Days and days pass after Papa's car accident, and night after night Xav hears his mother's purposeful walk out past the closet door and Mara's room to the fire escape. She always goes at the same time--after Papa has fallen asleep and Vovo has come and gone for her last cup of coffee--and always returns before the moon has set behind the high rises. He listens, not daring to stir, as she hums something indistinguishably foreign.
It goes on for a week, then another, to a point where, tired though he might be, Xav awakens for her fifteen minute sojourn, listens, waits, and only falls asleep again when she has gone to bed. Finally, on a night with no moon, her footsteps stop at the closet door.
"If you are going to be awake you can come outside."
He immediately rams his eyes shut and holds, just a second or two, but when her feet don't stir he sits up and follows her. She motions him through the window first and follows just a step behind. He is surprised by her limberness, though reasonably she is not very old at all, but more surprised by the cigarettes she pulls out of her robe pocket. She'd always looked so disapproving at Papa.
Her small fingers fumble with one, then another.
"Don't tell Papa." She says, and he nods taking it. His mouth is watering.
She smokes expensive cigarettes, the kind high-society ladies might smoke, and while it shouldn't seem suitable for their tiny Harlem apartment, it suits his mother still.
"You knew I was awake?"
"I assumed." She says. "You've always been the nosiest child."
The smoke from her mouth mimes the shape of the absent moon. He stares out onto the blinking purple cityscape. For a place he'd always thought to be unhappy, it seems so oddly at peace. It stirs something in his heart that feels remarkably like love.
They smoke in silence, and when their cigarettes are done, his mother motions for him to go back inside. Xav pauses as he steps back through the window, "Mama."
He studies her face. She looks so egalitarian, out of place among shabby, dim darkness, but pale and beautiful too, and not old, and the curls in her hair crest and plummet like the water of Ipanema.
He studies her and she says, "I'm going back to Brazil. I'll live with Tia Isolde."
His heart shakes. "Will you take Mara and Vovo?"
"No, they will stay."
Her dark eyes pierce his with clear intent. He wonders if she has told Papa yet.
"Are you...are you ill, Mama?"
And to his further surprise she smiles, neither happy nor sad. "Go to bed."
As he finds his way in the darkness back to his closet, he can see his mother's dim form still on the fire escape. And recognizes now the song she hums as Henry Mancini's Moon River. He realizes it is a lullaby.
20 September 2008--Bananeira
not crazy; just a little unwell