This is one of the few stories I wrote last year. I admit it was fun. But it was also out of my comfort zone (for obvious reasons that you’ll find within). The story is…long. Enjoy and please feel free to share you thoughts with me.
WHERE IS DADDY?
Two men in green uniforms were standing outside our home when Mummy opened the front door. They smiled warmly, said theirs greetings, then asked if they could come in. Mummy’s eyes took in the living room and hallway, briefly, before she agreed. Both men walked in with quiet, calculated steps, their black caps tucked under their arms. Those caps…they were the same ones I had seen some military men wearing a few days ago on TV. Since Mummy had decided to let them in, I wanted to believe there was more to their visit. After all, we were eagerly expecting news from the military on Daddy’s whereabouts.
The uniforms turned to us. “Mornin’, ladies.”
My sister and I responded. “Good morning, sirs.”
“Please, sit. What can I offer you, gentlemen?”
“Thank you, ma’am. But we’d rather have nothing.”
“Oh…” Mummy settled down into a seat close beside them.
The younger uniform flashed an even set of white teeth at us. He waved a hand at my younger sister, Amber, who smiled back. When his eyes met mine, I quickly turned away.
“You and Jerry have pretty girls.”
Mummy gave an appreciative smile. Her eyelashes fluttered, and she brought her hands to rest on her jean-cladded legs.
“Can we talk to you alone?” The older uniform asked.
Mummy looked taken aback. She sat up in her seat. “Alone?”
“Yes. In private, Mrs. White.”
Mummy cleared her throat. “Girls, could you take your game upstairs?”
Without a word, my sister and I picked up the Scrabble board and headed for the stairs. When we were out of sight, almost at the foot of the stairs, I pulled lightly on Amber’s floral gown and placed a finger on my lips. Intelligent girl—she understood, nodding sharply.
“Daddy,” she whispered. “What about daddy?”
“Dunno. Let’s get closer. Maybe they have news about Daddy.”
Amber took my hands, her little fingers digging into my palms, her eyes gleaming in expectation. We dropped to a crouch and slid up to the edge of the wall.
“We can’t put that at a hundred percent,” a male voice said.
“What do you mean, Lieutenant? It’s been over three weeks and no one has cared enough to tell me where my husband is!”
“Three frigging weeks of uncertainty! Or is there some military protocol I am not supposed to know? For Chrissake we are his family. He’s got two wonderful girls and they…” Mummy’s voice was already breaking. She took a deep breath. “I—I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be…rude.”
“Perfectly understandable, ma’am. It’s our job to ensure that people, citizens and non-citizens alike, feel safe and cared for, both here and outside our country. That’s why we’re here.”
I looked at Mummy. She held her head in one hand, eyes nearly closed. She muttered, “Faith…? God knows I’m trying. We’re trying.”
Heels shuffled on the tiled floor. Bodies moved on the leather seats. The wall clock chimed in the hour while the ceiling fan whirled slowly.
“Have you…I mean, is there any news as to where he may be as we speak?”
“Yes, and that’s why we are here. We found this…”
Amber and I moved our head slightly past the wall so we could get a view of the recovered item. It was Daddy’s necklace with a cross-shaped pendant. The older officer gently placed it in Mummy’s hands. She gazed at it with unblinking eyes.
“It was a gift for him last Christmas.” Mummy chuckled. She raised her pale face to the men. “Where did you find it?”
“Kupeert. Northern Kyrgyzstan.”
“Northern Kyrgyzstan? I thought his job as a journalist was to report the war from the south?”
The older uniformed officer positioned himself to face Mummy. “People don’t wish for war; neither are they happy sending their loved ones into battle. The truth is; the British army is currently short of qualified personnel in the region. But that doesn’t mean we have to fold our hands and watch an unreasonable government subject her people to slavery. The Kyrgyzstanis have picked up arms to fight. And we are standing by them.
“In the north, the people are trapped. Food and sanitary supplies are low. We, alongside the Red Cross, have been doing our best to send aid to those people. Jerry volunteered to fly one of the non-combatant planes, transporting aid-workers as well to the region. Unfortunately, on the second trip, the plane was shot down. We located it by satellite. And for the past few weeks, we’ve had our men on ground, searching the crash site. Along with the necklace, our men found a pilot vest with fresh blood stains—”
“Oh my God…was the vest his, too?” Mummy cried. She began pulling at her hair.
“DNA results confirmed he was the person who wore the vest. Now we are faced with two possibilities; A, he may have been struggling to survive as well trying to radio home; B…” the older officer paused to catch his breath, scratched a brow, made eye contact with the younger, signaling him to continue.
“Mrs. White, we—”
“Please, you can call me Molly.”
“Alright, Molly, out of the three aid workers, we found two. Their bodies were dumped in an old factory. Chances are that he, along with the remaining aid worker, escaped. Or were being taken to another location. The vest has some marks on it. We can’t rule out the possibility that those marks could also be defensive marks.”
Mummy put her hands on her face and collapsed into her seat. “God…”
“Now you hang on, alright? He needs your support and that of girls too.” The older tapped the younger officer on the leg. “Molly, please be rest assured that we are doing everything we can to find the whereabouts of your husband.”
Both men got to their feet.
“In the meantime, please be strong, and don’t give up hope. Your girls need you,” the older officer said. “We’ll keep you updated.”
Mummy walked them to door and they shook hands with her. When the men were gone, Amber and I raced up to Mummy. It was my younger sister who was the first to speak. “Where is Daddy?”
Our own emotions reflected in mother’s eyes. She gnawed at her lower lip, glanced up at the ceiling as if there was an answer safely tucked away in it. When she brought her eyes back to us, she managed to smile. Bending down, she pressed us hard against her bosom. “You remember Psalm twenty-three?”
“Yes. The Lord Is my Shepherd,” I answered quickly.
Mummy grinned. “Good. That means He’s always watching over us.”
“But why hasn’t He brought Daddy home?” Amber began to cry.
Mummy held Amber’s hands. “Daddy will be home before your graduation.”
I was old enough to tell despair from hope. Mother had the latter. Her assertion touched me. It lifted my crumbling faith and pulled me from the dark depths of hopelessness. Her belief and strength gave me hope, but I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. They’d been withheld for weeks.
Weeks passed. The morning of Amber’s graduation came with some element of hope. It had given us something we could forward to, a moment of cheer. Standing behind her in my flowery dress and white sandals, I helped her prepare for the occasion.
“Someday, we’ll look back and smile…” Amber flapped her purple gown playfully as I combed her hair. “Smile for what we have, what we have learnt from you.”
The song was pleasant and I couldn’t help humming along as I combed her hair. When our eyes met in the long mirror, Amber stopped singing. Gloom clouded her once smiling face.
“Kate,” Amber began, eyes downcast, hands clasped in front of her.
“Yes?” I came over and knelt before her, removing the few strands of auburn hair stuck in the comb.
“Daddy won’t get the chance to see me in my purple gown. He won’t get the chance to see me sing. We won’t be able take photos together as he promised.” She twirled a finger in one of the buttonholes of the gown.
I wanted to find the right words, but I couldn’t. I was poor at pretending. Grief had found a place within me.
“Kate, what if I don’t sing it right?”
“You’re doing great.” I knew my smile was crooked.
“No, I’m not!” Amber plopped herself down on the edge of her bed.
“Smile for what we have…” I tried to remember the lyrics. I sat quietly beside her, fixed the last ribbon in her hair, then hummed the melody. “See…I like the song.”
Amber lips slowly curved into a smile. Hope out despair, I thought.
On stage, a stream of purple-clad children enthralled the audience with a remembrance song and a lively dance. Young boys and girls from the graduating class at Tomskins Primary School couldn’t hold back the joy and excitement in their voices as they all sang to the listening pleasure of the parents, teachers, and well-wishers gathered for the ceremony. Midway into the song Amber walked to the center of the stage and climbed up on an elevated wooden platform. The pianist paused in her playing. Silence filled the hall. Mummy and I held hands while looking on with the rest of the audience. And Amber began:
There is place I know,
A place where young boys and girls
Could learn, learn to be better people
A place called Tomskins,
Where everyone is a winner and a friend.
We thank you for being here for us
We thank you…We thank you
We thank you for being our greatest fans
We thank you…We thank you
For seeing us make it this far
Amber paused midway. The rest of the young boys and girls chorused the last three line, then gave way for her continue yet again. But she couldn’t. Her eyes found ours. Tears rolled down from her cheeks, and at last, she began. She was focused, and her voice grew louder, more pleasant:
Someday we’ll look back
And smile for what we have
Smile for what we have gained from you.
When I followed the direction of her eyes, I saw Daddy in the midst of the uniforms, who had paid us a visit some weeks back. They were standing behind the audience just by the entrance of the hall. I gave Mummy a nudge just in time before the standing ovation. But it was the sight of Daddy, smiling at us now, that brought an even greater ovation into my heart.