They ate a late lunch together in the enormous cafeteria, a modern contraption with a side wall of glass that made Grace feel as if she’d stepped into the future. Taking in the vast landscape from that huge window, she’d realised with mild surprise that she felt at home, that this was a place where she could breathe. Amidst hundreds of ambling young bodies she was anonymous, invisible, free. And yet there was this intimacy with her new friend, a kind boy with an open face, that made her feel a little less alone. For once, Grace felt good. She felt normal.
Over lunch she gave David the story she told all new acquaintances when they bothered to ask: her parents had died in an accident when she was young. She had been raised by her mother’s sister, Aunty Joan. Usually no one pried after this, and David was no different.
Outside the cafeteria there were ancient trees, a well- kept lawn, and a deep blue sky with only the slightest wisps of cloud. After lunch, Grace and David basked in the sun in companionable silence. In the distance, she made out the shape of the airport control tower, a monument to a different lifetime. How things had changed. No more burning tires, no more petrol smoke polluting the air, no more violent deaths for young men (for young women it was another story), no more disappearances.
The things that had happened over there, so close to that airport, were a closed chapter of her life, buried deep inside of her. As always, the thought of Johnny came unbidden, as it did whenever she felt happy or sad. How he would have loved this place. Had he ever come home? Grace had never had the courage to return to her childhood home to find out.
As the day drew to a close, she felt sad at the thought of parting with her new friend. So this was what people meant when they said it felt as if they’d known a new acquaintance their whole life.
Grace was telling him things she’d never before thought of sharing with another, things she didn’t know she had inside of her to give, about paints and new worlds and colours. Things that would have sounded stupid to anyone but David, who lapped up every morsel she shared. She liked herself in David’s presence; she had things to say and opinions to voice because he asked, and listened to her replies.
At the end of that day she boarded a bus with him, pretending that she was going in the same direction, even though she’d have to take an extra train back home to Aunty Joan’s. She had wanted their conversation to last forever, to spread into the night, the next day, the next week.
Since that day she and David had been together. They had moved seamlessly from friendship to relationship to marriage. At twenty-seven years old, they were the loves of each others’ lives, as they liked to tell each other and everyone else.
They were blessed to have found each other so early. Some of their friends limped from one dysfunctional relationship to the next. After graduating, they’d both found good, decent jobs – David as a teacher, Grace as an assistant to a director in a large financial corporation.
There was a year in university when Grace dreamed of writing poetry, especially after discovering a flood of recently unbanned books written by people like her; or at the very least a writer for a newspaper. She might not have expressed herself very easily, but she thought about things deeply. If she were given a chance, she thought, she would be able to express her ideas well on paper. Instead she kept a notebook, in which she surreptitiously practised writing down her thoughts, along with the odd poem. But no one she knew had ever made a living at that, and she didn’t know where to start, so when she’d been offered the chance to make good money as a personal assistant, her first ever job interview after she graduated, the brown notebook was consigned to a bottom drawer in her dresser. Thinking and planning on behalf of someone else, always being one step ahead of him– that was her job. She found it exhausting but pleasing. She had a purpose; she was contributing to this new society. And soon there was her family to care for too.
Grace tickled Sindi and laid her down on her stomach. She was nine months old and she needed time on the floor to strengthen her spine and forearms so that she could learn to crawl. Grace had read all the baby books, and knew every age- specific milestone Sindi was supposed to reach. It bothered her that she had not yet started crawling. She needed to crawl in order to walk – Grace was anxious for her to grow up healthy and happy.
David asked her again about her day, but what was there to say? She’d had a perfectly fine day, the same as every other day before it. She had taken phone calls, booked a conference venue, arranged meetings for her boss – all in all an adequate, smooth- running day once she had thrown herself into it. Why bother boring him with it all? She shrugged. “Good,” she told him.
Since Sindi’s birth, Grace was aware of how withdrawn and moody she had become. She missed her mother. Unable openly to tend to the wound that had reopened with her daughter’s birth, she’d taken to snapping at David. She knew it was unfair but sometimes she couldn’t stop herself.
Tonight his small-talk chafed more than usual. She wanted to be alone; needed time to think. And uppermost in her mind was the white envelope she’d stuffed down into her handbag. Who could have sent her a letter, mailed from that post office? And how had they tracked her down?
David got that cautious look. She’d only been home five minutes and already she was tense, irritable. The more he tried to engage, the more she pulled away. The effect was predictable and it made them both uncomfortable. The more Grace withdrew, the more animated David became. It drove Grace insane, him babbling away like an idiot, hoping she’d thaw a little more. It had the opposite effect, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.
“Uh-oh! Out of milk for our tea. Let me run down to the café and get some!” The relief in his voice was palpable. Grace looked up from the baby and smiled at him, but made no comment. He clanged down the hall – “Back in a bit!”
Grace echoed his relief when the front door closed behind him. A wave of guilt followed. Why did David always have to be so damned cheerful? Her mood seemed to foul in proportion to his eagerness to please. While she hated this quality in herself, she didn’t know how to change it.
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