Monday meditation to Saint Anastacia: Devote yourself to erasing injustice. To one cause after another commit yourself until blemishes are transformed to purity, and justice is the common path.
Aria closed the small book, kissed the cover and prayed:
Anastacia, holy Anastacia, You who were borne by Yemenja, our mother, give us the strength to struggle each day so we may never become slaves, so that, like you, we may be rebellious creatures. May it be so. Amen.
She made the sign of the cross and sang one verse of a song in Yuruba as she pricked her index finger with a sewing needle. She’d done so every Monday since turning thirteen just like Oma had instructed. She dabbed her finger onto the backside of the book where the image of a tree was taking shape, in honor of the tree-shaped scar Saint Anastacia bore on her back.
Aria thought about her ongoing just cause. It was the video camera. It had been dragged into Herr Rausche’s perversion. She had pity for the object, feeling the need to save it from recording shame and the dirt of the world. They were companions, she felt, having experienced being used in the nastiest sense. She was devoted to removing the spell of ugliness cast from the rape by Herr Raushe. By filming the normal and the beautiful over and over again she’d leave no room to remember that story, forever forgotten. This was an honorable thing to do in the name of Saint Anastacia. Being pure increased her chances of successfully completing the Batizado, which meant, according to Oma, her mother would return. If her mother returned, everything would be cleared up. There would be no more secrets, no more shame; life would normal.
Her phone rang. She inhaled, and panic caused her heart raced. Reaching into her duffle bag she frantically removed clothing to find her phone. The phone already had rung four times before she had her hand on it. She practically yelled ‘hello’ when she finally tapped the green toggle.
“Hello Oma. Yes, we made it. I miss you too. They mostly seem very nice, I don’t know them. Yes, he’s still here. Oma, he won’t leave me again. Don’t worry. He only left because Mama was with me. Yes, I was just doing it when you called. Yes, I am up to the devotion. The video camera. Well, it’s hard to explain. Okay, I’ll think about another cause. I really don’t understand a lot of the meditations, Oma. Scared. What’s that? Money in the white envelope? But who will help me buy a plane ticket to Germany? I can’t do it by myself. I don’t know where the safe houses are here. Okay. Oma he didn’t hurt her, I just know he didn’t.” Hot pits in her gut ate away at the boundary between her truth and everybody else’s reality.
“Aria, let’s go,” her father yelled from downstairs, “Give my regards to your grandmother and say good-bye.”
“Oma, I have to go. Ciao, beijos.” She swallowed a wad of spit to dose the pain.
Ten o’clock in the morning and the sun’s heat was already baking the moisture out of the city’s surfaces. Smells of weeds, dust, creosote, car fumes, and lilacs lingered in the air as they walked the two blocks. By the time they reached the bus stop, her father’s polo shirt was soaked with perspiration. Holding the camera handle in her slippery hand felt uncomfortable.
“Daddy, why don’t we just drive into the city if we are going sightseeing?”
The idea of being separated from the rest of the world by steel sounded appealing, especially now waiting for the bus to arrive. If her mother was there she wouldn’t have minded. She always sat close and cared about Aria;s feelings.
“Traffic is really bad and half the drivers don’t have insurance. If I get hit here, it’s bad news, a big headache waiting to happen. One time, I got into an accident in Queens. I took my car into one decent looking auto body shop and picked it up at another dumpy looking one. The repair job was terrible. And besides, I’ll be able to show you some of the historic places, on the way into the City.”
In Germany, she and her father lived in an ex-patriot community full of fathers that looked like hers and children of various shades of brown. All the kids usually spoke at least two if not three different languages. Their mixed-up accents sounded like a country yet to be discovered. The people in New York were not too different from those in the community or on the Air Force Base where her father worked. When she lived with her mother, she lived in neighborhoods full of old white German women who hung out of their windows after pinning laundry to lines strung across corridors above the streets. Aria and her mother’s brown skin were different and drew stares and sometimes ugly words.
The bus headed for Main Street where they would catch the number 7 train to Grand Central Station and then either walk to the City or change to the J for Brooklyn. The camera focused out the window. It was easier to forget the gathering crowds of strangers that way. They passed through several neighborhoods of small- to medium-sized homes. Her father chattered on about Flushing Meadows being the site of the 1939 and 1965 World’s Fair, and the current home of the Mets Baseball field.
On almost every block was a church or temple. These people must really have something to pray about. They passed St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox with its enormous blue cupola dome, a silver crucifix adorning the top. All of the pearly white walls curved and the overall shape of the building was cruciform, very few points that she could see. It reminded her of mother. So oddly beautiful. Mother would take her to different services on Saturday or Sunday. She explained that it was, “in order for you to gain a respect for different cultures.” She felt that most of the world’s problems had to do with cultural and religious ignorance.
Her father’s gaze fixed on a small blue and white house as they passed by.
“Vater, are you okay?”
“I used to take trumpet lessons there.” He pointed to a house out the left side of the bus.”
“Is that the person you were talking about at dinner yesterday?”
“Yes, it is who I was talking about. I didn’t study long -- just seven years.” His gaze was clouded. “Aria, don’t film that house, please,” he said firmly.
“Why not? It’s a house not a person.” She lowered the camera. “Did he do something to you or the family?”
“Just, please don’t.” His eyes looked pained. He exhaled when the bus drove through the green light.
Aria lowered the camera and attempted to pry an answer a different way,“Why’d you stop playing?”
“I didn’t like my teacher.” Aria knew he wasn’t talking to her, lost in his own past.
“Did your parents make you play?” she asked.
“No, not at first. It was my decision to stop,” he answered still mostly lost in his thoughts, brow furrowed.
He looked to the houses, “I needed to stop playing that’s all. I had my reasons.”
Aria sensed the conversation needed to end and wondered if what happened here in Queens had to do with why his soul was always trying to run off with his body. He’d gotten so upset at the dinner table, she wondered who exactly this man was to him.
As they approached town, the streets became increasingly congested and loud. Lights winked, horns yelled, and a hum of chatter hovered above the crowd. Signs contained both English and what looked like Chinese characters. New smells defined downtown: cooking oil, fried food and fermenting garbage. The bus picked up more passengers who pushed and wedged themselves into available seats. Her fingers danced on her free hand.
“Where are we?” she inquired, “It looks like we’re in another country.”
“I know isn’t it great?” her father looked around. “We’re in Queens’ Chinatown. Main Street is right up there a couple of stops away. Look, there’s the library and back a ways was the Botanical Garden.” He turned and twisted his head, pointing quickly at landmarks.
The image of the bus distorted as they passed the mirrored library building.
“Vater, why does Elias live out here?”
“The house was practically given to him. A kind gesture from Mr. Young, for the youngest Rhone, after our parents died.” He said it like he didn’t believe it.
“That was really kind of him,” she said.
“Would you live out here, if you lived in New York?” asked Aria.
“No, don’t like the neighborhood. Would you?” her father asked.
“No. It’s not really a house set up for kid.”
“I didn’t mean would you live at Elias’ house, Bird. I meant here in Queens.”
“Vater, you’re not planning on leaving me again, are you?”
“No plans to, Bird. I do think you’d like the house in Kensington more though. It was our family home.” He looked out the window at nothing in particular that she could tell. He’d lost some of his previous enthusiasm. “We’ll head out to Kensington later this week. Maybe we’ll stay over there if things feel right.” He smiled slightly, “There’s a lot of history that Kensington house holds, both good and bad.”
“What do you mean bad? Like haunted or bad stuff happens?” Aria asked.
“No, nothing like that. Just things that happened in the past, you know things to be proud of, and things you could say, a person could be ashamed of. Nobody gets away with always making the best choices.”
Aria wondered if this was a warning or if he were contemplating his own bad choices. “I don’t know them very well, you know. If you leave me, something might happen. Things can happen.” Her reflection in the window threatened to disappear in the direct sunlight. “What about Mama? Do you think she would live here? Vater, wouldn’t it be something if we bumped into her on the streets of New York?” None of the faces on the sidewalks looked familiar. “You might think she’s dead, but she’s not,” she mumbled. “She could be anywhere.”
He stared off into the crowd, looking slightly gray.
“You’d never hurt her, would you?” she asked.
“Unfortunately, I did hurt her, one too many times. But I loved her, Aria. I really did.”
She looked away, fighting Oma’s accusations from being woven into her list of options. Oma didn’t understand and neither did any of them. They never gave him the benefit of the doubt that maybe her mother left on her own because of a different reason. She wished that he’d be more clear though, it would help her with defending him, and rationalizing that her mother was still alive.
“This is us.” He pushed the button to signal a stop.
They got off the bus and descended down into the subway station, making their way to Manhattan and Brooklyn. He had all but said he’d be leaving her at the Kensington house. What she gathered: it was a house full of his past that he was running from, which would become her future without him.