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Short Stories and Essays
Diversitydiscover.com will publish short stories and essays that address diversity issues. Please check details under Submissions for submitting your Short Stories and Essays.

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Below is a deeply touching, real narration of the author's reunion with her sponsored Kenyan daughter, Beatrice Mwihaki Mwangi...

My Human Interest Narrative!

by

Lady Janét R. Griffin

Traditional holidays are for the birds. I cannot remember the last time that I really enjoyed the over-emphasized occasions. The last holiday was no different. It was the worst that I have had in several years. The usual feelings were in motion. Days of numbness attack with great ferocity, especially when the usual shopping malls have no more than a trashy glow of too much festive gaudiness and offensive “knock off” sales from heavens knows where. Routine silence hijacks the other days with empty promises and only random bouts of depression.  

When I returned to work from the last holiday, I cloistered in my office, not wanting to interact with others who would certainly want to chew and chat about their family’s glad tidings. However, I wiled away some time reading my emails as I waited for my imagination to “kick in” with some innovative ideas for another wonderful school semester.

As I typed away at my personal computer, I became annoyed when my telephone kept ringing and distant voices kept chattering in the background.  I thought to myself, “Someone is making a prank!”  “How dare such disrespect, I mused.” Ironically, I had to admit that there had been other times of telephone pranks. So I returned to my computer for comfort, quietude, and a bit more solace to calm and to mask my apparent annoyance. Needless to say, my telephone rang once again; the third or the fourth time, as I recall, forced me to slam the telephone into its receiver.

I tried to continue my typing, but my ideas for next semester syllabus were interrupted again with another ring! Ring! I grabbed the telephone with the notion to disconnect it from the electrical outlet. In my clumsy handling of the telephone cord, my spirit was revived when I heard a voice trying to talk over other background chattering and stating in a heavily accented voice, “I want to speak to Mrs. Griffin; I want to speak to Mrs. Janet Griffin!”

The telephone caller, in an inconsolable voice, spoke my name and said,” I have prayed and prayed for years that I would be able to find you and to thank you for providing for me and for my family many years ago.” Islumped in my chair, and I tried to calm my palpitating heart. Trying to catch my breath at the same time as I was trying desperately to remember meandering sections of my past was more than a notion for one who had lived more than half a century.  Slowly, I began to have flashbacks of yesteryears’ memories, and tears accompanied my mental process. I remembered more than I wanted in my panicky state. I remembered that two of my sponsored children had died; both were from Haiti. Then, in another glaring and most revealing flashback, I remembered another sponsored little girl whom I nurtured during the same time when I was raising my own biological children. I chided myself for such silly thoughts because that was so long ago, and I had lost touch with her and her family so many years ago.

Yet, as I mulled in a quandary, the voice on the telephone began refreshing my memory by spelling her family name. As the letter “Mwi” then “haki” became a visual image in my mind, I realized that I knew only one person in the world whose name began with such odd lettering “m”, “w”, “I”. I began to feel warm tears cascading down my cheeks and to feel my body tremble uncontrollably!

As the telephone monologue continued and after hearing my long-lost sponsored daughter repeat in rapid successions, “I have prayed and prayed that one day I would find you and be able to thank you for my education when I was a little girl and for assisting my family.” I was speechless; I was touched deeply! I just languished in my chair thinking, “Telephone call is from my lost sponsored daughter.” I wondered how anyone from so many years ago could find me. Later, I learned that I could thank the invention of the Internet, a medium of communication that I was still trying to appreciate. I swelled with joy and pride as I remembered that I was her sponsor many years ago (1970's-1990's), and she grew, developed, and received her education during the same time when I was raising my own biological children!

I recall now that I was contacted by the Christian Children Fund to inform me that my sponsored daughter had gotten lost or misplaced in some kind of tribal warfare. I lost contact sometime in the 1990's, and I mourned my loss as I did when I buried my own children.  I never thought that I would ever see or receive letters from her again, for the devastation of tribal war had taken its toll and scattered families every where. All I had left were files of letters, cumulated grade school report cards, a few photographs and greeting cards, and my office bulletin board filled with sponsored children; some from Haiti and the others from Africa.   Oftentimes, my students visiting during office hours would sit and listen to my proud pronouncements and narratives.  

"Beatrice, when she was a younger girl,her brother, and her grandmother. Beatrice is wearing a white dress with a gold colored belt that I sent her, and grandmother is wearing a white shawl that I crocheted for her years ago."

Today, my sponsored daughter, Beatrice Mwihaki Mwangi, is in her forties, has four children (two girls, one boy, and one orphan boy). She and her family are thrilled to be re-united, thanks to the telephone, electronic mail, and to Facebook.  I can hear joy and happiness in their voices; I can see my little girl in the face of my sponsored daughter as an adult.  I have a family again!


Beatrice, and one of her sons, Peter Mwangi

In many ways, I am still in a state of shock, for I never thought that I would hear from this particular sponsored daughter ever again.  The continent of Africa seemed so far way then, and today, it seems just as far! Although I am most appreciative of computer technology and of world wide communication, I am appreciative equally of a time in my life when I nurtured and cared for a little African girl from Nairobi, Kenya who now lives in Nyahururu, Kenya. She has grown, developed, and matured into a warm, loving, kind mother, who dreams of guiding her own family!

Lady Janét R. Griffin

 

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‘THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE GIFTED’

…a poignant and funny short story by a mother about her son who has High Functioning Autism, Bi-Polar and is Dyslexic…

By

Elise Paterson

INTRODUCTION

When out walking one summer Sunday afternoon we had stopped by a shallow in the river where my grandchildren were playing... a grandmother nearby felt she had to excuse her grandson’s slightly frantic and noisy behaviour. ‘He’s autistic’ she said, by way of explanation.

I told her that my son had been diagnosed with ‘High Functioning Autism’ seven years ago. Age 30!

‘I call his afflictions ‘The Afflictions of the Gifted’ as he is dyslexic, autistic and has bipolar syndrome. Despite, or because of these afflictions his mind is always whirling with new ideas, possible new inventions. He is very intelligent and gained his degree in Aerospace Engineering Design albeit over a longer period than normal.’

I know not all people with these afflictions are gifted, but many gifted people have one or several of these or other afflictions.

Just think of some of the great minds and artists both from history and to-day.

The grandmother beamed and said what a lovely way to think of him and that she would pass it on to his parents.

I hope my son’s story will help you to identify with, and take heart from, some of his idiosyncrasies and see the sun shining wherever you can.

‘THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE GIFTED’

Alexander, now age thirty, and I are being interviewed by the local psychologist specialising  in Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

A friend of his sister, who runs a home for adults with learning difficulties, said Alexander sounded as though he might be autistic from what she had been told. I mentioned this to him and asked if he thought it a good idea to find out. ‘Yes, if it explains why I am like I am’ was his reply.

Arrangements were made through Alexander’s G.P. to see a psychologist so here we are. Apparently it is important for the mother to attend with her offspring during the diagnosis.

‘Didn’t you notice he was different from the other children?’  was the first question the psychologist asked me.
‘Different? Eccentric definitely’ I answered. ‘There are a few of those in our family, and probably in most families. 

You just accept that. I knew he was different from before he was born. The only time I remember him moving when I was pregnant was when I had a bath, and his sisters and I would collapse with laughter as my stomach made huge moves, completely changing shape. Otherwise I would poke my tummy and ask ‘Are you still alive in there?’

‘And as a baby?’ prompted the psychologist.

Well, he never paid any attention to pictures shown him, but would laugh and gurgle when people played with him and he liked listening to music. During his first ‘milestone’ assessment it transpired he had a dominant right hand and a dominant left foot.  He loved banging a small drum he had been given for his second Christmas, and playing with building blocks. He started walking when he was about eighteen months and talking clearly at about two and a half years.’ 

‘When he was three he decided to wear a bow-tie to a friend’s birthday party, even though I pointed out that the other boys would probably all be in t-shirts. He never felt the need to conform. Still doesn’t, but he was a popular boy and had some good friends.  He could make the other children laugh.’

‘And at school. How was he there?’ the psychologist asked me, even though Alexander was sitting beside me and seemed quite relaxed and interested in his questions and my answers. 

The funniest incident at primary school was one day after PE. His teacher phoned me after school to ask me if Alexander ever dressed himself. ‘’Well’, I answered,’ he starts getting dressed at seven thirty a.m. and I usually have to ‘finish him off’ after breakfast otherwise he would never get to school on time. Why do you ask?’

‘To-day, after PE Alex stood in the middle of the floor, held up his clothes and asked ‘Who will dress me?’ His teacher said. ‘And as sure as eggs are eggs one little girl said ‘I will’ – and she did. Alex just stood there and let her. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry’, she finished. Neither did I, but I was somehow not surprised.

‘His writing was illegible and he made the most of not having any lines on the page – a new fad in education at the time supposed to encourage the children’s  creativity - which Alex made the most of. He wrote from left to right, right to left, diagonally. No-one could make neither head nor tale of it. It worked a treat as, of course, nothing could be marked!

Oh, he bed-wetted until he was seven when it just stopped spontaneously. I put it down to an underdeveloped bladder as nothing we did had any effect.

‘And later on at Middle School?’ the psychologist prompted.

Alexander had still not been asked any questions, but didn’t seem to feel excluded, just smiled and laughed sometimes when I recounted some of his exploits.

‘Well there he was the class clown, diverting attention away from the lesson.  Must have been a nightmare for any teacher. He managed never to hand in any finished piece of work by ‘dropping books in puddles’, losing his homework, there was always a reason for him not having done the work. He was quite inventive with his excuses.’

By now both Alexander and I realised he had a problem with learning, so I talked to the headmaster about him possibly being dyslexic. I had read a bit about this condition and thought this may be the reason for his learning difficulties, but there was no help or guidance to be had there as he just dismissed the idea and felt Alexander was just a rather dim boy being disruptive to get attention.

I found out later that one of the teachers at Primary School had attended a course on dyslexia in young children and thought Alex might be dyslexic. She had notified the Headmaster of The Middle School, but it must have got lost in the transition.’

‘As Alexander grew so did his frustration. He got into fights and hurled things in temper. He had an exaggerated sense of justice – or rather injustice.’

‘He became belligerent at home as well, but luckily he found release by playing on the drum-set he had inherited from his father which was set up in his bedroom. Alexander was a natural drummer. Even the neighbours said they enjoyed hearing him. No complaints. No mean feat. He never ‘went mad’ when playing them.

‘Alexander did not go on to the local Comprehensive School.  One of the teachers had been slashed in the face with a knife by a pupil the term before he would have started and I could see him ending up in a school gang and getting into trouble.’

‘There was some money in a family trust which helped towards paying for private education for him. Getting him into a school was soul-destroying as he failed one entrance exam after another.  Mentioning dyslexia at that time was deemed an excuse for stupidity or incompetence.

He was finally accepted by a minor Public School set in beautiful grounds surrounded by wooded hills, a river and a lake.    Best of all the whole school revolved around the Army Cadets which Alexander took to like a duck to water. He loved all the outdoorsy stuff and shone at orienteering and loved the formality of Army training.

There was a Dyslexia Unit up the hill from the school in the village and I requested that the school liaise with them and for Alexander to be assessed. Unfortunately this did not happen until after two, mostly happy, years there( without him handing in any finished work, yet again) when they decided to bring in an independent Educational Psychologist to assess some of the pupils.

Alexander was severely dyslexic with a high I.Q.

‘Do you understand what this report means?’ I asked him as he sat looking forlorn on a bench when I came out of the meeting.

‘Does it mean I’m not thick?’

Tears welled up in my eyes, and still do when I recall his response. ‘Yes it does’ I answered as I smiled and hugged him.

The report was twelve pages long. A beautiful passport to the help he so dearly needed.

Finding a new school had us again trawling the country and even with the report most of the specialist schools deemed his educational needs beyond their capability. We eventually ended up at a relatively new, small school for dyslexic boys in Somerset.  Instead of an exam Alexander had to take an I.Q. test after which he had an interview.

Alexander’s housemaster at his last school had been a gentle man, and over a cup of tea  the afternoon we were leaving, he said he was sorry I had decided to take my son away ‘As we have boys here with dyslexia and the condition has no bearing on their O-Level results’, he said benignly. I just looked at him and smiled and said how much Alexander had enjoyed his time here at the school, but I felt a change was needed. There was no point in explaining my reason as he clearly did not comprehend the special needs of a child with this problem.

Whilst sitting there in his study I had a flash-back to a phone-call I received from Alexander one afternoon during his last summer term. ‘I’ve got detention because I keep making the same mistakes in my history essay which I handed in for the third time. I tried to get it right Mum, I really did.’ He sounded desperate and angry. ‘What are you going to do?’ I asked. ‘I thought of going for a swim as it’s warm and sunny’ he replied. ‘If I were you I’d go swimming too’ I agreed.

It was definitely the right decision to change schools.

Alexander’s new school was a great success. He had quite a lot of ground to make up, his work improved as did his self-esteem and confidence and he had three happy years there. He got into scrapes, some quite bad, but the staff knew how to deal boys like him. The school had 87 of them!

It was lovely to have Alexander at home again after all these years, and much less travelling. He started  at the local Sixth-Form College where he doggedly re-sat his English O-level exam. Fourth time lucky! His perseverance was fuelled by his ambition to join the Army and train as an officer. A dream never fulfilled.

This, however, enabled him to get in to a Technical College where he obtained his National Diploma and Higher National Diploma in engineering, earning him enough points to get into university.

He has always loved aeroplanes since he was tiny, in fact planes, drums and Land Rovers, oh and Lego and then Meccano, have been his only real interests in life, so he applied to study Aerospace Engineering Design at university and was accepted.

Alexander was proudly awarded a high 2nd Class honours degree, nine years later.    

After the first year he found the course and university life too onerous and ‘dropped out’.  For the next six years he took all sorts of jobs, but driving delivery vans was what he liked best, though he was always designing and inventing in his spare time.

He lived in a flat-share not far from home, when one day he phoned me to tell me he was coming home to live.
In the meantime I had moved to a smaller house so he would have to share the room I had set up for treatments. I am a therapist

He looked gaunt and unhappy and said he had been hearing voices in his head telling him to drive off the road.

The G.P. diagnosed Bi-polar Disorder which luckily was not severe and his condition stabilised on a low dose of medication.

The psychologist was now talking to Alexander and going through a questionnaire ticking boxes as he got answers.

‘Well,’ he said after the last page was filled in ‘You are definitely on the Autistic Spectrum.  High Functioning Autism’, he concluded. ‘How do you feel knowing that? He asked looking at Alexander who smiled and said’ NowI know why I am as I am. That feels good’!

Alexander went back to university after visiting his former tutor regarding an aeronautical invention he had designed, who advised him the best thing he could do was to finish his degree.

After university he set up his own company in structural engineering as he knows he could never work for anyone else, the proceeds from which will finance the patenting and testing of his first invention. He is never ‘phased’ by any rejection which is great in business!

Alexander currently lives with his fiancée in London where he works, plays in a band, is an instructor with the Air Force Cadets and is getting married next summer. His future looks rosy.

Many artists, inventors and mathematicians have suffered from ‘The Afflictions of the Gifted’ as I have been telling Alexander since his diagnoses.

He can still make people laugh and definitely does not disappoint in being ‘quirky’.

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THE STORY: MATILDA

by

Ransford W. Palmer

The diversity of the human mind is very interesting.  Why do we think the way we do, or say the things we do, or do the things we do?  What makes us decide to do one or the other?  Why do we make certain choices?  Below is a crisp short story written by Professor of Economics, Dr. Ransford Palmer, originally from the Caribbean, who was impressed by Harry Belafonte’s (whose father was from Jamaica) hit song, Matilda.  The story is a good example of the diversity of the human mind!

Brief description of the song, Matilda:
From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_(song)

"Matilda is a calypso (sometimes spelled Mathilda) song lamenting a woman who took a man for all he was worth. The song dates back to at least the 1930s, when calypso pioneer, King Radio, (the stage name of Norman Span) recorded the song. It became a hit in 1953 when it was recorded by Harry Belafonte. Songwriting credit is conventionally given as Harry Thomas. Sometimes, additional names are listed, including Belafonte's.

The first recording of the song by Harry Belafonte was on April 27, 1953, becoming his first full-release single. The oft-repeated phrase in his rendition of the song is like the following, emphasizing the syllables of the subject's name as shown: Hey! Ma-til-da; Ma-til-da; Ma-til-da, she take me money and run a-Venezuela.”

A short write up in the author’s own words appears below his picture

Ransford Palmer

“I am a Graduate Professor of Economics at Howard University and a former chairman of the Economics Department. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and my Ph.D degree at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Before Howard, I taught at Keuka College in New York, Central Connecticut State University in Connecticut, and the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I have written extensively on economic development issues in the Caribbean where I grew up. My most recent book is The Caribbean Economy in the Age of Globalization (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). I am currently working on my memoir of my American journey.

The possibility of a short story on Matilda, the woman in the Harry Belafonte song, has lingered in the back of my mind for years.  I was motivated by the opportunity to give her a life of her own so that she could tell her side of the story. As it turns out, her story is that of a woman of substance.”

THE STORY: MATILDA

by

Ransford W. Palmer

In Search of Matilda

One of Harry Belafonte’s most popular calypsos was ‘Matilda’:  “Matilda, Matilda, she tek me money and run Venezuela.” I decided to go in search of Matilda to get her side of the story.

I arrived at the Caracas airport on a bright Sunday morning and boarded a taxi for the city. The driver was a young man, about 25. And he spoke English. Along the way, I struck up a conversation with him. I asked him if he had ever heard of a woman named Matilda who took Belafonte’s money and run Venezuela. He thought for a moment and, to my surprise, he said he remembered his parents talking about the woman when he was a boy. I asked him if he thought he could find her house. He hesitated for awhile but agreed to give it a try.

He came off the main highway leading into the city and turned into what looked like a comfortable middle class residential area. He admitted that his recollection was foggy but he did remember a house with a red door in this neighborhood. We drove around for about half an hour, passing light poles with Chavez signs and nicely manicured front yards with bright flowers. The taxi driver slowed down as if he were approaching the house he remembered. He came to a stop and pointed to a house with a red door on our left.

I stared at the house for a few moments and wondered whether I should get out of the taxi. After all, I thought, I am a total stranger to this woman. What would I say if someone actually appeared when I knocked on the door?  I calmed my nerves, stepped out of the taxi, walked across the street and entered an unlocked wooden gate about three feet high and painted green. I brushed against the overgrown bougainvillaea and climbed the three steps to the door. I knocked three times.

What if whoever answers the door doesn’t speak English, I thought.  I would look foolish standing there because my Spanish is minimal. But then I was emboldened with the thought that if it was really Matilda’s house, there was a high probability that she spoke English. After all, she was with Belafonte in New York. In fact, she lived in New York for most of her youthful years and probably went to high school in Brooklyn.

The door opened and lovely young woman appeared. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen. I knew she couldn’t be Matilda. She looked at me quizzically and said, “Yes”,  as if she thought I had lost my way, or perhaps was selling something. “Is Matilda here,” I asked. “Who are you,” she demanded. “I am a writer from America doing a feature story on successful Venezuelan women,” I replied. She turned her head toward the room and shouted, “Mom, there is someone hear to see you.”

I didn’t know what she might look like. All I really knew about her was that she was described as a beautiful woman by a local newspaper when the incident occurred. It was thirty years ago when she took the five hundred dollars from under Harry’s pillow and caught a Pan Am flight from Kennedy to Caracas. She couldn’t have been more than twenty then. As I tried to imagine what she might look like now, a large woman appeared   and filled the doorway. I told her who I was.  “Are you the Matilda who took Belafonte’s money and run Vene…,” Before I could finish my question she launched into a tirade against Harry. “He’s been singing about this for years. He’s made more money singing about it than I took from him,” she said. “So Belafonte wasn’t making it up when he said you took his money and run Venezuela,” I enquired. “But his lyrics are misleading. He gave the world the impression that I took something that didn’t belong to me and absconded,” she said. At that point I began to see another side to the story emerging.

“The reason I am here is to get your side of the story so that the public can know what really went down,” I said. A smile came across her face and I felt I was beginning to win her confidence. “Was the five hundred dollars that you took your money or his?,” I enquired. As she was about to answer, the taxi driver blew his horn which interrupted her. Sensing that the driver was becoming impatient, I arranged to meet Matilda the following day to hear the rest of the story.

 The Next Day

I arrived at Matilda’s house at 5:30 pm on Monday afternoon, as we had agreed, at our   meeting on Sunday. At the door she greeted me warmly and invited me in. She had just arrived from work and was dressed in a smart blue suit.

“How are you,” I asked.
“It was a busy day at the ministry today,” she replied.
“The ministry?” I queried with a tone of curiosity and surprise.
“Yes, I work for the Venezuelan foreign ministry,” she said calmly.

She showed me to the living room and motioned me to sit on a brightly decorated stuffed chair while she sat on a green sofa a few feet across from me under a painting of Simon Bolivar. She slipped her shoes off and folded her legs onto the sofa. The room was bathed with the light of the late afternoon sun. Through the open windows I could see a flock of parrots descending on a fruit tree in the backyard. A gentle breeze wafted through the windows and played with a strand of her hair.

All kinds of questions danced in my head about her job but I withheld them to focus on the main purpose of my visit: her time in America. She knew my purpose from our brief previous meeting and she did not wait for me to initiate the questioning.

“Harry has given the world an unfavorable impression of me,” she began. “You might say he took things out of context. But I wonder if people are interested in the context after so many years,” she asked rhetorically.
“Context is why I am here, and only you can provide it.” I said.
“I felt I was libeled by that song,” she continued. “For a while I thought seriously about changing my name.”
“What would you have changed it to?” I asked
“I thought of Esmeralda, but I felt I would be hiding behind a name.”
“ But the name Matilda is only in people’s imagination. They don’t think you are real” I suggested.
“But you are sitting across from me and you know I am real,” she countered.
“I always thought you were real and that’s why I am here,” I said.

A gentle smile spread across her face.
Matilda had the mien of a woman of means. She was relaxed and confident. Her earrings glistened through her flowing brunette tresses and the gold bands on her wrists sparkled against a ray of sunlight.

“How did you meet Harry? I asked.

“I was a student at Brooklyn College, majoring in international affairs. My mother had sent me to live with my aunt in Brooklyn so that I could improve my English. It was my junior year and Harry was invited by the student association to perform. He had a little calypso band with him and he captured the crowd. After the performance, he mingled with the students and I introduced myself to him. He said this was his first college gig.”

She seemed to relish the recollection of the enthusiasm of all those who had gathered around Harry. She had her own assessment of the performance.

“To be honest, the band looked like a bunch of stragglers but I saw something in Harry’s voice that told me he could go far. We became friends over the months that followed. Harry seemed to be always behind in his rent. He had a small apartment in Flatbush and his landlady was always threatening to evict him. He was sometimes three months behind even though his rent was a modest $175 a month.”

She seemed a bit mystified by his precarious existence. Perhaps it was the sense of living on the edge that made Harry attractive to her. 

“Were you being supported by your aunt?” I enquired.
“Only partially, my mother sent me a regular allowance and paid my school fees. I also had a part-time job in the college cafeteria, so I was able to save a small amount of money for extras. One day on my way home…”

Her cell phone rang and interrupted her.
“Hello. Hi Bela. I am here with that writer from America. Is everything OK? Try to get home by nine. I’ll prepare something. And say hello to Miguel. Bye.”
After a three-minute conversation, she turned to me.
“Bela is my daughter. You met her yesterday. She is visiting with her boyfriend.”

Daylight was fading as the sun slipped away leaving a golden glow on the sky. She arose from the sofa and switched the lights on.
“May I offer you a latté or perhaps a glass of wine?” she asked.
“Coffee keeps me up at night. I’ll take a glass of wine, thanks,” I replied.

She brought two glasses of white wine and handed one to me.
“Chilean Chardonnay,” she said. “We’ve been importing a lot since our new trade agreement.”
She returned to the sofa.

“Where was I,” she enquired
“You were on your way home one day,” I refreshed her memory.
“Yes. One day I was on my way home from work and ran into Harry. He looked down and out. He said his landlady was threatening to throw his meager belongings out on the sidewalk if he didn’t come up with $525 for three months rent. He was at his wits end and was a step away from homelessness.”

At that moment the tone of her voice became more serious as if she was reliving Harry’s plight. She took a sip of wine.

“So what did you do?” I asked.
She hesitated for awhile as if preparing to recollect a pivotal moment.

“I offered to give him the money from my savings,” she said, “but he refused to take it, apparently embarrassed by the thought of taking money from a woman. I knew that he needed the money and as he began to walk away, I said, ‘Harry, wait. Let’s make a bargain. I will lend you the money and you can pay me back as soon as you are able.’ He agreed.”

“As the months passed, Harry’s fortunes were beginning to pick up. He was pulling in a steady stream of engagements at local night clubs. I was busy at the college trying to maintain my B+ average. I had gotten an A on my last final exam of the spring semester in Latin American History and felt very good about myself.

“I headed home to break the good news to my aunt, Elfreda. When I arrived home she looked awfully sad.”

Matilda paused for while as if to control her emotions.

“My aunt said that she had received word that my mother had died.”

The memory of that moment was so fresh in her mind that I could see a small stream of tear trickling down her left cheek. She reached for a hanky and dabbed it.

“This was the biggest shock of my life,” she said. “I am my mother’s only child. Somehow I thought she would live forever. At that moment, even with my aunt, Elfreda,      standing near me and consoling me, I felt I was alone in the world. I had to leave immediately for Caracas to make arrangements.”

Again she fell silent as if to ponder that moment once again.

“When I went to the Pan American ticket office,” she continued, “the airfare was a lot more than I expected. My aunt was not able to help with the fare so I tried to find Harry to retrieve the money that I had lent him. I couldn’t find him so I checked with his landlady and she told me that he had gone to New Haven to perform at a college there and would not be back for days.

“I had always had good relations with his landlady so when I told her that I needed to get something urgently from his apartment, she gave me a key. I was trying to find my $525.  Harry never liked to deposit money in a bank. He was a man on the move and he always kept it in a drawer in the night stand beside his bed where it was instantly accessible. Sometimes he would keep some under his pillow since no one ever came into his apartment to make up his bed.

“I searched through the top drawer and to my surprise I saw a black and white snapshot   of both of us, taken at the college when he performed there. Way in the back of the drawer was a pile of money – about $2500. Harry was getting frequent engagements and although each one did not pay very much he was able to accumulate some savings. I took $500 from the drawer, not from under his pillow as he was later to sing about. And I left a note that I took it.

“I arrived in Caracas a sad woman to bury my mother. My whole world had changed. I inherited the house, a small insurance policy, and some money in a savings account that allowed me to meet immediate expenses.”

As I listened, I began to feel sorry for her. She had only completed her junior year in college and she was home alone in Caracas. But I sensed that the experience had transformed her into a resilient woman.

“I was determined to complete my college education,” she said, “so I applied to the Central University of Venezuela and they accepted me and gave me credit for my Brooklyn College work. I used my mother’s insurance money to pay for my tuition. I graduated in a year and my advisor encouraged me to go on to do a master’s degree in international studies. He also arranged a graduate assistantship for me and I was able to graduate in less than two years.”

“What were your plans after graduation? I enquired.
“In my last year in graduate school, I met Ernesto. He was a graduate student in petroleum engineering. We fell in love and got married. After we both graduated, I got a job in the Venezuelan foreign ministry and he got a job with one of the big oil companies. Life was good for us. A year later, Bela was born. Today she is twenty and a junior at Florida International University. She is home for the summer.”

She was obviously delighted to have Bela home for the summer because she was not only her daughter but a good friend and companion as well.

“Seven years into our marriage I had a second major tragedy in my life. My husband , Ernesto, was killed in an oil refinery explosion on the coast of the Gulf of Paria. It was heart rending. I was left alone to raise my daughter. All this happened at a time when I was advancing in the ministry. I was promoted to the position of senior foreign service     officer in the diplomatic service and was recommended for my first posting abroad as Chargé d’Affaires in the embassy in Kingston. I had no choice but to take Bela with me at the tender age of six.”

It was approaching nine o’clock and I heard the voices at the door. It was Miguel bringing Bela home. As they entered the living room, I greeted them both and asked Matilda to call a taxi. The taxi arrived in a few minutes and I bid goodbye to Matilda.
“It was good of you to come. I hope your readers will appreciate the context” she said.
“Perhaps someday I can tell them about your Jamaican experience.” I hinted.
She smiled.

Matilda in Washington

 I woke up Friday morning to find a message on my phone from the Venezuelan embassy. A young female voice said,
“Miss Matilda Sandoval would like you to call her before 12:00 noon at her cell phone   number…...”

This was a big surprise. I had no idea whether she was in Caracas, Washington, or even Kingston. I sensed that something must be wrong. Perhaps it might be her daughter Bela. It was a fine spring morning and my only plan for the day was to work in my garden. But the 12:00 o’clock deadline bothered me so I called the number.
A woman answered. I recognized her voice. It was Matilda.

“Matilda, is that really you? I enquired.
“Yes, it’s really me and I am in Washington,” she said.
“This is a big surprise. What brings you here?
“I am here as a member of a delegation and today is my last day in town. But before I leave I would like to see the cherry blossoms. Can you pick me up and take me there?
“Sure, no problem,” I said. “Where are you now?”
“I am at the Omni Shoreham on Connecticut Avenue.”
“Please wait for me at the entrance to the lobby. I’ll be there in about an hour,” I instructed her.

I arrived at the hotel entrance and saw a woman with the face of Matilda and the body of someone else. I stopped the car and rolled the passenger window down to be certain.  She recognized me instantly.

“It’s good to see you again, Matilda,” I greeted her. “You look quite different from the last time I saw you in Caracas.”
“I have lost a lot of weight after a year of regular workouts,” she said. “Now I can wear some of my favorite clothes.”

She wore a light green sweater and a white skirt with a floral design and a floral silk scarf around her neck. We drove to the Tidal Basin and strolled under the cherry blossoms among an unusually large crowd of people. It was a mild spring day and the blossoms were a little past their peak. Matilda took a few pictures. And after a long stroll, we found a bench that gave us a picturesque view of the Jefferson Memorial framed by the pink blossoms.

“We had two intense days of negotiations with the State Department about some visa issues. Tomorrow morning I fly home,” she said as a mild wind blew the petals from the trees. A few landed on her hair.

As we watched the parade of cherry blossom watchers, we heard a little girl scream. She had fallen into the Tidal Basin and her father jumped in to retrieve her. She wasn’t hurt but she was wet and terrified. Matilda’s eyes were glued to the scene.

“This reminds me of an incident in Jamaica,” she recollected. “I had taken my daughter, Bela, on a one-day trip to Ocho Rios when she was just about the age of that little girl. We decided to climb Dunn’s River Falls. We ascended the falls as part of a line of tourists with hands linked.  Further up, the line broke up and Bela stayed close to me as we tried to climb a steep section. She fell and the water washed her out of my reach.  I panicked. Fortunately, she was rescued by a nearby tour guide and she resumed the climb without even hurting her pride.”
“How long did you stay in Jamaica?” I asked.
“Eighteen months. It was a challenging eighteen months because it was my first posting and I constantly worried about Bela’s schooling,’ she said.
“How did you manage her schooling?
“The embassy was able to identify a good primary school and I enrolled her there.”
“Did you come away with any particular impressions of life in Jamaica?’  
“Well, we lived in a nice apartment high on the side of the mountain,” she reminisced. “From there we could see all of Kingston and its harbor below us. I enjoyed the isolation from the bustle of the city. Even from that far away, I could occasionally hear strains of the ubiquitous reggae music wafting up at night from week-end dance parties below.

A few more petals floated down.

“I also remember how challenging the roads were, especially that little scary bridge across a stream on the way to Ocho Rios,” she continued.
“You mean Flat Bridge over the Rio Cobre,” I explained,
“That’s a river?” she asked with mock surprise.
“Well, it’s not the Orinoco, but it does get bigger when it rains,” I assured her.

I continued to probe her time in Jamaica.

“Aside from your administrative duties in the embassy, did you get a chance to meet the local people?” I queried.
“Not as much as I would have liked. It seemed as if I was always busy organizing social events that brought business and government people together. I was surprised to discover that so many of the young Jamaican business professionals studied in America.”

The parade of cherry blossom visitors was thinning out as the mid-afternoon sun bathed the Jefferson monument in a golden glow.

“Are you hungry?’ I enquired.
She looked at me with a grin and said, “I am starving.”

I took her to the Pier 7 restaurant on the waterfront for a late lunch. The waiter seated us at a table by a window and we could see boats bobbing at anchor.
As we studied the menu, I asked her if she would like a glass of Chardonnay. 
She nodded in the affirmative and said with a smile, “As long as it’s Chilean.”

 The waiter brought our wine and took our lunch order.
She ordered the crab imperial and I ordered salmon.

As the waiter left, I raised my glass: “This is to wish you a safe trip back home.”
She raised hers in acknowledgement.
“Thank you,” she said. “Our meetings always seem so brief.”

For a moment she became pensive as if she were pondering a troubling thought.

“Bela is graduating from university this year,” she said, “and she may want to have an apartment of her own. I don’t know how I am going to adjust to that”

I sensed a mixture of joy and sadness in her voice as she was clearly dreading the thought of being home alone after Bela is gone.

“But you are a successful woman, and an attractive one too,” I reassured her. “You shouldn’t have any trouble attracting friends, especially eligible men.”

She was tickled by my compliment.

“At my age, it seems as if all the eligible men are married.” She said.  Pausing for awhile, she added with a note of optimism, “Perhaps I shouldn’t say ‘all’, but ‘most’.”
“When you were in Jamaica, no one attracted your attention? I continued to probe.

The waiter brought our orders and she tasted her hot crab imperial.

“How is it?”  I asked
“Very good! Better than I expected,” she replied.

She returned to my question about her time in Jamaica.

“When I was in Jamaica, I had to fend off overtures from married men,” she continued. “In one case I had to use my diplomatic skills to distance myself amicably from an eager young professional who couldn’t take no for an answer.”

A few moments of quiet intervened as we worked on our lunch.

She broke the silence. “After I returned from my tour in Jamaica, I began to date two friends. They both want to marry me,” she said with air of a woman struggling to make a choice.

My interest was perked as I waited anxiously to hear the details.

 “One is five years younger than me,” she continued. “He owns a chain of gyms across the country, including the one where I regularly work out. He helped me a lot in my weight reduction program. He’s never been married.”
“And the other,” I gently nudged her.
“The other is ten years older than me and is the president of a think tank in Caracas and a widower. He has two grown daughters. I met him at one of my many official functions.”
“I take it that you have not yet made a decision?” I asked
“No, I have not,” she said firmly.

She obviously had spent sometime thinking about making a choice and how her daughter will respond to the one she chooses.

“I need to talk this over with Bela,” she said calmly.

 The afternoon was slipping away and it was time for her to get back to the hotel to take care of some last minute details before her departure for Caracas. On the drive back, she was in good spirits.

“Thank you for a most enjoyable afternoon,” she said. “I’ll let you know how things turn out.”

 As she left the car I could see a cherry blossom petal still hanging in her hair.

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