Oga came in with a stormy look, he seemed to be about to bring down the house but she wasn’t afraid.
“is he okay?” he whispered at Mary as she still sat rocking the boy in her arms. She nodded in response, afraid that the boy would somehow wake up and all hell would be let loose. He smiled in his sleep and snuggled deeper into arms, putting his head right on her ample bossom.
Mary looked at her feet, embarrassed at the appearance of things but the man who stood before her did not seem to notice, or if he noticed, care very much about it.
He looked at her, at that moment, he realized just how crucial the presence of Mary in the house was turning out to be for the welfare of the child.
He had never seen the child in anyone’s arms like this, in fact, even as a kid he had cried so much, so constantly that he had been scared that he was probably terminally ill.
But he had soon discovered that the child seemed to find some comfort in being by himself. What sort of a child didn’t like being held? He had found it difficult to explain this phenomenon to people so he had just put the boy in a room where he could be by himself. Now he was starting to think that it might be a good idea to re introduce the boy to the world.
“ Mary” he called. She looked up and met his fiery eyes, an unsettled feeling grew in the pit of her stomach
“ oga” she responded as low as she could
“ thank you…” he said. She could not stop looking at his eyes, they seemed to have taken on a stormy appearance, like it had developed a new depth. He needed not have said the words because his eyes said more than his lips were saying already. She blinked a couple of time and forced herself to look away.
“you’re welc…oga no problem” she said… again catching herself just in time before she revealed her command of the English . it was becoming so notoriously difficult to keep up the façade that she had built. It was becoming difficult to be Mary the house maid, the underprivileged girl whose only usefulness was in house chores.
More often these days, she found herself automatically reverting to being Mary the girl who had gathered so much experience that despite having been unable to attend any school beyond primary three, she could speak the language of sophistication and act in ways that would make it difficult to think she wasn’t born to the high class of society. His eyebrow went up in acknowledgement of the change she had made to the mode of communication.
He smiled and turned around and walked out of the room. Mary watched him leave, consumed with thoughts of the things that had been and the things that she believed would have been.
She ran… she didn’t look back once. She didn’t bother to check if the girl had escaped her assailant. She ran with all of her strength. Mary knew that she had committed an abomination, she knew that the gods would be angry at her as she had raised her hands to their agents. What she had never been able to fathom was why the gods would need a medium in the first place. It seemed to her that the gods either had humans do their dirty work for them or humans were hiding under the robes of the gods to commit evil. Either ways, she didn’t want to be a part of it.
But she was a part of it and she knew, for was it to be called an accident that she had witnessed the the agent of the gods taking the meat of the gods twice now? Was it just chance that she happened to know that the agent of the gods walked with a very slight almost unnoticeable limp and had the smell of fire on his clothes? Was it just chance that she also knew that the village blacksmith had a limp that was peculiarly similar to the one that she saw in that person?
Maybe, maybe not. She damned all consequences and rushed into her mother’s hut which was now hers. She sat on the bed in the corner and dropped her head in her palms. Fear wracked her body and strangled sobs escaped her mouth. Who was she to tell what she had seen? Who would believe her? she feared that the girl had seen her, that if she survived, she would tell everyone the identity of the person who saved her, momentarily, she wished she had not saved the girl. If she told the people about the experience, the blacksmith would know that Mary had seen him. He would know that Mary was he one who attacked him with the stone, that was the last thing she wanted.
That same day, there had been another death. It was not the girl Mary had rescued. It was some other girl. The village mourned. And again, they took the body to the evil forest. Mary was bereft of tears, she felt dry. Now she knew for sure who the face of evil was but there was nothing she could do about it. The village would burn her alive if she even whispered what she saw to anyone.
When three days later, Mary’s step uncle had come to the house and told her to come to the city with him, it had been a very welcome idea. She had left the village without a second thought. She was a girl on the run.
The following day, when Mary went to the kitchen to get some chicken for duke who had suddenly developed a sickness that only chicken would cure, she saw the two maids and the cook talking in hushed tones.
The minute she entered the kitchen, the three hushed. Mary did not bother to ask them what they were talking about, but she had a good idea what it was. She greeted them casually and went into the freezer to fetch some chicken drumsticks which she proceeded to microwave before leaving the room. The house felt strange, everyone seemed to be tense and even the T.V that used to be on all the time was off. Mary thought about the days when watching TV in a boss’s house was prohibited.
The days when she had to hide behind doors to see what was going on in the movies that the boss’s children watched. Now she was in a house where the boss didn’t even care. Where the TV was always on and the mad could sit around and watch TV. She smiled and continued on her chicken bearing journey.
She opened the door and went into the room, duke was on the bed face down. he held a small superman toy in his hand and was twisting it around. The minute she saw him, she knew something was wrong.
“ duke? What is wrong? Are you okay?” she said all in one breath he he was muttering something under his breath. She bent over and inched closer to him to get what he was saying right.
“ what are you saying duke? I cant hear you clearly baby talk to me” but he was just muttering incoherently. She was frustrated.
“ duke, your chicken Is here… should I serve it?” but he still wasn’t responding. He was starting to rock back and forth. Mary was exasperated. The boy had woken up happy. He had asked for chicken and now he was not even able to utter a word. So she did what she thought would be the best thing to do at that moment.
She laid back beside him, in the same posture and the same style. The she rested her head on her folded arms and looked in his direction. He noticed this and inched closer to her just a little bit. She knew that he was not going to give her another sign. She moved closer to him too and let him put his fluffy little head near her chest.
“ the d…” he was saying something again. She calmed her nerves and listened gently. Then she made out the words,
“ the devil is in our house” he was saying. Her heart rate increased. She became instantly alert. The word “ devil” struck a cord in her. she fought her impulse to spring out of the bed and get a knife.
Her eyes rolled around the room and she held duke closer protectively. She knew that the chances of evil happening in her house were slim, but then… she also knew that anything was possible. She would not take chances with her boy. Whatever duke saw which made him like this… it had to be something crazy enough to scare a kid into fits.
The days following the experience of the iced cream parlor had been quiet. After oga and his lady friend had gone all out against each other, the house has started to see less of him. At first, she thought it was just a phase, but then he stopped coming to the house altogether. Mary was worried. Where could he be? He wasn’t the best of fathers but he definitely wasn’t the type to leave his son and just disappear.
She knew something was wrong, but who could she talk to about it? The maids who were very happy that oga was not ion the house? Or the old and weak gardener who really destroys the flowers more than he cares for them? She knew no one’s phone numbers who would matter. She was sad all the time and with each new day, the boy slipped even deeper into misery. Duke had more nightmares and Mary had more sleepless night. Gradually, she watched helplessly as the boy retired into a hidden cave. A place so far away that even Mary could not find him. Something was eating away at the boy and as much as Mary tried to make sense of his mindless ramblings, she couldn’t.
One hot afternoon, two months after Mary had gotten her enviable new clothes and shoes and almost two weeks since they had last seen oga in the house, Mary had started to worry about where in heaven’s name the man could have gone leaving his son in the house alone with a bunch of employees. All her growing respect for the man was disappearing and she was starting to reconsider running away, Mary was in the room, watching over a sleeping duke when she heard the sounds of high heeled shoes down the hallway. CLICK CLACK CLICK CLACK it sounded and she was quite about to go out into the hallway and give whoever it was a piece of her mind when the door to the room opened and an elderly woman came in. the minute Mary saw her, she muttered “bloody hell” under her breath and prepared for the worst.
She stood out of the bed as quickly and quietly as she could, ruffling and rustling herself out of the boy’s grip as gently as possible before standing up from the bed. She looked up at the woman of imposing standing that stood before her and she needed no introduction. She knew who she was and she bowed her head gently in acknowledgement of the woman.
“Good day madam” Mary whispered with her head bowed and eyes to the floor. The older woman looked well past her sixties but she stood tall and elegant in a two piece pencil pants suit that made her look twenty years younger and her hair was swept up into a Japanese bun on top of her head. She had almost no makeup on but for a shocking red lipstick that made her look a tiny little bit naughty. She was the last thing that would come into a person’s mind when they thought about grandmothers. But that was exactly what she was. She looked at the boy in the bed and recognizing the situation; she pulled Mary out into the hallway and closed the door quietly behind her.
“You are the new nanny.”
It was not a question, it was a statement and Mary just nodded to it as she didn’t know how best to respond.
“How is he doing?” she asked after a very heavy pause. Mary knew that this woman was not asking a general question; she was not expecting an answer like “he’s fine” and she knew better than to try to butter her up. As painful as Mary found it, she knew she would have to admit to this woman that her grandson had not been very well at all. She knew she would have to give this woman a detailed account of how the boy had been. What the hell, she was the first person who had seemed to have shown any genuine interest in the boy’s welfare anyways.
“He is not at his best right now ma’am.” Mary said with her eyes meeting the woman’s squarely for the first time. She felt a tight knot in her chest as she admitted her failure.
“ he has relapsed into a state worse than the one I met him in I’m afraid and the problem is I cannot even say that I am sure that I know when it started to get worse. “
The woman looked at Mary; a certain light was in her eyes. Surprise? Maybe. Mary gathered herself; she was too wary to try to hide the fact that she communicated in proper English and could express herself pretty well too. What was the point anyway, she was leaving this place soon.
The woman in front of her seemed concerned, but Mary knew better than to let herself be carried away with the seeming concern. After all, where had she been all this while? If she was really that much of a good grandparent to duke, where had she been? Mary looked up into her eyes, trying to confirm if she was free to go. The woman met her gaze with a fiery look
“We need to take him to a hospital” Mary shook her head.
His father will never allow it. He never lets the boy out of the house. “Mary said with a resigned look on her face.
“Well, he’s not here to stop us now is he” the old lady said with some anger in her voice. Mary shook her head in response
“I’ll lose my job…” Mary stuttered.
“And I will give you a job. That selfish bastard isn’t deserving of your services anyways.” She said wistfully. What Mary did next surprised even her
“Oh no no no!!! My boss is many things but selfish isn’t one of those things. Please don’t call him selfish.” The old lady looked at Mary and laughed. Then she became suddenly serious
“He’s my son, I’ll call him what I damn well feel is fitting” she said and turned on her heels.
“Pack a few clothes for both of you, put him on your shoulder and meet me by the car.” Mary wanted to argue, she wanted to say something, but she knew there was no use arguing with this woman. She would have her way, so she put her clothes and dukes in a single bag. She dragged the sleeping boy out of bed and lifted him onto her shoulder. He was much lighter, he had lost so much weight and the pajamas he had on suddenly looked borrowed.
She fought the tears out of her eyes, brushing one tearful away with the back of her hand. She walked out the door and headed towards the exit of the house. The minute she opened the door and stepped into the sunlight, the boy stirred and seemed to be about to wake up, but he didn’t.
She sheltered her face from the sun with one hand and proceeded to walk towards the car. The sun was however too much for her who had not been outside for nearly two months. She missed a step, stumbled and fell. As she started to go down, she dropped the bag containing the clothes and somehow managed to make sure that duke fell on top of her and not the other way round.
She hit the floor with a dull thud. The driver who brought the woman rushed to her side and took the boy from her. At this point, it suddenly occurred to Mary that no matter how deeply asleep the boy was, he should have woken up when she fell. He wasn’t asleep, he was unconscious!
Her screams pervaded the house. She was saying so many things at once, in the confusion that followed; no one noticed the shadow that moved swiftly through the house.
To be continued…