There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more glorious and titillating than waking up to catch the blissful scent of lilies and ever blooming purple hibiscuses scattered strategically across your backyard lawn, especially if it's on an island, just as mine was.
And there is nothing more relishing than the euphoria that comes with the swishing leaves of overhead palm trees coupled with the dainty warm glow of the morning sunshine. And of course how could I forget the sea, the magnificent view of the brightly colored blue sea that supplied the soul - lifting cool breeze of the evening? No, I can't. It's hard to forget.
When I was little, I never missed the evening chance of hopping next to Father in his reclining chair to savour moments of brilliance and relief that the sea always so perfectly exhumed. I would rest on Father's large chest and play with his thick long fingers while the compelling aroma of mother's cooking tickled my nostrils.
Then it was just us on the island. Father told me we used to have neighbours but that they all left, before I was born. I wondered how anyone could ever leave the island. I mean, was there anywhere better than island? Maybe there was. Maybe there wasn't. It didn't matter. It didn't matter if they left. I loved our little world. I loved everything about it, even our prim little garden where we grew vegetables, tomatoes and potatoes of different funny shapes. We received other food supplies monthly from a man named Denver. I was just a little girl then. I couldn't tell if Denver was his actual name or just a sobriquet.
I still remember how I ran around with a bare belly and scrawny legs chasing brightly colored butterflies that always somehow contrived to evade my reach. I would chase them across our backyard lawn, past the vegetable garden and past the whispering trees. I would run till my little legs ached and my armpits reeked with sweat. Then I would finally collapse gently on the ground, not far away from the sea. I would sink my feet into the warm white sand already heated up by the sun. And whilst I watched the sea and birds that came to perch delicately by its bank, I scooped the gracious white sand and let them escape in between my fingers. At the time, I didn't think there was a more comforting feeling than that.
Dinner was always ready at seven o'clock in the evening and so every evening I would wait impatiently for the dinner bell to ring, ready to devour mother's wonderfully spiced cooking, the one that found its way into your nostrils from a mile off. And I would not only wait for the sharp piercing ring of the bell but also of the whirring sound of Father's motor boat and it's magnificent stance as it moved and made white angry ripples of water on either side. I would then shift my gaze to seek Father's sun burnt face. He always had shades on and so the rays of the setting sun reflected off from his shades. Father worked on the mainland, a little far away from the island, beyond the stretch of the sea' s blue brilliance. I have always wondered what existed on the mainland beyond the stretch of the never ending waters. I thought to ask Father a few times but never did. I didn't care about anywhere else. The island was home. Blissful home. I liked it here. I didn't want to experience the poisonous air of the city filled with blaring horns and black wisps of smoke that escaped from the exhaust pipes of worn out vehicles.
Though I had never been away from the island, Father often recounted the creepiness and horrors of the city, when he came back from work. After dinner, he will tell me loads of tales about the city and even though I had been told of its horrors, sometimes I still yearned in my young mind to visit there someday.
The night always came with the brief piercing shrill of crickets and the gentle whispering of the tall palm trees beside our house. Sometimes I sat outside on a low stool to watch the moon bath our house in its glow and silhouette the palm trees on our house. Sometimes I gazed at the constellation of stars above. Other times I sat in mother's company as she told me adventurous stories her grandmother told her.
Late into the night, the crickets still screamed angrily, especially on a rainy day. Sometimes the chilly breeze coupled with the gentle thud of the sea against the rocks is enough to lull me to sleep. Other times, it takes resting on Father's large chest and burying my little palms in his large hand to fall asleep, at least before he died.
Ever since Father died, things haven't been the same again. Large resplendent butterflies no longer perch on our backyard lawn. And even if they did, I don't try to catch them anymore. The whispering palm trees have squandered their leaves and Father's reclining chair is much too old and weak to support any weight. I no longer wake up to the scent of lilies and hibiscuses. Most of them are dried and dead. Withered. Gone with Father's death. Sometimes I sit at the bank of the sea and stare out at the expanse of the wavy waters. Sometimes I sit there for hours, a part of me expecting to see Father and his motor boat, but he never comes. I know he won't come. He's not coming back. He's dead. Buried deep down beyond our little vegetable garden. But I still wait everyday, I still sit down gently on the white sand and fill my hands with them and allow them escape between my fingers.
I sit there waiting until it gets dark. I no longer know when it dinner time because the bell has ceased to ring. Mother is grief striken and too frail to tug at the bell string but her cooking is still as spicy as ever. It's the only thing that lifts my spirits now. That carts me away from the abyss of mourning Father.
Last week, people from where father worked came to visit us. They came in motorboat, much bigger than Father's. They wore gloomy faces and offered condolences to mother. There was a woman among them. She wore sunglasses and did her hair up in a ponytail. She appeared to be the leader, the one in charge, maybe not of the company where Father worked but of the entourage that came visiting. She seemed kind. A smile always lurked at the edges of her lips. She beckoned to me and then drew me close to her. Her clothes smelled like baby wipes. She played with the curls of my hair whilst she explained to mother and me how father died. She said he had been run into by one of the production machines. He had been rescued alive but bled to death on the way to the hospital.
Mother's head slightly moved and the under of her jaw quivered as she listened absently to the lady. I stared down at the glistening black shoes the lady wore. I loved them instantly. I wanted to be like her. I liked her appearance. The way she walked and talked - I had never seen anything like it before. Father never dressed the way she or the other men did.
They later left , leaving behind wads of cash for mother. I saw and watched them go. I followed the boat with my eyes until they were gone. Gone . Gone, until the only thing I could see were the white ripples of water that trailed after them.
In the days that followed, I found myself mimicking the lady's steps and the way she talked which was so polished. She had a seductive accent. If this is how ladies from the city behaved, then I wanted to be a city lady and live in the city. Whilst tracing imaginary circles on my head, I concluded solidly within me that I have to leave the island, with or without mother.
The silence that fills the house during dinner has never been this deafening. Every night mother and I devour our dinner in gloomy silence but at least the noise which our spoons make when they chase around food in our plates is enough to ease the silence. But today we are not eating with spoons and plates and so the silence has never been more compressing.
I bend a little to sink a bite into the succulent bread that lay invitingly in front of me. I can feel mother's stare all over my body. She has been acting strangely ever since I told her I wanted to leave. And it's not my fault really, it's just...
"Why are you so bent on leaving, Julia?"
Mother's voice cut through my thoughts harshly. I swallowed the piece of bread in my mouth before answering.
"Mum, all my life I've lived on this island like some prisoner..."
"Prisoner? We want the best for you Julia, me, your late Father - you're too young to survive the harsh whips of the city..."
"Mum, I have made up my mind. I'm leaving!" I said surprised at the tone in my voice.
"Do not take that tone with me Julia!" She said stamping her hand on the table with a bang.
I smiled and returned to devour my bread.
" Julia do you Know what happened to your Father? The city..."
"I'm having none of this mother. I'm fed up of the island and tomorrow I leave. Period!" I said getting up from the dining chair.
" Julia! Julia!...come back here!"
She didn't have to shout that much. I was already gone and not coming back to dinner. Poor mother! A part of me felt sorry for her.
As I started Father's motorboat and looked back to scan the island, I realized I might not be coming back here in a while. Father's brother had a nice apartment in the city and so I need not worry about where I would stay.
Amidst sobs, mother relunctantly bade me goodbye, her blouse swaying loosely in the mild wind. I blinked back tears as I smiled and waved back.
It was not long since I got away from home when I spotted the edge of a knife lying dangerously at a corner of the motor boat. I picked it up and to my greatest horror, it was stained with blood. I dropped it in shock and immediately my eyes caught a crumpled paper lying not too far from where I found the knife. I opened it with shaky hands. It was a letter. It read:
This is the last warning. Either you cooperate with me or you face whatever comes your way. I'll be watching.
My eyes narrowed, the tip of my nose flared. I swallowed hard, wanting to cry but no tears came. My heart fluttered at the thought going through my head. I wanted to dismiss it, to banish it. But each time I tried it became clearer and truer. I coughed violently and wheezed briefly. I brought my face to read the letter again. The truth had dawned on me, finally. Father! He didn't die by accident.
He was murdered...by a woman.