“This cold is going to kill me even before mummy does so,” Karaye mumbled to himself as he rubbed his feet with the other to soften the merciless bite of the wind that was also hissing harshly in his ears. Everywhere, including the trees, was blanketed with snow and the animals had scampered into hidings.
Trying to remove from his mind the image of a mother whose face would be twisted with anger and worry if she found him like this in front of her employer’s house without his sweater and stockings, he focused on why he was here.
I am doing this for Mary Brighton, he said to himself, terrified that he would start shaking any moment. I am doing this for my friend. I have to see her. Please God, let them let me see her.
Suddenly the door of the house flew open and the butler who always drove him away in his last visits came out and looked down at him.
“How old are you, little boy?” he grunted.
Karaye thought he was going to piss in his knickers. “I…I will be seven in April, sir.”
“For a boy of your age, you are brave. You are standing in this witch of a cold because of Mary Brighton. Yes, you are brave and stubborn. You black people are stubborn.”
Karaye didn’t think he was brave. In fact he felt like the cold was about to make him vomit his breakfast. Oh, his Mummy would kill him.
“Come on,” the butler waved him inside, “the Brightons do not want pesky issues with their workers and the police because they allowed the winter to lick you good. So you can see Mary Brighton now.”
Karaye eyes widened in surprise and then filled with excitement. “Really? Oh thank you, Mr Woods. Thank you, thank you.”
But the happiness evaporated when he was let in to see Mary. The six-year-old girl was sitting on a padded stool in the tea room with her hands folded. She didn’t stand up to run towards him as she would normally do. As he drew closer, he saw that her cheeks were red and her eyes swollen from crying.
Karaye didn’t know what to do. All his fantasy of what he will say to her when he see her had shriveled. He put his hands in the pockets of his knickers.
“You are not happy.”
“Mother and father are acting strange. They refused to give me dessert after meals and read me bedtimes stories at night for some days now,” she said immediately.
“Why?” But somehow Karaye knew it was related to why in his three last visits, they had refused to let him see or play with Mary.
“I don’t know.” She placed a hand on her blond curls in thoughts, and then asked him. “Is your mother acting strange too?”
“No,” he answered. “My mummy does not have money for dessert or time to tell me those night stories but she’s still the same cool mummy.”
For some reason that made Mary’s face crumple. Karaye shifted his feet in unease. He didn’t like this. He wanted to play and laugh with her the way they did the first and second time they met when Mary came back home from boarding school.
But before he could say anything, he heard a cough. He turned to look and his heart slammed hard against his ribcage when he saw his mother standing with the butler at the entrance of the room. But his panic turned to curiosity when saw that she was holding a wad of money, and a paper in her hand.
“Mary, your parents asked for you,” the butler announced.
“Okay, Mr. Woods.”
“Later” Karaye whispered as she walked past him.
“Okay. I hope my parents will stop acting weird. I don’t really like it,” she whispered back and gave a goodbye smile and then left with the butler.
Karaye went to meet his mother. “Mummy, I am so sorry. I was afraid that if I looked for my sweater and stockings, you will know that I am leaving our room and then try to stop me. I wanted to see my friend.”
But his mother sighed. “You don’t understand, Karaye. It’s not your choice or even mine to make here. In these times,you can’t be friends with Mary.”
“I myself don’t know. We blacks still don’t know—even after many years—why our skin keeps us at the bottom of the bottle and aborts our relationships with other people.” She pointed at the money in her hand. “When you came here, they called me. The Brightons gave me my salary for this month and this letter of recommendation to start work in far away Louisiana. We are never to come back here, Karaye.”
Even though he was still a small boy, he grasped fully what his mother said and he felt like bags of cement was loaded on his back. He said quietly, “So I had said my last whisper to her?”