When The Air Strikes

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Nona

6

Apparently I haven’t had my dose of being knocked over. When I reach home I find Nona reading the newspaper I’d left all over the couch in the living room. Nona used to be my nanny. She resigned upon realizing that I needed more parental attention. I hadn’t seen her in years, and my mind already flooding with the morning’s debris takes time to let everything settle down. Why is she back? What is she doing here? How did she get in? Nona can read minds, she always could. She sees the doubt and questions flashing across my pupil and holds up the spare key she has wrapped her fingers around. Nona is not Shakespeare but like in the past we manage this time too, “Your parents ask me babysit,” then she chuckles and continues, “but you no baby anymore.” I smile too.

“Nona,” I walk across the room and give her a sideways hug, “how are you?”

“Fine, Zou, I fine. You big now and, what they call it, the white bird, very beautiful?”

“Pigeons?”

“No no. Swan. You like swan.”

I really like Nona- her little frame, neat wobbly oily head, and fast fingers. I remember the fingers very well. She would snap them in anger and excitement at the eight year old me. She works for an authorized cleaning agency, which means she’s here to take care of me at the stake of her job. She is from a group of unnamed islands in the Indian Ocean and her son is a jerk. He got her to London along with him, and then ran away to Germany leaving her all alone. But Nona is a strong woman. In her adorably broken English she used to talk to me about her island, a lot. Her husband was a fisherman, and she his loyal accomplice. One day the island was struck by lightning and everything turned “black like my (Nona’s) hair.” Nona ran to the stone cave the Islanders had built for situations like these. She rushed her son in and her husband stood at the rim of the sand beach sending other fishermen to safety. He waited until the last person got in, but just as he gathered himself and began running, a huge thunderbolt fell from the sky like a meteor. Three days later they found his body washed ashore. Nona believes that all brave fishermen die the same- in action. Nona raised her son all alone. She remembers starting life from scratch, leading the shaken population, remaking, rebuilding, repeating. When her son grew up, he refused to accept the gifts of his lineage. She says he wanted to be big. He didn’t want Nona to bother and come with him but she insisted. Despite of him saying anything, the night they got to London Nona had a feeling that it would be the last time she’d be seeing her son. She kissed his forehead and wrapped her arms around her waist listening to his heartbeat. She says his blood was the ocean, lapping against his heart. She felt the closest to home around him. He’d asked her to rest at the doorstep of a church while he got food for them. No food, no son, for two years. Twenty four months later she got a letter from him, saying that he was doing well and would come back soon for her. He still hasn’t. Nona is a self made woman.

“Want something eat?” Nona asks. I nod my head in agreement. Nona has learnt her way around English cooking. But her specialties are still deep rooted in her culture- fried fish, coconut milkshakes, rice pudding. She gets me pancakes and goes back into the kitchen, to prepare lunch, I assume. I follow her inside and help myself to a large serving of the honey coated delicacy. I ask her questions and she answers them in a peaceful monotonous, but not boring voice, while chopping tomatoes at the same time. A multitasker, always has been.

“Nona, when did mom and dad come to you?”

“Few week back.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“No.”

“Are you telling me the truth?”

“Always.” (Nona never lies)

“You don’t know when they’d be back, do you?”

“No. They ask if I take care of you till they come back. I say yes. I take care of you till I have to.”

I don’t cry very often. It makes me feel guilty. People have it way worse than me, and if they can make it through smiling, so can I. I know that’s not the most humble or modest way to put it, but it is what it is. Though, I think it’s okay for me to cry now, because now I am crying in parts of happiness, loss, confusion, gratefulness and sorrow but not just sorrow alone.

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