Mapping The Storm
Summer and spring are considered the best times of year to travel to Lithuania. The landscape is green and forested all the way down to the white dunes by the Baltic Sea. The days are long and the evenings are warm. They went in winter.
A man who claimed to be their dad had appeared out of nowhere on a late summer evening as their mum was in the courtyard hanging the laundry. She dropped socks and pegs and went as white in the face as a black woman can get. Then began a peculiar sounding banter, a language they’d not heard before. Jayce and Darryll stopped kicking their football and stood and stared. After a few minutes Glynis suddenly noticed her boys’ staring and hissed ‘Get inside, both of you. Now!’ They ran into the living room and pressed their little noses against the window to keep up with what was going on.
Eventually, hands on hips, Glynis looked down, shaking her head, as though defeated. She brought the man inside and said, ‘Boys.’ She took a deep breath. ‘This man is your father.’ Being ten, Darryll knew what a father was. He’d met fathers of his mates from school. Fathers were men who lived at home with the mother. This is what Miss Albertson called a family. Mum, dad, two children. They were children, Jayce and Darryll, and they had a mum. Now it seemed, as they also had a dad, they were a family. But Darryll’s mum didn’t see it that way and neither did the man who wasn’t called Dad but Maurice. Jayce was only six so he probably didn’t get it. He sat on the sofa next to Darryll and swung his legs, whining, ‘Mum, can I have banana pancakes for tea?’ But now they had a dad to boast about in school.
Somehow, Maurice had arrived at some cash. Glynis didn’t ask questions. She never had cash left over from her cleaning jobs so she let him take Darryll and Jayce out on ‘grand escapades’ to the seaside where he bought them ice cream, smoked dope while they ate it, and then took them home again. Before Christmas came sneaking round the corner that year, they had learned in school about how some countries have snow all winter and people go skiing. There was a place called the Alps which had mountains. The boys ran home after school that day and asked their dad eagerly, ‘Dad, can we go skiing? Do you know what the Alps are? Have you ever seen snow? Because we have once and it was the best!’ Maurice inhaled deeply on his joint, said, ‘The Alps, eh,’ and passed out on the sofa. Their mum said, ‘Your dad has never seen snow and wouldn’t know what to do with a shovel.’ Then mumbled quietly to herself ‘But I would.’
At dinner the following day he announced cheerfully, ‘We will go skiing!’ Jayce and Darryll were overjoyed and couldn’t wait to tell their mates at school the next day. Their mum didn’t say a word until after they’d gone to bed. Then they heard the peculiar banter through the living room door. ‘Mum’s probably having a go at dad’, Darryll whispered to Jayce. ‘Probably because he didn’t ask her first if he could take us.’ Darryll heard his mum say in English, ‘If anything happens to those boys, I will chase you back to that no-good mother of yours and stuff you up with your own pot and burn you till the whole village weeps.’ Dad’s reply was too low for Darryll to hear.
Rules were set. Promises were made. Suitcases were dragged out from storage cupboards. They were ready to go. Maurice was loading baggage into ‘my royal carriage’ that was the old battered VW van that he was to drive to a friend’s in London. Here, he and the boys would get on an airplane and fly to a place in the Alps called Lithuania. Jayce and Darryll couldn’t wait. Right before Darryll got in the car his mum grabbed him by the arm and pulled him close, held his face in her hands and looked into his large brown eyes with a fierce expression on her face. ‘Don’t let Jayce out of your sight’, she said, and Darryll nodded solemnly. On the road to London Darryll thought of all the things he had heard about the Alps: tall mountains, tall trees, lots of snow, skis you put on your feet to glide down a hill, right on top of the snow. He was very excited. When they got to Lithuania there was not an altitude in sight. Snow hadn’t touched the ground in days. But there were lots of tall trees.
Maurice had rented a small cottage in a small village in a big forest. It looked like it was built of clay, had two small squares for windows, with no glass, just shutters that clapped away during the windy nights. Jayce and Darryll sat huddled by the fireplace until their dad finally understood and went looking for firewood. After a few attempts he managed to control his frozen fingers long enough to get a fire going. But it went out after a draft of cold air shot down the chimney chute and snuffed out the puny flames. The landlady eventually took pity on the two small dark boys and got her husband to check on the fire a couple of times a day.
On the second evening Maurice exclaimed, ‘We will go to Jamaica. We’ll feel more at home among our own people. People of our colour,’ he said.
‘We won’t have any friends to play with,’ said Darryll.
‘Don’t worry about that, my boy. I have lots of kids your age to play with’.
‘What about mum?’
Maurice ignored the question and said, ‘How about you Jayce? Wouldn’t you like to come home with your daddy?’
‘But I don’t want to go! I want my mum,’ cried Jayce.
‘Don’t worry about your mum, son. She must go back home soon. England is no place for her, but she is a stubborn woman. A stubborn woman.’
‘Now, don’t worry son, everythin’s gonna be alright.’ He leant back in the creaking old rocking chair and puffed on his joint some more and started humming a tune they didn't know.
The next day as the boys were poking about the forest with sticks while their dad sat in the house smoking joints, Jayce said, ‘Darryll, I don’t like dad.’
‘He’s not our real dad, Jayce. I don’t believe he is.’ Jayce was quiet for a moment, then said, ‘So, it’s OK not to like him?’
‘Yeah, it’s OK. I don’t like him either.’
‘I wanna go home to mum.’ Jayce threw his arms around his brother’s waist and began to sob.
They sat down against a tree and Darryll held Jayce close as they pulled their hoods up against the bitter cold wind.
‘Jayce, we’ll go home soon. Don’t worry. We’ll go home soon.’ If only it would snow, he thought.
As the wind continued to blow, large, fluffy, weightless snowflakes began to drift among the trees. Single flakes drifted gently down, then more and more until the boys could see the snow settling on the dead leaves on the ground, on dried branches, on the pine needles and on rocks. First a sprinkling, then covering all that it fell on. Slowly, determinedly.
It wasn’t going to stop snowing. It just went on and on. ‘Look Jayce, snow.’ Jayce allowed his first smile since they’d got to Lithuania. As the winds began to whip up the snow into a frenzy, Jayce and Darryll struggled to find their way back to the cottage. They weren’t lost, they just couldn’t see for the snow. It kept stinging their eyes and they walked into a tree because they had to keep their eyes shut. Suddenly, Darryll decided not to go to the cottage. ‘Let’s make it to the cave,’ he shouted, his words muffled by the snow and the winds. He dragged Jayce along behind him and they got to the little pile of branches they’d built as a playhouse on the second day of their stay. They crawled underneath and the lumps of dead leaves and soil they had stuffed between the branches kept some of the wind out. The snow fell all around the little den and quickly created a white mound among the trees. As the snowstorm raged on it seemed that a tiny igloo had materialised in the vast Lithuanian forest.
The boys didn’t hear their dad calling as he waded into the snowstorm to look for them. He didn’t see the mound of snow under which his sons lay huddled. The snowstorm obliterated all words and froze all movement. It became so fierce that Maurice could not continue in the knee-deep piles, or against the speed of the winds that pulled his scarf so tight around his neck he could barely breathe. A sudden gust pushed him over and he fell on his face into the snow. He clawed his way towards a tree to hold on to. Until his arms let go and he fell deeper into the cold white comfort.
Darryll and Jayce awoke, their two little bodies kept warm in the air trapped beneath the layers of snow. It was a crisp winter day. A blue sky stretched above the forest and brilliant white snow covered everything in sight. The cottage was snowed in. Jayce and Darryll were exalted and plodded about and rolled in the white fluff. They built a snowman and dug deep for rocks and twigs to make a face. They looked at each other with red roses in their cheeks, their broad smiles resembling that of the snowman.
They’d made it snow.
that watch the wind,
tracking errant current
as it flashes through his mind and limbs,
leaving jerks and shudders
in its wake.
A surgeon mapping epilepsy,
her scalpel searching
for the guilty spark.