“Is this Isbell?”

“This is she.”

“I’m sorry to say this but your
father just passed away.”

“I do not have a father.”

“Yes you do.”

 

Coming Home

A two hour drive into the mountains found Isbell in a small shanty town defined by a single hospital, an all boys’ high school and a fresh fruit and vegetable market. She snagged a window seat on a mini bus and headed deeper into the
mountains: through small scale tea, coffee and horticultural farms. The phone call had described her father’s home as the second last stop and the conductor pointed out the place to her.

          Muscles cramped up after a long drive, she stepped into the fresh air and scanned her new surroundings. The steep hills and slopes intercepted the sky-line and radially flowing streams cut across the land to join the river. The place was a little paradise on earth and she marveled at its beauty.

          “Hi there! Are you Isbell?”

          The voice startled her and she whirled. He had been sitting quietly on the grass like a chameleon, watching her. He stood up to a full 6ft and dwarfed her 5,8.

          “My name is Deron. I will take you to your home.”

          She pretended not to notice the dirty outstretched hand. His face flushed with the embarrassment of being left hanging as he picked up her luggage and turned to lead the way. She thought he looked cute but for the ragged clothes and country boots. The smell of dirt and sweat drifted behind him and made her distort her nose.

          “Sorry about your father.” He threw her a quick glance and grimaced at the sight of her
white dress. He liked her polished look and the way she smelled.

         “It’s okay. I didn’t know the guy.” Her red hair sat on her shoulders and shifted with the wind.

          Her father’s homestead was a small wooden structure capped with corrugated roofing.
Two bedrooms and a living room; a tiny separate room acted as the kitchen. Isbell walked into the living room and noticed that the floor was dirt. She pursed her lips at the sight of the old couches. It was obvious that her father hadn’t been a rich man.

          “Your brothers will be home after work.” Deron walked to the door and looked outside.
The sun had dropped a little. It wasn’t going to rain he could tell. “You wonna see around? I can show you.”

          “Let me change first.”

          “I’ll wait outside.” A handsome smile lit his face.

          Blue jeans and a pink sweatshirt later, Isbell stepped into the mountain air and
followed him. It was a strange feeling to imagine that she had once lived here as a baby. She remembered nothing of the place.

          “I can’t believe that I was born here.” She placed both manicured hands into the back pocket of her jeans and scanned the hills. The standing position pushed her chest out and made him catch his breath. He led her across the grass and
around the house.

          “Are you ready?” He asked as they walked through a wooden gate.

          She saw it and stopped. It was the reason why she was here in the first place… but to see it… the sight of the mound of soil with a wooden cross on top took her completely by surprise. Her steps faltered and Deron reached out to steady her.
Worry crowded her eyes.

          “How did he die?” She asked.

          “Nobody knows Isbell. He just didn’t wake up. Nobody knows why and people here can’t
afford an autopsy.”

          Her face was a mask of sadness but surprisingly she didn’t cry. She had always
wondered about her father: had always wanted to know who she took after and who she looked like. But now, that was all gone, the end of a long journey. She would never know.

          “I’m sorry Miss. Isbell,” Deron said respectively.

          “Just call me Isbell please. We are almost the same age am sure.” She knelt before the grave and said a silent prayer. She wasn’t a very religious person but it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Goodbye father.

          They headed back to the house as the sun dipped a notch. Dark shadows appeared under
the mountains and a streak of lightning lit the sky. She followed him around the house and watched as he locked the chickens’ door.

          “Are they all inside?” She sounded worried that some would be left out in the rain.

          “Yes. They roam all day and come home at dusk. Come, follow me.”

          Deron opened a wooden gate and walked her up a small hill where she was surprised to
see five black and white cows.

          “My father’s cows?” Isbell asked.

Holstein milk cows,” Deron explained. “Originated from Holland more than 2,000 years ago. Your father sold milk and vegetables for a living. Give me a hand please!”

          He jumped over a small wooden fence and started throwing grass over. The cows saw him throwing the grass and came running. Isbell shrieked in fear and hid behind him.

          “They won’t hurt you. They just want the grass. It’s dinner time.”

          “But they are so big! Look at that one!”

          “The bigger one? That’s the leader, 1,500 pounds. Been here for a long time, loved your father.”

          Isbell grabbed a bundle of Napier grass and threw it towards the smallest cow that was being bullied out of the plate. Deron smiled at her action. “You don’t believe in survival for the fittest?”

          “It’s a different world Deron. The strong live to protect the weak. The days when bullies ruled the world are slowly falling behind us. We fight the battles that others can’t.”

          “Are we still talking about cows?” He laughed and doubled over from her playful punch. It was as though they had known each other for a long time and she wondered how that was possible.

          “Are we done?” She asked as more silhouettes appeared around the trees and houses.
The mountains were a dark place at night and for a moment she missed the street lights in the city.

          “Almost,” Deron said, grabbed a tree branch and pulled himself up. A few minutes later,
he came swinging down holding five ripe green pears. They sat on the grass and ate away. It was only then that she realized how hungry she was.

          The clouds struggled to cover the sun and orange lights sipped out and decorated the sky. “It’s beautiful Deron,” she said, “the sunset.”

          He swallowed quickly to reply. “So what do you do in the city Isbell?” He leaned back on his elbows.

          “I’m a lawyer.” Her teeth crunched loudly on the ripe fruits.

          “You must make a lot of money then.”

          “I do okay I guess. You? What do you do?”

          “Still trying to figure things out,” he said. “I grew up here and life in the city sounds like a dream to me.”

          “Have you ever been there?” she asked.

         “To the city? Once. Didn’t like it. There is no freedom in the apartments. The people are rude, the air smells bad and traffic is insane.”

          She laughed. “Yep. That’s the city alright. I grew up there and that’s all I know.”

          Darkness fell hard and she shivered in fear. He was about to say something when they both heard the sound of an approaching car.

          “Your brothers are here! Let’s go say hello.” He helped her to her feet and led her back to the house.

          They watched together as two figured trudged uphill.

          “Hiiii!” Isbell yelled down with a hand wave. The two men stopped dead and stared. And then a few seconds later continued uphill without uttering a word.

          They shook hands under the rising moonlight and Isbell noticed their dazed expression. “You guys didn’t expect me?” She asked.

          They were both older than she was: face covered in beard, cheap country suits hanging eccentrically on their shoulders.

          The older one was the first to speak. “Are you Isbell? I received a phone call saying that you were coming.”

          “Didn’t know that we had a sister,” the second brother said suspiciously.

          “I didn’t know that I had a father either,” Isbell said with a shrug and then quickly added. “I’m so glad to meet my new brothers. I have always wanted to have a brother.”

          The whole group walked into the kitchen and somewhere in the midst of the conversation,
she noticed that Deron had vanished.

          The brothers lit a fire in the kitchen and made tea. A few sweet potatoes were thrown into the glowing embers and a few minutes later dinner was served. The brothers did not talk much, she realized as she cut into her roasted potato.

          “So what do you guys do?” she asked.

          “We work at the factory.” Pause. “Are you sure that we have the same father?”

          She excused herself, ran to her luggage and brought back a copy of her birth certificate. She didn’t blame them for doubting her. She hadn’t believed the story either and as a lawyer had taken the extra step to verify the details.

          “The story fits,” Isbell said. “I was born at a time when our father was very poor. She sat down and faced her brothers. “Our father had you two boys at the time and decided that you could help around the farm. As for me, she took me to an orphanage in the city where I could get a better life.” Pause. “I just wonder why he never came to visit me and yet knew where I was the whole time.”

          “It’s probably a guilt thing,” the younger brother said.

          “What do you mean?”

          “Well. If you abandon your kid for eighteen or twenty years, then pretty much, she or he is not your kid. The only thing that matches is the DNA. And can you imagine how angry that kid will be if you try and contact her at a time when she has finally managed to make a good life?”

          Isbell nodded, glad that the brothers were finally talking. She could learn to love them, invite them to the city and get to know them better.

          The older one suddenly stood up. “It’s been a long day, I have to turn in. How long will you be staying?”

          She shrugged. “I don’t know. A few days maybe. I have to get back to work.”

          The second brother also stood up and walked across the room. He tagged at something
and a bed fell from the wall. “It’s not much but it should do for now.”

          “Thank you guys,” Isbell said. “I’m just glad to meet my family. Goodnight!”

          They left without uttering another word.

 

          The bed took up a large space in the kitchen. The walls were painted with black oil
to prevent the termites from eating the wood. The blankets smelled of smoke and the spring bed creaked to her every move. She longed for a hot bath and a flushing toilet: she felt far removed from the comforts of the city.

At midnight, she woke up scared, shaken and
wondering what it was that had made her stir. Blanket in her hands, she quickly sat up and froze to listen. A shadow moved by the moonlight window and she felt her heart pounding. There was something out there walking around. The little
girl in her wanted to jump under the blankets and close her eyes but she knew the futility of that move.

          She closed the window, waited and waited, but nothing happened. Two hours later, she fell back into a restless sleep.

          A tapping noise woke her up before the crack of dawn. She glanced at her dying
Samsung phone and groaned when she realized that it was four in the morning.

          Tap, tap, tap. Someone was knocking on the wooden window. She opened it cautiously and saw Deron’s face.

          “Isbell, do you want to help me take the milk?”

          “I’ll be right there.”

          Two t-shirts, a sweatshirt and jeans didn’t cut it and the morning chill made her shiver. Deron wore the same clothes from the previous day and looked excited by her presence. Aluminum tank in hand, he led her across the dew filled grass towards the five cows.

          One by one, the cows walked into a tiny wooden enclosure that locked the animal’s legs to prevent them from kicking. Deron milked the first cow and invited her to try the second. She pulled a stool near the cow’s belly and reached down with tensed hands. The cow instantly kicked at her first touch.

          “He can sense your fear,” Deron said. “Here.” He bent down and guided her hands. Together they milked and Isbell giggled like a little girl the whole time.

          The milking of the cows done, they walked for two miles down the road and loaded the tank on a milk truck. The truck roared away and they headed back home. They spoke little as the first of the sun appeared in the horizon.

          “The blisters are killing me,” Isbell said after a while. “I can’t walk any farther.” She made as though to sit down on the side of the road.

          “We are almost there,” Deron encouraged.

          “That’s what you country folks say.” Her eyes danced playfully. “’Almost there’ means ‘very far’ to us city folks.”

          “Hop on then,” He offered and squatted.

          She looked confused. “You want me to hop on your back?”

          “Yes. I’m a big boy. My legs were built for the mountains.”

          Her pride wouldn’t let her but the burning blisters gave her little choice. She jumped on his back and tried not to over think herself. She barely knew him.

          Deron walked at a steady pace, his breathing normal, face bereft of sweat. By the
time they arrived home, her two brothers had left for work.

          Isbell went right back to bed and was awaken in the afternoon by her ringing phone. It
was her boss in the city.

          “How’s everything going Isbell?”

          “Its fine I guess. My dad is buried already. I should be headed back this weekend.”

          “Are you sure that you don’t need some more time off?” Her stellar reputation at the firm had given her privileges that others didn’t have.

          “I’m okay. I didn’t know my dad. I should be back on Monday.”

          “See you then.”

          She clicked off, stepped out of the house, scanned the hills and for the hundredth time wondered what people did for fun. There was no mall or movie theatre; no night clubs or fancy golf courses. All was quiet but for the whooshing of the
trees in the wind.

Isbell cut across the pen and walked into her neighbor’s homestead.

          “Halo! Anybody home?” Her voice echoed around the hills.

          “Over here!”

          She turned startled and saw an old woman sitting on a wooden bench with a vacant
expression on her face.

          “Hi, my name is Isbell.” Her soft hand shook her calloused one.

          “I know who you are,” the old woman replied in a husky voice. “Carried you for two
years and changed your diapers.”

          Isbell felt her heart leap. “Were you friends with my father?”

          “I’m too old child. I changed your father’s diapers too.”

          The old woman and the young girl sat on the bench and stared ahead. The soundtrack was that of a nearby stream.

          “What was he like? My father?”

          A thin smiled crossed the old woman’s sun burnt face. “He was a good man and everybody in the village liked him. I enjoyed his projects.”

          “Projects?”

          “Yes. He helped bring the first electric polls to the village. Haven’t you seen them?”

          “I saw them. So he didn’t get to finish?”

          The old woman sighed. “He didn’t get to finish a lot of things. He also wanted to pull a pipeline from the river.”

          The words hit Isbell hard and she felt proud of the father that she had never met. “He wasn’t rich,” the old woman elaborated. “He just had heart.”

          “I envy him,” Isbell said.

          “Why?”

          “Because he seems to have had a purpose in life. It’s what we humans desire: not jobs,
passions.”

“And you don’t have one?” The old woman sounded concerned.

          “No,” Isbell replied. “I enjoy being a lawyer but at the end of the day I find myself wondering whether there’s more to life.”

 

          In the evening Deron found her trying to feed the cows and laughed. He showed her how to hold the long Napier grass and cut at the same time but she couldn’t master the tactic.

          “I can’t Deron. I’m too much of a city girl.”

          “Don’t worry about it. It took me a lifetime to learn.”

          “You really like it here Deron, don’t you?”

          He shrugged. “I haven’t seen a lot of the world Isbell, but this is home and nothing can change that.”

          “Can I see it?” She asked.

          “What’s that?”

          “Your home.”

          “It’s not much Isbell.”

          “Please?”

          He led her across two homesteads and introduced her to the various neighbors. Tea
was offered and politely declined. Some folks remembered her, others remembered hearing about her. Everybody in the country knew everybody and everybody’s problems. It was a small world here.

          “Is your cell phone dead?” Deron asked.

          “Yes. Can you charge it for me?” She handed the phone over.

          “I will take it to the shopping center tomorrow,” he said as he opened a wooden gate. “It’s the only place with electricity. Here we are, welcome to my palace.”

          She stopped dead on her tracks. In front of her was what looked more like a shed than a house: a single room house that looked more like a kitchen than a house, laundry flapping in the wind.

          “You live here?” She asked in surprise and then turned around to search for other buildings.
There were none. Deron didn’t have much land.

          “How did this happen?” She asked. “I mean everybody else has so much land?”

          “You wonna come inside?” He asked.

          “Sure.”

         They walked into the small room and Deron folded the spring bed to make room for her to sit. He hurried about to light a fire in the middle of the three stones.

          “I will cook you dinner.”

          “No that’s okay,” she protested feeling guilty. He didn’t have much to offer.

          “I insist Isbell. You haven’t had a real meal since you came.” He was right about that.

She followed him outside and found him plucking a chicken.

          “No Deron,” she said. “That’s the only chicken you have.”

          “I know.” A happy smile lit his face. “I was saving it for a special occasion.”

          “And this counts as one?”

          “Oh yes. A city girl, a lawyer, the prodigal daughter. Come on Isbell, nothing much happens around here, so you either help me or keep standing there looking pretty.”

          It was the way he said it that made her laugh. They dipped the chicken in hot water then plucked it clean. A few hours later near the warm fire, they ate heartily and regaled each other with stories about their different worlds.

          Deron threw sweet potatoes into the fire and let them roast.

          “You really love those things?” She placed her hands over the fire and rubbed them together.

          “Here,” he said.

          She looked up and saw the switch blade in his outstretched hand. “Is that for me?”

          “Yes,” he replied. “It’s my gift to you. Try it.”

          She used the blade on a roast potato and felt the thrill of being uncivilized. “It even has a flashlight, cool.” She flicked the light on and off.

          “Carrying a knife is kind of a tradition around here. It always comes in handy,” he
explained. “You should keep it while you are here.”

          “Thanks Deron. I will.”

          “You are welcome.” A mouse scurried across the kitchen and Isbell raised an eyebrow.

          “I think I should go now. It’s kind of late.” She started rising but he stopped her.

          “Don’t go Isbell!” There was panic in his voice and she sensed it.

          She remembered the shadow she had seen by her window at night and quickly sat down. “Why Deron? Is something the matter?”

          He tried unsuccessfully for a reassuring smile. “Everything’s fine.” Pause. “It’s only that I have never had a visitor before. I never thought I would… it feels good to be with someone.”

          She pondered about it. He was fun to be with but… “What about my brothers?”

          “Tomorrow is Saturday Isbell. Your brothers will be home all day and you guys can spend time together.”

          She sighed. “I know I may regret this, but okay.”

          “Really?” He almost hugged her.

          “Where do I sleep?”

          “Right where you are,” he replied. “We will set up around the fire. This way it’s more fun.”

          She liked the idea already and was glad she had accepted his offer. She fell asleep to the sound of the crackling fire.

Isbell woke up in the morning with the sun on her face. She squinted her eyes and searched
the room. She was alone. Deron must have taken the milk to the truck amongst other chores. She cursed and wished he had woken her up.

          With sleepy eyes, Isbell trudged through the dew filled grass and headed back to her
father’s house. She swung the gate open and listened. All was quiet, too quiet. “Halo!” she called. No answer.

          She closed the gate and walked over to the kitchen. The sound of the kitchen door creaking made her stop and instantly she knew that something was wrong. She spun as a startling shadow suddenly appeared behind her. But it was too late. She felt the thud on her head and then her body went limp.

          She woke up a few seconds later and saw the grass floating underneath her. And then her eyes closed. When she woke up again, all was dark and quiet.

          Her head hurt terribly and she groaned in pain, but when she tried to move realized that she couldn’t. She was inside a dark box.

          It started slowly: first, understanding and then panic. She kicked her legs but the walls around her were thick. The more she struggled the harder it became to breathe. Isbell took a deep breathe and calmed her nerves and then suddenly
remembered the switch blade Deron had given her. She scrambled to reach it in the tight space and sighed in relief when the torch came alive in her hands. Cardboard was the first thing she saw. Switchblade in hand, she cut through the
cardboard and was shocked at what she saw. Soil poured over her face and body. It was hard to comprehend what was happening or why. But the evidence was in front of her eyes and she could not deny it. Someone had buried her alive!

 

Asphyxia: definition simplified… severe deficient supply of oxygen to the body.

 

          “Heeelp!” she screamed. “Help!” It wouldn’t matter how hard she screamed because nobody
would hear her.

With the thought of death came anxiety, and with panic came a faster consumption of air. Little oxygen reached her lungs and carbon dioxide build-up in her blood made her head feel light. The knowledge that she was clocking out made her kick and claw desperately… the switchblade fell from her hand... her heart pounded dangerously; the end rushed to meet her.

          Suddenly, the soil above her moved and the cardboard was ripped away from her face. She
gasped as air reached her nose and mouth, then coughed hysterically as denied air reached her pipes.

          “Come on! Give me your hand!” It was Deron looking grim and anxious. Isbell tried to
raise a hand but nothing happened. Her eyes quickly closed and she remembered nothing else after that.

 

          She woke up hours later on a bed covered with ragged blankets. A figure stirred and made her quickly sit up. Deron’s face appeared from the floor. “How are you feeling?” He asked. But there was no response from her. Isbell’s eyes flitted
from the man’s face to the door as though ready to bolt.

          “It’s me Isbell. Deron. I pulled you from the hole. Remember?” He searched her face for a sign of recognition and saw none. She looked like a little girl caught in a bad nightmare and unable to wake up. Deron tried to stand up but stopped when she recoiled. She hugged her knees to her chest, face twitching delicately with fear.

          “Nobody’s going to hurt you again Isbell,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I will be right here by the fire to protect you.” He lay back on the floor to show her that he meant no harm. The expression on her face was funereal. Outside, a dog barked at the moon.

          She woke up the following morning and found him gone on his morning rounds. Her
bleeding finger nails were clean and trimmed. She slid from the bed and hid behind the cupboard until he returned. She ran into his arms when the door opened. “Don’t leave me again Deron!” she said as a sob escaped her throat. They were her first words and he was glad that she was finally finding an anchor.

          “I will never leave you again Isbell. Nobody will ever come near you again.”

He made her brown porridge and served it with a thick slice of honey laid bread. She refused the bread and sipped on the drink as color slowly returned to her face.

          “Take this,” he said and handed her some painkillers.

          She took the pills gratefully, felt like someone had hit her head with a two by four piece of wood.

          “How could anyone do that to another human being?” She said in a bewildered tone and
felt sick to her stomach at the thought. “Why would someone bury me alive Deron? I have never harmed anybody!” She had led a cautious life and followed the playbook of life to the letter. She didn’t even have a speeding ticket. The morgue was a privilege that she would never have experienced.

          “Do you have any ideas on who did this?” He asked and poured her a refill.

          The room fell deathly silent as she tried to recall what had happened from the time she had stepped into the compound to the moments of slipping in and out of conscious. Isbell stared pensively into the near horizon. “I remember the bad breathe,” she said. “I also remember the bumpy ride. They carried me with a wobble. Does this help at all?”

          “Yes,” Deron said as his face grew angry. “You may not believe me but I think it was your brothers who did this to you.”

          “What?” Isbell looked rattled by the information.

          “They both have bad breath but the older brother walks with a slight limp. He hides it pretty well but it shows when he moves fast.”

          Isbell stood up and paced the room. “But I don’t even know them. I just came here because my father die…” She gasped and stopped. Could it be? Was it possible?

          Deron nodded at her. “It’s the only logical explanation Isbell. Your brothers left for the city right after high school. Apparently the city life turned out to be too tough for them and so they returned home to a subtle life of farming.” Deron
paused to collect his thoughts. “But something happened to them in the city and they were not the same innocent boys they had been. They were rude and lazy. Where they could have helped your father, they didn’t. They were constantly seen at the shopping center near the town drinking or messing around with the village girls.” He looked at Isbell’s anxious face. She dreaded his next words but wanted him to say them. “Rumor was that your brothers were waiting for your father to die so that they could sell the land and split the money.”

          Isbell felt the jolt go through her heart and quickly sat on the bed. Deron cut the distance and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. She sobbed as words escaped her mouth. “And then I showed up.” Pause. “They think that I want a piece of the land.” And there it was, the shattering revelation. Isbell couldn’t believe how naïve she had been. People had died because of land and
she of all the people as a lawyer knew this. She should have known better. She should have seen it earlier.

 

          On Wednesday morning, the beat down expression was gone and Isbell was a different
person. Fear turned into anxiety and the void inside her was filled with profound rage. The idea that someone had tried to kill her… the idea that she could have been dead repulsed her. Deron came home after delivering the milk and found her
sitting by the fire fully dressed in jeans and a jumper.

          “I made breakfast,” she said calmly.

          They sat and ate together. He followed her every movement and facial expression and
wondered what she was thinking.

          “Do you have my phone?” she asked after a while.

          “Ya. Here.”

          She dialed a number and paced the tiny house. The first call was to her work. She
explained that she wouldn’t be back till the following week and her boss was very understanding.

          “Take all the time you need Isbell. Your job will be waiting for you when you get back. You are a good employee.”

          The second call was to detective Constin, an old friend of hers. She had used him before in her firm’s interest and he had always delivered. The detective listened keenly and only interrupted to get details or exclaim shock.

          “You were buried alive! How did you breathe?”

          “It was a shallow grave and I was unconscious. I didn’t use up a lot of oxygen and
Deron rescued me in the nick of time.”

          The detective whistled and asked a few more questions. Five hours later, he and five other plain clothed policemen arrived two miles away from Isbell’s home where she and Deron met them. Credentials were flashed and hands shook. The sight of the side arms in the holsters was reassuring.

          They walked around the houses and up the hill where they were able to look down into the green valley at Isbell’s home.

          “They come home around five after work,” Isbell explained.

          Detective Constin scanned the homestead with his binoculars. “It’s too risky Isbell. I don’t want to put your life in danger.”

          “Danger? Ha, it’s a little too late to worry about me.” Her face hardened. “By the time am done with these clowns, they will be lucky to see another blue sky in their remaining miserable existence.” Her voice trembled and Deron squeezed her hand reassuringly.

          The two brothers came home around five
thirty
carrying food supplies from the nearby town. Isbell watched as they locked the chickens’ door and then fed the cows. Then she started
descending the hill, the detectives and Deron flanking her shadow.

          “Halo!” she called as she walked through the gate. “Halo! Anybody home?” A wave of fear
crept into her bones but her clenched fist steadied her emotions.

          The older brother was the first to step out, a stunned look on his face. “Isbell?” He said. She saw the limp, distinct in his confusion. “How did you… where did you…”

          The second brother appeared with the same puzzled stare, a half bit roasted maize in
his right hand.

          “You tried to kill me!” Isbell wagged a finger at them. “I came home to meet my new
family and you tried to kill me. What kind of people are you?” They stared at her with blank expressions. “I’m going to the police station,” Isbell continued. “You better find yourselves a good lawyer because you are all going to jail!”
Her voice rose and carried strong in the wind.

          “Now you hold on,” said the older brother finally recovering. “We did no such thing. How can you prove that it was us?” His voice shook with uncertainty.

          She scoffed. “You are fools. You thought I was unconscious? I wasn’t. I can remember every bit of the ordeal and the garlic smell on your breath.” She took a step back as though to leave.

          The older brother took two quick steps forward and said in a cold tone. “We can’t let you go to the police Isbell.”

          “Why? Are you going to kill me twice?”

          It was the younger brother who sang like a canary. “I didn’t want to kill you Isbell but my brother insisted that it was the only way. We have been through some tough times and this house… this land is the only thing that we have left. And then you came along and we panicked.” And there it was. Isbell felt her heart leap with joy. It was time to go.

          “Shut up!” the older brother yelled. But it was too late. By the time he looked up, Isbell was bursting through the gates running for her dear life.

          The two brothers ran after her, their legs strong from growing up in the mountains. They were faster and gained on her quicker than she had anticipated. She looked over her shoulder and saw their determined faces and she kicked her legs into higher gear. The sound of their pounding feet was close: the fear at the pit of her belly real.

          The two brothers were almost on her when the five detectives stepped out of the bushes guns held shoulder high. “Freeze or we shoot!”

          The brothers stopped dead and raised their hands. Their dilated eyes told the story of how confused they were. Isbell turned and walked back to them breathing hard. “How could you guys be so cruel? I’m your sister for goodness sake!” The
tears streamed down her face and rage clogged her throat. “I didn’t want your land… my father’s land! All I wanted to do was come home! How could you guys be so evil?”

          Deron held her as the policemen led them away. She cried in his arms and watched as the two brothers, heads bowed low, were escorted to the waiting car. Somewhere on top of the hill, a few neighbors stepped out to witness the scene.

          Detective Constin walked up, a glock still in his right hand. “Did you get it?” He asked.

          Isbell dug underneath her blouse and pulled out a tape recorder. “It’s all in here.” She handed the tape over.

          The detective nodded at her. “I will take it from here and I promise you Isbell that those fools will not see another day of freedom.”

          “Thank you detective.”

  They watched as the unmarked car bounced down the dirt road: inside it, the scam of the earth.

          “So now what?” Deron asked.

          She untangled herself from his grasp. “Now I go back to work.” She looked around at the homestead. “I’m done with this life Deron. I don’t know how you guys live like this. I wasn’t cut for this. The city is calling for me.”

          He cringed at her words and thought them insensitive. But he also knew that she was hurting and decided to let her be.

 

          It rained a lot in the month of June and Saturday morning was no exception as Deron
escorted her to the waiting mini-bus.

          “Take care of yourself Isbell,” he said as he loaded the bags on the bus. She came around and gave him a warm hug. “Thanks for everything Deron. I mean it.”

          A moment of silence elapsed before he pushed her away. “Go before you soak in the
rain.”

          The rain picked up as the bus glided away. Isbell looked through the back window and noticed that Deron hadn’t moved an inch. He stood there staring at the bus, the rain beating down hard on his body. Something inside her ached and she
wanted to stop the bus and run to him. But then the bus turned around a hill and he was gone from sight.

“Poor boy,” a voice said beside her.
She turned and saw the old man on the seat.

          “Why do you say that?”

          The old man cleared a rusty throat. “His parents died two years ago in a fire. He has never been able to move on from the incident.”

          Isbell stared at the old man in shock. “Why is he so poor?”

          The old man smiled. “They took his land away to pay for his parents’ debts. If it wasn’t for your father he would have been completely homeless.”

          “Is that why he takes care of my father’s cows and land?”

          “That’s part of the reason. The thing is this, Deron grew up on a land just like the one owned by your father. And when it was taken away, your father helped him heal by giving him work and a place to belong. Don’t you see, when he’s working
your father’s land and feeding the cows, he forgets that which he has lost.”

          “My father did that for him?”

          “Your father was very fond of Deron little girl.”

          The bus roared down the muddy road and headed towards the city.

 

The City

 

          On Monday morning, Isbell sat in her office with a smile on her face. It all felt familiar again: the sound of the traffic through the window; the life of microwave food, salty fries and greasy burgers. She grabbed her ringing phone and swiveled on her chair.

          “Isbell?”

          “This is she.”

          “You are wanted on the 6th floor.” Her chair stopped moving and she stood up like a bullet, her eyes never leaving the phone. The 6th floor in  her world of litigation was off limit to everybody. Nobody even knew what it looked like.

          Her heels sunk in the carpet as she made her way to the special elevator. Her nerves jumped up and down and pursed lips gave away the tension underneath.

          The elevator door opened and she walked into what looked like a presidential suit. Black was the color, suede couches the distinctive feature. A secretary escorted her to an office with a window
overlooking the city.

          “Miss. Isbell,” the man in a navy blue suit walked around and shook her hand. “Please have a seat.”

          He had been hitting a golf ball into a small cup: the smell of expensive cigar filled the air. “We’ll do it this weekend,” the man said.

          “Do what?” Isbell asked. The man frowned and pointed at his right ear. He was on the phone with someone else.

          Sorry, she mouthed.

          She had taken an extra week from work. This was probably going to be a beat down
session or a firing. The man hanged up the phone up and sighed into a black chair behind the desk.

          “Remind me Miss. Isbell what we do in this firm.” The voice sounded distracted.

          “We take care of our clients sir and abide by the law!” Pause. “We give advise about their legal rights and responsibilities and represent them in civil and criminal cases.”

          “That’s true Isbell. We follow the rules and guidelines enacted by social institutions to govern behavior. We follow the book.”

          The man pushed a file in front of her. He nodded and watched her open to the contents.

          “Congratulations Miss. Isbell, you are the youngest woman in the firm to make partner. You are here because you are the best at following the book.”

          Her jaw dropped and her eyes glazed over in shock. He took her by the elbow and walked her over to the door. “Clean out your desk Isbell. Your office has been moved to the 6th floor.”

          The elevator didn’t make a creak as it descended. She had been gunning for partner for years. She had known in her arrogance that she was better than half the people in the firm. For years she had been doing work beyond her pay grade without complaining. Court cases, proceedings, lawsuits, legal actions, trials
and hearings: she had done it all and gotten her hands dirty in the process.
The years of practicing law were grafted on her and made her indispensable. Partner. Now she was partner? It was surreal.

          She closed her eyes and saw it all: the big house in the city, a variety of cars and a luxurious lifestyle. She had earned it all. She deserved it.

 

          There was no sleep in the world of litigation and December came sooner than she had expected. Christmas decorations miraculously appeared and Christmas carols started playing inside cars and buildings. Where did the time go?

          “Do you want to come with us to the Cabin for Christmas?” Her boss asked. “You will love the snow up there and the children are wonderful.”

          Isbell almost said yes but stopped herself in the nick of time. She had spent many Christmas holidays with her boss and knew the family well.

          “Thanks but I can’t come.”

          Her boss looked at her with a worried expression. “Where will you go?”

          Everybody knew about her and how she had grown up in different foster cares. Everybody
knew about how she had no relatives or family and sympathized with her.

          Isbell’s eyes slowly lit up and she raised her head. “I’m going home ma’am, I’m going home.”
The words felt good on her lips and an image of Deron suddenly appeared in her mind. She had missed him and wanted to see him. She still remembered every bit of the time they had spent together and realized that she had never been that happy before. All her life she had spent thinking about law school: before and after enrolling. And then she had become a lawyer and spent all her time thinking about other people’s problems. There had been no real men in her life and the ones she had accidentally crossed path with had come second to a good book and a hot bath.

 

Life: we are bound to others, whether in the past or present.

 

          Isbell arrived in the mountains on December 24th anxious to see her home again. She left the limousine in the city and took the bus so she could experience the whole country life and brush shoulders with real folks. The blue sky and green land were a welcoming sight.

          Her head whirled around the hills and fresh mountain air flowed through her pipes. It smelled great and felt good.

          “It’s beautiful ha,” a voice said as Deron stepped out of the kitchen with a dirty face.

          “Deron!” She ran over and jumped into his arms.

          “Easy there city girl. You may dirty your nice clothes.” He noticed the pink lipstick and dark mascara around her eyes.

          “I don’t care Deron. I missed you so much. It’s nice to see you again.”

          He cast her a curious glance. “It’s nice to see you too Isbell. I didn’t think that you would miss this kind of life?”

          “I didn’t think so either.” A smile tagged at her lips and she put her hands around his waist. “Come on man, give me something to do. I need to get my hands dirty!”

          He laughed and told her to grab a garden hoe. “You may wonna change your clothes too. The harvest is here. We have carrots, sweet potatoes and cabbages to collect.”

          “Cool,” she said as she rolled up her sleeves. “How many?”

          “Five pick up trucks.”

          His words stopped her. “What?”

          “Hey,” Deron shrugged. “The rains were good. “Best harvest ever! Wish your dad was
here to see this.”

          Nightfall came quick and a tired Isbell sat by the fire drinking chicken soup. Her head dropped on his shoulder and he put an arm around her. “You should probably go to bed Isbell.”

          “No,” she whispered. “I wonna sleep here next to you.”

          He reached out, grabbed a blanket and threw it over both their shoulders.

          “Deron?”

          “Yes Isbell?”

          “I have never had one before.”

          “What’s that?”

          “A place to call home.”

          He drew her to him and kissed her forehead. “You are home now Isbell. You are
home.”

News

Off to AFRICA

 

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

 

Contact

 

mrobertto@yahoo.com

Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...