The first thing I noticed was the smell.
It was a punishing smack in the nostrils, combining the sour sickening scent of death with something rotting, even worse than the old fish withering away for hours on end in the unforgiving West Indian sun, worse even than the rotting flesh of newly hung run-away negro slaves in the town centre.
Then I opened my eyes - which did not exactly help much in orientating myself.
Everything was blurred as though I had been weeping - I had not yet eliminated this possibility - and the world had changed from distinctive, recognisable shapes into the harsh colours of yellow, orange and red. I must have been lying in my mother’s bed, but in that moment I couldn’t recognise anything, nor could I feel much more than the sharp pains in my everything and the world burning around me. Even breathing hurt.
“ Mamá?” I asked, giving in to the instinctive and needing child in me. I always prided myself on my adultness, on my ability to function quite well without any paternal help, but trapped inside my mind, shivering despite the flames upon my skin I couldn’t help myself. “ Où êtes-vous?”
No answer came.
Blurred memories started resurfacing.
My mother, hugging me. Singing old French nursery rhymes in my ear to get me to fall asleep, clutching me to her chest as though I were still a babe. The bloodletting, the unforgiving enema treatments - it all came rushing back.
I didn’t feel mamá’s arms around me now. Nor could the smell of death be her; she always smelled of roses and chocolate, of sunshine. “ Mamá?” I repeated again; louder this time, ignoring the burning of my lungs. It felt as though I had swallowed a bucket of water.
“Mamá, s’il vous plaît ,” I begged now, stretching my arms. Trying to find her on the bed next to me. She had been there before I’d fallen asleep - or unconscious.
Everything was wet, the sheets, the cot itself, the headrest - but it was cold , as though she had never been there. Maybe it was my skin burning that was fooling my senses. But cold or not, she wasn’t there, and she wouldn’t have left me. She promised.
She’d never leave her petit ange.
“ Au secours, ” I went on, louder, wanting to cry. Tear my heart out. “ Mamá, je vous en prie -”
I started trashing now. I had to get up, fever be damned, I had to get up and find her, someone had taken her from me - that was the only explanation. Someone had stolen her from my tight grip and taken her away, for she wouldn’t leave on her own accord, not without ensuring I’d know where she was, not without staying with me until I was better. “ Mamá !” I now screamed with all my mind, ripping the sheet to shreds as if that might return her to me, as if she was hiding underneath it. The world tilted around me.
I knew I should take it easy in my condition.
Too much forced movement might make me pass out again.
I’d never been one to listen to common sense.
“ Mamá, où êtes-vous? Bordel, mamá, où êtes-vous …” I breathed in harshly, felt a sharp pain on the side of my head and -
Everything went black.