I Didn’t Look Back at You

I Didn't Look Back at You

Als eindopdracht voor mijn Creative Writing-portfolio moest er een echte short story geschreven. Leuk detail is dat dit de enige opdracht ooit was waarbij ik ook nog eens plagiaat mocht plegen door letterlijk stukken uit een korte opdracht te nemen. Maar dat deed ik niet. Voor mijn gevoel had het verhaal van de vorige keer, “The Talk,” een staartje en voor ik het wist schreef ik een vervolg.

I couldn’t believe it. A sudden nervousness made my hands shake a bit, and I quickened my pace. My tread was determined, my heels clickety-clacking on the pavement. I knew I was approaching the square, and all the people walking in the opposite direction annoyed me. They were like ants, all over the place, though ants were definitely more organised. Get out of my way, I thought as I rushed through the crowds. The people, the square; it reminded me of what had happened, but I pushed the memory away. Leave me alone, bad thoughts! I was pushing against them so hard that I lost my focus. I stopped, and noticed I was next to my favourite café. I could really use a drink. I scanned the square for an empty seat when my eye caught you again, and I started to run as well as I could on my high heels, looking like a waddling duck.

“Wait!” I screamed, but the loudly chattering tourists drowned out my desperate yells. My heels kept getting stuck between the cobblestones, slowing me down even more.

“Hey woman, watch out!” someone spat at me as I accidentally elbowed him trying to free my heel. I ignored him, and ran as quickly as I could. Thank God, I had left the square. You finally heard me, and came to a halt. Your right eyebrow went up. I knew it was you, finally, and I almost broke down into tears. Keep it together, woman! I slowed down, and tried to approach you like a real Latina: loosely, relaxed. If I don’t get it done today, then I will tomorrow. Or the day after. This was supposed to be my I-am-perfectly-calm look. With my tomato-coloured face, and dark, frizzy curls, messed up from running. With pale lipstick because there hadn’t been any chance to apply a fresh layer. With a sweaty head, because it was always warm here.

“Wait!” I said again, as you were about to leave me behind. You turned back, a what-do-you-want expression marking your face.

“Thank you.” I was panting, and resisted the urge to take off those painful heels. Instead, I tried to do what I was supposed to do: be lady-like. Act as if I was a normal woman. You were tall, and your skin was chocolaty. You were you, yet you were not you at the same time. Your confusion was still there, growing as you stared at the woman who was struck by memories.

You were holding my hand, squeezed it a bit tighter. I watched you; you looked so much like your father. Every time I looked at you I saw his cute, soft nose, and his gorgeous green eyes. You were like a miniature version of him.

“Rio is taking bus?” you asked, and pointed your finger in the direction of a shabby vehicle.

“Yes, we are going to take the bus, sweetie,” I told you. You bounced up and down with excitement, like a bouncy ball. You had always loved cars and buses, which was fortunate, because we would be on that bus for hours. The first few hours, you were still exhilarated. After two stops, you started to nag a little, and I couldn’t blame you. A big lump of guilt sat on my shoulder, whispered in my ear: Don’t take him away. For the sake of all of you. I tried to ignore the feeling. You finally fell asleep on my lap, and the hours went by. But it felt like this crappy bus was slower than a snail – a sleeping snail – taking forever to get to its final destination.

“Where are you going?”

I let out a startled sound: I had been paying attention to your calm breathing, thinking about your future rather than our present trip. The man who asked the question had a smooth skin, and was rather good-looking. Guilt told me I was not supposed to think about him that way.

“Argentina,” I smirked. He stood in the path, studying my caramel face, the mole close to my left eye, the dark curls framing my cheekbones. He smiled.

“You don’t say. Where to exactly?”

“That is none of your business,” I told him. You moved, and slowly opened your eyes, blinked a few times, and smiled broadly.

“Mommy!” You exclaimed, “We’re on the bus!”

Ricardo drove his car a lot faster than the bus we had just gotten off, and you liked it. I grabbed you tighter, held you closer. I was thankful for the ride, yet an uncanny feeling kept itching like a nasty rash.

“You could stay the night, you know,” Ricardo said. I was about to thank him, but no thanks, but you stared at me with your cute Furby eyes: “Please mommy, can we?” I loved how you had no idea about what we were doing, but it scared me too. We were alone; no one to protect us.

“It’s fine, thank you.”

“Are you sure? My house is not so far away any more,” he insisted.

“We’ll go to a hostel,” I said, and you looked as if your ice cream had just fallen off the cone.

Guilt snapped at me: You selfish cow.

“I really think you should stay with me.” Ricardo’s voice sounded determined.

“Really, it’s no big deal to…” but he interrupted me, and said I should at least stay for dinner. And that’s how we spent the night at Ricardo’s place. A rather modern, luxurious place. We went to bed early since you were exhausted, and so was I.

“Mommy?” You asked, sleepily moving your pouty lips.

“Yes dear?”

“When is daddy coming?” I took you on my lap, rocked you back and forth.

I can barely remember how it all happened. How I became involved. How we ended up like that. But I do remember your smile when Ricardo was around. I wanted to blame you, but I couldn’t; after all, I was the one who decided that we should leave your father. You needed a man in your life, and believe me, there were plenty of men. Men wearing golden jewellery, like pimps. Men wearing sleek suits. Men that were not like you, or your father. They were walking in and out of each other’s houses all day.

“I need you to do me a favour,” Ricardo had said as he entered the grotty kitchen of the little house he arranged for you and me.

“Sure.” He didn’t sit down, as he often did. He looked in my eyes, then focussed on you. You were only three years old, playing with your two small toy cars, your only toys.

“I have a package that has to be delivered to someone. Can you do that for me?” No, because something told me it was no good. But reality told me that I could, of course I could. After everything he had done for us, including the little house we lived in.

“Good. I need you to do that right now.” And that was my first job. He gave me secret packages, and I knew goddamn well what was in them. But I needed the money to provide for you. Sometimes you stared at me and asked, with your bright eyes, and an expression of a wise Mayan on your vibrant face: “What you doing mommy?” and I told you I delivered things. I was a deliverer. I just never disclosed what it was I delivered, or where.

You always came home at four on regular school days. Apparently, this was no regular school day, and I was worried. That we had a roof above our heads didn’t necessarily mean that we were safe. I waited, hoping that you would be at kindergarten still. I heard something shatter into a thousand pieces, followed by angry male voices.

“You whore! You betrayed us!” They barged into the kitchen like hunting dogs looking for their prey. Their heavy footsteps made my glass of milk move. My hands shook uncontrollably.

“Why didn’t you deliver that package? Huh?” Ricardo screamed. His normal posture seemed incredibly robust right now. I wished I had a mouse hole in the wall to escape through.

“What are you talking about?” My small voice almost whispered.

“You messed it up, woman, and you’ll have to pay for it!” he raged. I tried to keep myself together. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even speak to defend myself.

“Well, you’re still going to give me my money,” he demanded. I didn’t have any money at all. But there was no time to explain. His fist hit my cheek, and another fist hit my stomach. They grabbed me, dragged me along. I was scared to death as I felt like I was being swept away. Just like I had been three years ago, from the roof of our house in Rio de Janeiro. But Diego had been there. Diego, who I had just protected by not giving the package to his addicted brother.

You were sitting in Ricardo’s living room, and you had to see your mother with a swollen face, bloodstains, and bruises. That made me feel miserable.

“Listen, Adriana. If you can’t pay us, your son will have to make up for the troubles you caused.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, avoiding his stinging eyes. “I mean that I’ll take him away from you,” Ricardo said, sounding rather casual for such an extreme measure. I was only looking at you. Were you unharmed? You were obviously shocked, your eyes wide open, a toy car clenched in your hand.

“Hi, mommy,” you said, and your voice sounded frightened, trembling. What had they done to you? How could I get you out of this?

“Why’s you crying?” you asked, and I wanted to hold you.

“Can I hold him?” I asked. Ricardo let me.

“Just make sure you pay me, woman.” He stomped out of the room, leaving behind the two of us. I held you as closely as I could. I was scared, scared for what they would do to you. You swung your arms around my neck, and put your head on my shoulder.

“When are we going home, mommy?” I cried even louder, my whole body shaking.

You were holding my hand, squeezed it a bit tighter. We were standing on the square in Buenos Aires, where I initially intended to take us. And now I had taken you there. You looked around, gazed at the buildings, all the people and tourists. I felt even guiltier than before, but there was no other option. I felt so sorry. I knelt down so I could look into your eyes.

“Rio, you know I love you, right?”

“Yes mommy, and I think you’re sweet too!” A bright smile appeared on your face, and you touched my nose. I wanted to say more, say everything now that I still had the opportunity, but I choked on my own tears. I wrapped my arms around you, feeling your small, warm body.

“Rio, you stay right here. I have to go somewhere, okay?” I didn’t add “Wait for me,” or “I’ll be right back.” Nothing to reassure you. You looked up at me, trusting me, relying on me to come back. Your smile and your sparkling eyes told me that. You were just like a puppy, forever faithful to its owner. I didn’t look back at you. I just couldn’t.

I had never heard anything from you. I had played a thousand scenes in my head. You could be dead, or living on the streets. Maybe you had been lucky. Maybe you didn’t even remember your real name. Perhaps Ricardo and his guys had gone after you. Truth was, I had no idea. And now I had run into you, an exact copy of your dad, still my true love. Okay, I had followed you, but still. After all those years, I finally knew you were fine. You wore clean, neat clothes that made you look even more handsome. You looked at me; no sign of recognition. I wanted to explain to you why I did it. I was desperate to tell that horrible story, but I knew it wouldn’t justify anything.

You were you, because you were my son. Yet you were not you, because you didn’t know me any more. You looked just fine. How could I, after seventeen years, three months, and twenty-two days, intrude on your future, just like that? I turned around, and did the same as I had done back then: I didn’t look back at you.

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