An illegal immigrant avoids the police and returns to his home country after an accident
Joe felt his way slowly through the darkness to the kitchen. He went to the fridge and tried to open it, it didn’t budge. Before he had run away to America with some excuse that he wanted to get a better life for them, Maa T had ruled the house. After five years, he was back with his empty hands and the shirt on his back. He said he was tired of the cold since it gave him pains in his joints and he missed home, but most of all he missed her. She hugged him as he cried, even shed a few tears herself and said she had missed him too. After that, she had wiped her nose and ruled the house like before. She decided when to eat and what to eat and if she said no snacks, no-in between meals, she meant it. She complained about the economy and fed her three dogs more than she fed him.
He meant to go back to bed, forget about the emptiness in his stomach and lie down like he had never been up. The light in the sitting room came on just when he was about to open the bedroom door, caught like a thief. Maa T was standing there, by the switch, but his eyes were on something else. On the wall just beside her, a painting of the blue ridge mountains stared back at him.
“T,” he spoke softly so that the tightness that had come in his throat will not be noticed, “Where did that…” he struggled for control “…that come from?”
Actually, he knew that painting. He had been there, seen the careful strokes as they had appeared on the canvas. Seen how the colours had merged, mixed and transformed that plain white sheet to this magnificence.
“Oh, that?” she smiled, forgetting the quarrel she had been about to start, he didn’t think he had ever seen her smile, “it’s yours. Came yesterday, through DHL. Beautiful, isn’t it? Pity it did not say who sent it.”
“I don’t want it. Please throw it away.”
“Oh, but I like it. It’s beautiful. Perfect.”
He tightened his fists and loosened them again, took three deep breaths and looked at her, really looked at her for the first time in years. Saw the lines around her lips, her small eyes that struggled to look in the same direction at the same time, and thought of the other one. The one who painted.
Marilyn was her name. She invited him to her hideout one weekend, called it her little El Dorado. It was a cabin in the woods. Inside, it was one big bare space with a bed in the corner with some two sofas and a center table in the middle and a small fireplace. They took turns cooking outside on a small gas stove, and in the evenings, she strummed on her guitar while they gazed on the mountains in the distance.
Here, she said, she found her inspiration.
Before they left the cabin she left enough grain in the hummingbird feeders, five of them, strung on the trees around the cabin, to last till the next time she came.
It was on their third visit together that she started painting the mountains. It was something she had always wanted to do. At night, they lay side by side on the bed. She, snoring softly, and he unable to sleep wishing he could kiss her, but he knew they could be nothing more than good friends. He had made the mistake and told about Maa T.
She had finished the painting the next weekend. She left it on the center table just before she suggested that they should go white water river rafting. Now, when he thought of it he should have known better. Sports like white water river rafting was as foreign as it was strange. It was like calling to death, “come for me! come for me!”
Death came alright!
But not for him. At the last minute, standing by that rumbling terror, he had changed his mind. He didn’t know how to swim and had no death wish. Marilyn laughed when she couldn’t persuade him to come, gave a happy yell as she rowed away.
It took all of five minutes, maybe less; happened right before his eyes. The crash into the rocks, her struggle with the rapids. He tried to follow. Screamed all the way, but no help came.
He didn’t wait for her body to be found. It was an accident, but he didn’t have his papers, and he didn’t want to go to prison.
He went back to the cabin for his clothes. The next day he was on the first flight that he could get back home to Maa T.
“Do you know who sent it?” Maa T’s voice broke into his thoughts, bringing him back.
He shook his head and sank to the floor. They had found him.
Nobody knew this address except Marilyn and she was dead.
He looked around, but there was nowhere to go to. He could only sit and wait.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he wondered if life in prison wouldn't be better.