A Long Night (Part 2).
The tree-line thinned out and the land, even at night appeared raw, exposed and bare, much like a desert devoid even of pampas
"Let's stop and have some corn." I said as we approached a lone clump of trees. "We could rest a moment and rest out backs. It doesn't seem there will be too many more trees this size up ahead,"
"Whatever you think is best." Beatrice sighed hardly disguising the tiredness that had come over her.
I took out two ears of corn from the shoulder bag, and Cornelia handed me a penknife: "You might want to shave off some of the corn," she said, "We'll have to be frugal." "Thanks," I replied as I scraped off corn for each of us with the knife. But before returning the instrument, as a precaution 1 hacked away, and managed to cut down some of the lower tree branches. "Why are you doing that?" Maria asked, and I was about to reply when we all heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching helicopter. "Lie down!" I commanded, and the women immediately fell to the ground in a heap. "I'm going to cover you over with branches; then I'll crawl under to join you.
The women remained perfectly still as I quickly covered them, and dragged a large leafy branch over myself. Too bad we don't have Oliver's camouflage cloth I thought. But we all remained still as the helicopter passed over twice with search lights beaming down. None of us dared even breath until finally it darted off into the black sky.
"Everyone okay?" I said nervously, knowing that if the helicopter had been any closer it would have blown off the flimsy branches..
"You saved us," Cornelia smiled, wiping her eyes, "you and those branches ... Thanks, and to think I thought you were foolishly going to make a fire for the corn." We all laughed nervously as I shared the corn amongst us.
After a quick rest, we walked for three hours sipping water as we traveled, Then finally we slept fitfully out in the open and awoke with the sun to find ourselves still in the desert.
"Did we walk in a circle?" Beatrice asked. "Not likely" I replied, "There's a line of trees ahead of us, about an hour's walk.
The walk was brutal, the landscape was hilly, but offered no shade as the sun bore down on us unrepentantly and our water was running low. My worst fear was to be caught out in the open before we reached safety and shelter. It was an hour and a half before we arrived at the trees thirsty and bedraggled. There was no water insight except for that which had collected in a hollow stump. "Wet your lips but don't drink." I said, "There has to be water here with all this vegetation." We followed the tree-line for a good twenty minutes before we suddenly came upon a small stream. We were so parched and exhausted we drank our fill, and replenished the water bottles even as the women again ladled water over each other's head. I did not object when they included me in their game, although all of a sudden Beatrice, who had gone to find a tree to rest against, screamed. "My water broke!"
I was filled with a barrage of emotions, delight at the impending coming of my grandchild and fear from not knowing what to do concerning the birthing. It took me a while to get my bearings, but when it kicked in I assured Beatrice she would be alright even as Cornelia removed her own petticoat and told her to lie on it. Poor Beatrice moaned for about an hour and I, though feeling helpless patted her forehead reassuringly trying to remain calm. Then suddenly Maria hissed, "Someone's coming."
Fear washed over me as an all terrain van came speeding towards us. It is all over I thought even as Beatrice moaned louder despite the nearness of the two women crouched beside her. We joined hands and waited, only to hear footfalls crashing through the foliage. It felt like the longest ten minutes of my life. I braced myself and couldn't help but feel akin to a wild lion protecting its herd, as I glanced up jaws clenched.
"Hi it's Jeremy." A friendly voice said in Spanish, and I looked up to see a tall well built Caucasian wan with a wide grin. "I'm Jeremy Grant from Canada. I'm here to collect the tomato pickers for the farm in Leamington Ontario. But hey, what's happening here?"
"This young lady Beatrice is about to give birth," I said nervously.
"Oh my God ... Well let me get a blanket from the van and a first aid kit just in case we'll need to disinfect anything, Who's in charge?"
"Any experience with childbirth"
"Then let me take over, okay? I've some experience. You'll have to trust me now young lady try to relax the pain will come in waves, but I you look strong enough to ride it out. The pain's coming again isn't it?
Beatrice nodded and gripped my hand, perhaps because I was closest.
"Yes, it hurts so bad I want to scream."
"Then scream and if you feel like pushing grab on to someone and push as hard as you can. I will be right back." said Jeremy with a toss of his head, and by the time he returned with the blanket and the first aid supplies, Beatrice was racked in pain squirming and moaning.
I felt almost heady with excitement as hope once again filled my very veins. Imagine I was to be witness to my own grandchild's birth. O Eduardo, my beloved Eduardo, if only you could have been here. My heart pounded like a drum as Beatrice held fast to me muttering and whaling.
In less than half an hour the baby was born, pink and robust. Jeremy had guided it out and Cornelia cut the umbilical cord with scissors from the first aid kit, and Maria almost fainted.
"It's a boy!" I cried out with gusto, unable to contain my exuberance or hold back tears for the boy was as beautiful as Eduardo and as radiant. Cornelia joyfully laughed a throaty laugh as Maria helped to nestle the child in the blanket beside Beatrice. "What are you going to call him?" she coaxed.
'I want to name him after his father."
"What's his father's name?" Jeremy asked, beaming with pride.
"It was Eduardo. We loved each other very much, but it was like Romeo and Juliet, so his middle names will be Romeo Sebastino so I'll not forget any of it."
"But why Sebastino?" Cornelia asked, but Beatrice didn't answer she snuggled closer to the child and continued nursing him under the blanket.
For the sake of Beatrice and the baby we remained in that oasisfor two days, and the van quickly began to feel like home for Jeremy hadstocked it well with supplies such as juice, pop, water and canned meatsand vegetables, and fortunately for Beatrice there were clean rags thatwere quickly fashioned into diapers. "We have to get to astore." Jeremy said solemnly, "The baby will need clothesand proper diapers ...but it will be a day's drive atleast."
"We set out early the following morning chasing the sunacross the barren desert until finally we came to a highway.
"I have fake ID for everyone but the baby."Jeremy said, "So when we get to the Canadian border we'llhave to hide him."
I had paid Oliver well, and it was clear to see that Jeremy toohad come through with his end of the bargain. But as I glanced over atBeatrice I could see the horror of endless negative possibilities in hereyes, "Where will we hide him?" she asked clutching thebaby tighter to her breast.
"There's an opening under my seat just the rightsize."
"Won't it cry?"
"Not after a tiny sip of beer."
"Are you sure my baby will be alright?"
"But beer, do we have to use beer?"
"I'm so afraid for the baby, but if you'resure ..."
The desert was brutal; the sun boiled down on the van andpractically baked us. We drove until I was exhausted. I wondered howJeremy kept his sanity and how Beatrice kept the baby from disturbing usall. Maria laid her head on the open window and sang a love song and weall joined in the chorus, all except for Jeremy who kept concentratingon his surroundings. He was right too, for the highway cut throughprecarious regions. We eventually stopped for cool water from a swiftlymoving river, and all of us waded in to wash off our accumulated sweat.And when Cornelia immersed her hair she put me in mind of an angel, shewas that beautiful.
"Anyone feel like eating Barbeque?" Jeremy askedas we made our way back to shore. "My girlfriend Montrice and herfamily usually have a meal waiting for me and my van loads.They're a close-knit black family, lots of good food and goodloving. "
"Really!" I said out loud hoping Jeremy did notpick up on the surprise in my voice when I learned his girlfriend wasblack. "Where does she live anyway?" I saidconversationally.
"She's right here in Texas. She refuses torelocate to Canada though we have two kids. She says Texas haseverything she needs. Her house is about twenty miles from here.I'll call her on my cell."
When we arrived at Montrice's house there was already acrowd in the large back yard. It was clear that a party was in fullswing. A chubby black woman who ran out to greet us, it was Montrice."Welcome to Texas" she said in Spanish, and it made usfeel right at home. She threw back her head and laughed and tugged attwo young mulatto children with blondish hair. "These are oursshe grinned, "They're happy to see their daddy home,aren't they Jeremy honey?"
All around us was a sea of friendly black faces and as weenjoyed chicken ribs and macaroni and potato salads we began to feeleven more at home. Maria mingled with the crowd and with her haltingEnglish seemed to make friends easily. But shy Beatrice was amazed by itall, and I saw when Montrice handed her a bundle of baby clothes and sheseemed quite taken aback. "No point me keeping theseanymore,' Montrice said, "Jeremy and me have all thechildren we need, just look at how sweet they are."
"Thank you Ma'am, thank you Ma'am"Beatrice spluttered bowled over by the generosity, and I saw tearsescape her sad eyes. "Thanks so much, you and Jeremy are thebest."
Later that afternoon Jeremy pulled me aside, "I betyou're wondering why I don't settle down here withMontrice. The truth is this place is racist, it would be hard for ushere as a couple. Canada is different, but Montrice would hate thewinters, so as a compromise I come to see her every chance I get. I loveher very much."
"Love is a strange thing." I said under my breathnoticing that Cornelia was standing not too far off from us..
Later still, the women all helped with the washing up whilesome of the older men went to smoke on the verandah. I was delighted tospeak a little English but being a non-smoker I went to sit with somemen around my age in the living-room. I found myself without namingnames, talking about Eduardo and my father. "There is no lovelike a father for his son." I said hoping I wasn'toffending anyone. But just then Cornelia and Beatrice passed through theroom and I held my tongue. I couldn't take my eyes off them andthe baby, and I knew I was in love.
That night Montrice and Jeremy slept together in one of thebedrooms while the rest of us camped in the living room. Maria, who hadfallen into conversation with one of the young men known as Fitzroy, wasthe last to settle in.
In the morning after I washed I asked to use the phone. Mybeard grow in, and I was sure that even my lawyer whom I called in SanMiguel, would not have recognized me if he could have seen me.Afterwards we were all taken by complete surprise when Maria announcedthat she had decided to stay in Texas. I knew immediately that herdecision had nothing to do with her recently injured ankle, so it mustbe something to do with young Fitzroy. "I'm sorryBeatrice," she said, "But I see a good opportunity here tostart a new life." But the rest of us without saying so out loudhad already decided to continue on to Canada with Jeremy. That morningwith much thanksgiving to Montrice and her family, we once more set outon the road, this time without Maria, and headed for Louisiana. The twowomen fell asleep in the back of the van almost immediately, and I satup front with Jeremy.
"So what did you think of them, my Texas family Imean?" Jeremy asked with a smile in his jaw
"They were wonderful." I replied.
"I know," said Jeremy, "And that is whylast night as I made love to Montrice I finally had her agree to comeand live part of the year in Toronto, so we can be together more often.God, I love that woman. Next time I pass through Texas, she and the kidswill be leaving with me."
"How'd you meet her anyway?"
"She used to help to smuggle families into the States.But now she's resigned to looking after her own family. Sheadores me you know. She's a journalist, she writes for a Blackfocused magazine."
"What a lucky man you are, she's wonderful ineveryway isn't she?"
"She is, but by the way, which of these women are you inlove with, Beatrice or Cornelia? My guess is it is Beatrice the babyseems to mean a lot to you."
"Hush, I'm not in love with any of them ...I'm just fascinated with the baby."
"Is that because you lost your son?"
"Yes I suppose so, since the baby reminds me of him alot. By the way, what do you know about Fitzroy? I'm sure Mariadecided to stay because of him."
"I've known Fitz for a long time. He works in avegetable store. He lost both his parents when he was quite young.He's a good lad, seems to have made something of himself. Helives with a disabled Aunt. Maria will like it there, they'regood people. But what do you know of Maria?"
"Absolutely nothing, we just met, but she seems strong.Beatrice knows her."
"What do you know about Beatrice?"
"Nothing to tell; the truth."
"The same big nothing."
"Why do I get the feeling that you'd like to knowthem better?"
With Jeremy as the only driver it took us days to travel roadsthrough Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas,Virginia, Pennsylvania and finally New York State. Because of the babywe stopped often for rests, diaper changes and for us to use restroomsfacilities and to buy food and gas. I had never imagined that outside ofSan Miguel there were such extremes of poverty especially amongst thehoards of blacks visible in most of these States. There were times wedidn't feel entirely safe, since there seemed to be an underlyinghostility towards us as Hispanics, and that is why Jeremy chose backroads even though he knew it would make the journey much longer.
On to Canada
When we arrived at the Canadian border we were exhausted andeven the baby was asleep in the false bottom of Jeremy's seat.Jeremy acted as our spokesperson. He told the guard we were tomatopickers he was transporting to a farm in Canada, and he showed our fakeIDs and papers. The papers were carefully scrutinized then finally metwith approval; though luckily we were not interrogated. We waitedfifteen nervous minutes with the baby beginning to rouse from sleep, andmy heart stopped beating. Beatrice must have wanted nothing more than tonurse him, but that would have compromised us all, but then a miracleoccurred. The guard, after some deliberation decided not to search thevan. Everything must have seemed legitimate, and he waved us on. What arelief it was, that in a matter of moments we were speeding down aCanadian highway and breathing freely again.
Hours later we arrived in Toronto, and I found myself missingthe mountains of home. The city was modern and imposing and seemed tostretch for miles. "There are people from all over the worldhere." Jeremy said just before he dropped us off at a hostel onParkside Drive called La Casa: The Spanish Speakers House. We werewelcomed by the staff and given access to hot showers and offered smalltidy rooms to stay in. The windows of La Casa overlooked the tree-linedstreet that bordered on to a huge park called High Park. At a glance thelush landscape was reminiscent of the better parts of San Miguel, butthen at second glance it was unmistakably Canadian with its tall Maples,with not a palm tree or pampas in sight, but there were lush perennialgardens and three storey homes for families and renters alike all in arow.
Jeremy had more than earned his payment before waving goodbyeand going off to his Roncesvalles Ave condo. But before leaving heassured us that he was available if we should need him for anything.Thanks to the staff at La Casa I was able to contact my lawyer andarrange a transfer of funds to Toronto. Beatrice and the baby rarelyleft their room, perhaps she felt safer there, or she preferred to hideout inside to mourn Eduardo. Therefore it was Cornelia and I who werethrown together to explore the park and the neighborhood.
Every Wednesday a doctor came to the hostel to examine thehousehold. We were thankful for the service though Beatrice confessed tohim that we were in-fact refugees and that the baby was born on route toCanada. It was that doctor, Doctor Ira Patel who provided the baby withits first set of papers. He also insisted that Beatrice should rest forthe next four weeks.
"It is quite pleasant here." Cornelia said oneafternoon, "People seem to mind their own business. Anyway I havelet my father know that he can stop worrying about me, becauseI'm being well cared for and the people at La Casa are even goingto help me to find work. My father said that it took so long for me tocontact him that he thought I was lost somewhere in the jungle."She laughed.
"Allow me to cover the cost of the call," I said,"I at least owe that to the old man. I liked him the moment I sawhim. But did you tell him I am here too?"
"No I didn't; but what about me, did you like mewhen you first saw me, or were you somehow hankering after Beatrice?Anyway there was really no need to tell my father about you. I knowexactly what he'd be thinking."
I couldn't help myself, I laughed out loud. "Ihave no feelings that way for Beatrice. It is her boy that has stolen myheart. And another thing, you should tell your father I'm here,he's a sensible man he'd know I'm agentleman."
"You might be right, but enough about my father. What Iwant to know is why has the baby stolen your heart? Isn't henothing more than a stranger to you?"
"Cornelia I won't say anything else regardingthat matter, but baby Eduardo seems to have given me back my life. Irecently lost my son and my father."
"Yes I gathered as much, and I sympathize, but what anunusual man you are, to be so moved by a stranger'schild."
"Cornelia, one cannot help who you fall in love with,Just look at Jeremy and Montrice."
"I suppose you're right, one cannot help thesethings. I myself ...oh never mind."
"Never mind; what Cornelia?"
"Oh it's nothing really."
It was the warm days of summer and I got to know the park quitewell, I even knew its hidden nooks and crannies. But some days Iwandered down to the lakeshore imagining myself back in San Miguel, andevery now and again I'd imagine the baby there too, and thenthere was Cornelia. I seem to have harbored her in my thoughts thoughthese days I chose to spend more time alone.
Then one afternoon the staff at La Casa came to find me to saythat Beatrice was not well. It would appear that she was missing home somuch that she was making herself ill. Cornelia was not available, sinceshe was out on a job cleaning houses. So it was I alone who went tospeak with Beatrice.
"Hello Beatrice," I said cheerfully, though shelooked quite despondent. It almost seemed that she couldn't findit in herself to utter a single word. But that was until I offered tohold the baby. Her eyes lit up and she appeared relieved as she acceptedmy offer and handed me the baby. I felt the weight of it in my hands andmy heart almost burst from the love I felt holding it near.
"What a beautiful boy." I whispered huskily as Iheld him and watched him breath. Then I searched his tiny face, to seeshadows of my own Eduardo, and I was not disappointed..
"I don't want to stay in Canada." Beatricesighed, "I miss San Miguel like one misses a lover. My loverEduardo used to come to my room at the back of the house where I workedas a servant. His grandfather always kept watch so that no one wouldfind out about us or disturb us. Eduardo was afraid of disappointing hisrich father whom he loved more than anything. Come to think of it, yousort of remind me of him, but he was more officious, though he was ashandsome as you. But in any case, I couldn't imagine him doingthe things you do, and another thing he never had a beard like you. Doyou know Eduardo always said that one day we would find a way to betogether, but he didn't know how? In fact he used to spend hisdays driving around San Miguel flirting and pretending to be awomanizer, but he always came home to me at the end of the day. Whatsweet loving we shared before he died in a car crash. I felt like dyingtoo when I heard of his accident. I remember I was in the breakfast roomabout to serve coffee at the time, but the worst part was I knew I waspregnant with his child and I couldn't say a word about it. So inthe end I left my position at the house before my condition would becomecommon knowledge and bring disgrace to the Torres family. You know howit is at home don't you? But now his child has brought me mygreatest pleasure."
I couldn't hold back the tears that welled in my eyes,and I longed to hold Beatrice and comfort her. I wanted to ask herforgiveness and reveal my true identity; but somehow I held back on anyrevelations as I reached out and took her hand and kissed it.
As fate would have it, that was the very moment that Corneliaarrived home. She did not flinch or show any emotion as she confrontedus. "I'll take the baby for a walk outside." wasall she said, though her eyes seemed weary after a hard day'swork.
I could barely bring myself to let go of the baby, and it hurtmy heart to hand him over.
Then as Cornelia left with the baby, my thoughts were filledwith quilt about the kiss she witnessed. I wondered what she might bethinking, but then again there was Beatrice in tears begging me to helpher find a way to go back home again. I knew even then that nothingwould appease her, so I told her I would try my best to help her.
I remained with her until finally she fell into a fitful sleepsobbing on her bed. I left her room quietly and closed the door behindme wondering what she would think if she knew I was indeedEduardo's father.
Half an hour later I found Cornelia sitting in one of thegarden chairs at the back of the house cooing to the baby. She looked upas I approached. I wasn't sure if her eyes were shiny or if theywere hiding tears. "Hello," I said, "How'sthe boy? Do you know his mother wants to go back to SanMiguel?"
"She's not the only one." Corneliasnapped, "Life here is hard, and I don't want to have toalways depend on charity."
"Cornelia, my dear Cornelia, are you sure you'renot upset about anything."
"Of course not. Oh, maybe I am, but the baby seems toappreciate me, perhaps I'm bonding with it. But by the way, whythe hell were you kissing Beatrice's hand?"
"Cornelia, the poor girl is having a tough time; Ididn't know what else to do."
Sure, I don't see you being that attentive to me thoughI'm having a tough time too. I'm a receptionist not somedarn house cleaner. I know I don't speak English well enough yetbut I guess you know that already, don't you?
"Cornelia if you ask me I'd say you'rejealous."
"Rubbish; I'm just mad ateverything"
"Then let me take the baby, I like holdinghim."
"There you go again, but it is my turn to hide behindthe baby."
I don't know what possessed me, but I took Corneliaroughly by the shoulders and would have kissed her had I not heardBeatrice behind us.
"Well, well what am I interrupting? Sorry but it is timeto feed the baby."
Cornelia's eyes darted wildly as though disappointed andthen she attempted to hand over the baby. "I owe you akiss." I whispered in her ear as I took the baby from herarms..
"You don't owe me anything." She said outloud as she released the child, and allowed me to hand him back toBeatrice.
The next morning I awoke to someone calling my name urgently atmy door. I threw my covers off and sprang out of bed and opened the doora crack. It was Beatrice. "What's the matter?" Iasked.
"The baby's sick. He's running a hightemperature; Doctor Patel can't come so I have to take him to theEmergency at St. Joseph's down the road."
"I'll come with you, let me just call a taxi. Didyou tell Cornelia?" "No there's no time to tellCornelia and besides, she has to go to work."
In a matter of moments we were to find ourselves being droppedoff at the hospital, and after that it was a two hour wait to see adoctor. For me it was almost as though I was transported back to SanMiguel as memories of my father and my Eduardo in hospital came back tohaunt me. I prayed that little Eduardo would be alright even as I sawhis mother buckle with fear. Only then did I realize that she might beas ill as the baby.
I was right too for as it turned out both Beatrice and the babyhad an infection, and though Beatrice was prescribed antibiotics, thebaby was not. We were told that the baby would have to switch toformulae until his mother recovered; but meanwhile he was prescribedonly medication to lower his fever.
"It's a nasty infection," a nursewhispered, "but what else can one expect from a house full ofrefugees." I heard another nurse whisper, and for the first timeI felt ashamed.
As we were preparing to leave the hospital, I saw Corneliabursting through the crowded waiting area looking worried as she triedto find us. "I just woke up" she said when she saw me,"the La Casa staff told me you were here. Is the babyalright?"
"You should have gone to work;' Beatrice saidsounding exasperated, "you could lose your job. Anyway the babyand I have an infection. He's going to have to go on formulae,and we have to pick up medication."
I glanced over at Cornelia and saw hurt tears in her eyes,"Poor baby" she sighed, and I slipped my hand into hers.Surprisingly she made no attempt to release her hand even as we headedfor the dispensary.
Cornelia went into work later that morning and I took overlooking after the baby while Beatrice rested. I relished those momentsof feeding and changing little Eduardo and I never once neglected totell him how much I loved him. It was almost as though the love I poureddown on him in conjunction with the medication was instrumental inhelping to lower his fever. I was never more mesmerized by hisbeauty.
That week, very evening when Cornelia came home, she wouldgently take the baby from me, and I would sit and read the paper toBeatrice. Her illness seemed interminable and I began to wonder if shereally wanted to get well, or if she dreamed of joining Eduardo on theother side. Doctor Patel said that she needed a will to live. From whatwe gathered Beatrice had no family back home. All she had was thebaby.
"Beatrice, you are young and beautiful, love will comeyour way again." I often said to her, but she would only shakeher head in disbelief. Perhaps she had seen how sunken her eyes hadbecome.
I insisted that once a day she and I and the baby wander overto the park for fresh air and exercise. Mostly I enjoyed going becausethe wildest parts of the park put me in mind of the outskirts of SanMiguel, and I was beginning to suffer from homesickness. However, oneday while we were there I decided to fetch Beatrice a hot dog from oneof the vendors, and when I returned with it I found her in deepconversation with a young man and his sister. He was called Enrico andshe Stella. They were Canadian Latinos and had never been to San Miguelor South America for that matter. Before I could ask questions of them,they laughed and told me that what had attracted them to Beatrice washer wonderful baby, and her beautiful but sad looking eyes. I liked thetwo of them immediately not only because of their laughter, but becausethey brought a smile to Beatrice's wan cheeks.
It soon became a daily ritual of ours to meet up with the youngpeople and to share an hour or two of fun with them. As the weeks wentby I saw Beatrice gaining strength and looking forward to theircompanionship. It wasn't as though Enrico was handsome, far fromit. He was bone thin and his teeth looked too large for his mouth andhis hair was a mop of unruly spikes, but it was his sense of fun thatwas exactly what Beatrice needed. And whenever Beatrice spoke aboutreturning to San Miguel, Enrico would ask if he could accompany her. Atfirst, she used to laugh at the prospect and then she realized that hewas serious, and she surprisingly began to explore the possibility; andI knew then without a doubt that she was falling in love with him. Therewas a time that Beatrice would have cringed if anyone suggested therewas any attraction between them. Firstly, she was three years hissenior, and with her exotic looks she would perhaps have been able toattract another handsome Eduardo type, but life is full of surprises. Ibegan to see a softer side of her, and a sweet unmistakable gentleness,and I wondered if her feelings for Eduardo had been only as a result ofthe obsessions of first love.
Beatrice literally blossomed with this new friendship and onmore than one occasion I glimpsed Enrico gently holding her hand. Heeven began to take her on short trips downtown in his car without us;and as a result of these sojourns Beatrice grew more radiant and I wasthankful.
Cornelia too sensed the changes in Beatrice, and she wasdelighted when once again she and I were left to our own devices andwere able to undertake various explorations together. It wasn'tas though Enrico totally neglected us, for young gentleman that he was,he still occasionally would take us all in his car to explore Toronto.One such evening while sitting in the back seat of that car withCornelia, I was overcome by her beauty and the wonderful aroma of lilacsthat she wore, and I drew her to me and kissed her passionately. Hermouth was as soft as velvet, and it was as though a whole new world wasopened to me when she responded in kind. It was a long time since I hadfelt so alive, and I held her close, afraid to let her go for the restof our journey.
Strangely enough, Beatrice never seemed to take much notice ofmy and Cornelia's blossoming romance; perhaps because her ownrelationship was growing by leaps and bounds. Then one day I noticedthat she seemed even more satisfied than ever. I imagined that perhapsthings had started to pay off for her. The connections she had madethrough La Casa had borne fruit for she obtained legitimate traveldocuments. I was happy for her, and was taken by complete surprise whenshe informed Cornelia and I that she and Enrico had secretly got marriedat Toronto's City Hall. I had at first regarded it as a marriageof convenience, but I soon was to change my mind after seeing howdevoted to each other the couple had become. Their eyes were joyful andthere were always explosions of laughter, and the baby thrived in theunion.
"I can't wait to show Enrico San Miguel"Beatrice smiled, and I knew immediately that the time had come to followthe baby home.
The next day Stella, Enrico's gangly sister brought abottle of Champagne to the house. We and the staff were invited out tothe porch where she popped the cork in celebration. She then toasted thebride and groom and said a few words:
"Congratulations to Enrico and Beatrice on this veryspecial occasion. I am so happy for my brother, he has brought me awonderful sister. Don't anyone of you think I'm going tobe missing him too much, because come September I'm going tostudy art in Madrid, I've always wanted to do that and I havejust been accepted into a school there. Some of you might not know if,but though my brother and I were born and raised here, our parents arefrom Spain. Mom and dad would have wanted to be here for Enrico'swedding but they are in Spain looking for a place to spend theirretirement, and Enrico is so in love, he didn't want to wait aday longer to claim his bride. Neither I nor Enrico have ever lived in aSpanish speaking country so it will be quite an adventure for me, and Isuspect for Enrico too. I must say that Enrico has never been happier,and I know you are all happy for him too. He works as an accountant andwith his substantial savings he plans to buy a small house in San Miguelwhere Beatrice is from. So not only will he be speaking a lot ofSpanish, but it looks like I'll have a place to stay when I visitthem. My brother, from the look of things has inherited you all asfamily. How lucky he is that beautiful Beatrice and her adorable sonEduardo has accepted him. And on that note I must again extend mywarmest congratulations."
That night, as usual I complimented Cornelia on her beauty, andI asked her if she would like her father to come to visit us in Torontoor if she would rather we went to see him in San Miguel.
"Is there something special you want to ask him?"She replied suspiciously with a toss of her hair, "Before youmeet my father again, there is nothing I want more than for you to tellme who you really are. I've been completely honest with you, butI can't help but feel that you have not been entirely honest withme." Though she laughed nervously, I saw such pride in her eyes Ifelt ashamed of my deception.
"Well I must admit you have a point Cornelia," Isaid cautiously, and I reached for her and kissed her hard, and she feltsoft against me. "I have not been totally honest withyou," I whispered. "So let me start off with my real name,it is Sebastino Torres."
"Sebastino! Isn't that the baby's middlename? What's going on here?"
I was surprised she remembered the baby's middle name,but all I could do was hold her closer.
"I didn't choose the name, Beatrice did. Shewanted to name the baby after its grandfather"
"So are you saying the name is a coincidence? Or isthere something more to all this?"
"There isn't anything more than the fact thatBeatrice just wanted to remember what she construed as a doomedrelationship with the baby's father."
"But why your name, come on Sebastino or whosoever youare, there has to be more to it than that. Come to think of it did sheknow who you were all along? Don't you think I deserve anexplanation? Sebastino, I have been thinking, and perhaps, depending onwhat you have to say, it could be our relationship that'sdoomed."
"Cornelia, there is no reason to be fatalistic. I willtell you everything, though it is a long story about fathers andsons."
"Go ahead tell me, long story or not."
"Well since you insist, here goes: Years ago when I wasa much younger man I was full of the fire of youth. I was born into awealthy family, and lived in the best part of San Miguel but I used toscour the seediest parts of the city searching for God knows what. Iended up defying my widowed father and marrying a cheap show girl fromthe lower classes. Her name was Claudia, and it was impossible todomesticate her, she was wild and crude. Life with her was all aboutlack of basic morals. I soon discovered that there wasn't adecent bone in her body. Needless to say, she quickly grew bored with meand refused to settle down despite my wealth and social standing. It wasno surprise when she left me for another man soon after our son wasborn. We then divorced, and I never heard from her again, althoughrumors have it that she died from dysentery.
After that, I was so tormented that I regret to say that Ihardly had time for my own son. Although fortunately for me, my fatherwas there and he stepped in and raised my boy. Those two were as closeas apples in a basket. And though I was in charge of the house full ofservants, I was so remote from them that it surprised me when my grownson fell in love with one of them. She was a young girl who always kepther head down in my presence, perhaps from fear and guilt about my son.But sadly my son died tragically and I'm not sure if he knew thatthe servant girl was pregnant with his child. To make matters worse, myfather passed away not long after my son, though I now have the distinctimpression that he had known a thing or two about my son'saffair. When I finally learned of the pregnancy I decided to try tosomehow make amends and help the girl and her child anonymously. Isuspected that she would have been too proud to accept any assistance,so when I learned she was leaving San Miguel, I made a spontaneousdecision and followed her here. Any way I suppose by now you realizewhere this story is going and that the servant girl's name wasBeatrice and my son was the Eduardo she adored."
"What! But how is it that Beatrice didn'trecognize you?"
"My hair wasn't long back then, and Ididn't have this beard."
"So are you going to tell me you've beendisguised all along? If so, it's really pathetic, and it makes mewonder what Beatrice would think if she found out exactly who youare?" "I don't really know if it would make anydifference, but so much time has passed that now I don't know howto tell her."
"Perhaps it would be more appropriate if we both talkedto her. But anyway your story was so moving I cannot even imagine howyou continued living after all that happened to you. I would have been abasket case. What a fool of a wife you had; is that why you'vebeen afraid to trust another woman? Now I know why it took you so longto kiss me? I wanted you to from the first moment I saw you. Howhandsome and strong you looked carrying my father'sbag."
"You must understand my dearest Cornelia that I wasalways afraid of upsetting the applecart, but thank goodness there arestill good women in the world like you."
"Sebastino my dear, I can't help but feel thatyou should make every effort to be close to your grandchild. I reallythink that would be as good a reason as any for us to return to SanMiguel, besides the fact is, I'm longing to see myfather."
A month after that conversation, I was to find myself under asteel gray Toronto sky and there was no doubt in my mind that summer wasover. The air already tasted of the coolness of fall and somehow Idreaded the coming of winter. I had thought that by that time we wouldhave been back to the warmth of San Miguel, but not all went as planned.The first thing was that Beatrice moved out of La Casa with the baby andwent to live in Enrico's family's home in Cabbage Town.Apparently Enrico decided not to leave the country without his parentsmeeting his new wife, and receive their blessings. Fortunately for himthey were scheduled to return to the city within weeks. But I howeverbegan to wonder if he and Beatrice were reconsidering their decision toreturn to San Miguel.
The second thing that caused plans to be reconsidered was thatwith Cornelia working steadily with a cleaning company, she wasconsidered to be a fulltime worker and was therefore no longer eligiblefor residency at La Casa. She came to my room in tears explaining hernew status, and I wondered how much longer I myself would find shelterat La Casa. Then to make matters worse, she received a letter from herfather saying that he wanted to come to Toronto to see her. Heapparently thought it wouldn't be fair for her to give up her jobto come to visit him just when she was getting established.
"I have to find a place to live." she said,"But Sebastino I cannot afford to spend all my earnings on rent,and Pappa will need a place to stay." She sobbed.
"I know," I replied, "I will help you toget a place, though it would simplify things if we got a placetogether."
"Yes, that might be so, but what about my father, hewould be quite upset to find us living together. He's oldfashioned you know."
I could hear a tremor in Cornelia's voice and I saw thather eyes were teary, and I hardly knew what to say. But then I clearedmy throat and words tumbled out.
"I realize what you are saying Cornelia, no doubthe'd object to the living arrangements. My father would have beenexactly the same."
"Well Sebastino, who's to stop us moving intogether after his visit, we could share the finances."
"You would do that? Is that what you aresaying?"
"I'm saying I could uphold your honor if I haveto."
"So you would you do that just because of myfather?"
"No, not for his sake my dearest, but for your sake,haven't you guessed that I am falling in love withyou?"
That same afternoon we began in earnest to search for anapartment, and since we were both fond of the High Park area, that waswhere we started to look. At first all that we were directed to weredreary basements, and noisy above store flats. But I wanted to findsomething that would make Cornelia proud, and I began negotiations withone of the local banks that contacted my bank back in San Miguel. Webecame so caught up in the planning that Beatrice, Enrico and the babyrarely entered our thoughts. Then the day came when we were to be showna condominium at the top of Roncesvalles Avenue near Dundas. The momentI saw the condo I knew immediately it would be exactly the sort of placethat would be suitable, there was even room for the old man and lots ofspace for Cornelia and I when finally we would move in together. It isno wonder that my heart was joyful.
Time went by faster than I anticipated and it came as a greatsurprise when Beatrice called me at La Casa to let me know that she hadmet her in-laws, and as such was welcomed into their family and receivedtheir blessings. She then proceeded to tell me that Enrico'sparents had convinced her that she should make contact with thebaby's grandfather in San Miguel, so that he too could bewelcomed into the family. She then confessed that she had taken theliberty of calling his house many times but was not able to reachhim.
There was a huge lump in my throat as I listened to her, and Iwould have given anything to blurt out exactly who I was, but instead Ikept my lips sealed. How can I tell her now I wonder. But it was clearto me that she hadn't a clue who I really was. "Perhaps Ican reach the grandfather," I said confidently, "Tell meexactly what you'd like him to know, and I will see that he getsthe message. My lawyer has a way of making contacts even when at firstit might seem impossible."
"Well tell him his son lives again in the eyes of mybaby, and tell him that all that has happened is water under the bridge.Tell him I'm longing for the day when he can hold the baby in hisarms. And tell him that we as a family could grow to love him,especially the baby, and I hope he wont take offence that me a mereservant girl is insinuating myself and my family on him."
"I am sure he would be delighted to hear," Ireplied, "For I am delighted as it is, as well as full ofconfessions."
"What sort of confessions? If it is about how you feelabout Cornelia, we have all already guessed that you are both inlove."
"Beatrice.... it is not about me and Cornelia, thoughyou are right, we are in love, it is about Eduardo's father. Ihave to confess to you and the priest that he and I are one and the sameperson."
"You are Eduardo's father Sebastino Torres!! Thisis unbelievable, it must be a miracle!"
"Yes," I replied shamefaced, "I am the manyou probably hate...."
I expected reprimand, but instead I saw that Beatrice wassmiling, she looked lovelier that ever as she approached me. "Ihave co-me to know you, and I could never hate you, not now SenorTorres. Eduardo wouldn't have wanted that, especially after allthe amazing things you did for all of us. We are all forever in yourgratitude and I can't wait to tell my dear husband aboutyou."
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|Title Annotation:||Short Fiction|
|Author:||Dyer, Bernadette Gabay|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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