us there was to be a change and we nodded, peacefully, frightened to ask him what. We didn't have to. By daybreak, mother was gone, replaced quickly by a woman who looked too young and smelt of garlic. She was the change. Our father, with remorse spread out on his face, told us we were to call the new woman, mother. It struck us as odd, how easily a mother could be replaced like teacups or the napkins we always hung out to dry. In a minute, there was a woman with a bright-colored gown and coarse hands asking us, her children, to come in and eat. And the next minute, another woman, with flowing gown, soft hands and an exaggerated English accent, telling us to call her mother.
The idea of a new mother did not thrill the lot of us. We wanted the woman who plaited our hairs and told us we looked like Queens. This new woman was different, difficult to love but easy to hate. She always had a huge smile etched upon her lips and eyes so bright with glee, it became hard to know which of it she faked or which was real. Her name was Zara but father insisted we called her mother. She smiled at the unfamiliarity of the words, knowing it was given not of love but of fear and hopelessness. She wasn't the motherly type. Never could be.
In the months that followed, Zara taught us things our real mother would have hesitated from. She taught us the act of awareness. She called it a change. In a simple way her lips moved, our eyes became transfixed. We wanted to put our hands forward, magically touch the mole on her lips but we couldn't. Her English accent was tinged with remote awareness of a culture lost and captured. Her hands were too soft to hold a child, especially one who had always known a different woman from that who prepared boiled eggs for lunch.
Father loved his children but he pulled back with each step of familiarity so that we grew accustomed to his sick version of change. When he first spoke of change, I thought it was going to be as simple as pulling the switch in the living room, half expecting a soft glow in the bulb hung high up. Or maybe I thought of it as changing Baby's diapers. Simple yet change nonetheless. A change that included a woman who spoke three foreign languages and had soft hands had not come to mind. And for that, I have since learned the act of silence. Awareness, she called it. She said the change had been inevitable. Our father loved her, we should have seen it coming.
Change became an anthem in our home. When Lucy spilled her milk, Zara said, "You have to change your habit, Lu. It's getting irritating. You are eight for goodness sake."
Lucy hadn't been the first to be tinted with change. Baby who was only a year old heard the words too, knew the anthem as the days spilled into months until the word 'mother' flowed effortlessly from lips torn apart with hate and fear.
When Zara dusted the chairs, we called her mother. When she climbed down from a car, we called her mother. She loved the word at first, adored the idea that we had come to accept the change, and even laughed in punctuated delight. But our acceptance was for a far greater cause: to make the title nauseating to her. Nothing happened. It was going to be our first big change, our own version.
The girl stops talking, the tale going limp on her lips. She stands up from the chair and walks to the window. Pressing her face against the glass, she can see the outline of a street. She can see cars parked about in complicated settings and she can see, faintly, a man standing in the pouring rain. Grey clouds move dramatically over the town, shedding light on the pavements. Her eyes grow heavy from lack of sleep and her head slowly hits the window in frustration.
"Are you okay? Sam?"
The girl turns to the sound of her name and gasps as she sees the face. Her lips bring forth words, detached from her aching brain. "How quickly I seem to forget the present. It's like I'm still living in the past, with Zara. With mother."
"Do you want tea?" He asks easing himself up from the chair.
She smiles, eerily. Her eyes are eager, hopelessly searching for something out of place.
"The house is clean, Sam. Nothing out of place." He whispers.
"Bring me tea then." She turns back to the window. She can see her stoic reflection against the glass, see the black mess on her head, and the eyes that have since refused to shut with a hint sleep. Then she smiles and forgets she does.
The man comes back into the room and sets the small table with teacups and milk and sugar and biscuits. She sits on a chair and nods her head in the direction of the radio. The man looks back at the little radio, scratches his head and neat beard, and says, "Don't, Sam."
He hands her a cup of tea and she sips it slowly. Sam raises her legs up on the table and begins crunching the biscuits. He looks at her for a while and notices the vulnerability of her expression.
"It's about to rain," Sam says suddenly.
"It's raining." The man replies.
She arches an eyebrow. Her eyes go past his shoulders and back to the radio on the shelf. "Its been so long, Drew."
"Tell me what happened to Baby," Drew says.
"Baby grew." Came her reply.
"Where is she?"
Sam shrugs. That's her reply to how she still doesn't know.
"What about Lucy?"
Sam smiles sadly. That's her reply for Lucy is married and has kids who call her mummy.
"Then what happened to you?"
Sam gives one longing look at the radio and at the spotless house. "Don't you think I should clean up? The house seems dirty."
"No, it isn't." Drew says, "what happened to you, Sam?"
"I don't know."
In five minutes, the story peels out from her weary lips and with back bent, she walks back to the window. He drinks tea as he listens, his book discarded with only the voice recorder still on.
Our legs were caked with mud as we pushed father's car down the street, hoping for a sort of release. Zara's hands, though soft, was soaked in the dust. She was smiling even as she joined in pushing the car. When it started and she washed her hands, Lucy called her mother and she hugged Lucy until Baby joined in. I couldn't join in because it felt like a betrayal. I had been the one who loved our first mother the most, the one she talked to about Baby and Lucy. By letting go and joining in the show of affection, I was betraying that love and trust. When Zara asked me to join in, I told her my hands were dirty. She nodded but we all knew I lied.
It was in the night I asked father about our first mother, about Esther.
Change, just as it had come in the morning, came in the night. Zara was in the kitchen cooking and Lucy was with her. Baby was in the living room watching a cartoon. Father remained silent.
"What happened to mother?" I asked him.
"Your mother is in the kitchen. That's the only mother you should know."
"What happened to the mother?"
He said nothing. Zara knocked on the door and told us to come and eat. It was then I deterred from the change and therefore lost control.
"Zara is not my mother. Don't try to make her one. You took our mother away from us and you want us to embrace a new woman and call her mother? What happened to my mother?"
Zara left the room. Father hit me and loved me and told me Esther had run away with a lover. He had talked about change before Esther's disappearance and I did not believe him. He told me to apologize to Zara. I held her hands, noticed it was still so soft after all the years, and called her mother. I waited for Esther, searched for her, and when I knew she had abandoned us, I called the new woman mother again and meant it.
Drew moves restlessly on his chair. The rain beats down hard on the roof and whips at the windows with relentless urgency. Sam smiles weakly, already seated.
"You saw her as a mother? Then what changed? Why did you try to kill yourself?"
"I did not try to kill myself," Sam says.
"Did you love Zara?"
"Of course. Love is more like a windmill, spinning round and round like it won't stop. But they do stop, right? One way or the other, it slows down and much like life, it stops, frozen to space."
" I take it your love for her waned over the years."
"Maybe. Well, what do you think?"
"Why did you murder her, Sam?"
Sam blinks hard, unsure. Her hands come up to her hair and she lets it stay there for a while. Her eyes dart around, clueless. "What?"
"The report says you burnt down the house knowing she was still in there. You tried to kill yourself and her apparently."
"Oh come on, Sam. Isn't that the only reason why you're here on house arrest?"
Unconsciously her hands come down to her ankle where she feels the monitor. She tries to smile. "Alleged is what you should say. They can't prove I was even there. Besides, I don't see any burn marks in my body and they say I used fire."
"Violent crimes do not require house arrests. Your lawyer must have done one hell of a job."
"Do you consider me a violent person?"
Drew takes the tray away, lingers in the kitchen for a while. When he steps into the living room again, she is standing by the window, watching the rain divide the town. She asks the same question, one he doesn't know how to answer. She says, "Do you consider me a violent person, Drew?"