Elijah woke up Saturday morning to see the sun shining in through the open curtains. Yawning, he set his feet on the ground. He felt the coolness of the marble floor underneath his feet. Marble floor? He had a shag carpet in his room and not marble floor. The sudden realization jolted him out of his sleepy state. He was in Professor Boxton’s house, not back home in his little apartment.
For the first time in a long time, he had had a sober Friday night; he had not woken up with a hangover. He trudged along to the bathroom and after meeting several wrong turns because of his still sleepy head; he finally found his way to the living room. The house was an open floor plan so the living room opened out into a large kitchen. He walked in and saw Professor Boxton in the kitchen. As soon as the man saw him, he waved him over.
“Come on, Elijah. Do join me for breakfast.”
“Thanks a lot, Professor,” Elijah said as he sat on a stool in the breakfast nook.
“So, how was your first night Elijah? Did you sleep well? Did you find everything to your liking?” the professor asked him as he buttered a bread roll.
“Yes, I did. Very much actually. Once again, thank you Professor Boxton,” Elijah said, gratefully accepting the cup of coffee the professor handed to him.
“So, tell me, did you have a hard time going around the house?”
Elijah chuckled. “Yeah, something like that. This house is like a museum, professor. It has so many hallways and rooms which hold several artifacts and paintings.”
Professor Boxton laughed. “Well… some of those artifacts are actually family heirlooms, passed down Maria’s husband’s family and some I acquired during my travels. Every one of them has a story behind it.”
“Really? You really have traveled a lot then professor. Maria? Your foster mother?” Elijah’s head shot up.
“Yes, my foster mother and don’t worry, I remember all too well that I promised you that I was going to tell you all about her. I haven’t forgotten that, Elijah. Why don’t we finish up with breakfast and then I can tell you more about her? How does that sound?” Professor Boxton asked as he stuffed his mouth with bread.
Elijah nodded. “Agreed.”
After their breakfast, the professor and Elijah retired to the den with their drinks, cider for Elijah and tea for the professor.
When they were seated, the professor started his story.
“I told you yesterday that my mother, Maria, ran away from home at age eighteen.”
“Yea, you did,” Elijah nodded.
“Well Elijah, why don’t I tell you about her life after she ran away?”
Elijah nodded. “I would love to know more about Maria. I see her as an interesting person and her story is one that I would love to hear.”
The professor nodded and smiled.
Click clack, click clack, the stick went back and forth on the pavement. The young girl weaved around the pedestrians on the sidewalk. She had gotten so used to moving around with the cane back home especially in the fields that walking around the crowded city was not very difficult for her.
She stopped walking when she perceived the sweet aroma of fresh bread. With a smile, she turned to her right and walked forward. She stretched her hand out and felt the glass door of the entrance to the bakery. She pushed it forward and using her cane as a guide, she stepped into the building. She traced her way to the counter and from the sounds, she knew someone was there. She smiled at the person.
“Hello, what can I do for you? What can I get you?” a female voice asked. The young girl could hear the smile in the attendant’s voice.
“I would like a slice of bread, please, and a glass of milk, please,” the young girl said cheerfully.
“Okay, coming right up,” the attendant replied. The young girl perceived the aroma of the fresh bread and she took a whiff of the aroma, smiling as she did.
“Ahh… the smell of fresh bread. It is almost as satisfying as eating the bread,” the young girl said.
The attendant chuckled. “Ya, I know exactly what you mean.”
“Thank you.” The young woman stretched out her hand and accepted the package. “Uhmm… I am actually new in town. Please, do you know anywhere that’s renting? I actually have nowhere to stay.”
“You want to stay alone?” the attendant asked in a surprised voice.
“Uh… yes. Is something wrong with that?” the young girl asked.
“Yes, my dear. You do know that in this day, people frown upon young women staying alone, right? What do you think they will say if they know that you are staying alone?”
The young woman shrugged as she said, “No. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I know no one here and frankly, I do not care what they say.”
“Well… I do. You seem like a really nice girl. You know what? Why don’t you sit down there for a while? I will soon close up for the day. Then, I can take you to somewhere that you can stay,” the attendant stretched out a hand and touched the young girl’s. The young girl smiled and nodded her thanks. “Do you need any help getting to the chairs?”
“No, that’s okay, thanks. I can do it myself.” The young girl took her package and placed a couple of cents in the attendant’s hands.
Before the attendant could protest, she stretched out the cane and found her way to the little sitting area in the bakery. She sat on a chair and set her knapsack on her legs. She placed her violin case on the chair next to her. She held on to them tight. She honestly could not afford to lose any, knapsack or violin. It held all her possessions and the money that she had saved up from the age of eight; from that time, after the incident, she had been plotting to escape. The young girl smiled to herself. She had succeeded and she felt that this was truly the start of a new life for her. She was away from all the lies and deceit. Now, she could move on.
The rapping sound on the table woke the young girl up. She heard the now familiar voice of the attendant.
“Come on, I’m done for the day. Let’s start going, shall we?”
“Sure.” The young girl stood up and slung the straps of the knapsack over both shoulders. She unfolded her cane. Cane in one hand, her violin case in the other, she walked towards the woman.
“Do you need any help with that?” This time, the woman’s voice sounded concerned.
“No. But thanks anyway.”
“That reminds me, I don’t think that I caught your name. I’m Beatrix, what’s yours, dear child?” the woman asked.
“It’s Feli…” Just then, the young girl remembered that the moment she had left the house she had called home for the eighteen years of her life, she had promised herself that all would change. She was no longer Felicia. She was someone else now. She smiled as she said, “My name is Ma… Maria, ma’am.”
“Really? Well, you look like a flower, it should be something like Lily, or even Rose, yes, it should certainly be Rose, what with the fact that you are so apple-cheeked.”
Felicia who had now become Maria chuckled. “Thanks for the compliment, ma’am.”
“Nonsense, dearie. It is the truth. Come on, let’s get going, shall we?” The woman placed an arm around Maria’s shoulder.
As they walked towards the door, Beatrix asked, “So, you play the violin?”
“Yes, Miss Beatrix,” Maria nodded.
“Well, that’s amazing.”
They stepped out of the bakery and after a few seconds, Beatrix helped her to climb up a set of stairs.
“Are we still in the bakery? I can still perceive the aroma of sweets,” Maria observed as Beatrix unlocked a door.
“Yes, dear. We are just above the bakery. You are actually going to be staying here.”
“But, Miss Beatrix, I…”
“No objections, Maria. You are going to stay here with me, you certainly do not expect me to leave you to go stay alone, especially with the situation you are in.”
“Oh, Miss Beatrix, I have been blind for ten years already. I can handle this perfectly. I am very comfortable as I am and I really do hate to be a liability to anyone.”
“That’s nonsense, Maria. You won’t be a liability. I have three little ones and who knows? Maybe you can help out with them.”
“Of course. I would love to do that, Miss Beatrix. And I honestly don’t feel that would be enough to pay you back for your kindness. Maybe I can pay you and…”
“No, no, you will do no such thing.” Beatrix placed her hands on both of her shoulders and turned her in a particular direction. She opened a door and led her in. “This is going to be your room, dearie, so if you have any problems, just call out to me, I’m going to leave the door a little ajar, sound good?”
“Yes it does, Miss Beatrix. Thanks so much for everything.”
“Well, then, you are welcome, dear child. Go on, make yourself at home.”
Maria heard footsteps receding. Using her cane, she searched around the room till she found the closet. Maria opened it up and found her way to the bed. She sat down on it and pulled her knapsack towards her. Unzipping it, she pulled out her clothes; she arranged them in the closet and kept the almost empty knapsack inside as well. Maria was a tall girl so she was able to touch the top of the closet which was a portable one. She kept her violin case on top of the closet.
Maria traced her way to the window and opened it. As she did, she breathed in the fresh, warm air of the day. In some ways, she felt anew. She was far away from her father and that gladdened her. She had spent so many years in that house, being tormented by those voices and then by her father. She had spoken but everyone had thought her crazy. For a long time, Maria had been thinking of fleeing that accursed home. She could not live her life being tormented from every corner. She had only found comfort and love in the arms of the elderly maid, Maria that her father had brought in from the fields after the incident, the woman whose name she had now adopted. Her father had tried taking care of her himself but had failed so he had resigned himself to getting her another maid. When she had found out that he had been planning to commit her to an asylum because of the supposed lies that she had been spreading, it was then that her mind had been completely made up without any hesitations. She had fled in the middle of the night and she had no plans of ever returning.
Maria shook her head as if doing that would clear her thoughts. That was all in the past. She had to forget about it all and move on with her life. She took in a deep breath and brushed a strand of blonde hair away. She was not able to see the beautiful day out there but she could hear the sounds and smell it all. She had lost her eyesight but her other senses had become heightened.
“Maria!” Maria heard Beatrix’s voice. She found her way out of her room. She followed the aroma of soup and from the heat that suddenly engulfed her, she was pretty sure that she was in the kitchen.
“Oh, there you are, child. Come on, let’s get something in that stomach of yours,” Beatrix said.
“Oh, that’s okay, Miss Beatrix, the bread and milk I ate earlier are just okay. I’m still full,” Maria protested.
“Nonsense, that was just a slice, my child. I can now understand why you are so thin since you eat like a bird,” Beatrix said as she started serving some soup for Maria.
Maria chuckled. “Like a bird?”
“Yes, my child, like a bird. They peck at their food and eat little. But no, that stops now. From now on, I intend to fatten you up.”
“Oh, like a pig being taken to the slaughterhouse?” Maria grinned.
Beatrix laughed, “You, my dear, are very silly. Go on, eat your meal.”
Beatrix helped her to a set of chairs and a table. She set the plate of soup and some bread in front of her. She handed a spoon to her.
“Thanks, Miss Beatrix.” Maria dug into her meal.
“I’m going to go get my children from my sister’s house. It’s just down the street. I’ll be right back, child, okay?” Beatrix patted her hair. Maria nodded that she would be fine. About a minute later, Maria heard the door shut.
Maria finished her meal and cleaned the dishes. She retired to her room and pulled out her violin. As she played, tears clouded her eyes. Her music was the only thing that reminded her of her mother. Without it, she would feel more alone than she already was.
Maria was so engrossed and deeply into her music that she was ignorant to the admiring audience that she had garnered in the form of Beatrix and her three kids. As soon as she finished the piece, she heard applause. She looked up in surprise.
“I had no idea that you were back. Sorry if I was making a ruckus,” Maria apologized.
“Nonsense child. That was a beautiful rendition. See? I was right when I said you shouldn’t be named Maria. It doesn’t just fit your character.”
Maria chuckled. “Thanks, Miss Beatrix. You are not alone, right?”
“Oh, no, I’m not.” Beatrix ushered her kids into the room. “Meet Royal, Gracie and Anna. Go on kids, say hi to Maria,” Beatrix urged them. The three children approached Maria and she traced her hands on each of their faces.
Maria smiled, “Now, I know you all.”
“Not me, you don’t, you didn’t feel my face,” Beatrix teased from the doorway. The kids and Maria laughed.
“Are you blind?” Royal asked.
“Royal!” his mother gasped.
“It’s okay, Miss Beatrix. I am in no way offended,” Maria waved off her worries.
“Are you sure, child?”
“Yes, I am,” Maria nodded.
“So, how did you get blind?” it was Anna who asked this time.
“Well… I got very, very sick when I was younger. When I got better, not every part of my body recovered. I lost my eyesight,” Maria told them, letting out a rueful smile.
“You weren’t born blind?” came Beatrix’s surprised voice. Maria shook her head no.
“That’s so sad. Having something for a while and then losing it. You must feel so terrible.” Little Gracie stretched her hand out and touched Maria’s face.
Maria smiled at her. “At first, I always used to feel terrible but then I decided I had to move on with my life and not let this inability stop me. I can still achieve what I want to. I am not going to be hindered, not at all.”
“That’s the spirit, child.” Beatrix smiled and stretched her hand out to the kids. “Come on, little ones. Let’s let Maria get some rest. It’s been a long day.”
Very reluctantly, the three siblings left Maria’s side. To Maria, Beatrix said, “Get some sleep, child. When you wake up, the tub will be ready for you to have a scrub.”
Maria voiced her appreciation and Beatrix left, closing the door behind her. She knew that if she chose to leave it open, the kids would not let Maria rest. They had taken very well to her.
As Maria tossed and turned on the bed, trying to get some sleep, she could not help but think about the last few years that she had spent living with her father. It had been terrible because the man had become a drunkard, a whoremonger and a fancy man. After the civil war ended, he had lost ownership of all his slaves. Maria, then Felicia had been happy back then because finally all the slaves had been given the choice to start their own lives and not be chained to a slave master. She had had to say goodbye to Maria because the woman had chosen to go home to be with her family but she had not minded that. She had been glad that the woman was happy.
None of her father’s slaves had chosen to stay. Free of such a cruel master like him, they had all been eager to leave. Anyone who had hesitated had been because of her and she had encouraged them to leave. Left with no one to toil his fields, her lazy father had taken to other ways of getting money; pimping. He had tried to involve her but she had refused and with her stubbornness and her spreading the truth about what happened that time a while ago, he had made up his mind to lock her up in an asylum.
Maria shook her head. She needed rest but how could she achieve that when her past kept luring its ugly head up? Maria sighed and turned around again. She really had to try to sleep. Her trip had been very long and stressful. She had had to hitch a ride on a horse drawn wagon leaving their town and then gotten on a boat. It had been an all night trip and after another wagon ride, she finally arrived in this little town.
What to do? Since she could not sleep, she might as well plan out her life. What was the next step that she was going to take? First, she needed to get a job, yes, that was what she had to do. Even if Miss Beatrix said otherwise, she would not feel comfortable if she stayed here without paying for her keep or contributing to the household in some way. Exhausted by all her thinking, Maria finally slept off.
“That’s really so sad, Miss Beatrix. To lose your husband like that, it must have really been terrible.” Maria stretched out her hand and held Beatrix’s. They were both seated on the balcony sharing a cup of tea. Beatrix smiled,
“Thank you child. It really was so painful. I mean, he left me while I was pregnant with the triplets. Those were difficult times, Maria, but just like you chose to be strong, I chose to as well. The truth is, the only way that we can move forward in life is if we learn to deal with the blows that life deals us. It is not going to be rosy, not at all.”
“Yeah… I know exactly what you mean, Miss Beatrix. Life throws us curveballs, it is our ability to handle it all that will determine how our lives will be.”
“You are so right about that, dear child.”
“Anyway, Miss Beatrix, I was wondering, I would like to help out a little more in the house, so… so is there some way I can help out? Cleaning? Cooking? Helping out with the kids?”
“Maria… really it’s completely unnecessary. You don’t have to.” Beatrix noticed the sad look on Maria’s face and sighed. “Okay, how about helping me out with the kids? Does that sound okay? “
“Sure Miss Beatrix. And… I would also love to help out in the kitchen, if you don’t mind,” Maria said hesitantly.
“Maria, can you do that? Can you cook?” Beatrix asked in a surprised tone.
“Yes, Miss Beatrix, as surprising as it sounds, I can do all that. I got blind at age eight but I had help at home, I learnt from her about practically everything and trust me when I say that Nana could make a mean beef stew.” Maria grinned as memories flashed in her head. “All I just need is to know the location of everything, spices, pots, ingredients and then, I’m set.”
Beatrix smiled at her and stood up. “Alright then, dear child. Let’s see how much you can do in the kitchen.”
“Perfect. Lead the way, Miss Beatrix.” Maria stood up as well.