“Please don’t do it,” cried Mom as I closed the door behind me. But I needed to; I couldn’t continue living like this. She didn’t know the truth behind my decision.
Outside, the world welcomes me with open arms. I walk towards the outside entryway of the house and toward the sidewalk. The sun is beaming his love upon my face, and immediately, I am warmed, taking away the frost from the central air my mother has running constantly. She’s not a fan of summer; it could be because of the hot flashes she’s been getting recently.
The town was buzzing with activity. Our neighborhood is lined with Willow trees on both sides of the street, making the road look eerie at night, but it seems like a fairy tale in the morning. Different birds call to each other in an array of sounds that feel calming and fill the air. Children speed by on their bicycles, enjoying the summer vacation.
Mr. Timberwood is always mowing his front lawn, “Headed to work already? Or is today the day?” he asks with one hand on his mower and the other on his waist.
“Today is the day, Mr. Timberwood. I am ready to make a change,” I answer, beaming with delight.
“Well, the misses and I will be praying for you,” he says, turning his attention back to his machine.
I continue on my walk. A few houses up, little Suzy is out with her father, finally getting the training wheels removed. They only live three houses down from my house. I stop and engage in small talk with Betty, Suzy’s mother.
“Good morning,” I say to a nervous Betty. She looks my way, continuing to bite her fingernails.
“Hey,” she says, momentarily looking my way. She brings her hands to her sides, fidgeting with the straps hanging from her apron.
“So, today is the big day, huh?” I ask, looking as Sam, Suzy’s father, removes the training wheels.
“Yup, today it is,” she answers, returning to biting her nails.
Sam finishes removing the training wheels and holds the bicycle as Suzy climbs on. He kneels, encouraging little Suzy. I hear Suzy say, “I know, daddy. I’ll be fine.”
Suzy brings her feet up to the peddle. Sam starts his run beside her, holding onto the back of her seat and the handlebar. He runs beside her almost to the next house, then let's go as Betty gasps. Suzy continues to ride shaky at first but continues down the street. She turns haphazardly but controls the little bicycle nicely as she returns to an eager Sam. He grabs her off her bike and spins her in the air; the bike falls with a thud. Suzy’s little legs are flailing as she laughs. Sam instead opted to throw Suzy in the air and catch her. Suzy’s hair glimmers in the sun as it falls neatly on her back while Sam catches her in mid-air. Betty runs and joins in the celebration, and they all embrace.
I continue on my walk, passing by them and saying to Suzy, “Congrats, now you’re a big girl.” She beams a toothy smile at me and says, “I’m a big girl.”
A couple of preteens are playing hopscotch up the street. They have drawn a rectangle on the sidewalk with numbers for each square. Cyndy bends over and picks up the rock while Kirstin and Hillow watch.
I walk past, remembering my hopscotch days vividly. At one point in my life, I taught a group of children to hopscotch. But it was in the past, a horrible past.
Near the bus stop, I come across Tom and Winaviv jumping rope. The rope whistles in the air as Tom swings it faster and faster. Winaviv trails behind, ultimately stopping in exhaustion.
One summer evening, the women in my neighborhood decided to decorate the newly installed bench and awning at the bus stop. My mother suggested bamboo trees to shade the waiting patrons; another suggested we hang solar lights to brighten the spot. Ultimately, the one that suggested roses won every one, including the solar lights lady. The roses make the area pop with color, but only in certain seasons. All other seasons we just have a prickly bush that some people use as a cigarette dispenser. I sit and wait next to Mrs. J.
“What a lovely day for a bus ride,” she says. She usually takes the bus to its end and then catches the next bus back up. I always wondered what her name was. Did her parents give up on naming her and only give her a letter for a title? Could she be a spy just hiding in our neighborhood waiting for the next job? Well, maybe not, I think to myself. I doubt she’ll be able to be a spy with her walker.
The bus arrives, and I leave behind my cozy neighborhood and onto the place that changed my life. Mrs. J enters first, and I help her with her walker. She sits behind the bus driver. Aside from Jim, the bus driver, only seven other people are on the bus.
“Hi, Jim! How’s the wife and kids?” I ask while putting my money into the little machine.
“Just added a new addition to the family. I’ll be the proud grandfather to my oldest son’s new baby in one month,” he said, pulling out his phone and showing me a picture of his son’s pregnant wife.
I look and smile, thinking of my setback. I believe I should have been married if I hadn’t accepted that missionary job in Kabu. Now, in my thirties and living with my parents, who knows when my time will come.
“Wao, she’s ready to pop any minute now,” I look in amazement at the picture. His daughter-in-law is standing in front of his son. His hands are wrapped around her belly but barely reaching the center.
“Congratulations,” I add out of respect, but some emotion bubbles up inside me, making me ill at ease.
I take my seat in the back of the bus and settle for a long ride to my future. Several seats in front of me are a couple. Once in a while, the man leans over and nudges the woman with his face to her neck. She laughs and bumps his shoulder with hers. Then, he lifts her hand and kisses her palm, taking me back to Kabu. Our little huts of straw had us stargazing at night. Little cracks allowed us to view shooting stars and the beautiful sunrise. Every morning he would grab my hand ever so gently and kiss the palm of my hands. I wondered why he always did that only in the morning, but I never asked; I just enjoyed the moment.
The children were eager every morning to awaken us, but little did they know that we rose with the sun. Unlike other couples, we stayed in our hut until we heard a commotion outside. We had had other missionaries taken for ransom in the early morning and never seen again. So we practiced caution in every way possible. Nonetheless, we loved the place, the people, and the animals; we were in love, not only with each other.
A man enters the bus and sits beside me; I move because it’s been years, and I still can’t have a man sitting so close to me. His presence takes me back to that frightful day.
“Window, butterfly, clouds, balloon, little girl, yellow, car, store, tree, flowers.” I silently say to myself to calm my anxiety.
It’s been over ten years, and still, I can’t shake the fear. Of course, it’s less now, but still enough to have me breathing through my nose and out my mouth for a few minutes. Then, finally, Jim notices my distress and asks, “Hey, buddy. Sit up here with us. Mrs. J has me starving talking about her dinner plans tonight.”
I look his way and move towards the front. Everyone knows that Mrs. J lives alone, and her extravagant meal is delivered to her from “Mom’s Meals.” Maybe she’s like me, in a way, remembering a past that will never come again.
“What will you be preparing this evening for dinner?” asks Jim.
He knows what happened –everyone knows. It was in the news, and when I returned battered and bruised, my neighbors had made posters and balloons lined the street. I only looked momentarily through the only eye that wasn’t severely damaged; then, I was whisked away inside my house for what seemed like years of recovery.
“Perhaps, spaghetti and meatballs from Ginos. My mom loves it there, and my father is friends with Gino,” I say, holding the hoodie closer and pulling up the zipper.
“Sweetie, take off that sweater; it’s so hot. Don’t you want a tee-shirt instead?” comments Mrs. J, momentarily forgetting about dinner plans.
“Mrs. J, you know these kids nowadays. They love their oversized sweats, even in the summer. You should see Gweneviv. She looks like it’s the beginning of winter and not summer,” said Jim as he slowed to a stop to let other people in.
Jim didn’t know that his daughter was also suffering. She was a regular at the meetings and would sit fully covered like the rest of us. We seldom spoke about what happened to us, but I knew that my experience was the worst. My story was national news, a rescue that ensued with several shots being fired, injuring some soldiers that rescued me.
Nonetheless, the world kept spinning, and people kept living. As the bus continues on its route, fire trucks are blaring past us. The bus slows to allow any more trucks a right of passage. We drive for several more blocks until we approach the burning building. The fire and its flames take me immediately back. That’s how it all started–a fire–a smell–a scream, and my life changed forever.
He left the hut when he heard the screams; immediately, I listened to the boom of what seemed to be a firecracker. But then he fell, and my world fell along with him. My hut on fire was my only hide-out. Then someone looked in through the hole in the hut, grabbed my hair, and dragged me out—they had never seen a Puerto Rican.
I don’t know which of so many had impregnated me, but my mom took care of that once they rescued me four months later. By then, my hair had started growing back, and I looked more like a female.
“Sweetie. Sweetie. Sweetie? Felicia?” said Jim. When I realized it, he was in front of me with his hand on my hand as I gripped the handlebar for dear life.
“What. What?” I say, coming back from my nightmare. His hand is still gripping mine; I let it linger. It bothers me, and I want to shake it off, but it’s Jim. He’s not them.
Don’t leave me alone,” he says and sits back to start driving again. Luckily, all the bus riders are off and on their way to life and living while my demons continue to haunt me.
My demons followed me to work. My boss behaves like my captures, always touching and feeling. I left my prison and entered another one, but this time I was treated like a prostitute in the form of a paycheck.
Mrs. J sits straight up, looking at the fire as we slowly pass. I look away, afraid that it will transport me once again.
Finally, blocks away from the fire, we are nearing my stop. I say my goodbyes and then exit the bus.
I walk swiftly towards the roll of buildings and enter the first one. My hands are trembling, but I need to continue to at least have some of my life back. I open my boss’s office door. He is sitting smug, leaning in his chair facing the parking lot's window. “What?” he says without looking my way.
“I QUIT!” I scream at the top of my lungs. His chair lunges forward, surprised at my scream. I slam the door, turn around, and walk out.
I won’t let any more demons torment me.