My father is tearing up bibles under the hedge in an agony of rage
and frustrations. "Hear this if you are so almighty. I am the great defiler. Go on, Smite me. What's one more life to you?" I watch from the verandah. Looking out into the heat haze it seems I am seeing the pain he feels as a halo fizzing around him. How will he manage alone? He has nothing without me. Not since Mother died. It's been worse these last few weeks, since the fever struck. He will get through this. I cannot afford to be drawn into his madness, not today. I must make my escape as planned. I must meet with my grandfather on the Jade Bridge where the poor and disenfranchised of the world wait. They gather in hope of alms, I go for deliverance. The elegantly dressed merchants and westerners who pass pretend not to see the desperation in their fellow men. Who is it do they suppose that holds them up in their superior ranks and ivory towers? There can be no upper class without a lower class. Surely they could afford some mercy, some humility. I know I would have no hope were it not for the generosity of my Grandfather offering to bring me out into society once we reach India. It is a chance for a future I did not dare to dream of. A chance to be part of society's mesh, rather than falling through the sieve with the dregs as my Mother had feared I would. I take my valise and hat box and set off to meet Grandfather. How long will it take before my Father knows I have left? I picture him running the moth-eaten brim of his straw boater through his fingers as the fever dies in the cooling yellow air of sundown, calling for his gin and tonic with quinine, unaware that it is Genesis burning to keep away the mosquitoes. He will stand in his cooling sweat, listening to the chant of the cicadas and crickets, muttering quietly to himself like a madman in his striped blazer. He looks like the consummate gentleman from the verandah but so much is hidden by distance. "God, bless and keep him safe from his own destruction" I pray, a tear
escaping below my veil. The steamer will pull out of the dock at sundown and I will leave behind everything I have known. The bridge comes into view spanning the sluggish water. This ornate stone bridge that has stood for hundreds of years offering safe passage will now transport me from this life to another. My leaving will not change this place, it will carry on regardless. Our presence on the earth is a mere blink in history, a flittering thought in a cloud of dust blown away in a heart beat. My grandfather waves and tips the brim of his top hat to me. I recognise him from the photograph in Mothers album. I am flooded with relief that he is here and rush to kiss his greying whiskery cheek, then admonish myself for being so informal. He smiles as he takes in my face "Ah, so like Evaline my dear. You have your Mother's spirit." Seeing the trail of my tears he squeezes my arm, then links it through his own, patting my hand. I feel the calm descend. I am safe in his hands. I will sail to India with my Grandfather to make a new life and take only the memory of my Mother's kindness with me.
The copyright of this post belongs to Holly Khan