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When it All Comes Down
The wind whispers through her hair, playing with it in the light of the orange sun that slowly sets into the horizon. Her skin is fair and unblemished, except for a long scar that runs from elbow to wrist that hides underneath the sleeve of her stained floral maxi dress. Her light brown hair is unevenly wavy and long and it falls into her face as she looks down into the ink-black sand that surrounds her toes. Her expressions are marked, her eyes are an intense blue, her lips are rosy and full and her cheekbones are high on her face. As she stands on the fine sand of the beach, she wonders how she got there; the events that led her to this place are scrambled in her mind.
A young boy that could only be 7 or 8 runs up behind the girl, a look of urgency distorting his plump face.
“Annabelle, Annabelle! You’ve got to come quickly, Marina has a fever!” shouted the boy.
“Calm down Lucas! I am certain that Marina will survive a few seconds without aid!”
“Sorry Annabelle, but she’s crying her heart out and I can’t seem to make her stop!”
“Let’s go! Just give me a moment to find my shoes!”
“Annabelle! Hurry up! You know how Marina gets when she’s left alone!”
So, Annabelle and Lucas scurried off towards the small hut that was now their home. Annabelle, being the oldest, had the most responsibility. She was at the tender age of 15 but had the presence of a much older woman, a personality shaped by the tragic experiences of her past.
As Annabelle stepped into the only chamber of the tiny hut, she heard her sister’s faint crying from the corner. She tiptoed softly to the to the bedside of her 2 year old sister Marina, checked her temperature and sent Lucas – who stood quietly in the doorway – to run into the woods and find aloe leaves to cool her fever. As Annabelle rocked her sister in her arms, tears rolled down her face. She hadn’t hoped for life to be like this; living in a deserted hut with the only source of income coming from her job as a fisherman’s assistant. Annabelle was the only mother Marina had, the children’s real mother died in Marina’s childbirth. Ever since then, their father had paid no attention to Marina, and blamed his wife’s death on her.
After his wife’s death, Mr. Pieterzoon resorted to alcohol to soothe his sadness. But, Mr. Pieterzoon was not a friendly drunk, he would come home in the middle of the night, haven been kicked out of every bar in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. His anger would be taken out on the children, he would first wake Annabelle and throw her down on the floor, take off his overly worn belt and give her five whips on the back. He would do this to all three kids and every night and when Annabelle tried to help Marina, Mr. Pieterzoon would whip her five times again.
The children lived with the abuse for a year and a half, curing each other’s wounds and hoping their father would come home early one day. But, on a no moon night, Mr. Pieterzoon came home with a sharp butcher’s knife, one that shone in the light. He was out to kill Marina. Annabelle heard Marina crying, and walked into her sister’s chamber. She saw her father’s eyes glimmering evilly in the light of the stars holding the large butcher’s knife to Marina’s neck. As soon as he was going to slice, Annabelle leapt over and tackled her father to the ground. He swung his hand violently and slashed Annabelle on the arm leaving a nasty gash that ran from elbow to wrist. Then, Mr. Pieterzoon, unsatisfied with the turnout of his mission, snarled at his daughters and stomped out of the house, swaying with drunken uncertainty.
Annabelle couldn’t take it anymore, she was losing a lot of blood but she picked up Marina, woke Lucas and stuffed some food into a backpack. They all walked off into the light of a street lamp, and they never looked back.
Annabelle shuddered as she thought of her past and cradled Marina closely, tracing the scar on her neck with her finger. She then looked at her own arm, the scar still pink; healing itself slowly.
Lucas ran in, his face red with exertion and his feet sandy and muddy, and in his hand laid a large aloe leaf, fleshy and full. Annabelle lay Marina down on the mattress and took the leaf from Lucas, squeezing out the essence of the plant into a shelled coconut. She rubbed the essence gently on Marina’s forehead, and slowly Marina fell asleep.
“Lucas, lets pack, we’re leaving,” said Annabelle firmly, “we need to find a home, or someone that can help us.”
Lucas stuttered “W-w-w-why? We’ve been doing it for 2 months now!”
“Lucas,” Annabelle spoke in a motherly tone, “we can’t live like this forever. We have got to find a family to live with, a home to stay in, where we can live in peace.”
Lucas said no more, his unruly black curls falling over his face as he bent down to pick up his belongings and put them into the small duffel bag they owned. Annabelle scooped up the sleeping Marina and cradled her in the crook of one arm, holding the duffel in the other. Lucas picked up a match, struck it and threw it into the hut, running away as the flames licked the sand. So the children walked into the woods, not looking back once at what was their home.
Annabelle woke up in a strange place, her head resting on an uncomfortable pile of newspapers. Suddenly the memories came flooding back to her. She had left her hut and found an empty apartment building with peeling walls and broken doors and decided to let her family sleep here. Lucas snored gently on the broken sofa and Marina was curled up at his feet, drool running out of the side of her mouth.
Slowly Annabelle got up, stretching her aching body. She took out some soap from the duffel and used a small amount of the water they had to clean herself up. She woke Lucas and Marina gently and cleaned them up as well, and in the next 10 minutes, the children were out into the sunlight of Port Elizabeth. The children walked around the town and stopped at a telephone booth to check the yellow pages. They searched for an adoption center and found one, hidden way at the back of the book. The children were unfamiliar with the central of Port Elizabeth and they no money and no map, so they memorized the address and began to walk.
Underneath the searing heat, the children walked on, every step heavier than the last. Their faces glistened with sweat as they past street sign after street sign, none of them being the one they wanted.
“Can we stop now?” Lucas asked. His posture was slumped as he said it, exhausted from the long day they had.
Annabelle looked at her family. Their eyes were heavy with sleep and their expressions drooped with exhaustion. After a long moment she said “Yes.”
As the moon appeared in the star speckled sky, the children trudged along the sidewalk, searching for a place to spend the night. Marina was asleep on Annabelle’s shoulder and the family was about to stop to sleep in an alley when they heard a familiar voice. Everyone froze at the corner, listening carefully to the ordeal down the street.
“No! I won’t let you go! I own you remember, I have every right to do whatever I want with you! Don’t forget I’ve got a gun and I’m not afraid to use it!” The voice was full of venom and when the children looked out, they saw a tall, broad figure holding a small revolver. A young woman was crumpled near the gutter, her dress torn and her arm bleeding perpetually.
“You don’t own me! Just let me go and I won’t cause you any trouble!” the woman spoke her words between sobs, her voice full of pain. She opened her mouth to say more, but then they heard a gunshot and the woman fell to the ground, her head landing in the gutter with a thud. The man threw his gun at the feet of the woman and wiped his hands on his worn jeans as he walked back through the door of his home.
Suddenly, Annabelle knew who that voice belonged to. She shuddered as she recalled the cruel voice, the hands, the face that had tried to take her sister’s life. The voice belonged to her father.