The light breeze blows her lifeless hair in front of her glassy eyes. She sits on the worn bench in the colourful park, feigning ignorance to her three children begging for her attention. They tug and pull at her sun beaten red skirt which was once as vibrant as her long gone life. She looks past them into the distance, at the sun that is slowing dipping below the silhouetted trees, and dreams of better days gone by, times she would no longer be able to experience after bearing unplanned triplets to her dead-beat boyfriend three years ago. To her, it felt like a lifetime since their birth and only a day since she saw the father of her children walk out on them, planning to return, but never coming back. Her heart, her soul, had been shattered at the realisation she had been left with three young children with no source of income and no help, not even from her own family, who had abandoned her as a teen.
She felt wetness at the corner of her eye that trickles down onto her cheek. With a shaky hand, she wipes away the tear and looks at it, stained black from her rushed mascara as it glistens on her frail fingers. She hadn’t cried in a very long time, keeping her emotions within, and the unexpected release of these long withheld emotions snapped her back into reality. Glancing at her children, she saw two of them looking up at her with hopeful eyes, and one that was distracted by ants in the dirt. The two that want her to notice them have their small fists filled with her dull red skirt, clenching so hard that the skin over their knuckles pulls taut and turns an off white colour. They whine loudly, to anyone else it would have been an ear-piercing screech, but she had become accustomed to it and her brain now automatically drowns out the noise. Despite her longing for days where she could be free from the restraints of motherhood, deep in her heart she knew she couldn’t blame her children for anything; after all, it was her decision to have them in the first place. However, there was still emptiness within those depths of her heart that made her feel as hollow as a rotted tree. Grabbing their little hands and pulling them free from her depressingly wrinkled skirt, she notices movement coming towards her from the corner of her eye.
Still holding her children’s hands, she looks up and glances at man in a well fitted grey suit, whose eyes are dark with the look of deep thought. One of his arms sways back and forth, whilst the other is shoved into his pocket, flat against his leg as they take their long strides that seem to carry him from point A to point B; mechanically in motion one leg thrusting forward as the other tried, rhythmically, to catch up. She studies his face in close detail as a hazy memory shifts to the forefront of her mind. The stranger’s face becomes clearer in the distant memory as he nears, features becoming sharper and more recognisable. He notices her briefly, giving a slight nod to be polite, but leaving his gaze for a moment too long. Suddenly, a moment of clarity burst forth within her mind and she remembered why this man evokes distant memories within her; he had been a former lover of hers during university. She beamed an all too knowing smile. Unclasping her hand from her child’s, she lifted it and waved. His step falters, slowing his pace, and he glances back towards the direction of his destination, his eyes churning with waves of turmoil. With her hand still in the air, she realises that she may possibly have this man mistaken for someone else; that his face may just be similar to the man she once loved, that he may now think of her as a crazy lady who is unfit to care for her young children. However, all those radical fears are diminished when he turns towards her with a warm smile, a smile that quite doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Natalie! How… nice it is to see you,” he says to her with a voice that is laced with a hint of disdain.
“I thought I recognised you, Theodore. Wow… I haven’t seen you in such a long time, funny running into you here.” Natalie spoke in a chirpy voice as she scrambled from the bench to greet him with courteous hug, pulling back quickly to introduce her children, “I’d like you to meet my children; Eric, Luce and Cam.”
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he said clearly as he bent down to the children and extended his hand, only to be met with curious stares. He withdrew his hand and laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his neck as the situation became increasingly uncomfortable.
“Sorry about that, they’re shy when it comes to new people. I’m…” she breaths a heavy sigh, “Sure one day they’ll get over it, when they’re older.” She smooths the hair of one her children as they stand close to her, trying to get as far away from Theodore as they can, but still wanting to be close to their mother.
“Well, you know what they say ‘time holds great surprises’. I’m sure one day they’ll be the most outgoing kids you know, just like their mother,” Theodore states as he glances at each child before resting his eyes on hers with his last words. If only he knew how much she had changed, how she wasn’t the girl he used to know. She stands there briefly, unable to form words as she suddenly wallows in her own self-pity. A breeze picks up and she looks around at the abruptly darkening park. It is as she does this, the park lamp that stands beside them switches on with a loud buzzing sound.
“Yes, I hope you’re right. In the meantime, however, it’s so sweet… to hear their chatter, watch them grow, watch them thrive,” she tells him, not to convince him that she loves being a mother, but to convince herself. Tears slowly fill her eyes again and she takes a deep, shaky breath to calm herself, she was not going to cry again, especially in front of him. Theodore shifted on his feet and looked at his watch. She knew he must have to go, how he must have better things to do than be here with her who he must think of as worthless and impecunious woman.
“I wish I could stay and chat for longer, Natalie,” he speaks, sarcasm winding its way through his words, “but I really have… some place to be, I hope you understand?” Placing a hand on her shoulder from which hangs her tired cardigan, he gives a small smile so obviously forced.
“Yeah. Yeah, I understand,” she replies bitterly. Relief floods his face and he pulls his hand away from her shoulder, placing it back in his pocket. “I guess I’ll see you around then?”
“Definitely.” Theodore says as he starts to move back towards the path and further away from her. He gives a quick wave to her children as he departs, and then, he is gone. She watches his back as the blackness begins to engulf him and he disappears forever, gone from her life just like her boyfriend had. She sinks down onto the park bench and holds her head within her hands. The tears that have been building in her eyes finally overflow and she weeps silently, her children gathering around with hopeless faces. She turns her head for the last time towards where she had seen Theodore disappear and mutters words she wish she could scream out to the world, to tell them how she really felt.
“They have eaten me alive.”