When the flood hit our land for the first time in Penrith, people stood stunned in front of the spectacle not being able to believe their eyes. And then the rain continued on for 3 days straight, like being retribution from God and the crops were thoroughly destroyed, leaving the whole village out of stock for the whole season, coming up to a task we had never faced before.
Everybody in the community was highly dependent on his farm including most of the members of my family, my father Andrew, and my grandfather who were both the main source of income for us those days. It was only my uncle Terri who managed to get us out of trouble for he was a school teacher and he had enough savings to lend some to us to help. But I doubt whether we would have managed it if it wasn't for him no matter what father used to claim.
Terri was an elegant man, lanky and solemn but not in a way that would drive other people away for he was always heavily praised for his intellect and his incredible knowledge.
Michael, his son, and I would often embark on quiz games every time we would meet and we would often revert to him to stand as a referee for our disputes which he would find very amusing at times and he never struggled to answer.
"Is it true that Nemo was a clownfish?"
"But of course!" he would utter with excitement overflowing from his eyes.
"And is it true that butterflies emerge out of caterpillars?"
"One of nature's true miracles,"
And his loving attitude could never cancel the numbness the thought of it would create for days. But if there was one subject that would get him to erupt with proudness it was the civil war, in which the great grand-grandfather of us fought in and it was a general consensus of the important impact our village had in its outcome. For this was the only thing people held strongly to their hearts when the tough moments would appear and other than that, little can be said about the achievements of this desolate village that stood in the edge of the world, confined only by the mountains that arose in the far distance and most people had no knowledge of its existence.
In school it was decided for me, that because of my closed relationship with Terri, I should move to the second class, neglecting the usual name conventions. And so it happened that the first years of class, were with Mrs. Marcy, who apart from the appearance of benevolence was quite harsh and never seemed to take a like on me, finding opportunities constantly to reproach me.
"But why my dear Alison, I see this is the second time you failed the exam. Continue like that and I will have to call your parents on your performance."
"Once again the assignment is delayed on your part when everybody else is on time. I don't know what is wrong with you Mrs. Davis but things don't seem very bright if you ask my opinion."
Mrs. Marcy was a very haughty figure, and distant with her bobbed blonde hair and she loved to wear skirts and cardigans like her traditional taste would dictate. But I think her intense dislike on me begun much earlier on when I was only in the third grade and one day I accidentally hit the wrong button on her.
It was in one of those cases that most of the class had failed miserably in one of her tests and I had thought to be a good idea for me to express a notion that I had heard recently that just came out on its own with the usual ignorance kids in that age have.
"Mrs. Marcy people say that when too many students fail in an exam the fault lies more with the teacher rather than the students."
"Oh is that right? Now, who is telling you these things exactly. I certainly can't recall anyone in the school with ideas like these. Was it your uncle Terri?"
"Then who" (asking persistently).
"I can't remember Mrs. Marcy"
"Well, then I suggest that you revisit some of the ideas you have in your head. And I will certainly make sure to talk to your uncle to let him know about the things you say."
After the incident, my uncle Terri talked to my father about what I had done and he rushed forward to have me grounded for a full month. I had never seen any of them so furious at me or could anticipate any of the consequences but it was regarded as an act of defamation to the family name and since then I was heavily monitored for my behavior in relation to Mrs. Marcy.
Since then, my life during school became a martyrdom for I hardly ever managed to soothe Mrs. Marcy's feelings and she would often make a case of me on how bad I was in every chance she would get. The days would pass on painfully slow, and my salvation came only in the summer when the burden leaped off my shoulders and I finally got my mojo back.
It was then that we also got a number of visitors that stayed with us for the whole duration of it and they were bound to repeat the act every year since then.
Uncle Ben and his wife Mary would occupy the whole upper floor with their kids Joshua and Nick who although younger they were still smart enough to play with me and Michael as the usual gang used to go. And then Anna Ashley who was a distant cousin of mother and a young woman who lost her husband early due to a traffic accident would also come for a few weeks together with her son Ryan who although shy I found to be quite intriguing at times.
So it was since then that our company got quite crowded as a complete turnaround, and all good things followed up after this, for all the adults would usually gather up together in the spacious living room and spend their time speaking politics and drinking wine, while we would rush out in an uncontrollable impetus and so many things would take place that I could never recall them all. But if one thing is for sure, is that it was never boring to be around the area during the period and it is this period that has remained in my mind most vividly of all.
It was already established by me and Michael that we would always choose Robbin street to play on, which was close enough to the house to soothe the anxiety of our parents but was also hidden above the curve of the street, offering us enough privacy to do as we pleased. There were only two houses laying in between the heavy foliage that were both secluded in their way, and their residents would never object to our loud voices which was the only thing that mattered back then. On one of them was Mrs. Anderson and her cats that would always surround her, which was as old as a woman can get and she could hardly listen to anything even if you were to scream in front of her face. She was soft and kind though and she would often give us a call and treat us with some of her biscuits that we could never really withstand but we would always accept out of courtesy. "It is all about the message" as Michael used to say.
In the second house was the Meyer family that was the most renowned for the calamities they had faced over the years and people would hold in a distance for what they had become. The whole family in it, which included the father and mother with their two sons, was highly isolated from everyone else and its members would hardly ever accept any visitors or care enough to sustain any relationships with people in the village. It was only James, the bigger brother, who was working as a carpenter together with John Howells who was well appreciated in the town. But as for the others, no one had ever come in contact with them apart from when the two parents would flounder to church or in some national celebration and it was the younger brother Benjamin who people thought to be a weirdo who would rarely get out of the house and people would claim to have some sort of mental disability.
For all, I knew the Meyers used to be well-off and booming till it so happened that the third son, Richard was arrested for drug trafficking and since then the family retreated on its own and never recovered the affliction.
Although it was perfectly fine with me and Micahel and we could generate our own fun when the rest of the kids came to visit we took rather a more audacious turn and we embarked on more risky activities that many times would get us in trouble.
Joshua and Nick were simply two of the most daring kids I had ever met and their bold behavior would be perfectly camouflaged out of their angelic faces and solemn postures. Where our initial occupation would come down to cards and football, later it wouldn't be strange if we were to spy on people or steal candies and morsels we happened to detect. It was usually Michael that would put some sort of dare to Josh or Nick and that would often lead to all five of us doing something stupid we would regret later on.
In one case Micahel happened to notice a big enticing cake inside the house of Meyer and judging that no one else was in the house at the moment he suggested that Nick should enter and take it.
"Why does it have to be me again?"
"Because you are the one who is always trying to pass his turn," said Michael.
"But I was the one that got into Marcy's last time. And I was almost caught as well."
"I don't make the rules. Are you going to do it or not?" he asked and seeing his dejected spirit I stepped in for him and spoke up.
"We can do it together," I said. "I can keep an eye for you."
And so we embarked οnto the gravel road in the midst of the whooshing sound of the wind and the cheering of the birds as everything else seemed to be silenced and there was a drowning veil above all sounds. We jumped above the wiring fence and the old battered door that was rusty and would reach a meter above our heads and slowly we moved on into the backdoor that we knew we had better chances to violate.
I remained in the corner hidden behind the bush as Micahel leaped up and sneaked inside the house. I could see no one else in the road or hear any strange noise yet something was telling me this was a bad idea and every second that would pass by without any sign from Micahel seemed like an eternity passed in agony compacted into a sheer moment. Then I heard a strong thud coming from the inside and panicked as I was I moved into the side window trying to take a look on the inside. It was then that I realized that Benjamin, the youngest of the Meyers, was standing right across from me in the yard, and he was staring right at me with a placid look on his face.
He didn't show any signs of discontent or anger and for a moment I was dithering as to how I should react but just then Michael snapped up the window frame and jumped out, cake in hands, and we both started running on our way back. But just before we turn around the corner and get out of sight, I turned back my head and I could swear that I saw a sign of smirk on his face as he let us get away with it. Even though everyone was anxious that he would give away on us and that we should try and apologize, I somehow knew we were safe and as it happened nobody ever attributed any of it in the following days, and neither was there any punishment for our terrible action.
It was the state with Benjamin that he was regarded as one of the asocial few that one would better keep in mind to avoid. But it so happened that while in church in the following congregation I noticed him standing solemnly on the other side of the aisle and as I picked up on him he caught on the act and I was too embarrassed for the whole duration of the event to even raise my head up afterwards.
He was standing with his drooping head and the shuffling hair that was becoming sparse in the center. Dressed in the same sagging trousers he was often witnessed at and with a refulgent white shirt that was strangely clean. Although his expression was full of abnegation and humbleness, the one in his parent's eyes was full of pride and harshness and that went especially for his mother Clove who standing backwards with her frowned face I would swear she was ready to charge on anyone who would happen to pass by her.
I was still with my mother Mary for the whole duration of the congregation and I didn't pay too much attention to it but as it happened to leave after the communion, being swarmed by the masses of people that were passing through the arched gates, I felt a hand pulling gently my arm and a hand that vividly pointed downwards.
"I think you dropped this", he said and I mechanically stooped down and picked it up although I knew it wasn't mine. And thankfully mother didn't pay attention to the incident for what I saw afterwards was quite astonishing and it would be hard to explain to anyone how it came to be.
Clenched under the strong grip of my hand, wrapped around a swabby net, was a cake figure made out of porcelain, reconstructed exactly in the appearance of the cake we grabbed last week. Ben obviously put on the effort to make this as accurate as possible and besides the awkward way of his offering, it was meant to be a joke and it never to failed to draw a chuckle on my face every time I laid eyes on it.
On one occasion I found the opportunity to approach father about it and ask him questions about Benjamin when mother happened to be outside shopping in the market.
"Benjamin?" he asked full of bewilderment. "Well I know he is not the most outgoing guy. But why do you ask?"
"I was just wondering," I said trying to hide my anticipation. "He is a member of our community isn't he?"
"That he is of course. But I'm afraid I cannot help you much with the matter. You see the Meyers used to be completely different back in the day. As a matter of fact, Grandpa Joe used to be closed friends with Stephen Meyer who died a few years ago. He was a decent man from what I know one very respectable member of the village." His expression took a sullen tone all of a sudden. "But the rest of it is history and is not proper talk for a young girl like you,"
"Daddy, I want to know". I persisted as much as I could but all I got back was the fact that the "less I knew the better it was for me" and that no matter what and under no circumstances should I ever come in contact with any of them without the knowledge of Papa. And that went especially for Benjamin who was the most peculiar one.
Besides father's recommendation, it was since then that Benjamin started becoming more amiable, always in a subtle and indirect way, he would often leave certain objects of interest for us to take that although nobody ever suspected him to be behind any of it I knew it was all his doings. In the following days, we would find more sweats and cakes, standing up over the open window, porcelain crafts or random figures, and even a brand new ball that we would always use from then on.
Although we never spoke openly this went on for quite a while and it was an occasion of excitement to anticipate what good he would bring us next time. But it so happened that in due time another tragedy found the village, and the place took a more clouded tone out of the shame that ruled over everyone. Jeremith Cooper, an old drunk who would pride himself on his past achievements, was caught for the rape and attempt of murder of Alison, a teenage girl he abducted and put down with violence. Nobody knows how it all happened but Benjamin somehow heard of the incident and he got into a fight with him, leading eventually to his arrest. And he remained unconscious in the hospital for three months before showing any sign of consciousness. But then like a miracle he woke up and he was never seen as before in the village ever since...