Bedtime story # 6

The first time we saw her, we thought about not hiring her: she looked like a little bird fallen from the nest in a storm day. She was tiny with a lost and scared look and thin goose-pimply hair. Her voice was weak and a little hoarse. Her eyes were very small a kind of crossed. She was shaking and we didn’t know if she was cold or afraid. We knew she would not be able to do all chores, but we were desperate and she was well recommended.

She used to arrive very early, when we got up the house was clean and organized. All the mess we had left the night before was miraculously gone; breakfast ready and served. While we had breakfast, she would clean the bedrooms, prepare our baths and leave clean and ironed clothes on our beds.  We would look at each other in doubt; wandering if we finally got luck after so many trials and errors. It was too good to be true. She used to surprise us each day with new flavors and delicious food. Where had she learned how to cook that well? The children loved her. They were always around her and they were enchanted by her almost inaudible singing. Whenever she realized we were listening to her, she would shut up ashamed.

We grew used to her tiny figure miraculously transforming our messy house into a home. One day we got up and although everything seemed in the right order there was something wrong. The house was clean and organized; breakfast served; baths ready; clothes ironed. We could not find what was wrong, but there was something. We didn’t know what was happening, but we were sure it was happening.

We wanted to complain, but about what? We felt threatened, but by what? Maybe we were getting mad. But when the children got irritated and intolerant again – how long had they been like angels? – We knew we were right: there was something wrong! We just needed to figure out what was threatening us. The truth is that we didn’t know anything about her. We had accepted her and the peace she had brought into our house without paying much attention to her. It was like God had sent her because we deserved it; we deserved a break and we got a break. We had never paid real attention to her. Were we being punished?

On the third day, felling paranoid, we realized what was wrong: there was an overwhelming silence growing inside the house. It was like a thick cloud. Everything was still clean and organized, but she was not singing. We felt ridiculous. That was the problem! Was it really a problem? We hadn’t hired her to sing. She looked like a little bird, but she wasn’t one. She was doing everything – actually more than – we hired her for. We tried to play our favorite songs, but they sounded out of key. Her mumbling was the only thing that would calm down the children. Could we ask her to start singing again? We had to!

In the following morning, when I sat down to have breakfast I asked her to sit down with me. I told her I wanted to talk to her. I had never seen someone so scared in my entire life. My heart missed a beat. I told myself I needed to be strong. She couldn’t look straight to me. Her crossed eyes watering and blinking. I could see her mouth trembling. She was paralyzed. I had to ask her to sit down once again. She sat down on the edge of the chair. If she had been so tiny the chair would have turned over her. Her eyes were glued to the floor and her hands – little hands; children’s hands – in pray. I felt I was the worst person on earth. I asked her if she liked to work for us. She nodded and looked me in the eyes. Hers were so pure that I felt like crying. I swelled and kept asking: Hadn’t we been good to her? She nodded emphatically. Then, feeling ridiculous, but not daring to not talk about it, I asked her what was the reason she was not singing anymore. She looked me in the eyes again and hers were then pouring down. She answered: “I can’t”. “Why?” I asked her. She struggled to look at me. When she did, she smiled. The saddest smile I’d ever seem. A toothless smile. “What happened?” I fell and lost them. I didn’t believe she had fallen, but I put her in my car and drove her to the dentist, who promised her she would have a nice looking smile after some days. She was so happy that peace came back to our lives.

A year went by. Things had never been so perfect. We had the nicest home; our children were adorable; the peace we had at home allowed us to have successful careers; we felt like we were on top of the world. I woke up one day without that coffee smell I had got used to. I stood up and when I opened the door I saw all the chaos we had left the night before. Where was she? She had never been late; she had never been absent. “I’m going to call her” I thought. And then I realized: “I don’t have her phone number!” I’m going to pick her up” but I didn’t know where. Feeling stupid, I managed to make weak coffee; to burn the bread and to put a rotten orange in the orange juice. The children refused to eat what I had prepared; I almost burnt myself in the bath and we flew by the door, in a very bad mood, with wrinkled clothes and yelling at each other. When we arrived, in the evening, nothing had changed. The mess was still there. We tried to organize ourselves and do the chores, but we didn’t know where to start. We decided to go to bed earlier, hoping she would be there the following day. She didn’t show up either. Three days later, when we had lost our hope, she came back. I was so anxious for her coming back that I woke up as soon as she touched the door knob. I ran to the kitchen and I saw her limping, bruises all over her face.

– “What happened?”

– “I fell.”

– Have you been to the doctor?”

– “No”.

I got into the bedroom to shake my husband and yelled at him.

– “Take care of the kids.”

I helped her to get into the car and took her to the ER.

After seeing her, he called me and told me she had been severely abused and beaten. He started asking me some questions, but I was useless. I didn’t know anything about her. She had brought the best to our lives and we had no clue who she was or who could have done that to her. I promised myself I would change that.

When she left the Hospital, I took her to the Police station to report her being abused. She kept saying she had fallen. We made her talk. She started telling us that she had met him many years ago. He was a very handsome man and she had been very cautious when he started flirting with her. Nobody had ever paid any attention to her. But he was very kind to her and so patient that she fell in love with him. He moved in and she got the job with us. Her singing came from all the happiness she felt then. Their lives changed when he lost his job. After losing it, she was the only one making a living. He couldn’t accept that situation; he started drinking and being jealous. One day she arrived late because she had missed the bus. When she opened the door the only thing she saw was his fists coming towards her face. She fell on the floor, blood coming down from her mouth. He hugged her, begging her forgiveness; he cleaned her mouth, took out the broken teeth, crying like a baby. She looked at me and said I had taken her to the dentist and I had given her smile back. After that, he stopped drinking and would accept any freelancer job he was able to get. He would paint, clean, build, fix anything he could. He started working in a construction site. Everything was going well, but a bean fell on him, breaking his leg and making him limping. As he was not legally hired, they didn’t pay for his treatment and he was even threated by them saying if he insisted they would make him pay for their loss. It didn’t take him long to start drinking again. She was scared because she could see that he had changed. She saw the bitterness growing inside him. However she trusted that her love would be enough to save them. They were advised to hire a lawyer to sue the company. But the lawyer got a bribe and they lost. The day they lost the lawsuit, she missed the bus and got home later than she used to. The last thing she remembered was opening the door and hearing through her pain: “You are mine! You won’t leave me! I’ll kill you if you leave me!” She wanted to tell him she would never leave him, but she wasn’t able to say anything because he was smashing her face down to the floor. She fainted and when she woke up she saw she was in bed, her wounds washed and taken care. He was lying on the floor beside the bed, crying. She stayed in bed for some days and when she felt strong enough to go to work, she got up and came to my house. He was still lying on the floor, crying for her forgiveness. I was so shocked that I told the police officer she was not going back. I told her she had to stay with us. She looked at us and told us that she loved him. She was sure he loved her as well. I told her he didn’t love her and he would end up killing her if she came back home. I took her to my house and told her she could not leave; otherwise I would have him arrested. I gave her no choice. I took our little bird home. I was so happy and proud of myself. I had saved her! I would take care of her the same way she had taken care of us.

After a few weeks I woke up in the middle of the night felling suffocated. I was hot. I got up to have a glass of water. While I was drinking the water in the kitchen I heard her singing very quietly. I smiled and I was going to bed but something made me open the door to the laundry room to see blood all over the floor. They were both on the floor, his head on her lap. She was caressing his head and singing to him; telling him that she would forgive him, but that he had to be brave and they would both survive that. When the ambulance arrived they were both dead. My husband telling me: “That bastard. He killed her!” I looked at him and told him he hadn’t killed her. I told him that our prejudice had killed them. I told him that our lack of real interest had killed them. Our blindness; our incapacity of seeing beyond the obvious had killed them and we would be cursed by the silence forever and ever.

Fotógrafo/Photographer: Stefano Paterna (direitos reservados/copyrighted)

www.stefanopaterna.com

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