To make the most of things in Jubilee, I have decided to go on a kind of exploration of the area. Despite living here for a few weeks, I’ve hardly even left the house since arriving. Save for the garden, and occasionally in the surrounding area of forest, I haven’t been anywhere. I’m more of an indoor type of person, you see. Dad keeps nagging me about getting more exercise, but I don’t think it’s too much of a problem. After all, I need to put a little weight on - Cissy tells me I’m far too skinny for my age.
Only ever seeing the small town area by riding past it in my father’s car, I had to admit I am a tiny bit curious. Jubilee would be where I will no-doubtedly be spending the rest of my childhood and adolescent years, so why not get excited for the place? From what I saw, Vermont was beautiful.
I tied my long blond hair back into braids and added two red silk ribbons for decoration. Looking into the mirror, I smiled back at the reflection I saw. Today was a new day - and I wouldn’t allow myself to feel worried about something so far in the future. Yesterday I had gotten myself into such an anxious state just thinking about school, and the worst thing is, deep down, I know that everything will be just fine. It always is, I told myself as I grabbed a picnic-like bag from my wardrobe. Why do I worry so much? Don’t you know it gives you stomach cramps when you worry so?
The plaits were loosely braided and came down a little past my waist. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve accidentally ended up loosing hair by standing up suddenly when I’ve been sat on it. They swung almost whimsically as I made my way out the front door.
Forest noises are really sweet in my opinion. I can lie in bed in the early mornings when the sun begins to rise just to listen to the birds sing. I’ll have to purchase a bird book some day so I can identify the birds that roost themselves in the nooks and crannies between my window sill and the roof. Sometimes when I sit really, really still, a little deer comes strolling by with his little head held high, fluffy tail aloft to the forest sky. It truly is a magical sight! I know Buddy would love to shoot that poor, darling deer with his gun if hunting was legal in this area, but there is no way I’d allow him to do any such thing! I’m a strong pacifist and I love animals.
It’s odd… Thinking back, I haven’t seen anybody in the forest besides a few odd squirrels and a deer or two. It is so unlike back when I lived in the outskirts of Paris; everyday I would play out with friends in the village and we’d all have such fun. The woodlands are gorgeous, so I don’t understand why I never come across any other kids whilst on my walks.
I stand in my garden, chin sky-wards as I try to spot the red squirrels that play in the pines. I can hear them chattering and squabbling amongst one another, I just can’t see them.
‘Oh!’ I exclaimed as one came scuttling and zig-zagging down the tree trunk. The little rascal leapt like a wildcat into the air and landed on all four paws higher up in the tree where her squirrel companion was waiting. A giggle escaped my lips as they chased each other up and down the bark. If this were a cartoon on the black and white TV, surely little stars would be floating around their heads by now! ‘How cute you are!’
‘Pretty sweet, right?’ Pierre called out from behind me. His voice was soft and gentle, a quality I admired most about my older brother. He could always appear so tranquil and sweet. I’m jealous.
‘They’re just adorable,’ I agreed. Seeing as he was dressed so finely, I added, ‘I’m about to go for a walk down in the forest. Would you like to accompany me?’
He wore a three piece suit from time to time, something which made Buddy snort in scorn - he was more of a casual type of boy. Typical slob if you ask me… Reading my books, I often come across the term ‘dandy’. This is the term I could use to describe Pierre. It suited him to a T! From the terms ‘Cult of Self’ and also his leisurely hobbies; Dandy-ism could be to Pierre what Lolita is to me. Fashion is something I love as trivial as it may sound. Everybody can express their personalities by the clothes they wear. With Pierre, his dressy sense of style reminds me uncannily of a Victorian gentleman out for a stroll on the streets of Paris. He may get embarrassed if I address him as a dandy though. Pierre gets bashful so easily. A complete and utter opposite to his older brother.
‘Well, of course! I’d love to, Ai,’ Pierre beamed, seemingly happy with his only invitation of the month. Since we moved, I can’t help but feel my big brother hardly gets any attention from dad. Buddy gets a lot of dad’s attention seeing as he’s the eldest, but not necessarily in a good way. They mostly argue.
I linked my arm into Pierre’s. ‘Let’s go.’ I smiled up at him, Pierre being a good five inches taller than me, ‘I’ve packed a small picnic for us to share.’
The rich, earthy smell of the forest mixed with sea salt in the air was something I loved about the area we lived in. As we decided our path, the squirrels from before chattered noisily above our heads, presumably unhappy about us making so much fuss. Studying a small, crumpled map that Buddy had drawn out earlier for me, I decided it was hopeless to attempt to decipher his careless scrawl. I folded it up even smaller, tucked it into my bag and sighed, glancing both right and left. Which way would take us downtown? Two different paths glared at me, taunting me with their unfamiliarity. One was barren and sandy, appearing although it had been made by animal rather than by man - the other, whilst being slightly more artificial, looked although it could go on for miles and miles and still get us nowhere… Trust dad to send us to a place in the middle of nowhere!
‘Do you think…’ I pointed to the left, ‘This way?’ Pierre glanced down at me, his red hair flopping into his eyes. I could tell he didn’t trust my decision, being older than me.
‘I’m really not sure, Ai. This place is so strange to me.’
I didn’t blame him.
‘Well…’ I paused, waiting for something supportive to say rather than something negative, ‘It doesn’t matter if we don’t get to downtown. Really. I just want to go on an exploration to be honest.’
Pierre snorted, ‘Lets just blame Buddy if we get lost. His map could have been drawn by a five year old!’
I giggled in return and took the left without waiting for my brother’s approval. Pierre caught up to me and re-linked our arms. The picnic basket swung against my hips as we walked and I didn’t bother to fix it. I was too enthralled by the nature to focus on keeping my bag level. Clusters of red toadstools gathered at the tree’s long roots, reminding me of fairy magic and long summer days as a child. Decaying leaves from the previous Autumn crunched underfoot as we continued to march on our stroll to anywhere and nowhere. Pierre’s slender frame kept up a steady pace, leaving only me to weave my way after him, occasionally grabbing onto his arm for support. For what seemed like hours we walked, at peace with our lives and living in the moment as everybody should. It was relaxing. Peaceful… I felt although this summer would never end. I wish it wouldn’t.
Our walk lasted about half an hour, and as the trees began to reach a clearing, I started to seriously wonder how on earth I was supposed to get to school every morning. It seemed we took the long but scenic route as I could see the path we could have taken didn’t curve round as much. Pierre smiled, but I could tell he was feeling rather smug deep inside. Never mind. I still had fun!
The clearing was another dusty path that lead to some residential neighbourhood that I’d never seen before. Large, typical New England houses towered around us in all their pastel wood glory. Some had huge porches and balconies, whereas others had decorative bells swinging and chiming near the roofs. American flags bellowed and roared in the salty breeze, coloured balloons soared high up in the sky along with the kites of giggling children. Pierre squeezed my hand and I squeezed back. This truly was a beautiful dream.
Two young men were relaxing out on their porch, Little Richard’s Tutti Fruti blaring out at maximum volume. My cheeks flushed as Pierre began to bob up and down to the rhythm of the song, attracting one of the boy’s attention - I spluttered in a fit of the giggles and clamped my hand over my mouth. Pierre burst into a full-on jig, twisting and jiving, his hand still wrapped around my wrist. The boys both grinned sheepishly and turned back to their discussion.
‘What? That was fun. I really dig this American rock n’ roll!’
I couldn’t help but laugh again, ‘That was embarrassing! If you want to dance, please don’t do it in public!’
My brother shook his head teasingly and we went on with our walk.
We passed young women on bikes, their petticoats billowing in the wind with their felted poodle skirts. Greaser boys swaggered around in packs, occasionally tugging on some un-expecting girl’s hair and wrapping their arm around her waist. They reminded me of gangs of wolves somewhat… I hope one won’t try pulling my hair, I don’t know how I’ll act if they do. Couples held hands, swinging their arms and giving one another goofy, adoring glances every once in a while. A little boy held a red balloon in his petite hand, grinning happily as a clown handed him one out of his bouquet of balloons. Another clown on the street corner twisted and manipulated one balloon into the shape of a dog for some applauding girl. Both their faces were coated with layers of deathly white greasepaint. Black crosses covered one clown’s eyes, whereas blue and red circled the others. The pair wore comically big red noses that gave a honking sound when squeezed. Pierre shuddered.
‘I hate clowns,’ he said with a grimace.
‘Why?’I asked, surprised. I thought clowns were awfully funny.
‘Don’t you think they’re so horribly creepy?’
‘Not at all! They’re cute!’
‘You’re an oddball, Aika. A real weirdo if you ask me.’ Pierre smiled, giving me a hint he was teasing.
A stall selling ice cream and Victorian lemonade was heaving with hot, thirsty customers. Each person in line had a sunburn from being out in the sun too long. Children in line each clutched a balloon gifted from the pair of clowns on the street corner. I would have asked to get one, but I know Pierre would refuse to be within five feet of them - and there was no way I was going anywhere alone in this unfamiliar town, even if it was only a little down the road.
I hesitated, glancing longingly at the balloons in all colours before Pierre dragged me away, bristling visibly as he snook past the clowns. I snickered under my breath and he whipped around to give me a slight glare.
‘It’s not funny.’
‘I know, I know. I’m sorry, big brother.’
‘If you really want a balloon… then go get one. Unless you’re afraid they might turn rabid and eat you…’ He smirked slightly, reminding me of Buddy. That smirk was a trait both my brothers gained from my father’s side. I never mastered it.
That put me off. What had he been reading?! ‘Hmm, that’s okay. I’d rather not be eaten alive by a clown, thank you very much,’ I joked, elbowing him gently in the ribcage.
After stumbling about the neighbourhood for a while in the heat, it became apparent we wouldn’t find downtown without a car. What a shame! I really wanted to go clothes shopping too; especially for one of those sailor-collar blouses I see all the local girls wearing. Pierre looked tired, so I suggested we go back. He suggested I be quiet. Reluctantly, I pressed my lips together.
‘Hey, Ai. What’s that over there?’
I glanced over at where Pierre was pointing and narrowed my eyes to see better in the glare of the sun. It was such a bright day that the sun bounced off something metallic and straight into my eyes. I placed a hand above my brow to prevent myself from being blinded. That metallic something was large and seemed to stretch on for miles. Not a soul in sight strayed down that path, so Pierre bravely decided to lead the way to investigate. After all, I did say I wanted to explore, didn’t I? And investigate we shall.
I skipped, following Pierre’s lead, confident that my big brother would protect me if things went bad. I wasn’t very trusting for a young girl, despite how naive my family may think me to be. Recently this foreign soil had turned my distrust into apprehension. I hope it was just a phase. As we got closer, it seemed that glint of silver was actually a railroad. I wondered how we hadn’t figured it out in the first place, however we still followed the dusty track like a magpie in search of all that glistens. Abandoned trains lay either side of the track adjacent to the bushes and trees. A rusty sign promising that all trespassers would be persecuted was dotted with changing shadows and bursts of sunshine from the gently swaying foliage. My gut clenched as I urged Pierre to stray no further. He was seemingly feeling awfully mischevious today, and grinned at me, turning back around to race even further down the path.
‘Oh, Ai-baby… You’re such a worry gut! There’s nobody here, we’ll be just fine!’ He yelled over to me.
I stopped dead where I was and resisted the urge to cry. I didn’t want to get hurt or in trouble, but at the same time, I didn’t want my brother to be all alone in this unfamiliar place… Tears threatened to spill, but I blinked them back and followed the leader, walking the old track although it were a tightrope.
‘Please come back, Pierre…’
‘What are you afraid of?’
‘Good, well come on then!’
I clutched my straw hat embellished with cherries to my head and sprinted after my brother as fast as I could manage, the salty breeze beating me back and my braids whipping me like knives as I raced. I wanted to beat this fear… I can’t be scared forever can I? Don’t let worry win. Don’t let it beat you down… I can be strong. I will be brave. Despite the nerves welling inside, I caught up to my elder brother and wrapped my arms around his waist tightly. He seemed surprised, but hugged me back, calling me a silly little girl. He was three years older than me, but we got along better than anybody else in the whole household. I buried my face into his dinner jacket and breathed in his musky, strong cologne. He could see that I was feeling blue, so pulled me over to the bushes where somebody kind had planted narcissus and daisies. I watched silently and sniffled into my hankie as Pierre gathered together a pretty little bouquet of flowers and handed them to me. I replaced my embroidered handkerchief with the flowers and smelled them. The narcissus had a delicate scent, but the daisies were strongest of all, causing my brother to burst into a sneezing fit. I cracked a genuine smile, forgetting fully about what had made me panic. I could always rely on my brother Pierre to make everything better.
Recently I’ve been noticing things. Small things, but still, things… These little somethings force knots to form in my stomach and a lump in my throat. Call me silly, but it’s the trees. They’re beautiful, I know. There’s nothing like the forests of Vermont. Now that it’s August, I can’t help but feel time flies by so fast that we all get dizzy trying to keep track of it. Am I the only one that can feel my life whizzing by so fast that I’m struggling to keep up? I’ll be old before I know it… But that can’t happen! I want everything to stay the same. The trees; they signify birth, growth, disease and finally death, just like a human does. At the moment, the trees and shrubbery I can see outside my bedroom window are in the midsts of growth and disease. I feel blue just thinking about it. That exact shade of pumpkin orange tells me that the summer is nearly over. Just when I thought it would never end. Or maybe that was wishful thinking? If only time could freeze. That would make me so happy.
I look up from the embroidery hoop I was adjusting. A single pink thread trails from the needle poised in mid air. Was that Cissy just now? There was a period of silence, so I dismissed it as my imagination.
‘Aika?’ There was the voice again, this time a little louder and much more desperate sounding. Instead of going back to my sewing I trailed out my bedroom and leaned over the banister as far as I could go without falling.
‘Yes? Did somebody call?’
‘It’s me, Aika,’ I caught a glimpse of Cissy’s profile from the awkward angle of the staircase. She dropped her eyes from my face and twiddled with her thumbs for a few seconds, before… ‘I don’t want to upset you, but master asked us to go shopping for… school supplies.’ My heart sank at that. Just thinking about school makes my chest go tight.
She puffed out her chest for a second before politely asking for me to come down. My fist reaction would have been to run away back into my room and hide under the covers, so I don’t have to face buying things for school. Cissy could tell I was about to be difficult, so came to me instead. I feel like such a silly little girl when this happens… I don’t know why, but I want to curl up and hibernate whenever I hear the word “school” or “education” or “friends”. It’s scary.
The expression on Cissy’s face seemed stern for a fraction of a second before melting into a maternal smile. She was halfway up the staircase before she spoke to me; ‘I know you’re real scared, baby girl, but I promise ya it won’t always be so bad. You’re a good girl. A pretty girl. A clever girl. You can get through this.’ She rested her hands against each of my shoulders and caught her breath. ‘I know it.’
I appreciated Cissy’s words, but I knew that they were too good to be true. It’s just so frightening, this whole school system. In France I found it hard to make friends, and now we’re in the States, I just know it will be a hundred times harder! Tears burned against my lids, and my hands felt cold against the banister. Gulping back the desire to cry, I said a small and shaky, ‘Thank you, Cissy.’
She ran her strong hand through my blond curls before turning back to face the bottom of the staircase. ‘Lets go, Ai. If you’re a good girl, I promise ya we’ll stop by the ice cream shop before we get back.’
I grabbed onto her arm as we made our way out the house and into the forest. She was taller than me, and much wider, wearing a neatly pressed pastel pink maid uniform. The material was a cheap polystyrene which made me wish she could wear much prettier garments. I couldn’t help but imagine her in one of my yellow gingham dresses and think how beautiful she would look. She wore a peachy, floral perfume that suited her gentle personality perfectly. We were at the downtown area Pierre and I failed to reach the other week, within mere minutes.
The downtown area of the small town was, of course, also small. I don’t now what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. This was so much better. Teenagers, elderly people and young couples strolled about their daily business, the two wide streets containing many stores selling high street and boutique clothes, breaking off at adjacent points and leading on to other streets. Each road was lined with the deep orange autumn trees, miniature orbs circling their trunks for when it gets dark. The sky was painted a deep blue and not a single cloud tainted the atmosphere. Children laughed and played in the street. Two boys about my age swaggered about the street like they owned it. To my left, a mixed group of teenagers skulked about, each one as mischievous looking ad the next. The girl looked about fifteen and had long bleached blond hair, frizzy and tangled as mine was smoothly curled into ringlets. She glanced at me longingly and I wondered if it were my imagination. Two greaser boys flanked her sides and played with their switchblades. The sight of the blades alarmed me, so I stopped my gawking and dragged Cissy off and into the nearest store. Cissy seemed surprised - especially seeing as we only just arrived - but compiled to what I wanted without complaint. I could tell she wanted to explore, but I wasn’t taking any chances; if those boys had knives, I wanted to be nowhere in their eye line. Who knows when you meet a psychopath? It could be the old man next door for all you know…
In the shoe store, Cissy turned to me in surprise, ‘What was that about, Ai? Did you get a crush on one of those boys?’ The last sentence she said with a teasing smile.
I shook my head and bit down on the insides of my cheeks. What really happened was that I didn’t want those boys to hurt Cissy… She was a black woman, and everybody knows that innocent black people can get attacked on the street without warning… Just look at the scar on her cheek to know that. I don’t want Cissy to be hurt or even killed. She means an awful lot to me… ‘I just want to look at the shoes. A pair really caught my eye from outside!’
Cissy followed me around the store as I tried to find a pair I really liked. I had to make it believable. ‘ Hey, these are them,’ I grinned, slipping one onto my right foot. Truth be told, they weren’t my favourite kind of shoe, but I didn’t want Cissy to know I told a lie. She hates liars.
My maid glanced at the pair of shoes in my hands and sighed. I could tell by the tone in her voice that she didn’t believe me.
‘What was the real reason ya brought me in here, baby girl?’
‘Well…’ I hesitated slightly, choosing my words carefully. Finally I decided to just come out with it. ‘ There were these boys outside with knives! They looked scary…’ I had to admit it sounded weak and babyish. Even my voice sounded feeble-minded.
Cissy beamed widely before bursting out in the giggles.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘I’m not laughing at ya, Ai! It’s just you’re so sweet. Ya shouldn’t worry so much. Those boys won’t hurt you!’
‘What? They had switchblades though!’
‘Most of those boys carry them around as part of a gang memorabilia. They don’t actually use them to attack people. Okay, I admit greasers have a reputation to be kind of aggressive, but I know for sure they won’t lay a finger on ya.’
‘Are you sure about that?’ I asked doubtfully.
‘I’m positive. Well, if they do, baby girl, you needn’t worry because I’ll bop them on the nose!’
I laughed at this. Cissy can be so funny sometimes! Despite laughing, my mind wandered back to that girl squeezed between the two greaser boys. The look in her blue eyes was just so sad. I wish I could have helped her, but I didn’t know how. Most days, I don’t even know how to say ‘good morning’ to my own family.
‘That girl outside, do you think she is okay?’
Cissy paused, ‘Well, why wouldn’t she be?’
‘She just looked so frightened! No wonder with those two awful boys!’
‘You’re being paranoid now, Aika. I promise you she’s completely fine.’
I risked a glance at Cissy’s face. ‘I hope so… Lets get out and find the stationary store. I want to get some new drawing pencils and some books!’ I prayed my voice sounded more cheerful than I felt.
Outside, the greaser gang were still posing. I narrowed my eyes slightly as I passed them, keeping my face and body pointed firmly away from them. One of them pointed in our direction and snickered. My cheeks flamed. Inside my chest, my heart was pumping so hard and fast, it felt although it wanted to escape my ribcage. Just ignore them. Just ignore them. The girl gave me another desperate, longing side glance. Was she in trouble?
‘Eh, look ‘ere, boys! The dolly girl is with the old nigger hag! What a bunch of freaks!’ One of the boys crowed, elbowing his friend in the side. The other boy laughed whereas the big girl’s face remained phlegmatic. I could see the anger in her eyes though… She was just as infuriated and humiliated as myself and Cissy. If only we could put an end to this hatred and oppression towards different people. The world would be a much happier place if only that could happen.
I felt Cissy stiffen beside me. Her cocoa cheeks were flushed slightly, but the hurt was no longer evident in her gaze. The sad thing was, she was already used to this kind of abuse. My frown deepened and I felt my hands ball into fists either side of my body.
If taunting wasn’t enough, the terrible, jeering, mocking laughter certainly was. My face flushed beetroot red all over and tears burned the backs of my eyes. I wish I could say something to make them stop, I truly do. I wanted to say, “Leave my maid alone you horrible boys!” but something held me back. Something always does.
‘The fat old lady and her freakishly dressed mistress. Where did you get your duds, the circus?’
Before I could cry for both Cissy and myself, the girl came to our rescue.
‘Oi, just you let them alone!’ Her voice was deep for a girl’s and was heavily accented from the area. Her baby blue eyes turned glacial as she snapped at them; her bleached blond hair was messy and fell into her eyes, giving her a dangerous, couldn’t-care-less look. She was very tall and curvy, wearing concealing boy’s clothes and a matching leather jacket to fit in with her crew. When she spoke, it was evident who the leader really was here. The two boys paused from their bullying, their faces each displaying mixed shock and slight fearfulness… She hesitated for a fraction of a second, chewing on her gum and giving each boy a disgusted look, ‘We’re all human. Show a little common decency and let them be.’
I was a little frightened of the big girl, but who wouldn’t be? The look in her eyes was pure danger. She was not to be messed with. Despite being scared, I was completely and utterly in awe. I was totally in her dept. My maid visibly relaxed beside me, her shoulders slumping back down. The gratitude was in her face. Cissy had told me before that those boys were nothing to be worried about, but at this moment in time, anybody could tell she was intensely relieved it didn’t turn ugly. As was I. Everyone could tell who was in control of the situation.
‘L-let’s go, Cissy.’ I stammered, grabbing onto her arm and leading our way back towards where we came. Cissy nodded rapidly and followed me closely, keeping her eyes trained icily on the big boys the whole time, and placing a protective arm around my body.
The fury burned inside, but I couldn’t do anything about it. This must just be a daily part of life for Cissy, I thought sadly. I could feel the big girl’s eyes bore into my back. When I turned back around from the other side of the road, she was still watching me, that expression of dreamy longing back on her face. Her two companions continued to stay by her side, but it didn’t need a psychic to tell there was tension in the air. The two boys left shortly after that, leaving her all on her own. She seemed happier that way - cursing them secretly behind their backs - calling them pig-headed, ignorant bastards. Why hang out with those disgusting boys if it makes you so sad? What I didn’t know was that she actually had a really good reason to. If only I hadn’t found it out earlier… Things could have been a whole lot easier…
I was embarrassed to see her give me a little smile from across the road, obviously not disgruntled at my staring. My face twitched into what I thought was a brief smile in return, but just to be sure, I added a little wave and ducked my head in shyness. Her cherry red lips formed a sentence that I couldn’t quite comprehend. Little did I know, she was actually wondering aloud what the heck I was wearing. Even if I did understand what she uttered, I know I wouldn’t care at all. She was the one wearing boys clothes!
Eyeballing my maid dismally as she lumbered her way back down the road, I floundered my way after her, fully and unpleasantly aware of all the evil eyes boring into my back. Most of them were sent by those greaser boys, but some - oh how this irks me - some were from passers by, their faces contorted with disgust. Cissy held her head high although she just didn’t care, but I knew better. When we were out of earshot from the public, I caught fully up to her and wrapped her in a clingy embrace.
‘Cissy, I’m so sorry about the way those boys treated you… They… they were wrong,’ I paused, moistening my lips nervously, ‘and evil…’
Cissy’s eyes danced for a fraction of a second before filling with tears. It was although she couldn’t quite make up her mind which emotion to display. Her full lips wobbled somewhere between a grimace and a grin; but in the end, she decided to keep her bad feelings inside and attempted a wry smile.
After another painful moment of silence, she began to speak. Even now, I can fully recall what she told me on this day; Cissy was one of those wise women who had seen it all and she is what I aspire to be someday. ‘We’re not that much different you know, Aika.’
I was puzzled.
‘Black, white… It doesn’t matter. We’re all the same. We’re all human. And what I see when I look at you,’ she hesitated, wondering if it were her place to say it, ‘I don’t see a white girl. Neither do I see your wealth or social status handed down to ya by your parents. I see a beautiful girl, both inside and out. Someone who would never judge. A girl who is colour-blind and unprejudiced. And I know you see the same in me… Those boys don’t mean a thing to me. They don’t know me. Sure it hurt, but without even knowing them fully, I can tell they’re real ignorant. Times will change, just you see.’
My eyes must have appeared wide, for she laughed airily, ‘And I hope I’m around to see it! Well, I’m sorry to start preachin’ at ya, baby girl, but that’s just what I believe.’
Mouth agape, I wish I could have told her not to apologise, for that was the most lovely, sweet thing I had ever heard. It made me feel stronger somehow. If Cissy could remain in good spirits after all she’d gone through, then so shall I.
‘Thank you for saying that,’ I whispered, my voice coming out hoarse and mouse-like. There was so much more I could have said. So much more I wanted to say. Cissy understood though, I could see it in her big brown eyes.
Deciding against going back to Main Street (I was feeling panicky over the events from before), we traipsed our way back home through the forest, not caring at all what father would say when we returned. There was a silence settling between the two of us. It wasn’t quite uncomfortable, but it wasn’t exactly reassuring either.
‘You’re bein’ awfully quiet.’
‘E-er,’ I stammered, trying my hardest to shrink back and make myself appear smaller. The back of my skirt skimmed the trees behind me.
Cissy giggled, her eyes crinkling in genuine amusement. I wondered what was so funny. Was she laughing at my discomfort? Her face straightened. ‘Are ya worried ‘bout somethin’?’
My legs twined one another as I considered my options. I decided to come out with it. ‘Cissy… C-can I tell you something?’
‘Well, of course!’
‘I-I’m very worried about s-school in September. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and… I just know I won’t fit in… I find English hard, especially around people I don’t know - a-and I’m very scared I’ll fail school.’ When I’d finished, I was dreading that Cissy would start snickering again; surprisingly, she wrapped one large, beefy arm around my shoulders and squeezed. I recoiled at the touch, but appreciated what she was attempting to convey to me.
‘I understand. I know it’s hard, but don’t worry. You’ll get somewhere, I know it. Even if ya find it difficult, everybody knows you’ll do well. Ya always do because ya try your best and get through.’
Her words made me blush, but somehow, I felt her words to be true. I would try my hardest to get through school, and keep a smile on my face. Cissy’s words had filled me somewhat with a newfound confidence. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much.
‘Hey, Cissy. If you could wish for anything in the world, what would it be?’
She hesitated a moment and moistened her lips, deciding exactly what to say. ‘Why, I’d wish for more wishes a’ cause!’
I raised my eyebrows. ‘Really.’
‘Okay, what I really, really wished for… was to one day make something of myself. Like your mother, or your father. I want to be a rich old lady living with a cat.’ She tittered, ‘Sounds silly and selfish, but it’s true! I shouldn’t say this, but since I was little, I wanted to be rich and famous when I grew up. That never happened a’ cause, but on the bright side, I got to look after such cute lil’ children like yourself and ya brothers! If I were rich and famous, I never would have had that opportunity to raise a family. Riches can’t make you happy. It makes ya greedy. I’d much rather be happy - and looking after you kids makes me happy! So in a way, I already got my wish!’
I felt Cissy wasn’t being completely honest with me about the whole wish thing, as she seemingly decided I was too young to hear about black rights… I knew that what she really, really wished for was to be treated as an equal, rather than like the chewing gum on the sole of a white person’s shoe.
‘It’s lovely that you chose happiness over money. I wish for just the same, Cissy,’ I beamed in reply.
Clutching my skirt in my hands, we linked arms and waded our way through the clear but ice-cold stream, crunched across the beds of autumn leaves and paraded down the dusty tracks leading into our garden and inside our house.