Waiting outside the Women’s Prison gate, Celeste felt her heart racing. She watched as Roseanne hugged her son tearfully then they walked towards her car. She was unsure whether to get out or just stay put. She did not know how she got outside, or how her tears started to flow as she opened her arms to Roseanne.
“Wait, is this…” Roseanne asked and her son nodded.
The two women embraced shaking with emotions. Roseanne held Celeste’s cheeks and had a closer look at her.
“I can’t believe it. Celeste, its you! A grown woman now!” She said. Celeste’s fears had now subsided replaced by an awesome feeling of alleviation. For more than two and a half decades she had been attacked by frequent feelings of guilt. She felt that Roseanne had been imprisoned because of her.
Celeste studied their former househelp. The long black hair that she loved to plait simple lines was now trimmed and grey. She had wrinkles drawn on her forehead and under her eyes. The forty year old woman who had been plump and healthy was now a pitieous being after twenty five years lost in jail because of boss loyalty.
Celeste felt her heart start to bleed again for the old woman sitting quietly in her car with her son. She had worked for her mother for fifteen years. Celeste’s mother had never known what it meant to change househelps, thanks to Roseanne’s diligence, honesty and long time loyalty. Her elder sister and brother had been taken care of by Roseanne since birth. Things suddenly changed when Celeste was three years, when Roseanne committed a heinous crime that saw her parents do everything possible to ensure she rotted in prison.
“Aunt Roseanne,I need to ask you something. I have already talked to your son Albert about it.” Celeste said, crossing her fingers.
“Just say it my daughter,” Roseanne said. Celeste’s tears almost poured when Roseanne addressed her as her daughter. How could this woman be so forgiving?
“Aa…aa…aunty, I have arranged a meeting for you and my parents. I want them to know the truth.” She said as she watched Roseanne from the rear mirror. Roseanne quickly glanced outside to nothing in particular. Her son and Celeste knew that her mind was flashing back twenty five years ago.
“My daughter are you sure they want to see me? ” She asked feebly.
“They have to. They need to know the truth.” Celeste said.
“What for Celeste? What happened, happened and it cannot change!” She replied.
“Mum, please. For your peace of mind and ours. And for those who mocked me when you went to prison.” Her son beseeched her. She looked at him. He was forty three years old now. She missed a lot in his life while she was behind bars. She was thankful that her husband had quickly stepped into her shoes and taken the role of both father and mother for him.
“Ok then. I hope no blood will be shed.” They all went silent at her comment. Celeste even felt a flash of apprehension ambush her. She took a deep breath.
She drove through as the watchman opened the wide gates of her father’s house . Charles and his wife were seated under the outdoor patio sipping cups of tea on a table that provided a clear view of the entrance to their home. Charles’s brother was on another table, staring into blankness, his head inclined to the side, his tongue out and saliva spilling out. His hands were placed on his legs unmoving, on his wheelchair.
Celeste was not dismayed at her uncle’s state. She was used to his condition. Roseanne and her son gawked at him with anxiety. Her son, seeing the mixed emotions forming on her mother’s face, put an arm around her to comfort her.
“Let’s go,” Celeste said as she got out of the car then opened the door for the two. For a moment Roseanne thought she was making a big mistake but when her son extended her hand to her, she pulled herself together and they followed Celeste who was walking to her parents.
At seventy years and retired, Celeste’s parents spent most of their time in the patio exchanging small talk, taking tea and watching over Kevin who was wholly dependant on them. They had hired a nurse to bath him, clothe him and even fed him. He also needed someone to change his adult diaper every now and then. He was a sorry state for a forty three year old man.
“Dad, mum!” Celeste said trying to control the tremor in her voice.
“This is Rosanne and her son.” As soon as she said those words, her father banged the cup of tea in the table spilling its contents on the table and on the floor. Her mother rose up and moved protectively to Kevin who gave a sudden jerk of his head at the mention of Roseanne’s name.
“What is all these Celeste?” Her father icily asked.
“Dad, she was released today from prison.” Celeste continued.
“How fast? She should have spent her whole life there for all we care! Look!” Celeste’s mother was saying, screaming at the top of her voice, pointing at her brother -in-law who was now trembling and making incoherent sounds gazing at Rosanne, terror showing on his face.
“Look what she turned Kevin into. See! This was a boy with a future! Celeste, that woman made him a cabbage! She knocked his head with a five kg vase intending to kill him!How jealous can a woman be. Are you happy now? That your son is all strong while Kevin here sits all day drooling and pooping on himself ? Such a wicked woman! ”
“Madam,I can expla…!” Rosanne tried to say.
“Shut up you evil woman! Get out of my house now or I will be the one going to prison!” Charles roared as he shot up, his veins on the sides of his forehead protruding visibly. Celeste’s brother and sister and their spouses came through the inner patio doors alerted by the noise. Their children tugged on them frighteningly. Celeste had invited all of them that day for a big reveal.
“Dad! She will not leave until the truth is said!” Celeste loudly declared with an unusual confidence. She was the last born and in her father’s opinion, the most stubborn.
“Cele, you were only three, you will never understand why this woman is an enemy of this house. She wanted to kill your uncle Kevin. My daughter, let her go now!” Charles said almost pleading his daughter.
“Dad, aunty Rosanne rescued me. I did not understand what was going on but I later comprehended the love this woman had for me.” Celeste said as she weeped. Her sister also had tears in her eyes. Kevin’s rambling was now louder.
“Rescue you from what?” Celeste’s parents asked in unison.
“Dad,mum, Kevin betrayed your trust. I was young, I thought it was just a silly game he was playing with me but I later learnt that he was taking advantage of my naivety. When you were around we played with my dolls. He made you think he was a great uncle. When you were away, he would lock the door in the bedroom and ask me to show him my cookie or to touch him and taste him. Then one day….” Celeste could not find the words.
Rosanne continued on Celeste’s behalf, “One day, he thought he could take his games to another level. I became suspicious of his closed door games. I took the spare key and quietly opened his room. I met him, positioning his nude himself on a naked three year old. I was overwhelmed with anger. I took the nearest object I could see and knocked him! He fainted.”
Charles and his wife were aghast. They looked at Celeste to Rosanne to Kevin. Then Celeste’s sister came forward and spoke.
“Rosanne loved us like we were her own. She is the one who helped me with my first menstrual journey. It pained us when you easily concluded that Rosanne was envious of Kevin because he was going to university yet her son was not. We tried to talk to you but your energy was directed towards making Rosanne suffer.”
“How about you Pat? Did Kevin try anything?” Her father addressed the question to his eldest daughter clenching his fist. Pat closed her eyes and nodded. She picked her baby and left them as she ran sobbing loudly.
Charles shot up and rushed to a frightened Kevin. Had he not been stopped by the men in the room, Kevin would not be alive.
“Get him out of my sight now!” He yelled. He was now clenching both his fists and breathing heavily.
“I opened the doors of my house to him because he was my brother as he awaited to join campus. I saw him play with my daughters and it did not cross my mind that he could be harming them because he was my brother.”
“Rosanne” his wife started to say, “Your maternal instincts were very strong. You did not like him at all. I thought it was because he added more laundry for you to clean. Or you were jealous because your son was not having a good life as he was. How could I doubt you after working for me for so long?”
“Please Madam and Sir, don’t beat yourself up about the past.” Rosanne said.
“No Rosanne, you were behind bars because of protecting my daughter from a pervert. I know it’s a long shot but we will make up for the twenty five years you suffered because of us.” Charles said.
“When I imagine that our daughters were being abused right under our noses by my blood relative, I come to realize that trust is earned with time, not shared in DNA. Sometimes the people you think are true to you, harm you the most when those who we despise, remain loyal even when no one is watching.” Charles said in agony and rue.
Rosanne insisted on leaving to her home. Celeste offered to give her a ride. They watched with regret as the sixty five year old woman walked slowly to Celeste’s car.
“We have to make up for her lost years.” Celeste’s mother said to her husband.
“I agree. ” He said sympathetically.
As for Rosanne, she was happy the truth was out in the open. She never harboured envy as they had earlier accused her. She would keep the past where it belonged. Sixty five was not an age to have any negative vibes.