Kem Joy Ukwu
You look inside your blue bookbag to make sure you have everything. Your report card is neatly wedged between your class picture and the book you’re currently reading. It’s the fourth installment of a series of books about a young detective. The other three books you own from that series are placed in the other zipped compartment of your bag. You dream of becoming a sleuth one day, solving the mysteries of other people.
You look up at your aunt, a young woman named Isabel, whose cocoa-brown eyes compliment her long braids. She is wearing a black peacoat and a blue cashmere sweater, with her long black skirt draping over her black leather boots. She is royally confident, effortlessly stunning.
“I'm ready,” you tell her.
Aunty Isabel smiles. "Good. Shall we, Mademoiselle?"
You nod and the two of you leave her apartment. You smile because you love it when she calls you Mademoiselle. Makes you feel taller.
After you and your aunt leave the building, the two of you walk towards the corner of the street. The frigid air makes you relieved that your aunt made you wear two layers of clothes instead of one. Your black bubble-goose jacket and yellow ski cap make you look like a giant penguin. Your walk is more like a waddle because you find it hard to keep a cool stride as you are wearing jeans, heavy stockings and chunky boots.
A black car waits at the corner. Her boyfriend, whom you call Uncle Reuben, is waiting in the driver's seat. He rolls down the front passenger window and waves to you. You wave back as Aunty Isabel opens a back-seat door for you to enter his car. She takes the front.
“Make sure you buckle up,” she instructs you. You do as she says, making sure your seat belt is properly latched.
“Buckled!” you alert, as if you are on your way to Disney World or better yet, Six Flags.
You all drive off and the voyage begins. You take off your gloves and clasp your fingers together to keep them from twitching and twirling, knowing that you will soon reach your destination, where your reward awaits.
* * *
You arrive at a parking lot, filled with other cars and buses, people bustling all over.
Aunty Isabel motions for you and the two of you leave Uncle Reuben’s car. You say good-bye to him.
The two of you make your way to the line of mostly women and children waiting to step up on a bus. Your fingers are acting up again because they know that you are getting much closer. It has been too long since you have won last. You have been waiting for a long time.
Five months. Eleven days.
Aunty Isabel gently squeezes your hand. “We're almost there,” she says.
You two step up onto the bus and choose two seats at the back, with you by the window and your aunt right next to you. You remove your bookbag from your back and hold it close to your chest. After a short while, the bus drives off the lot and makes its way onto a bridge that crosses over a huge stream of water. You wonder if it’s the Atlantic Ocean or just some wide river. The sun reveals the crystals sprinkled on the surface. You feel like swimming. You think of the last time you frolicked in a pool. It was June. A few weeks before the - using Aunty Isabel’s special word for it - incident.
The incident that made your gift disappear, with the eager help of blue uniforms and silver badges.
You want to return to happy thoughts.
You now think about the main character from your favorite book series, picturing you're a fellow detective. You’re answering everyone’s questions, holding a magnifying glass, smoking a pipe that tastes like bubble gum.
* * *
The space reminds you of your cafeteria at school, huge and colorless. There are children spread about, kids older than you, some younger. Dressed in bright orange v-neck shirts and matching pants, women are smiling, talking with their children. A few men in gray uniforms with collared shirts and thick black belts are keeping watch. Your beautiful princess is yelling at one of the uniformed watchmen, pointing her manicured finger at him.
Twenty minutes earlier, you two had arrived at this large room with the other children and supervising adults. Both of you had waited quietly by one of the long tables for one woman in particular to walk up to you with big, open eyes and greet you with a tight hug.
Aunty Isabel’s patience had been drifting away, bit by bit, when she approached one of the watchmen to ask what was going on. Now her patience is disappearing altogether, chunk by chunk.
“What do you mean she has been moved upstate?”
“She was transferred this morning.”
“Someone should have called me,” your aunt says. “Your office knew we were coming.”
“This happens all the time. Not our call,” the uniformed man counters. “Sorry.”
Your detective skills inform you that he is not sorry. He is bored and bothered.
Aunty Isabel turns her face towards you. You know what she wants to say. And you know she doesn't need to say it. As you grab your bookbag and sling it over your shoulder, you tell yourself what your aunt has told you throughout this past year, many times.
Tears solve nothing.