It was easier to get the twins to agree. Something about NanaG made them want to be at their best behaviour tonight. They had eaten their dinner and left their plates to one side. All we had to do was get them out of play clothes and into some clothes NanaG had bought after taking turns in the bathroom. She had some spare adult-sized toothbrushes and paste. Then the blue walled bathroom featured a shower head and bucket, the latter of which became handy for the quick wash. The kids were eager to show their independence so I stayed and watched them in turn whilst NanaG made herself scarce. In about 10 to 15 minutes she had reappeared to say the spare room was ready. After brushing their teeth and dressing in their new-found wear, we moved to the room. How did she know this day would come? She said something about wanting to treat them for their birthday which was in a month. The children had been talking about birthday parties and other things they got up to at home. They had mentioned their birthday month so NanaG has decided to buy them matching PJs in blue and pinkish colours. Perhaps she had dreamed this day. Who knows? They still had to play some games before bedtime. They liked to find excuses to delay getting under bed covers. I could understand their excitement and desire to impress NanaG but they didn’t understand she didn’t need that and loved them anyway. It’s a shame their real nana was not in their lives. How could she be? She came home unexpectedly, one day to find her boyfriend and intending fiancé on top of me in their bedroom after my dad had long gone.
Anyway, that was another story!
Not long after the twins had decided to be useful and pull in the curtains in the living rooms as well, they demanded their usual bedtime story.
Quite exhausted, I rummaged through the overnight bag looking for some of their usual books. “Oh dear”
I exclaimed in despair. I had forgotten to add their books to this blue, canvas style bag as I had switched from the black 4 -tyre case usually used for going away.
NanaG as if knowing instinctively what I needed had disappeared into the corner of the living room to pull an old brown cardboard box from which she recovered some children’s books. One of them just happened to be called “bible stories for kids!” I smiled politely not knowing whether my refusal to accept them would offend, I took the old, quite-tattered-covered book from her, saying thanks. There were giggles and sounds of glee coming from my son who felt he was winning this whole charade. His sister was quieter but they now duly followed me into the spare room while Gracie watched. Soon after I could hear plates and tap water sounds so she might have returned to the kitchen. The twins were already feeling sleepy by the time I read a few pages that I lay the book down on the brown four-sided bedside shelf with a lamp. So thinking my job was done, I walked softly to the door only for my boy to say, “Mummy…?”
“Yes, darling?” I replied
“Will it rain tonight?”
“I don’t know darling”
“OK mummy. Can I wee?” He said in a sleepy voice. I know how much my children look for excuses and reasons not to stay in their bed at night time and sleeping at NanaG was no exception it seemed.
“Yes,” I replied. “Chantelle, you want to come too?”
I asked half checking if she was asleep but there was no response. She was sleeping
“Shhhhh…” I said to Jordan. “Don’t wake your sister” He held my hand as I guided him back to the bathroom which by the way also had the toilet.
You can imagine the chaos we caused as my son decided he wanted to do number 2 and I had to let him stay a little while at a time NanaG also needed to use the bathroom. Oh dear. “Sorry Gracie,” I said a few times as I did some checks to make sure Jordan was actually “going”. At one point he was rubbing his stomach saying it hurt. Not sure whether this was real or play but I kind of ignored it. We finally finished in the bathroom; he washed his hands and dried them but began to study the wall painting and making comments about the colour. “Jordan, I interrupted his thoughts, NanaG is waiting, to use the bathroom. Then there was another knock on the door and the Jamaican accent said, “ me wan use bathroom child…” It was all I could do to carry my son, open the door and head out. I’m not sure either of us remembered to flush the toilet! If that was the case, I could not tell as there was no complaint from our older lady friend just smiles when she emerged from the busy room.
I finally convinced Jordan to go to sleep beside his twin sister in the double bed, made with NanaG’s sheets. Heaving a sigh of relief when the job was accomplished, I returned to the living room to plan my bedtime adventure.
My mind was so active as I was away from home and felt the need to talk. NanaG might have known because she had a cup of freshly brewed coffee waiting for me in my usual sofa in the room.
With a twinkle in her eye, she said not to worry about the previous bathroom incident, adding that it helped train her body system to wait.
“What you wan do child?” I was beginning to get used to this accent and I comfortably settled my weight into the chair and began to sip at my hot drink. There was silence and the rain was beating harder making the air outside smell so fresh.
The TV was turned off and the curtains were already drawn and the light bulb created a soft glow. No one said anything for a while then… “NanaG?”
“Yes, why you call me Gracie?”
“The twins love coming here”
“I like having them”
“They are so fond of you Gracie.”
“What on your mind?”
“Nothing!” I lied. I was thinking of asking her to help look after the kids sometimes but did not know how to go about it. She had provided a safe place for us to go and for me to talk.
“Brrrrrrrrrrrr….” there was a sound of the thunderstorm outside which seem to give me Dutch courage.
“I need help with the twins…” I admitted and “you’re the closest to a nana they’ve ever had” As soon as I said that it became somewhat clear that I would have some explaining to do about why they did not seem to have much contact with their biological nana.
Our frequent visits to NanaG had become so welcome I was beginning to wonder what I used to do those times we didn’t go to hers. It was probably more like watch TV and eat around the sofa.
I could hear the unspoken request to explain why my mother and I had fallen out. Or else why would I be asking for help with the twins?
“Can we do the coffee now?” I said as I got up, half – asking, half-stating as I wanted to get away from talking about an event that hurt so much.
“How is their grandma, your mum?” She insisted in her questioning.
I hastened towards the safety of the kettle and began to rummage in the cupboard there for cups.
“You are not ready to talk…” Gracie admitted with audible defeat in her tone. She then got up to join me in the kitchen. I started looking for plates to wash, cutlery to put away and other items to replace just to get out of talking. She must have understood because she quit asking and recovered the tea bags from the store as there were none in the tea tin. She placed the bags beside the kettle and walked back towards the living room.
“Phew!” She did not ask me any more questions I thought I got away with not responding.
Was I ready to talk about Bode, the boys, hotel visits, sugar daddies and men? Gracie was a holy sort and I meanwhile had not set foot in a church for years. Would she understand, judge me, change towards me after hearing my story? I considered all these questions as I reclaimed my favourite spot on the sofa in the living room. She found a way to get to me then tap me on the shoulder closest to her then said, “whenever you’re ready dear…” in that Jamaican accent.
And then we could hear the rumbling of the thunder applauding the rain for showing its strength with the cat and dogs dialogue.
We both sat in silence with our thoughts and at one point the fireplace in the middle of the far side where the kids usually played was lit and talked. None of us said anything as we sat for about another hour or two.
I got up to check on the twins and when I saw Chantelle rubbing her eyes, I quietly made for the door and returned to the warmth of the living area, confident in the fact that they would keep their beddings on for the night.
I was beginning to manipulate the sofa bed where I was planning to sleep when Gracie handed me some off white, nice-smelling sheets and blanket, all without a word. I accepted them with thanks, this time letting my eyes and lips form the word thank you without making a sound.
Maybe I could trust our NanaG by now I thought. Maybe she could or would understand me a little bit more. I mean, I know no one who would open their home to us and let us feel so welcome as to accept us without questions and let us spend the night. It’s been a while since I heard from my siblings who had both emigrated to the USA with their partners in search of deeper and greener pastures.
Who else was there for me? I had sunk so low that I had to be an escort to make money and this being my weekend off I could visit this kind lady.
Silence. We were both lost in our thoughts until…
Another round of thunder in answer to the lightning made me shudder and prompted Gracie to check on the heating. I liked the good old non-functioning fireplace but was thankful for the modern white- painted metal radiators which were warm to touch, at least one closest to the sofa was. It was not the weather that made me shiver and shudder now but the burden I was carrying on my shoulders – the events of my past, estrangement from the family, Bode’s effect on me and so much more.
“Grace, can I ask you something?”
“Yes, she replied softly almost with some kind of gratitude and expectation that I was ready to open up. I could see her eyes open wider and she was leaning towards me as she turned in her chair to focus squarely on my face.
“Yes?” She repeated. I stopped still battling with whether or not I could trust her not to judge me.
She was so patient. And quiet. She began to lean back into her chair when I said, “it’s been so long…”
“My children have not seen or met their grandmother’ I half announced; half stated then watched for her expression. She was not even looking at me now. So it was easier to continue. The soft glow of the light bulb did not reveal much more of her expressions as it had gotten darker and the curtains were drawn. I threw a glance at my watch and I gasped, “it’s almost 10:30!”
“It’s alright…” came the response from her figure, in the chair; she was not turning to face me but yet was concerned about me.
It started to come out…
Bode had continued to abuse and manipulate me and this continued until I was well into my teens. I lost count of the number of times I missed my period and he always had a solution. It was either a portion of some dreadfully tasting stuff or a visit to some “quack” doctor to “sort me out”. By the time I realised I was having abortions it was too late and too difficult to confide in mum. Mum had mentioned in a joke when I was about 13 that my boobs were getting bigger and maybe I was having periods. We then went to the shops where she showed me sanitary towels and bras but there was no real sit-down conversation about it. It felt like she did this because she had to be able to say she taught me sex education. It felt like the information was thrown at me. Get to the shop, buy your stuff and get it done.
At this time mum had a new boyfriend, dad was not in touch and busy with his new woman, my siblings were in boarding school so I was not of much importance to anyone I don’t think.
Bode eventually moved out of our house when mum’s boyfriend moved in because he arranged it so. The thing was Bode always knew where to find me before and after school so I was still under his control. I learned to tell lies about why I was late coming back from school, giving one excuse after another hoping my mum would not notice. I said I had to stay back to revise for grades were all over the place. I would complain to mum sometimes about my teacher and she would promise to organise extra tuition but it did not materialise. There were a few visits to the school office and I was enrolled for after school revisions.
Bode would show up at school to pick me up before going to them, convincing me he would help me catch up and we would end up at his and have sex. He acted as if he owned me! I started to hate this way of control but still could not confide in anyone. Further letters about my performance to mum never got to her because I conveniently lost them.
Once the headteacher very concerned about the lack of communication between mum and the school suggested she would call my mum. This was well into GCSE pre-exam season. My form teacher had been worried about my increasing mood swings and skin colour changes too. She wanted to know why I seemed absent in class and uncaring about school work. That turned out to a very bad idea.
My mum was unhappy about a phone call from the school. I think at this time I was pretty much off the rails and past caring about schools or exams.
If I wanted anything I had learned how to get it with my body from one of Bode’s friends. I think mum was quite wrapped up with her new love that changes in my body were just passed off as premenstrual changes and lateness in coming home was put down to revision classes. Also, I had become such a good liar and had little fear of God or consequences for this. It had been a long time we had talked about God or even gone to church. That stopped when dad left as mum thought if God was so good He would not have let dad cheat on her.
This Thursday, I came home late as usual and mum said, “Where are you coming from?”
Shocked I did not reply and thinking maybe she did not mean it I started to walk past her towards the stairs.
As I walked past her, on the left, she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Did you hear my question?”
I stopped turned around and faced her then shrugged my shoulders.
“I want an answer!” Her raised voice told me she was far from joking.
I mumbled, “School”
“When last were you in school?”
“I ask you again, when last were you in school?”
“On and off…” I replied and was greeted with a slap across my face. I was shaking and thinking of what lies or excuse would suffice for mum now.
She gasped and sat down. Shaking. I was not sure whether to remain or run. Her boyfriend had walked into the house just at the right time to hear my mum slap me. Not wanting to be involved he came into the living room and sat down quietly.
I must say I did not like the way he looked “leeringly” at me. It made me so uncomfortable as if it was some kind of wicked smile. We had never had much to say apart from good morning or a few polite pleasantries up to now.
“I need to use the toilet,” I managed to say in a weak tone as mum turned to Bob to fill him in on the state of things at school. I could hear her narrating the story as I left the room. Not knowing whether or not she heard and granted me permission was no longer important to me. It seemed this was the first time in a while I had got her full attention. She was always busy working or spending time with Bob.
“NanaG?” I called when her body frame and position seemed to droop to one side. “So sorry,” I managed, “I did not mean to go on and on”
“Me listen to u” came her tired voice. You could tell she was drifting to sleep and I considered ending the conversation there. I think she was a little embarrassed that I had caught her out. It had been an eventful day for her, the twins and me.
“Gracie, it’s our bedtime…” I said softly.
“God bless you child” Gracie replies with a pat on my shoulder which I thought was meant to be a hug but was not. I smiled as she turned round to slowly walk in the direction of her room. I had never had the opportunity to see her room and I imagine it would have relics, books and photos of many memories.
I realised that night I did not know anything about this kind of woman, her family or children. There were not many tell-tale signs on the wall in the sitting room so maybe she also had her share of a painful past.
When Gracie entered her room and closed the door behind her I suddenly felt a sense of emptiness.
This woman had been the highlight of the day and with her out of the way, there seemed to be nothing else to get excited about.
What was it about this woman that made me feel loved and valued? Did she carry a presence, a peace with her? I needed to find out.
I started to curl up into the pre-prepared sofa bed in the living room but I could not fall asleep. The story I had started to tell Gracie and the pain with it was so fresh in my mind.
Maybe I should pray, talk to God. I remember they told us in Sunday school that He was alive. Perhaps that would help me sleep I debated in my mind. Maybe next time. Why would he want to hear from me after all these sins?
I began to dwell on Bob. He was neither an uncle nor a daddy, just another man. By this time, it must have been around 1:30 in the morning. It was so quiet, calm and peaceful in Gracie’s house. I got myself into a comfortable position on the old brown sofa bed which probably needed some de dusting to make it more appealing. I tried not to dwell too much on its uneven surface that was pressed beneath the contours of my tired body silhouette. The lights had been turned off but my thoughts switched on.
My mind went back to that night my mum slapped me. It was an unforgettable shock from this woman I had considered to be my mother, ever so organised, kind and godly who had switched or turned into a complete stranger.
We no longer spent time together or laughed as it was all about Bob. And no one could say anything wrong about him.
I would hear her boast to her friends about how kind and considerate he was but not much was said about his behaviour towards me. Mum was oblivious to the way he looked or smiled at me and would never have believed me if I said he put a foot wrong.
It was decided that he would keep a closer eye on me from that time on and mum trusted him to do just that, only he decided to monitor my underwear and passengers visiting it too. So cool Bob turned out to be one nasty piece of work!
After that night mum had arranged that he would drop me off at school as it was on his way to work. And he would pick me up after revision classes and bring me home. Trouble.
The first time he dropped me off he made it a point of duty to seek detailed information about my school periods, subjects, friends’ names and about all that was needed to understand the daily itinerary. I actually felt like he cared about me. He wanted to know my favourite lessons, their teachers, my scores in tests, highlights of my day and it made me feel loved. The next event would shape the beginning of another period of abuse. He was putting his hands on my lap whilst I sat in the front of the car and when I moved uncomfortably he would slip his fingers up between my thighs to find their way into my knickers. Oh, God!! Not again. Not another man using me for sex. As if nothing bad had happened he brought the car to a halt turned to me and warned me not to breathe a word of his “special touch” to anyone especially my mother; adding that she would not believe me anyway. He said the last bit with glee. I was so confused.
He waited until I said, “yes Uncle Bob” then smiled as if he was pleased with himself.
“Good girl” he continued. I will buy you something nice as a gift for keeping quiet. First, it was sweet that I was being bribed with in exchange for my silence now this man was promising me gifts. That sounded nice and made me think he must like me. Maybe this is what big boys and men did to you when they liked you.
He turned the engine on and continued to drive us in silence till we arrived at school. He touched me again as I left the car but put his hand on my back and grabbed my bum before letting go. I tried to get away very quickly but he was pulling on my dress too and making my escape more difficult.
“Remember what I said!” His words were more of a threat than a warning and his what-looked-like a friendly face became stern and serious. I nodded in submission as he began to ease his hold on my dress.
I was so relieved it was over. But it was only over for that moment.
As if with a twinkle in his eye, he drove off with the words, “no one will ever believe you! So keep your mouth shut,” he added as I walked unsteadily on my feet towards my form room.
He was right. He had my mum so busy, fussing about him in a desperate attempt to keep him and had her wrapped around his finger, sadly.
Dejected, fearful, sad I walked into class. I’m not sure if I had been so absent-minded or so engrossed in my thoughts that I failed to notice… there was blood running down my legs! All eyes were on me and there were giggles from the others with some pointing to me, towards my legs. One of the girls whom I taught was my friend; Winnie had her mouth wide open. That baffled me. I stood in the front as if waiting for permission from the form teacher to admit me as I was late again. Usually, I had to give a valid reason for my lateness to avoid some sort of detention and extra revision after school.
As if we had not been enough trouble in recent times, I was going to land myself in “hot soup” once again.
I faced my male form teacher whose disapproving glare complemented the side-to-side shaking of his head, as if with pity. I had turned away from the class to face him at this time. He sat behind his desk in front of the blackboard which filled the front wall of the room.
The sound of the fan in the high ceiling of the room became louder as the silence in the room loomed. Finally, Mr Philips beckoned with his hands for me to come closer and whispered, “Your dress is blood-stained…” I froze. How could I have got my dates wrong? I did not expect my period for a few days. Was this uncle’s interference with me?
Why was I ever attracting boys and men? I was boasting a boob cup size F by the time I was 15 and they did not seem to be relenting in their enlarging. Also, I know my classmates have said I had nice legs and a small waist. Some have even said I was beautiful. I was the baby in the family and my sister was the prettiest ever. It was uncomfortable that he was putting his arms in my “undies” but I had not expected there to be a blood reaction. At least I would have a reason to stop Bode touching me not that it has stopped him before.
I was so oblivious to Grace’s concerned facial expression and her presence, so close to me in a nearby chair. I must have woken her up and kept her from sleeping, oh dear. “Are you alright child?” Her concerned voice uttered so softly continued. “You’ve been talking in your sleep,” she said. “When I heard the thunder it woke me up but the sound of you talking kept me listening, I had to come back to check on you.”
“Are you OK?”
“Yes Grace,” I replied.
“I was worried about you”
“I will get back to sleep” I answered to allay her worries
“Why don’t I make you some hot chocolate?” She offered
“It’s fine. I’ll go back to sleep Grace”
“You have been through so much…child,” she said and put her hand on my shoulder after trying to put it on my forehead and hesitating. She seemed to mumble some inaudible words in a strange language then said, “Peace I speak to your soul, peace in Jesus name, Amen.” That made sense. It worked too. Like magic.
“Why not stay another night?” she invited as she got up and walked back to her room, or at least said words to that effect. I was feeling very sleepy now, unable to keep my eyes open.
I don’t know how long I slept for. The sound of kids screeching, laughing and chasing each other woke me up and for a moment I did not know where I was. The twins were pulling both my hands, saying, “mummy wake up”.
I could see the door to NanaG’s room was open so she was probably awake somewhere in the home. I could see that the curtain blinds had been pulled open a little and left with a small ray of light just to see, as if in consideration for me. The kids would not have done that I thought. As the twins were excitedly talking one after the other, I sat up to listen to what they were saying. I think NanaG had gone to the bathroom and was going to get ready for church perhaps. That would explain the sounds coming from that direction anyway. So it was time I made my way to the kitchen. There was a strange sense of peace in this place.
I walked past NanaG’s room with the kids in tow and heard what must have been gospel music on the radio – very comforting. It’s been a long time I listened to music like that.
The song “Jesus loves me, yes I know…” brought back memories; memories of a time when life was simple. I had no cares. I would sing and dance and hop on one foot too. Momentarily I was pulled back to happy times. Mum would take us to kids’ church and we would hear bible stories and sing this kind of songs.
“Mum, Mum, my son tugged at my hands? Where is NanaG?”
“Yes, mum. Where is NanaG?”
“Oh! Gracie, you mean?” I replied in recognition of who he was referring to. His sister was quiet and rubbing her eyes. She was the wiser one and had a habit of taking in events before contributing to them.
“Mum, I’m hungry,” she said as I laid some plates on the table in the kitchen. The kids had followed me in and wanted in on my cooking plans.
“NanaG lets us cook sometimes,” she explained as if in anticipation of my response to her voice of persuasion. I looked at her and smiled.
“I’m sure she does’” I agreed.
The beautiful singing of NanaG was now very audible in the silence that ensued after my comment. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so; little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.”
She repeated the words over and over as the bathroom door opened wider to increase the volume of this melodious voice. In spite of my resistance to singing,
I began to mouth the words too. Over and over I started to sing in tune and time with Gracie. The kids looked at me in what seemed like a surprise…
“Mum!?? Mum. I’m hungry” he interjected to emphasise his sister’s precious request. I was being tapped by the twins, in the tummy area, now to get my attention focused back on them.
“Yes!” I stopped. As if I was woken up from a sort of trance. That felt good. The song was liberating. I thought it was a good idea to sing it again sometime. More times. More often.
Gracie had an old pale pink bathroom robe on. It looked like it had seen better days. She did not seem bothered by it though as she walked past us in the kitchen. The kids were quick to call out for her and look at me as if asking for permission to follow Gracie. Gracie smiled and said to them with a twinkle in her eye, “why not help mummy with pancakes, I’ll join you soon.” Now she did not use her Jamaican accent or phrases as she returned to her room. It seems she had helped me find a quick solution for a quick breakfast.
This was an excerpt from the book: Love at First Byte