Authors: Janet Romain
Tags: #Fiction, #Families, #Carrier Indians, #Granddaughters, #Literary, #Grandfathers, #British Columbia; Northern
“Am I part Indian then?”
“Yeah, you are,” I tell her and watch to see how she feels about that. I’m pleased to see the ghost of a smile cross her face.
“My mom told me I was part Indian,” she says.
“Angel, people will be looking for you. Young girls cannot just disappear without someone worrying. Shouldn’t we tell someone that you’re here safe?”
“I can’t go back. My mother does drugs and she hardly ever comes home. There is never any food in the place, and last week the power got shut off. Her old boyfriend came looking for her and he didn’t believe me when I said she wasn’t there and he pushed open the door and then he said I would do just as well and he, he . . . ” Her voice catches with a sob and she puts her head down on the table and cries in great wracking sobs that shake her body.
“He just did it to me, and I couldn’t get away,” her muffled voice comes from under her arms.
I move over to the chair beside her and put my arm around her. “It’s not your fault. You did right to come here. No one will ever hurt you like that again. I promise you,” I say to her. I hope that I can keep this promise.
Angel cries for a while, and when she gets her composure back, she says, “My friend Carly gave me money for the bus ticket to get here. We could call her.”
I hand her the phone. She dials the number and says, “I made it. Nice. Okay. Bye.”
“Satisfied?” she asks, handing back the phone.
“Good enough for now. Come on, I think you should come and meet the chickens and the dogs.”
We go to the door, and I realize she doesn’t have boots or a decent warm coat, so I dress her up in some of my clothes, and we go out to the chicken house. She holds her nose while we tend the chickens and doesn’t want to collect the eggs, but she likes the dogs and pets them. We walk around the yard, and I show her the shop and the woodshed.
“Is this all yours?” she wants to know.
“Yes. I have lived here for over thirty years. Your dad lived here from the time he was three years old,” I tell her and ask, “Did your mother not get married?”
“No, but she lived for a long time with Robert. He was nice to me, and I thought he was my dad, but then they were fighting all the time, and when he left, she told me he wasn’t my dad. She didn’t let me go with him and didn’t let me see him anymore. She was drinking a lot then, and it was getting bad. Later, after her boyfriends were all smoking coke and they didn’t sleep or eat, it got really bad then.” Tears start pouring down her cheeks again. “I don’t think my mother cares about me,” she chokes out, her face crumpling.
I reach out and hug her — she doesn’t shrink away — and her muffled voice comes from my shoulder. “She just doesn’t care about me.”
I am angry as hell. What kind of a mother would expose her child to the things that this girl had seen? If Jane were here now, she wouldn’t be safe from me.
“She told me your name when Robert left, and Carly and I found your address on the internet,” Angel says, sniffing back her tears.
“My name is on the internet? How?”
“It’s in the telephone directory.”
“Well, I’m glad you had the sense to come here. Your mother is not your only family,” I say to her as we head back into the house. “Do you want to have a shower and get cleaned up?”
“Can I have a bath?” she asks.
“Certainly, you can do whatever you want.” I take her into the bathroom and show her where everything is, and she takes her suitcase in with her. While she’s in the tub, I fill in Grandpère on what I’ve found out about her.
He is as angry as I am that such a young girl has had such a hard life already. He says to just be quiet about her being here and wait and see what comes of it.
“If I was younger, I would go hunt down that fellow and kill him,” he tells me.
“Well, in that case, I’m glad you are old and decrepit, else I would have to defend you on a murder charge,” I retort. He swings his cane at me, and I duck.
“No one would ever figure out what happened to him,” he says. “I would come and go like smoke.”
Angel comes out of the bathroom with wet hair and wearing different clothes, but these ones are, if anything, in worse shape than the ones she had on before. She asks if we have a laundromat close by.
“Even better than that, we have a washer and dryer right here,” I say and show her how to use them. She dumps in the whole suitcase load, saying everything in it needs to be washed.
I wonder how I am going to entertain a young girl but I needn’t worry, since she asks if she can read a book. She goes into the office and chooses a big book, then settles down on the couch to read it and soon dozes off. Grandpère and I play crib silently. He wins all three games and is in a fine mood when we put the cards away. He loves winning our crib games. Angel wakes up before supper and comes into the kitchen. She peels the potatoes while I make a meat loaf, and we both chop vegetables for a salad. She is fast and efficient, and I am impressed with how she cleans everything up, then sets the table without being asked.
“What about school?” I ask her.
“I don’t want to go to school anymore.”
“But Angel, nowadays you have to get at least your grade twelve to get any kind of a job.”
“Please let me just stay here and don’t make me go to school. In the fall maybe I can start again,” she says, her eyes pleading.
“Okay, but it might be kind of boring. Grandpère and I live pretty quietly here.”
“I don’t care about quiet. It’s nice here,” she tells me.
After supper I work on a braided rug, and she sits beside me, watching. After a while she asks if she can try it, and I see that she has watched closely enough that she can do it without any further instructions. I start another one, and soon we are both happily braiding away.
When we are ready to go to bed, she goes too, taking the book with her. I get up in the night to go to the bathroom, and her light is still on, but the door is locked again. She doesn’t answer my soft knock on the door, so I guess she is sleeping with the light on.
In the morning she is still sleeping, so I take the opportunity to call Clint and tell him about this latest development in our lives. Surprisingly he agrees with Grandpère, tells me not to phone and report her whereabouts, to just wait and see. He says they will be down as soon as they can get away. I tell him there’s no rush, it’s going to take us a while to get to know her, and she seems content here already.
When she gets up, I ask her if she meant to sleep with the light on. “Yes, it’s too dark without it. I turned it off, but I couldn’t even see to get back in bed. I’ve never been in that much dark. In the city there’s always light, and I have — I used to have — a night light in my room.”
“Do you want a night light in your room here?”
“Do you have one?” she asks.
“Yes, your cousins like to have one when they stay here.” I go and get the night light and plug it in by her bed.
“How many cousins do I have?” she wants to know, so I take her to the living room and point out which pictures are her cousins.
She spends a lot of time looking at the pictures, then she goes and gets a piece of paper from beside the computer and writes down the names of all her cousins in the order they are in the pictures. I tell her she must be a little bit younger than Sarah and that I expect they will be good friends before long. I ask her if she has any cousins on her mom’s side. She says she doesn’t know. Her mom doesn’t get along with her family, and she’s never met any relatives. She says she had some cousins who were Robert’s brother’s kids, but she hasn’t seen them since he moved away.
I feel badly for her, and I am surprised again that she came here. If Jane didn’t keep in contact with any family, how did Angel know to trust an unknown grandmother? I send a silent thank you to the universe for arranging this.
I tell her I have to go into town to get dog food and chicken feed, and I think she should come too, because if she is going to live here, she needs winter boots and a warmer coat.
“I don’t have any money to buy that stuff.” She looks anxious.
“I am going to buy them for you,” I tell her.
Grandpère says he is staying home and will do the chores, so we have a quick bowl of porridge, then Angel and I get ready to go to town. The car hasn’t been started since before Christmas, but it starts right up, and we head into town. We first stop at the feed store, where Angel says she will stay in the car, then over to the grocery store. I ask her if there is any particular thing she wants, but she says she likes everything and doesn’t need anything special. Our little town has only two clothing stores, one a cheap chain store and the other a nice but small clothing store. We go to the chain store to buy boots — the other one doesn’t carry boots — and we buy a pair of felt packs. It’s January, and everything is on sale, so they’re cheap. Angel looks at coats, but I tell her wait till we see what they have at the other place.
There are stickers all over the window of the little store. Inventory Blowout! Super Sale! Up to seventy-five percent off!
“Oo-hoo! Shopper’s paradise,” I tell her.
Angel looks at everything in the store. There are nice warm jackets, and we choose a hip-length, pale lavender down-filled jacket. They really do have everything on sale, so I get her to try on some jeans. When she’s in the dressing room, I pick out three long-sleeved T-shirts and some socks and underwear and put them with the coat. She comes out with the jeans on. They’re a perfect fit, but long in the legs. I say that we’ll hem them up at home and tell her to find a toque that she likes. She picks out one with a brim, almost the same colour as the coat, and we leave the store with our purchases. The whole bag has cost less than the jacket alone would have cost in December.
When we get home, she takes out the jeans, jacket and hat and hands me the bag with the rest of the stuff.
“No, no, those aren’t for me, they’re for you,” I tell her.
To my surprise, she bursts into tears.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“This is the most new clothes I’ve ever got at once. I’m happy, that’s all.”
“Happy people laugh, they don’t cry,” I say, grinning at her.
“Haven’t you heard of tears of joy? These are tears of joy,” she blubbers. Then she smiles back at me. I think it’s the first time she has really smiled since she got here, and it transforms her face. I realize that she is a beautiful girl.
“Go try your stuff on, and we will pin up those jeans so we can hem them.”
She goes into the bedroom and tries everything on, coming out to show Grandpère and me each new shirt. It is the most animated I have seen her, and I’m happy that the shopping trip was a success. I get her to stand on the coffee table so I can pin up the jeans. She says she knows how to hem, and within the hour she’s finished. She sews with a neat stitch. Carly’s mother showed them how to sew, she says.
We go into her bedroom and empty out the dresser so she can put her clothes away. The dresser has an odd assortment of Lorne’s old work clothes, stuff the kids left here and linens. Lots of this stuff is just rags, I tell her, and she says she’ll cut them up for our rugs. It tickles me that she already looks at rags and sees rug material.
Her bed is neatly made, and a small teddy bear is tucked in at the pillow. I say he’s cute.
“I’ve had him all my life. He always sleeps with me. His name is Pooky. Mom says I got him when I was born.”
I look at her closely, wondering if mentioning her mother has made her feel badly, but she doesn’t appear to care one way or the other.
“What do you want to do with the rest of the day?” I ask.
“What would you do if I wasn’t here?”
“Oh, Grandpère and I would probably play a few games of crib, then I would knit or bead or braid or read a book till it was time to make supper. Or I might put the snowshoes on and go for a walk in the bush.”
“I would like to do all those things,” she says.
“Too hard to do them all at once. You’ve got to pick just one.” I’m teasing her a bit.
“Oh Grandma, I didn’t mean all at once. Let’s play crib first. I like to play cards and I already know how to play crib.”
So we play three-handed crib. Our board has three rows, so we play every man for himself. Angel does know how to play crib, and she counts difficult hands with ease. She even notices once that I forget to count a point for having the jack in my hand, and reaches over and moves my peg up one. Grandpère makes little rhymes with his counting — fifteen two and the rest won’t do, fifteen four and the rest don’t score — and Angel picks it up. Pretty soon they’re making rhymes for everything, and she’s laughing along with us at the goofier ones. They’re having a great time, and when I excuse myself to make lunch, they keep right on playing.
One by one the other children call, expressing wonder that their brother left a child and that she should find us. They are all apprehensive about what will happen down south when no one can find her. I tell them not to invite trouble.
I am becoming fiercely protective of this girl, and I am determined that no one else is going to hurt her, for I can see that she is a lovely girl; she is respectful, ambitious and quick to learn. She wants to know how to do everything and is always at one of our elbows watching. She’s making our lives much more fun, for she laughs at her mistakes and tries again. Grandpère is as taken with her as I am.
The last one to call is Faith. She has a friend who works in child protective services and will inquire behind the scenes what we can do to make sure we can keep Angel. Faith tells me not to mention her name online, even in a private email.
I tell her that isn’t a problem, since I seldom go online. Faith says, “I know you don’t, Mother, but make sure she doesn’t use her email.”
“Bye, love you,” we say and hang up.
It hasn’t entered my thoughts before. Angel accepts that we don’t have TV and hasn’t even asked to watch any movies, though she knows we have some. She hasn’t asked to use the internet or even to use the computer. She hasn’t got a phone or one of the music players with headphones that the teenagers wear now. When I think back to my own kids packing around their boom boxes, I’m grateful that someone figured out a way to keep the noise pollution to a minimum. But boom box or iPod, Angel is simply not doing any of it.