I curse under my breath as I take a look at my watch.
I’m so late.
It’s just past 5pm, and I know she will give me that look for running late and for leaving her alone.
I bring myself to a jog; if I don’t make it in time not only am I going to hear it from her but from Mother dearest too. I grimace as I imagine Mother’s expression when I tell her I was late, again – I know the evident lack of safety is concerning, and it’s wrong to assume that nothing can happen in a public place. With what happened last week who knew what could crop up, and I don’t want to take my chances.
My heart lifts when I see Maya.
Oh thank goodness, she’s still there, and clearly still enjoying her moments on that same swing she refuses to budge from. I can already hear the phrase that she often tells me when I tease her about being on the swing so much. I love the feeling of the wind on my face! I can fly like a bird!
Except soon enough I realise that she isn’t alone.
And the sight in front of me has my heart hammering.
I move closer, to rush up to Maya and take her away; grab her in my arms and protect her with everything I’ve got – yet it comes to my realisation that this person doesn’t seem to mean any harm.
He’s sitting purposefully distant from Maya, with a tilted head and soft smile as he listens to Maya chatter on. Yet how do you know who to trust in this world?
My heart is battering against my ribcage.
What if something happens to her?
I can’t even begin to conceive it.
I’m standing about 10 feet away from her, just behind the park entry gate, and right on my feet. Should I call the police?
This, man, who is sitting on the swing right next to Maya is hefty against her delicate figure; and though he doesn’t seem to be making any move to hurt her – in fact all he does is seem to be listening and a little lost in thought – I can’t help but fear that he’ll take her away from me.
I can observe and overhear the entire conversation from where I’m standing. As per usual, Maya hasn’t paid heed to anything I’ve warned her about; the main piece of advice being that she has to learn to stop talking to strangers, especially in this part of town.
Why am I still standing here?
Taking a step to walk on closer, I realise I don’t want to have to have a confrontation with this person. At all.
I wish he would just go.
It takes him about thirty minutes to leave. In this time, I notice that he hasn’t made any conversation about himself – all he seems to be doing is listening to her talk.
Well obviously, Maya is special. What if…
And then she asks a question that clearly catches him off guard; obvious enough by the way he stiffens and makes a move to walk away. With peering eyes, I watch him leave, until he’s out of sight.
I walk over to Maya, gently tapping her on the shoulder to let her know of my arrival.
You’re late, again. She says to me, frowning.
Who’s the guy? I ask, not bothering to conceal my concern.
And she tells me how she saw Michael, looking so lost and unhappy, that she couldn’t help but go over and say hello.
His figure is fading in the distance. The ramming of me heart has subsided, and reality creeps in.
Where did these negative thoughts even creep in from?
He’s just another human, who unfortunately was involved in the controversy on the news last week – that’s where I recognised him from – and all he did was talk to Maya. She’s standing in front of me, her head tilted and waiting for me to make a move.
Feeling a little uneasy with myself, (almost a little guilty), I find that Maya has found my hand and I clasp it in relief, as we head on home.
The next day, I’m sitting with Maya on the next swing, listening to her chat on when I see him again. He stands a little awkwardly in the distance, clearly having noticed that his newfound friend isn’t alone.
Debating; to come over and say hello, or to just walk on.
Maya decides for him, with a wave and a gleeful “Hello!”
He walks over.
Rubbing the back of his neck, he gives me a self-conscious smile and brings out his hand for me to shake. I gingerly take it as we introduce ourselves.
“Hi, I just came over to say hello to Maya.” He tells me, as she watches the interaction between the two of us with unconcealed curiosity.
I look at Michael’s face; clearly there was no disguise to his seemingly self-conscious appearance.
“Well, it’s… Good to meet you. What are you doing here, in this, region, Michael?” Does that sound rude?
He hesitates for a moment, stroking his chin as he explains to me his pursuing ambition. “I want to become a neurosurgeon, and I’m just studying in my final year at the local college.”
My mouth makes a slight ‘o’ shape. Inwardly, I hadn’t expected that. What did I expect though?
An awkwardness occupies the silence that comes thereafter, with me choosing to set my gaze on Maya and his in the background.
I remember yesterday’s conversation and the question that had caught him by surprise. Should I ask? Feeling fidgety, it takes me a while to summon up the courage to ask the same doubt that Maya inquired previously.
“I overheard you and Maya talking yesterday, just because I was on my way to pick her up – and she asked you why you’re so quiet… Is that just something that’s normal, for you, or…?” Did I stammer?
His eyebrows shoot up and a cynical smile comes onto his face.
“I find that people around here aren’t too used to seeing people like me and can’t quite understand me. So the silence is better, is it not?”
I nod my head in mute agreement. I can only imagine the difficulties he must be facing. After all, I’ve never stepped outside of my home town, so how can I even relate?
Maya is humming tunelessly to herself, with the chains of the swing making a rhythmic squeaking sound, all to fill this quietness.
“And what do you do?”
“I got done with my studies last year, and been applying for colleges abroad for my Master’s.”
“You don’t want to work?”
I pursue my lips. Boy did I want to. “I don’t think I’m in a position where I can work…”
“Ah, that’s right, I’ve heard they marry you young girls quite soon after your college or Master’s education is done, when your market value goes up.”
I let out a short chortle; the last statement should be a slap in the face; but it’s a reality that cannot be evaded and is understood very quickly within this society. The higher your education, the higher your market value for matrimony, and that’s regardless of gender. I want to argue with him though; tell him he’s wrong, that my parents don’t want me to marry me off at the mere age of 23. Unless I can hold them off for another year. But what good would another year do? I still have so many dreams and passions that I want to achieve before I choose to share my life with someone.
Do I even have a choice?
My lack of response has caused some concern, and he looks as though he’s about to apologise; but I give a noncommittal gesture to say he doesn’t need to do so. He didn’t say anything wrong after all.
“I’m going to go now then. It was nice to meet you Talia.” He gives a short wave and leaves, shoulders only slightly slouched, and then as though in automation, back upright again.
I sigh and glance at my younger sister, Maya, so innocent and naïve in her own world. But she’s clearly been listening to the entire conversation.
“I don’t want you to get married so soon and leave us Tally,” she tells me, all doe-eyed and a sad a smile. I stroke her hair absent-mindedly and let out an exhale.
“Neither do I, dearie. We’ll figure it out. Come on now, it’s time to go home.”
Hues of You ~ Chapter 4