Anita's Haven

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ACTIVE VS. PASSIVE – I accepted a duel challenge from Marcia Weber

on 23/02/2015

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ACTIVE VS. PASSIVE

I had travelled to the city for job interviews (don’t ask – only maybes, nothing  promising), and I’d just missed my buss home. The ride back would take three hours, and the next bus was in an hour. The last of my money was gone, just about covering the return bus-fare, leaving me with enough for this no-good, chocolate-covered donut which was now soothing my unemployment stress and lulling me into believing the best. I descended the steps next to the river bridge, and strolled along the cobble-path. It was empty, working hours still lasting for the blessed/cursed employed and school-kids. I liked the quiet, city noises in the background reminding me of reality.

A big manmade stone would serve well to relax. The job-hunt, family finances gripping tighter than an 18th-century corset, kids sick and hubbie laid-off… talk about a headache, right?

The stone was not empty. There was a book on it. I looked around for a possible owner. Nobody. Wiping the donut grease on a mother’s must-have wet hankie, I let curiosity shorten my wait.

No book. It was a leather-bound diary. The letters were neat, appearing like print from a distance. I swallowed my embarassment like a pill, read a passage, then skimmed. I unbuttoned my jacket a bit. Air grew thicker, my heartbeats louder, palms sweating.

‘Peter is unhappy. John is not around to talk to him man-to-man, and he won’t be back. Damned plane crash! Peter is only ten. I don’t know what to do. He won’t talk to me. His friends… Nobody knows why. ‘Moody teenagers,’ teachers said. My boy is pale, distant, quiet… I have to do something. Have to get back to work now. Think about this later.’

‘Peter forgot to lock up the bathroom. Had no idea why he locks himself in. Now I know. Oh the bruises! The scars! My hug hurt him. He pushed me away, sent me outside. He was hysterical, so I left. He wouldn’t talk at all. He let me tuck him in with cocoa. He tossed and turned, talked in sleep. Norman-something was mentioned, tears, screams, fear… The babysitter arrived. Time for my night shift.’

The lump in my throat seemed stuck in there and wouldn’t budge.

‘He made excuses about falling. Norman is 15, he said. Rough and tough. Nothing to worry about, he said. I skipped work to visit school again, talk to counsellor and teachers. All surprised. Yes, they know Norman, they would look into it. No, I couldn’t get his parents’ address. Peter came home with a busted lip. Locked himself in the bathroom. I shouted, I begged. My boss called, laid me off. Only the night job left now, cleaning public toilets. Who cares! I called some people and found out where Norman lived.’

‘Oh good, she’s going to talk to the mum,’ I thought.

‘No mum around. Norman’s dad was home. Drunk, high and armed. I twisted my leg falling down their stairs. Went to the police. Nothing they could do. I couldn’t file charges – no damage done. But they would look into it, they said. I asked friends to help. Nobody would. ‘Just tell Peter to stay away.’ Friends turned out to be acquaintances. Back to school. Teachers annoyed, warning me to stay away from Norman for my own good, not complicate things. I walked Peter home that day. Quietly.’

This was all beginning to sound familiar. My son had gotten quiet, too. A nasty bug started gnawing inside me. Today’s entry next.

‘I am desperate. Need work to get food. Need to keep Peter happy. Did the worst possible thing yesterday, after night shift. Got drunk. Peter left to school by himself, leaving a note. ‘I’ll be fine. Went to school.’ Some mother I am! Showered, dressed, called teacher – refused to talk to me, busy she said. I called the police – someone will look into it. Cleaned Peter’s room to calm myself down. Notebooks ripped, filled with threats. Trousers shoved under the bed smelled of urine, fresh blood stains around the zipper.’

I was choking on my own tears. Next passage, same date, last entry.

‘I am sitting by the river, thinking about everything. I was never a scholar. No ambition, just looking to get married. Did so, had a baby, husband died. Two jobs, low pay, no prospects, but had my son. My jewel! The only thing I did right in life! And now this! No friends, no connections, no money, my fault… I can’t help him. He’d be better off without me. Some family would adopt him, live the way he deserves, good school, away from Norman. Yes, better off without me…’

I dropped the diary and jumped up, scanned the water, thinking the worst. Nobody around.

Then I saw two boys coming under the bridge. The bigger one pulled the scrawny one by the rucksack, dishing insults learned without comprehension. The smaller boy tried to run away, but couldn’t. I rocketed towards them, to give Norman a piece of my mind and save Peter.

A woman’s silhouette appeared, fragile, skinny, plain. She stopped in front of them and said nothing. They stopped. Peter hid tears and shame in his jacket, falling to the ground. Norman stood, ready for a fight, spite masking fear. I froze, ready to jump in at any time. The lady said nothing.  She unclenched her fists and turned her face from Peter to Norman. She spread her arms wide and hugged Norman. Awkward, firm hug. She wouldn’t let go. She whispered something to Norman. His arms relaxed. He hugged back, tears washed his face. She let one hand reach Peter’s hair and stroked him gently. He rose. Norman fell down to his knees, crying. She kneeled and hugged both boys.

My mobile alarm vibrated. I hurried to catch the bus, go home, hug my son. And talk to him. Really talk.

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(This story is my response to a dueling challenge sent to me by author Marcia Weber. I couldn’t help it, so I linked it to a worldwide anti-bullying project I have been involved with for over a year now, called Inner Giant, but also to the character of Emma in a novel I have been working on for the last 3-4 years. I hope I have more to tell you about both projects by next year.)

Anita Kovacevic

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3 responses to “ACTIVE VS. PASSIVE – I accepted a duel challenge from Marcia Weber

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