Anita Pandey

Contributing Writer

Griselda propped her head inside where a lighted lamp spread its radiance over the ceiling, the walls, and the floor. He pushed the door away, and she fell in his arms and sobbed.

“Carlos?” her father said, looking at Victor. “Daniella?”

“We didn’t have the time to bring them,” Victor said and turned his head back at the road, “They were in School.” Griselda’s mother embraced her.

  Her mother led her inside the house and placed her on the couch she had been on  when Carlos was still sleeping in his crib. Her mother sat next to her and lent her shoulder.

“We’ll bring them home,” her mother said. “Somehow.”

Griselda nodded. “What time is it?”

“Half past eleven,” her father said looking over the clock on the wall behind her. She knew it was there, rattling.

“Soon it will be Daniella’s birthday,” she sighed. “She’ll be six years old. I can’t believe she grew so fast.”She glanced at her husband; he nodded and pursed his lips. He stared at the void whirling in the pit of her stomach, inching outward a second by second.

“Griselda,” her mother said. “Do you remember Carlos would follow me with his eyes… and he’d turn on his stomach trying to follow me. Hold my skirt.” Griselda nodded with a smile her mother mirrored, rubbing her shoulder.

Her mother turned to face the man across her. “Victor, you don’t know this, but Griselda was teaching Carlos to say daddy. You’d think a mother would want her son to call her first, but no.”

Victor  smiled and turned to look at his wife. Griselda wept her eyes and saw his clenched hands. She knew he had never been handcuffed and he felt the burning shame of leaving his children back, but his guilt came from asking her to join him and live in the two-bedroom apartment he had rented. Griselda had found a tricycle on the porch of their apartment when she had arrived. She had laughed at how silly he was to waste his money like that when Carlos could only lay on his stomach. Then Victor had done it again, but this time the tricycle was pink with a flower basket before the handle, for Daniella. When he bought the pink tricycle, she had sent him to get some ibuprofen for her. He had even carried her near the bathroom, so she didn’t need to walk far and set the TV remote on the sofa within her reach––no need to bend now.

She yawned, and her mother got up. Then she picked up her legs and fell on the sofa, and Victor came and set on the floor, near her head placing his palm over her forehead.

“We’ll bring them home, Griselda,” he said.

“Do you believe that?” she said.

He nodded. Griselda shook her head.

Her mother came back with two bowls in a tray and placed it on the floor, steams rose from the soup. Her mother had blocked the light, but Griselda shook her head to the soup. She didn’t want to throw up, so it was better to not give her stomach any reason to churn the remaining food in it. She turned away and hid her face on the pillow.

The next morning, she woke up and stepped out the door. She sat down on the chair against the wall when she caught a glance of her father coming toward the home, and a few men were with him. She squinted her eyes and watched them. She got up, but a middle-aged man gestured for her to be seated.

“My son also came back a few months ago,” he said. “He was alone.”

She nodded. “So many came with us too.”

“I came back here about four months ago with Javier,” another one said. “And I have no way of knowing where my son is.”

“How old is he?” she asked him.

“He’ll be fifteen in August,” he smiled. She nodded and smiled at him then glanced at her husband at the door. He stood next to her and greeted the men.

“Yours is still a child,” he said. “How could they do this to children?”

She glanced at her husband and stared at him. He pursed his lips and shook his head. Griselda also pursued him to find that pot of happiness and the brighter future for her son and daughter she didn’t know she wanted until she had her; every mother would want that for her children, for the child she suffered discomforts with smiles and joy in anticipation of his arrival. But her happiness was smothered in dreads and drowned in her own tears, for when she planned their future, she didn’t intend to leave them alone and hop in a plane and find herself out of her home. Griselda had only planned to chase them off to colleges. She hadn’t ever intended to leave Daniella a day before her birthday. That wasn’t the kind of mommy Griselda had envisioned she’d be. She hoped Daniella saw her cake in the refrigerator, and Carlos gave her birthday present that he had bought, even if it was a Superman figurine. She stood and turned at her heel and headed for the door. Victor tried to catch her arm before she could fall, but she pressed her palm on the wall, steadied herself, then walked. When she would bring them back home, she would throw her a party that she will never forget, and all her disappointments and fears would dry and dissipate in the air of her joy.

Victor followed her. “Griselda….”

“Did you hear that?” she shouted. “That man hasn’t found his son, and it has been months. And his son is fifteen. But Carlos is still a baby. And Daniella. They have never been alone before. They are afraid and lonely. What’ll they eat? How’ll they live? How will they spend nights alone?”

“Please,” Victor said. “Don’t give up, Griselda. Come on. You have to have a little faith in them.”

“They aren’t fifteen,” she shouted. “They don’t know anything. What if they hurt themselves trying to find food? They are crying for me. I know.”

“You have to be strong for them,” he said. “And for me.”

She shook her head in his chest.

That afternoon, Griselda sat down with her mother on the sofa while the unlit candles on the cake stood before her on the table. Her mother had brought out the photo album and the turn of the first page, and the photo of Carlos nestling against his grandmother’s chest came. She smiled at him. He had his eyes closed, and his thin lips spread fluffing his cheeks.

Victor had left the house at dawn and came without her children evening. He entered the bedroom and made his way around the bed while his eyes counted patterns on the carpet, and she followed his steps with her eyes. She wondered how many evenings until she would get to see her children.

“I will go with you,” she said.

He glanced up at her. “But where?”

“Wherever you go,” she said. “We put a roof over us once, we can do it again.”