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Authors: Makeda Silvera

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The Heart Does Not Bend (21 page)

BOOK: The Heart Does Not Bend
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It bothered me that Vittorio always wanted to be taken shopping for new clothes, new toys. Mama didn’t share my concern. She laughed it off. “But, Molly, look how much clothes you use to have. Yuh forget? Mek de pickney dem enjoy dem youth.” It sounded so simple that I felt like a grouch. I tried to ignore the two brand-new bicycles he had, the Nintendo games he insisted were his and would share with Ciboney if she was good, the drum set Uncle Mel had bought him and the guitar he now wanted, tired of the drum set, the piles of running shoes and clothes, the boxing gloves. Ciboney did receive the occasional gift from Mama and Uncle Mel, but not nearly as often as Vittorio. She wasn’t as demanding as he was, and she didn’t complain.

I returned to Texas and to Rose with mixed feelings. Soon after, Mama called and said she had given up taking in children and was embracing the church fully. She announced that she
was saved and was attending the basement service twice a week. Vittorio was enrolled in a Seventh Day Adventist school.

“Ah don’t like de marks him getting on him report card and dem say him not concentrating, but ah don’t believe dem. Him say certain children in de class pick on him and dat de teacher don’t like him. Ah have to believe him, for a mi grow him from him small. De Seventh Day school expensive, but de discipline will do him good. Dem wear uniform, yuh know,” she explained.

I asked if it wouldn’t be confusing for Vittorio to attend a Seventh Day school and go to the Open Door Pentecostal Church. He was thirteen then and I had genuine misgivings about the mixed messages of the different denominations. But Mama didn’t seem worried. “Don’t be a fool, Molly, is one God, yuh know.”

Ciboney was doing well in school and I was relieved that there were no plans to move her.

Later that year I began to hear worry in Mama’s voice. At first she brushed it aside. “Mi just a bit tired, must be getting de flu,” she said simply. But after I pressed her, she slowly confessed that she was concerned about Uncle Mel’s health and about Vittorio.

“Ah don’t know what fi do. Dem say him come late some mornings and sometimes him don’t come to school at all. Dem seh money missing from de teacher bag and is him. Dem seh dem catch him hand in her bag. Him seh is lie dem telling on him. Him marks don’t improve either.”

“What about homework, Mama?” I asked.

“Him do it. Him even stop coming to the Open Door Church so him will have more time. Ah try to help him wid
de lessons, but me and Mel don’t understand much wid all dis modern-day teaching.”

I reminded her that my graduation was close and I would be home soon to help out. My family had planned a grand celebration, for I was the first in the family to graduate from college. Mama, Uncle Mel, Ciboney, Vittorio, Uncle Peppie, Aunt Val and even Glory all planned to be there. I had done well and was the valedictorian.

The night before my graduation Mama phoned. Vittorio had been caught breaking into a car with a group of friends. He couldn’t travel until the matter was cleared up, and under the circumstances she didn’t want to leave him alone. Uncle Mel couldn’t come either—he was not well enough to travel without her.

I wanted more than anything for Mama to be with me, to hear my speech, which I had dedicated to her, to watch the pride on her face as I received my degree. Glory, Uncle Peppie and Aunt Val flew in from Atlanta, and Ciboney flew in from Toronto. They took photographs and we went out to dinner, but it wasn’t the same. I tried to hide my disappointment.

Ciboney spent a few days with me before she went back. Rose and I took her to the zoo and the movies, we fed her junk food, watched television with her, put on makeup, painted each other’s toes in wild colours and generally acted silly. I was surprised how much she had grown. She was ten going on fourteen, and I was determined to spend more time with her. I didn’t want to make my mother’s mistakes.

I saw her steal glances at Rose and me. Even though we tried our best to act like just good friends, it was hard to keep
words like “darling” and “love” and “sweetie” from coming out. She must have noticed how we looked at each other, seen the way our hands touched carelessly. Rose had wanted me to tell her about us, but I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t told Mama, and I didn’t want Ciboney to tell her. I didn’t know how to tell Ciboney not to tell.

“Do you think the girl is a baby?” Rose exploded just after Ciboney left. “How are we supposed to have a life together if you can’t be honest with your own child?”

I didn’t answer. There was nothing I could say; she was right. But Ciboney was my child, and though I didn’t say it to Rose, I sensed that had Ciboney been
her
daughter, she might have thought differently.

On our last night together before I returned to Toronto, Rose opened me with her tongue and I vowed to her, trembling, “Ah give yuh all of me. Dis is forever.”

“Hush,” she said.

“Softer, softer,” I murmured.

“I want you to burst with mi tongue and sing loud. I don’ want you to forget tonight.”

My voice was thick with want. “Forget …never …”

“Is dis love?” she teased.

“Yes, YES, water, air, de breath mi tek.”

I rose to meet her full on the mouth. A swollen river found its way to the sea. I pushed her back on the bed. Her laughter was sweet and thick, like molasses.

“Ah love de feel of yuh nipples in mi mouth …is like raisins in ginger wine with all kind of spice,” I whispered.

Her laughter became sweet murmurs. She moaned, then
sucked back her breath. “I not ready …not yet …don’t want to. Oh Gawd …” She bit her lips.

I had fully intended to tell Mama about Rose and me when I returned to Toronto. I came back to find her in a deep religious fervour. She was attending church three nights a week, dragging an unwilling Ciboney with her. My daughter immediately saw me as an ally. I wanted to rebuild my relationship with her—I hardly knew her. Rose was spending a few months in Grenada visiting family before coming back to Toronto to find a job and an apartment. Mama often asked about her and spoke affectionately about what a good friend she was. I felt sure then that when I told her about us, it would be all right. But I wanted to wait for the right time. Cowardly as I was—and despite my vows—I never did tell Mama.

Uncle Mel’s health was failing. The smoking and drinking had taken their toll on him, and he had trouble breathing. Though his cough was rough and crusty, he continued to smoke and drink. His memory wandered in and out, and he told his boxing stories over and over again.

Things with Vittorio had not improved, either. He’d done very poorly at the Seventh Day Adventist school and had been suspended several times for theft and fighting. The worry was etched on Mama’s face. I tried my best to help. I took Vittorio and Ciboney to the movies and signed them up at the local Y. He became interested in boxing and we found a club not far away, but he soon tired of that, just as he had tired of guitar and drumming lessons. Once when he was
caught shoplifting at the local corner store, I begged the woman not to call the police, reminding her that we had been regular customers for many years. She finally agreed on the condition that he never enter her store again. We didn’t tell Mama, and for a while he kept out of trouble.

There were some good times. Some evenings we played cards, Monopoly or games we made up as we went along. We’d rent videos, make popcorn. I helped Mama as much as I could with the washing, which was too much for her now that she had arthritic pain in her right knee.

On the surface things looked fine. Rose decided to spend a few extra months in Grenada. Although I missed her badly, I was thankful in a way, for I still hadn’t said anything to Mama or Ciboney, and I wanted to spend more time helping out at home and giving back something to Mama and Uncle Mel.

I found a job in the Department of Botany at the University of Toronto and settled into it. Mama was pleased and told all her friends that her granddaughter held a big position working and researching at the university. I was only an assistant to the researcher’s assistant, but her face was so full of pride when she told people that I didn’t have the heart to correct her.

Vittorio was asked to leave the Adventist school because of his behaviour, and we enrolled him in a technical high school. He had decided that he was interested in fixing musical instruments, not playing them. Predictably, after one semester he decided that he really wanted to be in electronics. He’d made friends with some older aspiring musicians, and they, no doubt, had filled his head with dreams of travelling and a job as their technician. Reports came from school about his absence and his
behaviour, yet Mama steadfastly blamed the teachers and the school. I was thankful that Ciboney continued to do well.

Uncle Mel started to miss coins from his pant pockets and then bills. He complained about it, but no one owned up to taking the money. Mama convinced him that he was forgetful, that he had just misplaced it. Then larger bills went missing. She still told him that he was mistaken. One day he caught Vittorio in the act. When he complained to Mama she said, “Yuh mek mistake. Vittorio wouldn’t tief from yuh—yuh is like a father to him.” Uncle Mel was adamant that he’d caught Vittorio and it was no mistake. Mama called Vittorio into the kitchen. In front of Uncle Mel, Vittorio denied that he had stolen any money. Mama asked him to swear on the Bible and he did. I was upstairs in my room and her voice carried clearly from the kitchen.

“Mel, mi love yuh, and thank yuh for everything, but mi have to say yuh mek a mistake. Vittorio wouldn’t steal from yuh. A de drinks turn yuh head. Vittorio have no reason to steal yuh money. Him could ask me for anything him want.”

“Maria, I don’t have any reason to lie, he’s my son,” Mel said. Then to Vittorio he said, “Vittorio, tell your mother the truth.”

“I did,” I heard Vittorio say.

For the first time since I’d known Uncle Mel, he spoke harshly. “Boy, you know I’m not lying. Why are you lying?”

“I didn’t,” Vittorio answered, meek and innocent as a small boy.

“Okay, mek it pass, him say is not him,” Mama said quickly.

Mama became more heavily involved in the church and continued to insist that Ciboney go with her. Saturday nights Ciboney stayed up late with Vittorio in front of the television, and Sunday mornings she slept late. No amount of yelling from Mama could rouse her. “Molly, wake her up. Mek her get ready for church. Ah doing this for her own good, not mine,” Mama said.

“Vittorio don’t have to go, why me?” Ciboney shouted at me one Sunday morning.

“Why don’t you go and ask Mama?” I said roughly. “Is not me taking you to church.”

Guilty at once, I promised Ciboney that I would talk to Mama that evening.

“What are you going to say?” she asked.

“That you don’t want to go to church and that I support you.”

Her response surprised me. “No, you can’t say that.”

“Why, isn’t that the truth?”

“Yes, but Mama wouldn’t understand. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” Ciboney looked sheepish. “Tell her you have things you want me to help you with.”

“Then I would get blamed,” I said. “Do you have any other ideas?”

“I dunno,” she replied helplessly.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll say you have lots of homework.” She seemed satisfied then. I hoped that this would bring us closer. I told Mama that evening while we were eating dinner.

“Ciboney can do her homework on Saturday. Three
hours of praising God caan tek away from her school books.”

I looked over at Ciboney, hoping she’d say something about a project or something, but she didn’t, and the conversation ended there.

Upstairs later that night she said to me, “Maybe I’ll talk to Vittorio and get him to work on Mama. If anyone can get through to her, it’s him.” I felt my heart tear a little. I went to bed and slept badly that night.

BOOK: The Heart Does Not Bend
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