The pressure of holding back pain
Coursed through her, weakening her veins
Her eyes slithered at the sound of her voice
Her words never left stuck somewhere in between
She wanted to plunder, not plow
Yet she watches her and never grows
Leah came awake with a start, shooting up in her bed. For a moment her mind was clouded and her eyes were overwhelmed with the dark. As they cleared she spotted the sliver of light from the open doorway and calmed herself as the remnants of the dream evaporated.
Her heart slowed, bringing her back to herself. She glanced down. Her hands were balled into fists where she now felt her nails digging into her palm. Her peach, cotton nightgown was soaked in sweat. She reached up and touched her cheeks. They were wet. She wiped them dry with a light brush of her hands.
Leah rose on rickety legs and peeled off her dress. Moving slowly, she rummaged for another and pulled it on. She returned to her bed and drew her legs up, resting her head on her knees. It was almost morning. She wouldn’t be going back to sleep even though right now she desperately wanted to. She just wanted to sleep, to not think, to close her eyes and forget everything.
She heard a sound outside and flinched but didn’t move to glance at her window. In the first few days, she’d thought J.J. would materialize from every sound and from around every bend. She would crane her neck hoping to find him on the way from one activity to the other. She had been hopeful he would say something that would take away her regret of having told him the truth. But the more time passed, the clearer it became that he was gone.
He had heard her story and left.
She supposed there had to be more than that. She wouldn’t credit herself as being the sole reason he left- no matter how bad the story she had told. But she was part of it. There was no way to deny that. He had seen her and now he was gone.
Leah battled a migraine and it threatened to win. She walked slowly to mitigate the stabs of pain that shot through her skull when she stepped too hard. She walked down the hallway, heading outside the building. She kept to herself, waving people off. She knew she didn’t look like herself. Her eyes were bloodshot from sleep deprivation. She wore a large sweater that swallowed her small frame, making her appear to have lost a massive amount of weight.
She stepped out into the sun and blinked, holding the side of her head. She walked down the stairs, intent on taking a chair to a quiet corner of the field to sit by herself. As she moved she spotted Emeka, standing with a few guys talking with enthusiasm. She took a step in the direction of the chairs then stopped. She turned in his direction and headed to the group of guys before she could stop herself.
“Hi,” she murmurred.
They took in her appearance and Leah felt the urge to fix herself somehow. “Hi,” they returned.
“Emeka, can I talk to you?”
He gave a reluctant nod and followed her a few feet away.
She got straight to the point. “Where’s J.J.?”
Emeka’s eyes hardened. “That bastard? How am I supposed to know?”
Leah glanced at the ground, her nails beginning to dig into her palm again. “Aren’t you his friend?”
Emeka snorted. “He doesn’t know how to be one.”
Leah searched for something to say. “Does he have another number? I need to speak to him.”
Emeka laughed. “Are you carrying his child?”
He shrugged. “I don’t have it. And by the way, if he wanted to talk to you he would have called. That’s how guys are.”
Leah’s head pounded. She nodded.
He stared at her. “What was it about him that you liked?”
Leah laughed, “I don’t even know.”
She walked away from Emeka and grabbed a white chair and dragged it in the direction of a cluster of trees some distance away from everyone else. As she set it down, she heard footsteps pounding towards her and spun around with hope. She spotted Ter jogging towards her and she forced down the wave of disappointment.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi, are you okay? You look sick.”
“Just a headache, don’t worry.” She gestured towards the field. “There are too many people; we shouldn’t be talking here.”
He ignored that. “Are we still seeing Mamita?”
She nodded. They had been going to see her almost daily after the first visit. “We are.”
“Good. Lay, we need to talk.”
He had grown insistent since he kissed her. She had never been uncomfortable with Ter, but now she was beginning to think of him with growing dismay.
“Ter, not now.”
“Just listen,” he began fervently, taking a step forward and brushing her hair out of her face. She pushed his hand aside.
“Stop, not now. I’m not in the mood.”
“Lay,” he tried again. Leah extricated herself, moving away.
“Not now,” she insisted, her head raging. “I can’t do this now, Ter. Please, just leave me.”
She turned and began to walk away as quickly as she could.
The next morning at her session, Leah sat folded into a small ball in the armchair in Dr. Sulo’s office. Her eyes were still red-rimmed. Her head still pounded uncontrollably. She wore baggy shorts, a small top and a pashmina around her shoulders.
Dr. Sulo was talking but Leah couldn’t hear anything. The droning picked up and ceased. Picked up and ceased. After a particularly prolonged silence, a rustle followed. Dr. Sulo appeared above her, placing a hand on her forehead and then on her neck.
The droning resumed.
“Leah. Leah. Are you listening to me? You have a fever. I’ll go and talk to the physician so he can see you. Okay?”
Leah managed to nod her head. Dr. Sulo disappeared with a flourish while Leah remained, watching the door unblinkingly.
At night Leah walked slowly through the field to the rendezvous point where she usually met Ter for their nightly excursions to see Mamita. There was a nip in the air. The sky was clear, brilliantly lit by a sea of stars.
The medicine they had given her had yet to take effect. Her head still ached, her eyes were burning and now that she knew she was sick, she felt her body yearning to give in to the urge to lie down.
She arrived at the stretch of wire shaded by the tree where Ter was waiting for her.
‘Hi,” she said, infusing as much cheer into her voice as she could.
“Hi,” he returned seriously, pushing himself off the tree and striding towards her. He towered over her in the red t-shirt he had been wearing the first time they had met. He was devoid of his usual smile.
“I can’t go today,” she said, apologetically. “Next time?”
“We need to talk, Lay,’ he said firmly.
Her cheer disappeared. “Next time,” she told him.
“No,” he insisted, desperation creeping into his tone. “You keep saying that every day. Not today. Not today. Well, we need to talk today. I can’t wait forever.”
A stab of pain shot through her head and she held her head in both hands. “Ter, please.”
“Just listen to me,” he pleaded. “I love you. You hear me, right? I love you, Lay. And I know you. I am good with you.”
She looked up into his face, his earnest eyes. She saw his mouth continue to move. The words ‘I love you’ pronounced in the shape of them.
“Ter,” she interrupted quietly, looking away. “I don’t like you like that,” she told him finally. He stared at her for a long moment. “You like that J.J., right?” he asked, his voice low.
The mention of his name made her heart dip into her stomach. “I don’t want to talk about him.”
He waved a hand. “You know what? Neither do I. I don’t care. I love you.”
Leah couldn’t look at him anymore. She turned around and began to walk away. He grabbed her hand but she shrugged it off and walked quickly through the field into the building.
“Leah,” she heard him call, just as he caught up to her and enveloped her in his arms from the back. The foyer was teaming with patients and a few of the attendants in their white uniform.
He turned her to him forcefully and began to plaster her face with kisses. “I love you,” he kept saying. “I love you. I love you.”
Leah struggled to get away from him but he was strong. She struggled more intensely, as the attendants rushed forward and dragged him off her.
“Leave me,” he said, attempting to push them off. “Leave me alone.” He looked at her, his eyes wild. “Lay,” he said, expecting her to step in for him.
When she didn’t move, his eyes narrowed in disbelief. “Lay?” he said. “Lay?”
He began to struggle more forcefully with the attendants and others rushed in to help them. Leah took a step back when he began to shout and curse at them.
“How dare you touch me? Let me go,” he screamed. Every few seconds his attention would return to her and he’d call to her. “Lay! Lay!”
Leah watched as they dragged him off through the crowd.
Melvin’s office was cold. Goosebumps popped up on Leah’s arms but she didn’t move, not even to rub her arms. She fixed a dead gaze on a figurine on the shelf behind his head. Her face was blank, devoid of expression as she sat low in the big chair.
“This is the reason the rules are in place,” Melvin said and went on for half an hour. “I will be talking to your grandfather personally about you,” he finished.
Leah rose to leave. At the door, Melvin stopped her. “And your adventures to the Clinic are over. Mamita’s father came for her. There’s no longer any reason for you to go there.”
A feral sob hung in Leah’s throat. She tampered it down and reigned it in, refusing to allow Melvin see her like that. She shut it away in the corner of her mind where she wouldn’t feel any of it. She wouldn’t think about all the people she had failed and all the people who had left.
Leah sat in a plush chair in the empty visitor’s’ lounge, facing the large windows. She had been informed that her Grandfather would be coming. Melvin had exempted her from Process Group in honor of his visit.
She had dressed carefully, packing her hair up in a bun and wearing a nice, demure, beige knee-length dress. She couldn’t wait to see him and disappear into the warmth of his hug, bask in its familiarity. The thought of it kept her from giving in to her illness which was threatening to ground her every moment.
Leah waited for half an hour. She heard movement outside the quiet room and rose, waiting for the door to open. Her mother appeared in the entrance. Her heart sped up at the sight of her and her head began to pound again.
Her mother shut the door firmly behind her and began to walk towards her, her bag swinging with each step. She wore a close-fitting baby blue dress and tall heels which clicked as she came to stand a few feet away from Leah. She dropped her bag on one of the chairs.
“Where’s Grandpa?” Leah demanded.
“He’s not coming,” her mother said absently, searching her face. “They told me you’ve had problems here… with a man. Is that true?”
Leah ignored her. “Why isn’t he coming?”
“Why aren’t you answering my questions?”
Leah sighed. “Yes, it’s true.”
Her mother moved swiftly to her, taking her face in her cupped hands. “Lee-lee, what’s wrong with you?” she asked, breathing heavily. “I don’t like what this place is making you. What are you doing here? Who is that man?”
Leah removed her mother’s hands and took a step back. “A friend. Ma, I don’t feel well. I’m going to go lie down.”
“Not yet,” her mother said, blocking her path. She took both Leah’s hands in hers, staring at her intently. “You know I’m trying to take care of you.”
“I know you have issues,” Leah said, forcefully. Her head was exploding in pain. She squinted from the force of it.
Her mother’s eyes filled with tears. Leah had seen her do this many times. She could cry at will and then wipe the tears away once she got what she wanted.
“That’s a lie,” her mother said. “And it’s so unfair, Leah.”
Anger filled Leah at her mother’s attempt to manipulate her, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak.
Her mother began to cry harder. Leah wanted to ignore her but couldn’t. She reached out mechanically, patting her arm to comfort her. Her mother melted into her frame, wrapping her arms around Leah and crying into the corner of her neck. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed.
Leah held her until her sobbing waned.
“You won’t leave me alone, right?” her mother asked, in a little girl voice.
Leah shook her head numbly.
“Are you mad at me?” her mother asked, sniffing.
Leah shook her head again.
“Are you sure?”
Leah untangled herself from her mother’s embrace and put some distance between them. She moved behind the chair she’d been sitting, closer to the windows. She held her head, trying to ease the throbbing. A thread of pain began to climb from the base of her neck.
“Are you okay?” her mother asked, following her.
“Ma, please go,” Leah told her, tiredly.
“No, not yet,” her mother insisted. “What’s wrong with you? Headache? Let me see your face?” Her mother brushed her hand away, and held her face in both hands, raising it up for inspection. She leaned in. “Let Mommy make you feel better.”
Leah knew the expression on her face, and she knew what would come with it. “No,” she began as her mother pressed her lips to hers. Leah felt her tongue in her mouth before she pushed her away and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Hot tears filled her eyes.
“Ma, I told you never again,” Leah said, her voice barely audible.
“Lee-lee,” her mother cajoled, taking a step forward.
Leah’s cheeks were wet now. One hand pressed into the side of her head to ease the pounding. She was tired. She could feel her body weakening and her legs beginning to shake.
“Ma, stop,” she begged.
Her mother moved closer like she hadn’t heard her, her hand coming up tenderly to Leah’s face.
“Stop it!” Dr. Sulo’s voice said, firm and quiet, from the other side of the room. Leah flinched as her mother jumped away from her.
Dr. Sulo stood just inside the room, with Mr. Melvin, two of the attendants and another Psychiatrist behind her. She took it from their procession they had come to see her Grandfather.
Leah and Dr. Sulo’s eyes connected across the room briefly before Leah’s body gave way. She dropped to the floor and her palms rested flat against the cold tiles.
Dr. Sulo appeared professional but Leah had seen the look on her face. It was the same look on J.J.’s when she had told him her most terrible sin. The same look that would be on everyone’s when they found out. She couldn’t blame them. She had taken something sacred and made it dirty. They had every right to be disgusted.
It was her fault. All of it. She had made her mother that way. Just as she had done with her father and broken Ter and driven every good person away from her. She had tried to be different but it was how she’d been born. Bad. Everyone said she had an unconscious light to her, but Leah knew better.
Demons were just angels fallen from heaven.