September 1, 2012

 

The little town of Collins sat deep in the Ohio valley and two hours away from the closest civilization. There was only one road leading in and out of the town and folks who moved out for whatever reason, be it college or jobs always ended up coming back, for in this little town, the community still thrived.

            A young woman in her early thirties hurried across the aisles of one of the grocery stores. She wore no make up but by the standards of the little town, most people considered her beautiful, or as others liked to call it, country strong. Not the skinny models found in the city but rather, a woman who can wield an axe and carry her own weight up and down the hills.

“Thank you for the groceries!” Britney yelled behind her shoulders as she headed for the door.

“Hey, wait!” Mr. Andrew called and Britney stopped. “The money’s not enough.”

“Can I get the rest to you later?” Britney flashed her best smile and Mr. Andrew’s face relaxed. He was 35 years old, two years older than Britney and most important, single.

“Britney, why don’t you let a real man take care of you?”

Britney hit the exit door fast. “Thank you Mr. Andrew!”

            When Britney got home, there was an eviction notice on her door. She ripped it off and threw it into the trash. Eviction notices, collections letters, debts… were all a part of her norm.

Later on at night, as Britney was getting ready for bed, she heard a knock on the door. She raised an eyebrow and looked at the clock on the end table, 10pm. At the age of 33, her life had stagnated to a routine and she didn’t miss her youth days of clubbing and drinking. This was who she was now. She walked over to the door and asked, “Who is it?”

            The reply came in a deep tone, “It’s me, Matt.”

            “Matt who?” Britney asked indifferently.

            “Matt, your husband.”

            Britney staggered away from the door and recoiled in shock. It was a voice from the dead. Silence. She didn’t know how long she sat there, she didn’t remember opening the door but as sure as daylight, there was Matt, her husband sitting on her couch, looking as handsome as ever.

            “Hi Britney?” Matt greeted nervously.

Still in shock Britney said nothing. Matt squirmed in his seat. He had pictured this moment a million times but now that it was here, he neither knew what to do or say.

            The shock slowly wore off and Matt watched Britney come around. “Matt? I haven’t seen you in five years?” It wasn’t a question. “You left me five years ago Matt? Why are you here?”

            “This is my home Britney. I grew up in this town and you are still my wife, aren’t you?”

            Her face flushed red. “How dare you call me that? How dare you come here like this at night? Not a word from you in five years, not a letter, not a post card. You need to get out of my house, now!” She was livid. “Go back to wherever it is that you came from or whomever it is that you were with! You can’t just play with peoples’ emotions like that.”

Matt stood up, tongue-tied. “Get out!” Britney screamed.

            Suddenly, a bedroom door opened and a little girl emerged. “Muum?”

Britney rushed across the room but Matt got there before her. “Hello little girl, what’s your name?”

            “Tiffany.” The little girl yawned. “I can’t sleep.”

            “ Oh princess, can I tuck you in?” Matt asked. The little girl took a closer look at the man. “Are you my mum’s friend?”

            Matt smiled. “Yes. You can call me uncle Matt.”

            “Okay then Uncle Matt, you can tuck me in.”

Britney was shocked beyond words. It was the first time her daughter had said yes to a stranger. She was reduced to a witness in her own house as Matt carried Tiffany to bed.

            “Please tell me a story uncle Matt?” The girl was adorable and Matt gazed at the ceiling pensively and then said okay.

            It was a story about a little girl who couldn’t sell any mangoes at the market thus couldn’t make money for lunch. At noon, the girl took out a knife and cut through one of the mangoes as saliva drooped the side of her mouth. She put a big slice into her mouth and closed her eyes, and when she opened, a crowd had gathered to buy her fruits.

            “So did they buy her fruits?” Tiffany asked sleepily.

            “Yes Tiffany. They bought all her mangoes and she skipped all the way home giggling.”

            “I like that story,” Tiffany said as she cuddled like a fetus. “Goodnight uncle Matt.”

Britney smiled, the story was cute. It reminded her of the old Matt and happier days.

            “She’s asleep,” Matt said as they crept out of the room.

            “You need to leave Matt.”

“Can I just talk to-”

She was already standing at the entrance holding the door wide open. One look at her face, at the red flames in her eyes and Matt knew that it was time to go.

Britney closed the door, sighed and walked over to the window. A diamond sky: a full moon. The stars danced, the moon watched. Sometimes she felt like the moon: strong yes, but lonely. Five years of waiting. She had rejected men and any kind of help in the hope that her husband would return. And now that he had, she didn’t know what to do. She was all spent but one thing was certain, it was time to move on. Enough was enough. No more waiting. What kind of a woman waited for five years for a man who never said goodbye?





Two months later, Britney walked down the steps of her house headed towards the grocery store. She stopped dead when she saw the landlord, but the landlord waved happily and walked on. Britney was puzzled. At the grocery store, she tried to give Mr. Andrew some money but was met with a quick don’t worry about it reply.

            “What do you mean?” Britney asked.

            “Oh, your husband was here. He paid for everything.”

            “What? Matt was here?”

            Britney stood dazed. She hadn’t heard or seen him since that night two months ago.

            “Where can I find him?” She asked and Mr. Andrew hesitated. “At the Underground.”

            A look of horror crossed Britney’s face and she dropped her groceries and ran like the wind. There were tears in her eyes, “No… no… not the Underground! Oh God please, not the Underground!”

            The Underground was a basement in the middle of the town where all kinds of people met to watch fights: the rich, the poor, mercenaries and all folks in for a quick buck.

“No ladies allowed,” a bouncer held Britney at bay.

Another bouncer appeared around the corner. “She’s cool. She’s the champ’s wife.”

Britney walked through a crowd of men. They whistled at her, tried to grab her. She recoiled and kneed a man in the groin. Up ahead, she saw Matt her husband topless in the middle of the ring, fighting three men. Matt had blood all over his well-chiseled body, a huge bloody grin on his face. He danced and floated on canvas like a bird, jabbing and ducking like a pro. A punch landed in his gut and he doubled over and raised one hand meekly. The man closed in for the finish but Matt rose to meet him with an upper cut. The man went down cold. Britney realized that her husband was toying with the men, entertaining the crowd, and they loved him for it.

“Maaaattt!" She yelled and he looked up surprised. The man on the left rushed him and Matt hit him on the throat. Matt cried out like a bull and rushed the last man with a kick to the head. All men down, Matt reached out for the cash and headed for the exit. Britney ran after him.

“You promised never to fight again?” She yelled.

“Yes, five years ago,” he retorted angrily.

“And whose fault is that, mine?”

He kept walking.

“Stop Matt, am talking to you!” Finally he stopped.

She gasped for breath. “Five years… five years I haven’t seen you and now this?” She gestured at the Underground.

“How else was I supposed to raise money?” he asked.

“Honorably,” she said. “I thought we were done with this. You promised to fight for me.”

“I was,” he yelled.

“No. Not like this. You promised to get a job and build a happy home. Why did you leave Matt? Why?” And there it was, the question that had been lingering in her mind. He sat on the grass pensively. “I didn’t leave Britney, I was in jail.”

She froze and said nothing. She didn’t trust herself to speak. He continued. “I went to fight in Mexico and someone framed me with drugs. I have been in a Mexican jail for five years!”

She sat down beside him stunned. All these years of wondering, and she would never have guessed this. Jail?

“See now why I can’t come home?” Matt continued. “I’m not good for you anymore. This is who I am.”

“Now you hold on a second Matt,” she said. “Nobody is judging anybody here. Life hasn’t been a picnic for me either. I have been alone for five years, struggling, people laughing at me-” She was crying and Matt took her in his arms.

“Don’t cry beautiful, I’m back now. You won’t have to fight alone.”

Silence. Sniffing and sobbing, and then slowly she regained her composure. “I’m tired of fighting Matt: am tired of being mad; I want you to come home with me. Your daughter needs you.” Pause. “I need you.”

It was his turn to be stunned. “What? Tiffany is my daughter?”

She smiled. “Yes Matt. You are a father now: you can’t fight in the Underground any more. You have to clean up.”

There were tears in his eyes. He reached out and hugged her with a bloody face. “Oh Britney, how I missed you. Jail is a cold place-”

“Shhsssss….” She cut him off. “I have you now honey. You are safe home.”

They held each other for a long time until finally he pulled away and cupped her face in his hands. “I have a daughter,” he said in disbelief.

Britney smiled. “Yes you do.”

Someone shouted, “Just kiss the girl already, will you?”

Britney and Matt looked up only to realize that they were in the middle of the town. Men watched from the doorway, women from the windows; folks exited the underground.

“Kiss, kiss, kiss!” the chant began and grew louder by the minute.

Matt turned and looked at Britney and they both smiled. “You wonna get this over with?”

 “Let’s do it,” she replied happily.

 

 

           

 





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My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen

 

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