All I ever wanted was to become something to be proud of, but now I stand at the mercy of the judge and jury. Tears stream in rivers down my eyes, but looking at them, I worried that they knew I lied. I should have thought the whole thing through that night under the moonlight on the roof, but I was too worried about money and what I was about to do. Without an ounce of caution, I broke in and took everything, but the next night I saw my picture on the evening news. The morning after that I woke to the glinting sunlight mixed with flashing red and blue lights, shining bright from outside my window.
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I watch in slow motion as the jury gives the verdict, but though I see the foreman’s mouth opening and closing, I don’t hear one word. I watch as the bailiff comes near and in my eye swells the fattest tear, but my anguish is replaced when the manacles slip out of his hands. I am free.
Everything feels different, walking out the courtroom, feeling the beautiful breeze. I nearly run home, not having seen it in five days, sitting in a jail cell because my sister couldn’t make bail. No big deal, I couldn’t be angry with Carmen, she had taken me in when no one else wanted me, when she barely had enough to feed her two children let alone a sister that only shared half her blood.
I am more then a burden to her, but Carmen always greets me with warm loving arms when I walk in the door of our run down house, lining the wrong side of MLK. Today when I walk in Carmen is nowhere to be found in the tiny house full of casting shadows. The TV is the only light source in the room, that’s where I find him, Greg, Carmen’s husband, in front of the television watching the evening news. His eyes light up when he sees me and I freeze.
After fifteen minutes of wrestling with him, and fifteen minutes after a fat lip of letting him have his way, I scramble away from him sleeping in their bed with the feeling that I’d be sick. He had to pull me into their bed, it was bad enough what he did to me, bad that I half enjoyed his company, but did he have to force me to betray my beloved sister in the bed she shared with her own beloved in holy matrimony.
Just as I shut the door to the bedroom, I face Michelle full of shame. Unlike Carmen, Michelle has never taken any pity on me, the motherless girl, who wasn’t even her sister by blood nor by relation, but only because Carmen said so and she meant too much to us both for either of us to argue different. Looking in her eyes is like glimpsing into the depths of hell and meeting her hug, the least bit sincere, is like shaking hands with Lucifer himself.
“I see they let you go,” she says as she drags me outside. “You should take this chance to start over, Jasmine. You know somewhere else.”
“Who gave you the right to kick me out of my sister’s house?” I yell, turning the heads of nosy children playing in the busy street and their parents watching intent from their porches.
“You and Greg when I first caught you in the act. I really don’t want to, but I will tell Carmen. Try me if you think I won’t.”
I watch her walk away, roll my eyes, and then walk in the other direction. I knew Michelle would do it, she has been dangling my fate in front of me for some time, but now she has her chance to relieve Carmen of her biggest burden, as she has always wanted. What can I do other then struggle as I’ve been doing?
I cross the street just as the street lights come on and I can just barely make out the usuals out on the corner across from the park, which despite the quickening of the moon is bustling with activity. I see Young’s relief from a block away and I hear the other girls’ screams of joy, as I get closer.
Young takes me close, but I push him away, shamed. He asks, “So I’m guessing you’re working tonight?”
I hadn’t thought of if I would or not. Riding around town, filching and dealing didn’t seem like the appropriate festivities to be doing my first night of freedom, so I pass and walk towards the beauty salon.
The lights are still on, but the door is locked. I knock, hoping that Carmen is still there lingering after a long day of work because I had decided while crossing the street that this would be the last time I’d see her in a long while. The door opens with smiles and warmth and hugs.
“Where’s Carmen?” I ask them and they all look to her spot in the corner.
I see, but don’t comprehend, hear, but definitely don’t understand. “Is that my baby, Jasmine?”
She comes forth after five years, my mother with that same overwhelming smile, same mild perfume. She looks only a few years older, she’s like forty or something now. She looks just like the picture I used to carry wherever I went when I was young and feared that when she came back I wouldn’t recognize her.
Thinking of that picture brings back an unbearable pain. That of a wide-eyed little girl, crying til her face turned colors streaked with tears, wondering when her mommy would come back. That of a little girl, crying at the sight of her own blood, staining her clothes, wondering when her mommy would come and save her from these strange people. Fuck her, is my attitude now. I am not that little girl anymore, but a strong young women, numb to all that pain. Who was she to come in and rearrange me? I refuse to speak to her coming forth; looking at my every feature, knowing that this woman would just leave my heart broke again.
I start to back away, but just as I hit the door I hear her say, “Jasmine don’t you walk away from me!”
“Why?” I laugh, feeling anger build and overflow down my cheeks, “You did that very thing to me.”
“I did what was best for you, but I guess your sisters didn’t tell you. If you want to be angry fine, but don’t expect me to explain myself.”
“You owe me that much.”
“No, no little girl, I owe you nothing. In fact, you owe me. Just ask your dear mother Michelle. Or did she tell you that you were her daughter.”
Not knowing what to think I storm away, following the sound of coming thunder. I run as fast as I can, thinking that maybe I’ll out run this nightmare, until the rain pelting down nearly suffocates me, coming in through my nose I gasp for air. I cry and walk aimlessly where else could I go.
The salt of every teardrop inebriates, I wake up to the suns rays, beating against my eyelids unable to remember how I got to this bed so unfamiliar. I’m worried feeling a pair of strong arms wrapped around me, but my heart slows down when I see Young’s face.
He must have picked me up on the side of the street. Thank God for him and not some one else as if I didn’t have enough to think about. My mother’s face haunts me as I throw on my clothes and head out Young’s apartment without him waking.
Walking out the apartment building the sun shines high in the sky. Walking down the street through the Sunday morning breeze, I pass a few people with their church clothes on so I realize it must be twelve or so. I feel bad walking past the church that I for the fifth Sunday in a row I didn’t go, but I leave my pride in the back alter as I walk through the last few members of the congregation mingling.
I grab attention of almost everyone as I always do walking in to the sanctuary, but in my short skirt and tight t-shirt they all look at me a little longer and a little less forgiving. I look for Rev. Harris, but he sneaks up on me from behind. He grabs my arm and pulls me back through the double doors to the street.
“Jasmine, we’ve been looking for you all night,” he gasps. “Michelle is in the hospital.”
I take his offer of a ride to the hospital, but when we arrive, I don’t why I bother getting upset, though she may be lying down the hall near death. The nurse leads me through the cold hallway lined with death and illness to her room.
I remind myself why in case I may forget, “She’s your sister. You love her.” Then it hits me, yesterday was no bad dream, but reality. Mother, she was and now I stand in the halls of a hospital, wondering how I could ever love her after she lied and betrayed me.
I open the door. Creeping across what seems a long space to her bedside I wake her with my heavy footsteps echoing off the silence. She smiles a weak smile.
“Why’d you do it?” I can’t keep up the games, smiling at each other as if I’m not hurt as if I’m not pissed at her for dragging me along on this damn roller coaster ride and then she dares to look at suicide in a pill bottle.
She looks away and answers, “I’ve been drugged out for a long time, but I never once hit a brick wall until last night. I guess…I was trying to drown too many troubles at once.”
Her answer instigates my easily irritated anger, “What the hell is troubling you? You live in a condo you own. Have a six figure job and no stupid kid.”
“Sit down Jasmine,” she says calmly.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I scream, demanding an explanation I deserve.
“Sit down, Jasmine.”
“Not until you tell me.”
“Just sit down, please.”
My emotions begin to overflow, but tenacious I continue to try to bury tears as I have for so long. “Mom,” I cry, “just tell me.”
“I was fifteen when I got caught up with this guy at the university. It was just a one-time thing, I loved him, but he didn’t love me. I told him about the baby, but he denied it. So I left him alone.”
She pauses, sweeping tears from her cheek, but I’m the only one that should be crying still after so many years to her I am ‘the baby’.
“On the ninth month I went to visit him on campus, but still he said he’d have nothing to do with it. So I’m sitting in this community bathroom, crying when it happened. I was so happy holding my little baby. But…it wasn’t breathing. It was just lying there dead.”
My head spins fast, then faster, then faster. How can these words be true? Michelle’s lying. I know she is, faking these stupid tears I see. This is a lie; she’s lying again after lying for so long already.
“I was scared so I went to get rid of the baby. I threw it in a dumpster and ran home and cried until I fell asleep. When I woke up and went to the dumpster, looking for my son. It was empty. I went to every hospital in town, hoping to find him. I asked the receptionist if they had found a baby on campus earlier. She brought me to you.”
“You were so beautiful. I held you in my arms and it was just as if you were mine. I figured that I could take care of you, just as I would have done my son since you would probably be given away anyways. I figured I could love you. But love wasn’t enough. I wasn’t a good mother. I couldn’t take care of you, so I gave you to Aunt Rhonda. When she couldn’t bear lying anymore I told Carmen that you were Greg’s.”
Faster and faster and faster my head spins. The person that I have for so long believed I am has been shattered, put back together, and annihilated by the truth. I can’t handle to truth with a secret buried deep inside me.
Though I stumble, I make my way out of the room without looking back at her. I had more to think about then Michelle, who had lied and said she was my sister, then lied and proclaimed that she was my mother. I am nothing more then what I am sitting on the cold tile of a hospital bathroom with this wretched feeling tossing my stomach. Painfully I stifle screams of pain, though I nearly bite through my bottom lip.
It’s worth it, though. Secrets had been revealed to me. It’s time for me to reveal my own secret, which for nine months has been living inside of me. Now she’s here, my perfect baby girl. And I will be her perfect mother.