(This is a story I wrote in 2002 when I was in England. I originally wrote it on a manual typewriter! I hope you like it.)
I remember her so vividly on that day. In the time of her greatest sorrow she found hope; at the time of her greatest loss she found something worth living for. In the time where no sun shone, and there were no mountaintops, she became beautiful. To me, to all of us who knew her, but most of all she became beautiful to herself.
The day that became the most trying time of her life started off cold and wet. We were all staying together in a house that overlooked the Irish Sea. Amidst the clattering of dishes and the dull roar of children’s voices, I stood in the front room peering out through the rain that fell like a thick mist trying to decide if I should carry through with my plans for the day. I was to go north, to the Atlantic coast to have dinner with some friends. The place we had planned to meet was an old inn that had a terrace surrounded by a low stone wall that was covered with various flowers, and while dining, one could hear the heavy waves pounding against the rock face of the cliffs. I decided to go even though the rain was falling. Old friends were worth the trip.
It was Thursday. I had known about the news since Monday, but was not allowed to tell her about it. There was a vague feeling inside of me that knew this would be the day. All that week I had carried on as I normally would have: playing and goofing around, without ever letting on that something was wrong. All of us that knew had to act that way. It was hard knowing what we knew. To her life was grand. Being with friends and knowing that home was just one month away. I saw the sparkle in her eyes, in all their eyes, when home was mentioned.
It turned out that I had a lovely dinner with my friends and we had just finished our dessert when I received a phone call asking if I would be home that evening because they wanted me to be present when they told her. I told them I would be there. I excused myself from the table, gave my farewell and started back to the house.
The entire ride I was troubled with visions of how she would react, what the following weeks would be like. A dull feeling arose in me that seemed to eat away at my heart. Why did things like this happen to people so beautiful? to children? I was glad when I arrived back at the house, for there I had the company of friends. School was still in session. I found the rest of the adults and we discussed who should tell her, when they should tell her, and what to do afterwards. We brought the children in for their evening snack and then sent them to shower. I had known her for so long and we had a special relationship, a special song and dance we performed together. I knew the time was near at hand, so I had someone videotape us performing our song one last time.
After showers we sent them back to the schoolroom to finish the day’s work. The eight adults met in the lounge as we finalised everything. We were all worried, we had never had to do this before, so we bowed our heads and prayed together. It was a prayer for peace that goes beyond what we can comprehend, for the right words to say even when we wanted to say nothing, for the loving arms of Almighty God to hold the
broken-hearted during their time of pain.
She was taken out of class and brought to the front room. The two Africans were to be the ones to tell her. The rest of us sat in the next room with our eyes shut, our ears open, and with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. I could not hear what was being said, I already knew though. The mumbling of voices stopped and there was a moment of silence.
It was the first choking, grasping, heart-wrenching sob that tore my heart to pieces. The cry that screamed why? why me oh God, why me? what have I done to deserve this? The cry that meant our secret was out and the child we once knew would never be the same again.
The door opened and she stumbled into the room, tears running frantically down her dark face. She could not look us in the eyes; it was too hard, too painful. She was wearing white pyjamas with different coloured cats on them. Funny looking cats. Cats that were unfazed by the news that this little girl had just heard. Her mother had died. So close to going home, so close to seeing the family that she loved so much, and her mother had died. How was she going to take this blow that life had dealt her? All of us were worried, and all of us soon received what we had asked God for.
As she sat there on the couch we took turns praying for her. I had no words to say, so I sat silent, hoping my presence showed her that I cared.
When we were finished praying one of the Africans took her out for a walk.
Hopefully she would open up and talk and tell how she was feeling. In the meantime we put the rest of the children to bed. She wanted no one else to know what had happened, so when the others asked we covered up for her. Myself and a friend went out for a walk, the night air was cold. A breeze blew in from the sea and challenged us to walk faster. We weren’t going any place in particular, just walking and discussing the whole situation. A ways off we saw them walking towards us, but on the opposite side of the street. We thought about shouting a hello, but decided not to say anything and hope we weren’t seen. When they were directly across from us we heard our names being shouted. I looked across at them and there she was jumping up and down waving at us. My heart leapt with joy. I knew things would be all right in the end. That was when I knew our prayers had been heard and answered.
When the two of us arrived back at the house all of the children were settled down and quiet. As it turned out, the two of them had taken a walk to the ice cream shop and sat there drinking hot chocolate and talking. Of course she asked questions: when? how? who would she stay with when she returned home? I believe her soul was satisfied when she heard the answers, it helped settle her emotions. Her younger sister was waiting for her to return home, to be with her, under her care. It was a great responsibility, but one that she was willing to take on. She dearly loved her sister.
The next morning she greeted me with a hug and a smile. Not a trace of despair to be seen. She had found hope in the darkness. She knew there was a future. But most of all, she knew that God was in control.
I left on Saturday and have not heard from any of them since. I know it will be a long time until I see her again, but already I look forward to meeting and seeing the strong young lady that she will have become.
Through this I have learned that in death pain comes, but hope never ceases. It is a time when all the faith in one’s soul must arise and shine. I will never forget that day, that single moment when time stopped and one that I truly loved grew strong. Life comes to each of us in a different way, some when they are young, others when they are old, some unfortunate people never really do live. At the time it was hard to be a part of everything, but looking back I consider it an honour that I saw the loving arms of God wrap around a little girl and lift her up into victory.
Written 25 April, 2002 in Ripley, England.