This is the Unedited draft of Love Echoes.
Happy Reading. 😀
She was guiding her wards into yet another cave in one of the craggy hills that surrounded Zamzudan when she heard the murmuring of her sharp tongued daughter.
“There’s a flaw to Man’s creation. God forgot to attach a wool covering to Man’s skin, like he did for the sheep of the field. Even cows, as dull-witted as they are have thicker skin.”
They had now settled in the cave, shivering from the hostile cold. The woman assembled her children around her, gathering the youngest ones tightly to her bosom, mentally willing that her cold body could somehow conjure up enough warmth to thaw out their freezing flesh. Now, she watched the far distance, her eyes becoming increasingly teary from the bitter winds that blew against her veiled face, causing more blurriness to her already poor vision.
Covered limb to limb with the black overalls that was the customary attire for the nomadic women who lived in this mountainous area of the continent, she took off the scarf that was supposed to hide her face from the rest of the world, and now used it to cover her two youngest children.
“How much longer?” Her middle child, age six, asked her. “Is it still very far away?”
This one had always been her favorite. She had been born the year the cows had done exceptionally well. It had vastly improved her husband’s temperament. Not once had he laid hands on her that year. But the woman dared not show her special love for this one child, lest she caused bitter sibling rivalry among her children. She needed all of them to stick to each other. That was the only way they would survive the misery that came with living in a world full of much pain and unfairness.
“Not much further, Neema.” The woman replied in her native tongue. “Just a little bit more.”
“It’s so cold.” The sharp tongued daughter, Zakiya replied. She had always been the big mouth of the family, voicing concerns that no one dared raise to their violent father. . Sometimes, she was too intelligent for her own good. Just like her aunty, the woman now thought as she peered into her face. Yes… Just like her aunty, she reflected, noting the intense brown eyes and distinctly sharp eyebrows that had a quirky way of moving, almost to the scalp, when she was upset.
“Why can’t we just stay here and die, mama?” Zakiya continued theatrically. “I am tired. I want to die.”
“You talk foolishly.” The oldest child in the family, Asya interrupted. Unlike her younger sister whose eyes were full of expressive emotions, depending on what she was feeling, Asya had a grave look, and it did not take an experienced person to know that she had never smiled a day in her thirteen years of life. “You think we travelled this far to come here and die? You must be out of your mind.”
“Don’t talk to me like that.” Despite the cold, Zakiya’s eyes had gathered a fiery heat.
“I will talk to you the way I want to.” Asya replied, rising up to her full height of five feet, prepared for a fight. She was only thirteen, but she had seen so much pain in her lifetime that she looked much older. Her somber face furrowing into a tighter frown, she continued, “You were the one that talked us all into this. So don’t you dare quit on us now.”
“How much longer?” The favorite child asked again, interrupting her two older sisters’ quarrel as she nuzzled her face closer to her mother’s armpit…the only anatomical area of the woman that was warm.
Just then, the twin boys age four, began to cry as they tugged at the woman’s saggy breasts, clothed with a black gown that reached her very feet. Doubtless, these two children were hungry. The woman had already breast fed them less than a hour ago, but with the unsympathetic frosty conditions, their metabolism was on the high rise, burning every calorie in their impoverished bodies.
“We are almost there.” The woman said soothingly, her voice breaking halfway. she struggled to tamper her own rising agitation that they would never make it in this awful weather condition to the place of freedom they had been promised.
Just when she was about to rouse her children to continue their journey, she saw the flash of fire torches in the far distance and she momentarily stiffened.
Her children had seen it too, for Neema said, “Mother, I think we have been caught.” And the children, like their mother, turned rigid with fear.
Something in their mother’s reaction conveyed to them that nothing good could come out from the oncoming light. Light was supposed to be good, but this one seemed to spell trouble, even from afar.
Suddenly, the twin boys began to wail again, only that this time, it was much louder. Soon, they were joined by their sisters. Except for the oldest, whose stern face watched the approaching lights with defiance, as it moved ever more closely to their hideout.
It was the last day of the month: payday for his lone employee.
Joshua Da-Silva, called Jo by family and friends, played idly with the mechanical pencil, his thoughts far away, as he pondered on what to make with the new piece he was currently working on. Unfinished drawings of complicated architectural designs that he had discarded earlier today in a fit of creativity, now strewed all over the floor, in scattered huge piles that lacked any comprehensible organization. He surveyed the self-created chaos surrounding him and smiled, his grin marked with his signature mischievous smirk that had earned him the title of the “Naughty Angel” by the media.
Feeling giddy with boyish excitement, he crushed another large piece of drawing paper in his large but dexterous hands, and threw it on the floor. Once again, a huge beam flooded his face, as he imagined the horrified look that would cross his maid’s face, Selma, the young woman he had hired six months ago. He knew she would only look at this latest act of untidiness as an excuse to quit again, a move she had been threatening to take the very first day she was hired, only to reiterate when he had increased her salary by ten percent. Needless to say, their play of ‘“I quit” – “I am increasing your pay”’ had been ongoing now every month for the past six months, such that Selma was making a ton, when compared to what other maids earned. However, one could not say Selma did not exactly deserve the money she made. Anyone who knew of Jo Da-Silva or who had close working relations with the architect Genius had to know that every penny he paid his employees, especially his maids was well deserved. Selma, for example, always came into the studio to see that her employer had created an even bigger mess from the last time she had visited the place, each disarray ever more consistent with his explosive, yet increasingly artistic nature.
Just yesterday, he and the cleaner had almost had a fiery exchange over this same problem of his’. She had come into the studio quietly, as was her nature, only to be confronted by the heaps of drawing paper littering the whole floor.
“Hey Selma.” He had called out and to his pleasant surprise, he had discovered that he had been looking forward to seeing her stern face. He had needed a nice distraction from the intricate drawing he was sketching and Selma had just seemed to be the perfect entertainment at the moment…certainly a nice pastime from the complex, million-dollar architectural designs that he was known to create.
Selma had stared at him with a look of disdain and Jo had noticed the quick flash of annoyance in her usually plain face. For some insane reason, he had found himself wanting to tweak out some more emotion out of her usually diffident attitude, but he had kept his cool, wondering if she would yet again demand that he increase her pay for this latest show of untidiness.
When she had remained silent, he had said, “I am sorry. Again.” His voice had sounded too playful, even to his own ears as he spoke.
“No insult me master.’ She had started in broken English, causing him to notice her for the first time as a real person with her own ego to maintain, not some passive servant girl. He immediately felt contrite, even as she kept talking. “You no sorry.” She said tightly, and Jo had realized she was struggling to stay detached. “You make nonsense on floor all time-”
That had somehow sparked something in him, not anger, but shame…the kind of shame he had felt as a kid whenever his mother disciplined him. “But I pay you well for all the inconvenience. I also provide a roof over your head.” He had replied obstinately. “And mind you, that ‘nonsense’ pays your salary.”
At that, Selma had kept her mouth shut, but her disaatsifaction with her employer was still apparent in her features. She had eventually cleared the room of the mass of wasted papers, but not before she had neatly started negotiations for another increase in her monthly pay.
“Again?” Jo had found himself asking, slightly perplexed, but more than anything, amused. “But why?”
“I am woman sir. Not fit to carry all this thrash. I am cleaner. Not professional mover. This job for someone with power.” She said flexing her muscles.
There was something about the way she had pointed that out that had Jo sighing apologetically, turning back quickly to his drawings in a bid to avoid the upset look on his maid’s face, which for some reason, he could no longer find amusing.
“And you say you provide a roof over my head,” She had continued, referring to his earlier statements. “Only reason I live here in next room is because there too much work to do here. So by time I finish cleaning, it not safe to go to my rented apartment.”
Jo had sighed again in response to that as some of his curiousity about her was quenched. For the longest time, he had always wondered why Selma slept in the next room, which really was an empty office. When he had hired her, he had warned her that her task would be enormous, and that she occasionally might have to work late hours to complete her duties. He had offered her the option of sleeping in the adjoining room should it ever get too dark, making it unsafe for her to return to wherever she lived. However, when he had made her that offer, he had never foreseen that Selma would practically turn the office into her home. It seemed she perpetually lived there, coming out only when she had to clean his studio. Not that he minded her living in the next room. In fact, he kind of liked the lived-in look of his office now, talkless of the added security of having someone live in the building 24/7.
“Okay. ‘Will increase your salary again.” He had replied resignedly.
“Ten percent.” Her shrewd eyes settled on him, making him feel slightly uneasy.
“What?” His astonishment was an understatement.
“I say ten percent.” She had replied coldly.
“Two?” It was her turn to sound astonished, her frosty features seeming to get icier. “Two too small. I say eight.”
“Five.” He had said.
“Five.”He replied assertively, truning back to his work. “Take it or leave it.”
In what seemed like less than a second, she had replied resignedly, “Okay. Five.”
And it had left Jo with confused emotions on whether to choke her for her smart bargaining or simply laugh at the way he had haggled with his own maid again.
Tony would definitely like her, he had thought to himself as soon as she had stepped out, thinking of his older brother, a powerful business magnate who was known for his keen negotiating skills.
Surveying his surroundings and knowing that anytime now, Selma would arrive to come clean the place up, he suddenly decided he was not going to apologize for the bedlam he had created again today. These were his thoughts even as he drew a sharp line with the mechanical pencil in his hand. For goodness sake, he made too much money to express regret for any wrong he did. He was never going to apologize for the daily mess he was bound to keep creating…so long as he made heaps of money out of the drawings that successfully made it out of his studio into the outside world, to the builders who desperately clamored for his designs.
At age 33, Jo Da-Silva was extremely successful at what he did. The second son of the Da-Silvas, he came from a family that one would not be wrong to describe as the crème of the crop of wealthy African families. Not only was he a member of that powerful family, but he was also a renowned Architect, famous for his award winning designs not only in his country, but in the African continent and even all over the world.
As he threw another piece of paper containing drawings he found errors in, which haphazardly hit the wall, Jo reasoned to himself that his current studio cleaner did not really have any reason to complain. She was making a lot of money, all thanks to his ability to create clutter out of nowhere. So far he had hired stacks of maids in the past couple of years, some of them quitting before the week’s end. Selma was the only one that had stayed this long, and Jo had never really cared to know why. He sometimes suspected that she could bear with any crisis so long as she was paid well, and Jo knew that he paid her really well.
Occasionally, he wondered at how she spent the money he paid her. Not that it was any of his business, but sometimes he could not help thinking that she could benefit from going to the hairdressers to fix her hair, or buy herself a new set of clothes, instead of the worn clothes she wore daily. To his knowledge, he did not think she was married or had kids. Thus, with no obvious family responsibilities, how come she always looked ragged after all the money he paid her, he wondered curiously to himself. On what exactly was she spending her money? Definitely not drugs or alcohol for he had never seen her inebriated.
He was just about to yank off another paper containing imperfect scribble from the Drafting table when he heard, rather than saw the door open slightly. He turned around abruptly, and his eyes settled on the slender frame of the dark skinned woman who had come in through the door. She looked about mid-twenties, but the slight crease on her forehead made her seem much older. Her face was lacking in expression as she nonchalantly surveyed the disarray before her.
Watching her, Jo noted that there was no way one could describe Selma as an attractive woman. About 5’4, with hair plaited in the local style, yet covered with a worn black scarf, and wearing a pauper version of the ethnic blouse and skirt of the African women who lived in Laketown, Selma was indeed a far cry from the women Jo mingled with.
He turned away from Selma just then to resume his work, but another expression, subtly echoing in her eyes, arrested his move, making him to turn towards her yet again.
Before he could say a word, she uttered, “Master.”
She had spoken quietly. One word, and suddenly, Jo found himself focusing on her little face, as he now saw the sharp pangs of fear in her brown eyes. Wonder of all wonders, but he had never noticed the color of her eyes before, so startlingly brown, full of temparemental intelligence set against that very dark face. She seemed to see right through him as she now leveled a deep stare at him, and this time, the panic he noted in those expressive eyes was difficult to ignore.
“Are you okay?”
She seemed to hesitate, enough for him to know that something was bothering her. But he waited, refusing to press her into talking to him till she felt comfortable enough to do just that.
“I fine.” She replied, and then turned away from him to begin her cleaning.
“Okay.” Jo turned back to his work, but found himself stealing subtle glances at her as she suddenly bent down to start her task, her body jerking now and then as she knelt to collect some stray piece of paper that her broom had escaped gathering. Soon, her mop came out from the cleaning bucket, and she aggressively used it to wipe the wooden floor. In less than thirty minutes, the studio was sparkly clean and all items were in their proper place.
Afterwards, she stood close to the door. “I come collect my pay, Master. It’s month end today.” She began quietly. It was apparent she was trying to maintain calm as she struggled to stay controlled over whatever it was that was bothering her. Inspite of that, her voice sounded edgy and he could feel the tension he heard in her tone.
Jo regarded her quietly before he spoke. “I forget how much it is supposed to be, since we’ve changed the amount, I think twice, in the past couple of weeks.”
She told him what it was and Jo immediately got up from the stool, walked over to where his jacket lay draped over the edge of the counter, took out his wallet from which he counted several money notes, and handed it to her.
Selma counted the money quickly and made a quick curtsy to show her gratitude. She was just about to leave the room when he called her back.
“So, I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
She hesitated again before giving him a reply, but this time Jo was prepared to question her about her reluctance in replying him.
“You are not coming back tomorrow? Ever? You quit?” He could not believe it, not after he had just increased her salary yesterday.
“I don’t know master.” She replied, her face turned away from him.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” He asked. He was trying not to sound disappointed by the fact that she was thinking of quitting her job, and he wondered at his own reaction. This was not the first time an employee would suddenly quit on him, but with Selma, it just seemed different. Different enough for him to be angry that he was about to lose her, that she would even think of leaving him, he who had been nothing short of being a fair employer. He, who had come to get used to seeing her every day while he worked in this studio for he had somehow taken it for granted that she was a permanent fixture in his life.
As he stared at her, his dissatisfaction ever so palpable on his face, he could not help but notice that look of fear again, so acute with distress, that he knew he just had to ask her about it.
“What is wrong Selma? Are you in any trouble?”
She looked away from him again as she attempted to laugh. Except that her laughter sounded hoarse and terribly fake, confirming to him that she was in some sort of trouble, enough for her to consider leaving her job, a job that paid very well if one did not mind the laborious task of keeping the studio clean and tidy.
As she made to walk away from him, Jo surprised himself by reaching out to her, and catching one thin forearm in his competent hands. She flinched, as he stared deep into her eyes.
“What is wrong? Tell me now.” He demanded, his voice gentle, yet assertively insistent, as he shockingly noticed how skinny she was, something he had not realized till now. Once again, he wondered how she was spending all that money he paid her. At least, he now knew she was not spending it on food.
He had to be gentle with her, he thought to himself, as he struggled not to hold her too tight for fear of breaking her arm.
“Nothing you can help me with master.” She replied as tears clouded her eyes.
“Try me.” He replied, soothingly persuading.
She tried tugging her arm out of his grip, but was unsuccessful in releasing herself from his tight grasp.
“If you are in some trouble, I need you to trust me to help you. It is the least I can do after you’ve stuck with me this past six months.”
She smiled faintly at that. “You not able to help me, master. You not know how much I wish you be able help me. But you not able. You trust me on this sir. You not able to help.”
Dissatisfied with her answer, he searched her face as if to get some clue to the cause of her sudden distress. He noted the tear-filled brown eyes, and found himself mesmerized by them. So lovely, like that of a dove, he thought. However, he caught himself in time, surprised at his sudden intense reaction to the maid that he had only succeeded in frustrating this past few months. An uneducated woman. Illiterate. One who did not even know how to speak good English. Wow, but his taste in women was really improving, he thought sarcastically to himself even as he abruptly released her arm.
“Well, if you will not trust me,” He started, his own voice sounding strange to his ears, “then, I have no choice but to let you be. I just need to know one thing. Will you be back tomorrow?”
She lowered her eyes at that as she replied quietly. “No master. I not back tomorrow.”
Jo shrugged nonchalantly as he tried to hide the emotion of anger that now suffused him. To his surprise, he could not help feeling jilted, in every raw sense of the word… and all by a woman he had not even noticed she existed except when she would come in to clean up after him.
He walked over to where his unfinished drawing stood. Sitting down on the stool, he said, “I wish you good luck then, wherever you go. If you need references, let me know.”
“No bother you for references after giving you short notice.” She started.
“It’s there if you need it.” He replied obstinately, not turning to look at her. His attention was now on his work and it was a sign to the maid that she was dismissed. However, he felt her presence there behind him, her eyes boring down at his back and he wondered if she had changed her mind on telling him about what kind of trouble she was in. But when he heard the sound of the door closing, he knew she was gone, and to his own self–discovery and surprise, he suddenly felt like his soul had been stolen from him, and once again, he wondered at that, even as he placed his head against the drawing pad on his table and groaned with acute discontent.