Chapter 5

Toni’s funeral had come and gone, and within a few days it seemed that the world had forgotten about a certain girl by the name of Antonia, who had been the loveliest, kindest of them all, who had lived at this address, had played the piano and sang so beautifully I could have listened all day. Within the first few days after the incident, news had spread like a wildfire, searing the neighbourhood so that people flocked to the house at all hours of the day and night.


Monsieur Jacques listened to their sympathies and heartfelt sobbing with great strength as I watched from the corner of the kitchen, and then, in the darkest hours of the night, when neither her nor I could sleep, though he knew not of my quiet existence in the corner of the kitchen, he would curl up by himself on the divan in the living room and almost inaudibly cry through the long hours. It broke my heart every time I saw him like that. But I couldn’t walk up to him and touch him on the shoulder, couldn’t comfort him. The guilt that had plagued me ever since that awful day when I hauled Toni’s lifeless body out of the pond had remained.


I had made myself invisible. Had hidden away in the little room that had become my home, or the corner in the kitchen during the long hours of the night. Monsieur Jacques had not believed me when I had come running to him to splutter and deliver the awful events that had happened. He hadn’t believed it when I had said I tried to find her in the waters and managed to drag her body out when I finally found her. But when he saw for herself, all that became background noise.


He looked upon me now with unseeing eyes whenever we bumped into each other, though I made great effort to avoid him altogether and play with Toni’s little brothers even though it was the most awful feeling to see such a likeness right in front of me and know their older sister would not be in her room, or playing outside, that she would never be able to do any of these things again. Monsieur Jacques was kind and polite; his grief hadn’t changed his personality, but it had changed his behaviour, his eyes, his face. His skin had yellowed and thinned, his eyes had become hazy and bulging. He barely ate. And he was inconsolable when left on his own.


On the third day after the funeral, he entertained a big group of acquaintances, who came to keep him company as the afternoon light faded into a dark purple sunset beyond the windows of Monsieur Jacques’s home. They chatted till the early hours of the morning, while I remained hidden in the shadows of the kitchen corner, my duties done for the day, and sleep evading me like the last little piece of a jigsaw puzzle I had sometimes put together with Toni on rainy days.


The conversation had become quite light-hearted over the course of the evening and well into the night, but as the weak rays of the sun started pushing their way over the horizon, Monsieur Jacques was somewhat suddenly thrown back in time to finding out the awful news of his daughter’s death.


“You know, friends,” he spoke, his words weakly pronounced as the wine continued to have a growing effect on his comportment, “it was my black boy who dived in and got her out. And then he ran to me to tell me, sobbing and coughing up water himself.” Monsieur Jacques shook his head slowly, eyes downcast. “The poor lad almost drowned himself.”


“But Monsieur,” one of the party’s more outspoken ladies then ventured, “that black boy of yours now poses a serious issue. Are we not to think that it may have been him to push her over into that icy cold water?”


The way she pronounced the last three words made me shiver then, and I tensed up my muscles to try and stop myself from shaking, but it only made things worse. My teeth were chattering not from the cold, for the house was warm, and not because she had just reminded me of the ghastly reality of that dreadful day, but because of what exactly she had said. My heart drummed loudly in my chest and I feared the others would hear and uncover my hiding spot. Surely Monsieur Jacques wouldn’t believe such a thing? Surely he knew how much Toni meant to me, how much I enjoyed being with her, being her servant, her play friend, her anything!


Monsieur Jacques had begun to say something in reply to the lady, his eyes still downcast and his face in profile to me so that I could not make out his expression, but suddenly one of the men at the table, who had started to drift off as the party of six had finished their enth bottle of wine, let out a humongous sneeze, drowning out Monsieur’s words completely so that all I heard of Monsieur Jacques’s sentence was I have something for him. And all I saw was the lady’s complexion pale in comparison to her previous lively colour and her mouth open not with a readiness to retaliate Monsieur’s speech but rather in a shape of surprise, her eyebrows furrowing negatively, as if aghast at what my master had said.


I couldn’t control the shudder that ran down the whole of my body then as I quickly half-walked and half-ran back to the little closet that was my room. If Monsieur Jacques had something for me, it could only mean a few possibilities. He either wanted to keep me and liked me, or he would be getting rid of me as I reminded him too much of his dear daughter. The possibility of him blaming me for the event was also a probable case after what I had heard. Yet going back to the place I had always called home, to Africa, to the village of sickness and fear – that, I could not do.

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Hi Anna, is Jacques male or female? You mix up these pronouns.

My goodness this is a very good story. You capture your young character's fears well and the malice around him.