When a friend of my mother’s found out that mom had begun to dig a path back to the homeland, she came bustling over. I watched, I’d been playing in the leaves, as this woman took in the sight of my mother on her knees. I was old enough to know that this never could have taken place at home, but things had changed so drastically that I had stopped asking questions. I must have been ten.
The first time I saw those pale hands touch dirt, I stared in shock. I don’t remember much from my childhood, but my mother’s hands were porcelain, crisp and beautiful as snow. Then suddenly the heart of the earth was sifting, falling through her open fingers, marring her with the traces it left behind on her skin. She only looked at me, though, smiling faintly.
“You will understand,” she said, and I believed her.
This advisor, though, she did not have the belief. She stared at my mother, stared at her soft hands, chalky with ground dust.
“Madame Patrisse, Madame Patrisse! What are you doing?” she called as if to wake my mom from a dream, to snap her from her fantasy. Momma looked up, eyes clear.
“I’m digging a path. Why, would you like to help?” She had a perfect politician’s voice, able to insult without offending. I snorted in such a way that the woman could not hear. She was not stupid, though, this advisor, and she had known my family enough to give us a bit of sorrow.
“No, I’m sorry,” she responded, abashed to fit the occasion. “But, Madam, we cannot go back..” A hard line set into mom’s face.
“She will not forsake us. We are Her people.”
“We have gone from Ilene!” the woman insisted. At this, mom stood, more quickly than I would have imagined.
“She will come for us,” my mother’s words were final. Yet she strode inside, wiping her dirty hands on her skirt and slamming the door after her. We had come so far away from diplomacy. She never returned to the path, but a day later stood in the open doorway, looking out at our new world. My mom doesn’t cry, but another woman would have. Instead, she looked down at me, the steel in her eyes dull and beginning to melt.
“I cannot fight this battle by myself.”
She looked away from me and her broken words, and I could not be sure whether she was asking humanity, me, or God to join in her cause.