Soledad Torres Hidalgo’s voice cut through the midmorning hubbub of down-town Santa Laura Vicuña as Jane was about to dive across the street before the lights changed. Turning, she met Soledad’s dark flashing eyes, and felt a tiny shock of surprise that Soledad had not changed at all, apparently, in the years since she had seen her.
“Hello, Soledad,” she said, feeling a little embarrassed and at a loss for words.
Apart from a dutiful Christmas card each Christmas, she had not made any effort to remain in touch with Soledad and Daniel, afraid of the questions which their friendly interest would inspire and unable to face pretending that she had been abroad during the months she had been living with Ana.
They kissed and Soledad exclaimed happily, “How good it is to see you again. Do let’s go and have a coffee and a chat. Have you time?”
“Yes, lovely,” Jane agreed a little unwillingly and Soledad guided her out of the bright April sunshine into a nearby coffee shop. “How is Sarita?” she asked as they settled themselves at one of the small tables. It was a very smart coffee shop, she noticed, with beige table cloths covered diagonally with other smaller dark brown ones. Beautiful ferns hung in baskets from supports on the walls and soft back-ground music curtained off the noise of the traffic in the street outside. A ubiquitous waiter flicked his napkin over their table and handed each of them a Menu. He was dressed in beige and brown to match the table cloths.
“Divine!” Soledad exclaimed. “She’s five and a half now, of course, you’d never recognize her. What would you like, a coffee or a cool drink of some sort?”
They both chose coffee and Soledad ordered a slice of chocolate cake for Jane and apple strudel for herself.
“We may as well,” she grinned. “Their cakes are delicious here. How amazing to bump into you, we’ve often wondered what you were up to. You’re very naughty never to have come to see us!”
“But you did get my Christmas cards I hope,” Jane protested.
“Oh, yes. We did get those, thank you. Tell me, I heard you had gone to work in Brazil.”
“Oh, that was ages ago,” Jane laughed. “I’ve finished my training at the British Hospital. I’m a nurse now with a beautiful diploma to prove it, too! In fact I arrived back from Buenos Aires yesterday.”
“A nurse! But weren’t you going to study public translating or something like that?”
“In the end I decided nursing would be a more rewarding job and I really enjoyed working at the British Hospital. How are Daniel and the boys?”
“All well. Mmmm this apple strudel is delicious, how’s your chocolate cake? Javier finished business administration this year and Lucio has decided he wants to be an actor which has upset Daniel terribly. In fact he’s absolutely furious. I say one must let young people live their own lives. Lucio would probably decide to study something ‘sensible’ after a few months trying to get work as an actor but the way things are going it looks as if… oh well… I won’t bore you with all that.”
Jane found herself recalling her month at the Estancia near Santucho with extraordinary clarity. She giggled and said, “He was always a bit of an actor! D’you remember his imitating that tipsy woman on the plane?”
“Vaguely. But I shall never forget the time he began joggling the garden table during tea one afternoon and exclaiming in the best imitation of an announcer’s voice ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Radio Santucho, at this very moment the area is being shaken by a strong earthquake. Panic reigns, people are running out into the streets, huge waves are endangering the town… and I can’t remember what other nonsense, and poor Tránsito heard him and thought it was the radio and that it was true and came running out of the kitchen all white and trembling.”
They laughed together.
“How’s the Estancia? How are Jeanette and Fede? And Sheba, darling Sheba, how is she?”
“All just the same as ever, a little older, that’s all. Jeanette has had a little girl, Jeanine, very sweet and so good. D’you remember Sarita? I’ve never known a baby cry so much. I’d have gone out of my mind if you hadn’t been able to come and help me.”
Covertly Soledad studied Jane’s face and noted many changes in her expression and bearing. The girl had matured a great deal in the five years or more since she had last seen her. She was as slim and attractive as ever, but although she was only, what? Twenty two? she looked older. Capable, self-confident, quiet, friendly, poised, but there was a shadow in her eyes.
“How are your parents?” she asked.
Jane looked down at her empty coffee cup and remained silent for so long Soledad’s curiosity was aroused. At last Jane looked up and said evenly, “I don’t know. I had a big row with them before I… went to Brazil. My father said some pretty hurtful things and well, I just haven’t seen them since then. In fact I haven’t been back to Santa Laura since then either.”
Unconsciously she raised her hand to touch her mouth as Soledad gave a low, shocked exclamation
Ana gave a shriek when Jane climbed out of the taxi stiffly, trying to hide her battered face with a scarf. The taxi driver unloaded her luggage and drove away over the bumpy earth road. With shaking hands and her eyes full of tears, the old woman guided Jane into the house and led her to a tiny bedroom. A large young man brought in the suitcases and hold-all while two little boys of about four and six stared solemnly from the door until Ana shooed them away and began to help Jane take off her anorak and lie down on the hard, rather lumpy bed.
Jane closed her swollen eyes and felt her tears trickling over her temples. Ana was back soon with cool compresses and a warm herb drink. After a short time Jane drifted into a half sleep. Her whole body ached from the blows her father had given her and all she longed for was death. When she was strong enough she would think up a way to die, just now she was too tired… just too tired.
Dr. Michaelson stopped his car in front of the small, flat-roofed house and surveyed it curiously. To the left, the room onto the street had been turned into a kiosk. Its window was surrounded by the usual array of gaudy posters and it provided the local people with cigarettes, sweets, soft drinks and cheap plastic toys, apart from a number of useful items ranging from pencils to toothpaste. To the right, beyond a chicken wire fence, stretched a neatly tended vegetable patch. A small dog yapped noisily at the gate.
Similar flat-roofed houses along the street were interspersed with wooden prefabricated houses, half-finished buildings and empty lots. So this was where Jane had landed up, on the scrap heap of humanity, a shanty town, and there, not twenty meters away lay a great pile of rubbish at the side of the road; a flourishing home for rats. And what a road! Full of ruts from the last rains, all dusty now, a good play-ground for those children and their marbles, though.
He got out of his car, pulled out his case, slammed the door shut and locked it. Ana stepped out of the house and walked down the cement path towards the gate. She shooed the yapping dog away and opened it.
“Good evening, I’m Dr. Michaelson,” he said. “The Señora Rowan gave me your address and asked me to come and see Jane here.”
Ana’s eyes filled with tears and she shook her head with an angry little gesture. “Yes, she is here. It is a disgrace, Doctor! A disgrace! The poor child! Her father is a criminal. When you see her you will agree with me. I shall never go and work in that house again! Poor niña Jane. I have never been so shocked. Please pass this way, Doctor. I will take you to her.”
She walked before him up the path and into the kitchen. He looked around him with keen interest, thinking, “All very clean, plastic table cloth, various chairs each one different from the other, curtains on the window, an ancient washing machine, a fridge, a gas stove with a canister of bottled gas beside it, a low bed covered with a patchwork quilt.” Two small boys with straight black hair and large black eyes regarded him attentively. A tall young man with an old looking face, whom he had seen in the kiosk, appeared and introduced himself as Duarte.
“Buenas tardes Doctor,” he said, holding out his hand respectfully.
“Buenas tardes, good evening.” Dr. Michaelson smiled, shaking hands. The children hung their heads shyly. He followed Ana along a narrow passage and into the cubicle of a bedroom. Jane lay, fully dressed, on the bed. Her bruises were turning purple. One eye was completely closed and the other was almost as swollen. Her mouth was grotesque, her bottom lip cut. Although the room was hot and stuffy she wore a pullover and Ana had drawn a rug over her.
“To think that any man could treat his own daughter in such a way, and not even in a drunken state of lack of control, either. Of what worth were his education and middle-class upbringing if this was the result? Whatever the circumstances!” Dr. Michaelson thought, aloud he said, “Thank you Señora.” Ana nodded and withdrew, shutting the door behind her.
All spotlessly clean. Another patchwork quilt. Usual crucifix above the bed, tiny picture made of butterfly wings on the wall opposite, a stool, a rag mat, no room for anything else.
“Hello, Jane,” he said sitting down on the stool.
She began to cry.
“I’ve come to examine you.”
She shrugged faintly as he bent over her, examining her face and jaws, the bruises on her arms. When she complained of a pain in her chest he discovered that she had a fissured rib. He listened to her lungs but thankfully could find no signs of any irregularity in her breathing.
“Well dear, you seem to have a cracked rib and a lot of bruises. Your lip will heal and the bruises and swelling will disappear in time.”
“I want to die,” Jane whispered. “I don’t want to go on living any more, I just want to die. D’you know what Daddy said? That he wished I had died instead of Brian. He never wants to see me again. He probably won’t let Mummy come here. Why was I ever born? Why didn’t he kill me? Give me something, please give me something to…”
Appalled, Dr. Michaelson stroked her hand tenderly. “What to do? What to say in the face of such a dreadful wound? The man was mad! And Dora? What did she think she was doing abandoning her only child in such a situation? I must not judge. All things work together for good to them that love God. But she doesn’t even believe in God. What can I say? She’s bleeding to death. Spiritually, she’s bleeding to death. I can’t just say a few reassuring words and pat her hand and leave. Perhaps we could pray together. I feel it might be the only way to staunch the bleeding. Oh, God help me, please.”
He gave Jane an injection to ease the pain and replaced Ana’s compresses, at last he said firmly, “Jane. Listen to me. You are not alone. Do you remember the photo of the statue of Christ that you saw this morning in my consulting room? Christ is a reality, He is near to each one of us, in thought, in our hearts, every second of the day and night. He created us and He loves us, but He has allowed us to be free so that instead of being puppets doing His will because we have to, we turn to Him because we want to, and we try to do His will because we want to. I’d like to pray with you, may I?”
“I don’t know how to pray.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t believe in God.”
“That doesn’t matter either, I do.”
Dr. Michaelson held her hand and bowed his head. “Lord,” he said softly. “Although I cannot see you I know that You are here present with us at this moment. I ask You Lord, to take Jane into Your arms and heal the wounds both physical and spiritual which her father has inflicted upon her. Enfold her in Your love, strengthen her, and warm her. Make Your face to shine upon her and be gracious unto her. Lord, I ask too for her parents, that they may be guided towards a change of heart, towards understanding and true love. Thank you Lord. Amen.”
The room was very still. Jane lay with her eyes closed, her body which had been tense and shivering, relaxed very slowly. Her breathing became quiet and even, and she slept. Gathering up his things Dr. Michaelson tiptoed out of the room and closed the door behind him. Ana was waiting for him in the kitchen.
He sat down on one of the chairs and said, “Señora, Jane has a cracked rib which will be very painful but it will heal without bandages or a plaster cast or anything like that. The bruises…”
“I have a good knowledge of herbs, doctor. I will use them to make compresses for her.”
“Good. Do that. I’ll give you a prescription for a sedative. However, her worst wound is spiritual not physical. Her father told her he wished she had died instead of her brother.”
Ana gasped in horror, and covered her face with trembling hands.
“Only God can heal such wounds,” Dr. Michaelson said. “Pray for her.”
“Oh, yes Doctor. I am. Continually.” She looked up. “That man, he is worse than a criminal. He is a murderer!”
“We must not judge, Señora. Pray for him too.”
She looked away, her mouth a hard thin line. At last she said gruffly, “I will try. But I can assure you Doctor, that I will never set foot in that house again. Never!”
He smiled sadly and patted her arm. “Jane is sleeping just now,” he said. “Perhaps, when she wakes up she’ll be feeling a little better.”
He wrote out a prescription for a sedative and added, “I shall bring a bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy when I come tomorrow. I have some, I think. Good evening Señora. It is very good of you to take care of Jane like this.”
“It was the least I could do, the poor homeless child. She will always be welcome here.”
At that moment a bright eyed young woman hurried in, laden down with two heavy shopping bags. She set them on the table and shook Dr. Michaelson’s hand as Ana introduced her.
“This is my grand-daughter, Anita. She is married to Duarte and the little boys are her children.”
As soon as he could, Dr. Michaelson took his leave and drove home soberly, thinking of Jane and hoping that the effect of her father’s words would not leave a scar which would cripple her young, sensitive soul for life. Oh, the waste of it all! So much pain and suffering and hurt. Poor little Jane. What did her destiny hold in store for her? Why was he so bound up in it? Why why why. So many enigmas which only death, presumably, would ever solve!
“I’ve brought you the photograph,” he said the following afternoon sitting beside Jane in the stuffy little bedroom, relieved to see that the swellings on her face had lessened. He took it out of his bag and handed it to her. She looked at it listlessly.
“Shall I hang it here instead of this butterfly picture?” he asked.
“My side hurts,” was all she said. “I can’t sleep at all it hurts so much. I can’t turn over or cough or sneeze or anything.”
He took down the butterfly-wing picture, handed it to her and hung up the photograph which, with a pas-par-tout and framed in a wooden frame, was much bigger
“Cracked ribs always hurt like the devil,” he said. “I remember I cracked two ribs playing rugby once, so I know what I’m talking about, but one gets used to lying flat on one’s back when one wants to sleep, and they heal remarkably quickly. The sedative I prescribed will help.”
“I want sleeping pills.” Jane groaned, fiddling with the tiny picture in her hands.
“If you’re still not sleeping well when I come back we’ll talk about it,” he said gently, slipping his fingers over her wrist and checking her pulse. Once he’d done that, he took out his stethoscope and listened to her breathing and to her heart for several minutes. He sat beside her thoughtfully not liking the mantel of depression which was beginning to over-power her.
“Jane,” he said at last. “You are not ill and you must not lie in bed all day moping. Of course you’ll find difficulty sleeping at night if you’re lying here dozing all day. You are to get up and do things. Help in the kiosk, help about the house, help in the garden, sew patch-work quilts, learn how to cook and do the cooking, decide what interests you most and get on with it. I’m perfectly willing to come and see you but not if you don’t listen to me and do what I say. Is that clear?”
Jane shrugged and turned her head away from him towards the wall.
“She’s just a child,” he thought wearily, waiting in silence. At last she turned her head back and asked, “Are you going to stop coming?”
“Not if you’re a good girl and do what I say. The next time I come I’ll bring you some books to read. Would you like that?”
“Yes. Did Mummy phone you?”
“I phoned her this morning and told her that I had seen you.”
“Did she say anything? Send me any message?”
“Er .. no.”
“I suppose Daddy was too nearby.”
“D’you think she’ll come and see me tomorrow when he goes to work?”
“I’ve no idea, Jane.”
“Can I go and stay with you, Dr. Michaelson?”
“No dear I’m afraid not. My daughter and her two children are living with us at this moment and the house is in an uproar.”
“I want to go home.”
“I know but you must be very courageous, and grown up.”
“I can still have an abortion, can’t I?”
“Do you really want that?”
She remained silent, staring at the photograph on the wall. “I feel I’m in prison,” she said bitterly. “I’m in prison and Kevin is free and he’s just as much to blame!”
“Try and think positive thoughts, dear. Blaming people never helps very much. We all act in this way or that because of our mental and spiritual make up. Up to now I consider that you have acted in a manner which shows that you are a rather special person.”
Dr. Michaelson nodded.
“When are you going to come back?”
“Are you going to do what I asked you to do?”
“I guess so. Daddy is antediluvian for this day and age, isn’t he?”
“People who have very fixed ideas are not very flexible.”
“D’you think he’ll ever forgive me?”
“I’m sure he will!”
“But without the baby!”
They sat in silence for several minutes. At last Dr Michaelson said, “Well, I must go now. Get up and go and sit in the kitchen for a little while.”
“With my face all black and blue? NO!”
“All right then, sit on the bed with your feet on the floor.”
Wincing, Jane sat up with an effort. Dr. Michaelson smiled. “Very good. Now then, you are to sit here for five minutes and then you are to stand up and mark time for ten and you are to do all that three times and then you can do what you like. Is that clear?”
He picked up his things, closed his case and stood up.
“You must get your blood to circulate,” he said. “Then the bruises will go very soon. Goodbye Jane, dear. Do this several times a day please, I want you to recover quickly!”
He kissed her and left the room before she could think of anything to say. In the kitchen he gave Ana the Rescue Remedy drops and instructions on how to administer them and how to keep Jane active. On no account was she to lie in bed all day.
Ana nodded and said, “I have decided to take a week’s holiday. I cannot leave the niña Jane alone when she is in this state of mind. Our own daughter Florencia, suffered this disgrace you know. But we did not beat her up or throw her out of the house. The result was Anita. Florencia and her father have passed on but I have Anita and the two little boys, and Duarte who is a good lad, I have no complaints about him and he makes Anita happy.”
They walked slowly down the garden path. At the gate Dr. Michaelson laid his hand on Ana’s shoulder and said, “Goodbye, Señora. I shall come again in a couple of days time, my telephone number is on the prescription I gave you, ring me at any time, if you need me. The drops I left should help Jane recover from her depression.”
He patted her shoulder and smiled, got into the car, let in the clutch and drove away, aware of the curious stares of Ana’s neighbors from windows and doors. It was a long way to come to visit a patient, but it was interesting to glimpse this other world which one read about, usually in connection with violence and drugs, seldom with the daily toil and effort of honest, hardworking men and women who came and went like ants, often having to travel four hours a day to and from their work in crammed buses which lurched with screeching brakes through the traffic. These people lived out their lives, often in pain, always with many hardships and few pleasures, uncomplaining, cheerful and resigned. And despite her humble home and the family’s need for what she brought home from her work as a char, Ana did not think twice of taking a week’s holiday in order to care for Jane. She was a good woman, Jane was lucky.
Jane glanced at her watch for the hundredth time and wondered if Dr. Michaelson would come that afternoon. She had waited fruitlessly for her mother for three days and had now given up hope. Her bruises were a little better from the point of view of the pain but their colour had become even more vivid and she was so ashamed of what she looked like that she flatly refused to go out of her room. She read the small pile of magazines Ana had rustled up for her but she was desperately bored and her thoughts circled obsessively around the idea of getting rid of the baby she was carrying.
At last she decided that she would write to her mother and tell her that she agreed to have the abortion. It was the only way. How silly she had been not to see it from the very beginning! All this mess she was in was entirely due to her obstinacy. If she had agreed to go along with Kevin’s wishes she would have been free of all this trouble, enjoying her life with him and living at home, loved and cared for by her parents. January seemed eons away. Almost like another life. Such an easy, happy life. What a fool she had been. But if she decided to go ahead with the abortion, well, at least she could get on with her life and do something. Really go to Brazil and get a job, in fact. Or England. That would be wild. With eager fingers she searched through her hold-all until she found a pen and some paper. Sitting on the edge of her bed she wrote to her mother. She was still writing when she heard Pepito yapping in the garden and the sound of Dr. Michaelson’s car door slamming.
He came into her room carrying his case and a nylon bag full of books. “Hello, dear,” he said. “I’m glad to see you sitting up. How do you feel today?”
She stood up and kissed him on the cheek. “Better thank you. My mother hasn’t come at all you know. I’m writing her a letter. I thought perhaps you could take it to her.”
She picked up the letter and handed it to him. “You can read it if you like,” she said. “I mean, please, do read it.”
He sat down on the stool and read her half-finished letter with a serious expression. At last he handed it back to her. “You haven’t finished it,” he said.
“No, but it’s only the ending that’s missing.”
“Your mother ‘phoned me.”
“Did she? What did she say? Did she say anything about coming here to see me, or that I could go home or something?”
“No. She just told me that she was leaving today on a trip to Brazil with your father. She also told me that she has told one or two people that you have gone to work for a family in Brazil for a few months.”
“And she’s gone? They’ve both gone to Brazil, really?”
“Then there’s no point in sending this letter.” Jane burst into tears. “I want to go home,” she sobbed. “I hate it here. Ana is very kind but it’s all so different. All the food has garlic in it and the bathroom is a shack, it’s just got a hole in the ground, and it stinks too. I haven’t even had a bath yet, a shower I mean, they have no bath. And the bed is just all lumps. I want to go home. Please, please, take me home. I’ve got a key. I can go and stay there while they’re away …. I can …”
Her voice wavered to a stop. At last she whispered. “I might as well be dead. As far as they’re concerned I am. Daddy will never forgive me. He doesn’t love me. I mean nothing to him. It’s all Brian, Brian, Brian for both of them. Why? What’s the MATTER with me? It’ll be too late when they come back. I’ll be three months already. Mummy probably wouldn’t give me the money away. Oh, I wish I were dead!”
After a long silence Dr. Michaelson said, “We are all born with a mission. Some of us never bother to try and find out. Some of us know but we look the other way, turn a blind eye. Some of us have the courage to find out what it is and to do it. I’ve told you before I think you are a very special person, I think you have the courage to face this very difficult destiny of yours and learn from it all you can. You felt from the very beginning the sacredness of the life which is growing within you. Of the future man or woman, of their mission, of the great responsibility motherhood implies. It made me very proud of you.”
Jane sniffed and Dr. Michaelson handed her his handkerchief. She blew her nose and dried her eyes. “It’s true,” she agreed. “This, this bunch of cells, as Kevin called it, was always a real person to me. Somebody who has something to do, like you said; a Mission. I felt that from the very start.”
“And you acted according to that… intuition.”
Jane picked up her unfinished letter to her mother and crumpled it into a ball.
“Yeah,” she said. “I did.”
She looked out of the window for a little while and then she turned back to Dr. Michaelson and said, “I won’t be able to look after him. That’s as clear to me as anything. And I want him to have everything, every opportunity, the absolute best. Do these people who want to adopt him have lots of money?”
“And they’re nice, educated people, people who would want him to go to university and all that? To discover his ‘Mission’?”
“Yes, I’m sure of it.”
“And they’ll love him?”
“Yes. They’ll love him.”
“Will you be looking after him?”
“I’ve no idea. But it’s likely.”
“It’s the only reason worth living for, to give this baby a chance.”
Dr. Michaelson said nothing. Jane gave a deep sigh. “Yes,” she said. “Tell them that I’ll let them have him, it, and that I’ll look after myself so that he’s healthy and well.”
They continued to sit in silence for a while, then Jane said, “But I still hate living here…”
“I can understand dear, but try and pretend that… ‘What to say to catch the imagination and sense of humor of a teenager? And this teenager in particular?’ …that, well, you are on your way home but your aeroplane had engine trouble and you’ve had to land on this strange island full of strange people with weird customs and Ana has very kindly taken you in. The only person who can fix your ‘plane’ can’t come for a few months so you’ll just have to stay on this island until he can.”
Jane produced a watery smile.
“What happened to him that he can’t come?”
“He slipped on a banana skin and broke both his legs.”
“Poor thing. While I’m on the island I should keep a journal, shouldn’t I?”
“Do that. It sounds like a very good idea. By the way, do you have any money?”
“Only the change from the taxi. Oh, and my cheque. The one Daniel Torres Hidalgo gave me.”
“Let me have it, I’ll cash it for you.”
Jane unearthed her handbag and handed him the cheque. He nodded and took out his wallet and counted out a number of bills. “I’ll give you these pesos now and I’ll bring the rest the next time I come. Will that be all right?”
“Yeah, fine. I’ve never had so much money of my own before!”
“Well don’t go and lose it. Put it away carefully and spend it wisely.”
She gave him a crooked grin and said, “Yes doctor.”
“And you’ll have to endorse this cheque too. That means that you have to sign your name here.”
He handed her the cheque and a pen and she signed where he had indicated.
“Very good,” he smiled. “And now a check-up young lady. Heart, lungs, tummy and so on. You may lie down.”
She made a face. “Feel it,” she said, patting the bed, “You see? It’s all lumps.”
On his way out Dr. Michaelson had a few words with Duarte about the bathroom. Duarte took him to see the room destined for that purpose. One wall was tiled and the basin and W.C. were stacked in a corner. A bag of lime and several cardboard boxes overflowing with second hand clothes, broken toys and a great deal of unidentifiable oddments filled most of the rest of the floor space. The metal window-frame had no glass. Dr. Michaelson looked round carefully, trying the engrave the correct measurements in his memory, then he clapped Duarte on the shoulder and said, “So you need pipes, eh?”
“And you could finish it yourself if you had the pipes?”
“Good, well, thank you very much.”
He bade Ana farewell, stroked the little boys’ heads and dived back into Jane’s bedroom to say, “By the way, that bag full of books I brought you. My wife chose them so I disclaim all responsibility for the titles, but I gather they’re quite a mixed bunch. Goodbye dear. Try and get used to your island.”
“Bye, thank you.”
When he had gone Jane lay down on the bed again and stared at the photograph hanging on the wall. So, it was all decided. She was going to have the baby after all, and she was going to give it away in adoption.
“I won’t be able to give you anything,” she whispered. “It’s better this way. You’ll have a nice home and lots of toys, and you’ll be sent to a very good school and to university and everything. I’d never be able to do that for you. You do understand, don’t you? You have to full-fill your mission. My mission is to have you.”
The large nylon bag, spilling over with books, lay at the foot of her bed, a comforting promise of entertainment and escape from boredom. Jane felt warmed, her heart felt less leaden, the idea of the island full of strange people attracted her. So her parents had gone to Brazil and her mother was telling everyone that she had been offered a job there. A familiar wave of homesickness swept through her. It was almost impossible for her to believe that from one minute to the next she had lost all that mattered most to her, her home, her parents, her friends, her accustomed way of life. It was like being in the war. One day everything was there and the next a bomb had blown everything away and you were on your own. Over and over again her heart rebelled within her and she was flooded with resentment and bitterness.
She sat up and pulled the bag of books towards her. They were certainly a mixed lot. Novels, a ‘Learn English’ text book Nº 1, a Spanish-Portuguese dictionary, a book of birds and another on embroidery and yet another on how to make rag dolls. Some which seemed to be on religious or spiritual subjects. One on Brazil with photographs. Jane leafed through them with interest, despite herself. Ana appeared with a cup of tea and some scones and was deeply relieved at the sight of Jane sitting on her bed surrounded by books and reading one intently.
“Look,” Jane said and held up the book for Ana to see. “My parents have gone to Brazil, they are saying that I have gone to work in Brazil!”
Ana set the tray down carefully and sat down on the stool. She took the book and turned the glossy pages, studying the photographs.
“It looks a beautiful country,” she said.
Jane nodded, munching a scone and stirring her tea idly.
“Is this your bedroom?” she asked.
“Yes dear, but you are welcome to it.”
“Why aren’t you working Ana?”
“Because I’m on holiday. Perhaps next week I’ll go back to work again but a body gets tired and needs a bit of rest, especially after a long hot summer.”
Two weeks later Jane`s bruises had faded to a faint brown and she felt the urgent need to get out of her tiny bedroom and feel the sun on her face and breathe in cold fresh air. At last she decided to sit at the table with the family for supper. The T.V. clattered all through the meal. They ate a rich, tasty goulash which Ana had made, wiping their plates clean with lumps of fresh white bread. When the meal was over the inevitable matè gourd was produced and Duarte filled it with crushed dried ‘yerba mate’ leaves, added a pinch of some herb and a spoonful of honey, finally filling the gourd with hot water. For the next hour the gourd, with its curved silver straw, was refilled time after time with hot water and passed from person to person who sucked it empty and handed it back to Duarte. Gonzalo fell asleep on Ana’s bed. Ricardo struggled with home-work, his eye’s drooping with sleep. Anita washed up. Ana chose pieces of material from a sack full of bits in order to make a new patchwork quilt to sell.
Watching them Jane felt the urge to do something herself and began to look through the bits of coloured material with the idea of making a rag doll. She decided she should make a formal renunciation of her baby in the form of a letter to Dr. Michaelson. She felt it would make her mission more real, and it would put the future parents of her baby at ease. She was surprised at how close she felt to this unknown couple, and how important their peace of mind had suddenly become to her.
“Friday is Good Friday,” Anita said, settling herself down beside Jane. “So we have a nice long week-end ahead of us.”
“What with the General strike on Monday it’ll be a very short week indeed.” Ana said acidly.
“Don’t worry Ana,” Duarte said cheerfully. “In September we will be having elections for the first time in years, and a democratic government, and everything will be solved.”
“Huh, do you really believe all those promises? The army won’t allow a democratic government for long, if we ever get one, you’ll see!” The old lady retorted.
Jane wrote her letter that night and gave it to Ana the next day. Ana now worked for the Michaelsons three times a week, having kept her word and never returned to the Rowans.
On Easter Sunday, after a night of high winds which had howled around the little house like a pack of hungry wolves, the weather dawned fair. The whole family dressed up in their best clothes and made ready to leave for church. At the last moment Jane decided to accompany them. Sitting beside Ana during the service she listened attentively at first, but her attention soon wandered and she looked about at the brown scrubbed faces, the neat black hair, and carefully ironed clothes of the many faithful present and wondered if the service meant anything more to them than it did to her. Gonzalo had brought a plastic car, and was soon playing with it quietly on the floor, lost in his own little world of make-believe.
“Can my father be right?” Jane wondered. “Is this just a grown-up world of make-believe or is Dr. Michaelson the one who is right? Does God really exist? Did Jesus Christ really live?” She thought of the photograph which the good Doctor had given her. She had come to church today, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, partly because of the photograph. Something about the statue made a very deep impression on her, and she was glad that it hung at the foot of her bed where her eyes could rest on it in the morning when she awoke.
On their way home she said, “This is the first time I have been into a church. I’m not even baptized.”
Her statement caused a flurry of conversation and they talked about the different religions all the rest of the way home.
A few days later, soon after Ana and Anita had left for work, a truck drove up and stopped outside the house. Duarte went to discover what it had come about and was overjoyed to find that all the pipes needed to finish the bathroom as well as tiles, bathroom fittings, glass for the window and various other materials had arrived. It was like a gift from heaven. All he had to do was to sign for it all and help unload everything and pile it neatly near the chicken shed. Jane watched from the kitchen door and felt a surge of pleasure, for she knew that she was directly responsible.
“At least we’ll have a bathroom now,” she thought. “And we won’t have to use that awful little shack at the back!”
In fact it was a day full of surprises for at mid-day another truck arrived with a brand new mattress and a small chest-of-drawers. Duarte immediately took away the mattress Jane had been sleeping on and replaced it with the new one. Although she knew it had been sent for her she suddenly felt it was unfair and that Ana should have been the one to receive it. Duarte, however, was adamant.
“You are expecting a baby and you must sleep well,” he insisted as he pushed the chest of drawers into place by her bed, and that was that.
Ana and Anita were thrilled with all the surprises and chattered excitedly about at last having a real bathroom in the house after so many years of making-do. It was decided to dig into their meagre savings in order to pay for someone to come and help Duarte and in that way the work would be finished in no time.
“I’ll help in the kiosk if you like,” Jane offered.
Her suggestion caused another flutter of pleasure and enthusiasm and Anita set to work writing out all the prices clearly so that Jane would have as little trouble as possible.
Sitting on the hard stool behind the counter in the window attending to those who came for cigarettes and other small commodities, a whole new world of experiences began for Jane. While Duarte and ‘Chacho’ hammered and banged at the back of the house, she studied all her merchandise carefully, memorizing the prices and rearranging it to its best advantage. She put a little vase of flowers on a shelf and made sure that anyone who came felt welcome. When there was nothing else to do she tidied and cleaned out the boxes underneath the counter and made an inventory of all the existing stock. It was not long, however, before the number of clients increased considerably. Drawn by curiosity, nearly all the women in the neighborhood found it entirely necessary to stock up on toothpaste, or buy some plastic toy for their child. Jane’s pretty face, engaging manner and the story of her father’s violence, which had lost nothing with the telling, made a trip to the kiosk a highlight of the day. Jane soon learned the names of her regular clients and soon quite a group of ladies, their shopping bags bulging, got into the habit of congregating near the kiosk for a chat and to find out how Jane was and how the new bathroom was coming along.
Ten days later the bathroom was ready, but it turned out to be a day of mixed feelings for Duarte, who in his enthusiasm, had driven himself too hard and developed such bad lumbago that he was unable to move. Anita remained at home to look after him and Jane continued to attend the kiosk. However, everyone, except Duarte, had a hot shower in turn, and the shack outside was turned into a second bathroom in case of need. Quite a large number of neighbours came in to have a look and then to congratulate Duarte and cheer him up. Ricardo and Gonzalo were so thrilled they kept flushing the toilet until Anita locked the door and hung the key on a nail hammered well out of reach.
Duarte was laid up for well over ten days. A neighbour came every second day and gave him an injection, which Dr. Michaelson had prescribed, and gradually the pain succumbed and he was able to get about again and to attend to the kiosk. Watching him hobble about Jane yearned to be able to do something for him to alleviate the pain, such as massage, and felt frustrated at not being able to do so. Even the little ritual of giving injections was a complete mystery to her.
Once Duarte had recovered and she did not have to attend to the kiosk so much anymore, time began to lie heavily on her hands. She finished the novels Mrs. Michaelson had sent, she made bread, she learned to cook tasty meals, she made two rag dolls whose heads were rather wobbly, and she tried to study a bit of Portuguese but it was hard going. At last she wrote out a little advertisement offering English lessons for a small fee and two days later her first pupil arrived. Jane was not at all sure that she would be able to teach her at all for she had absolutely no idea about English grammar, but at least she spoke correctly and perhaps the grammar would not be too hard to master after a bit of practice.
Her pupil was thirteen and in first year of secondary school where English was obligatory. She came twice a week and Jane’s fears were soon dispelled, for the level of instruction was well within her capacities.
One Sunday morning some relations of Ana came to visit. They arrived with their married daughter and baby grandchild after a three hour bus drive and brought meat and sausages with them. At once the house was filled with cries of welcome and surprise. The little boys were sent to fetch fresh bread from the baker. Anita rushed to buy wine and coal while Jane picked fresh lettuce and Duarte built a fire and was soon preparing a tasty bar-b-cue. They ate outside in the warm autumn sunshine and the talk was of family and friends, deaths and births, marriages, illnesses, joys and griefs. Jane listened, comparing the conversation to those in Santucho where Daniel had held forth on such subjects as the influence of Jorge Luis Borge’s work on South American literature, or the superiority of the Colon theatre in Buenos Aires to most theatres in European capitals. Neither conversations interested her much and she tried to remember what she had talked about with Bettina and her other school friends. Boys, records, fashion and clothes, school-work and their teachers, nothing very special, but they had talked for hours. Incredible! She would probably find that conversation boring too, now.
The young mother unbuttoned her blouse and bared one of her breasts when the time came to feed her baby. She pressed the dark nipple into her hungry infant’s mouth and Jane watched as it began to feed voraciously, making sucking, gurgling noises. A flash of pain pierced her as she thought, “I’m not going to feed my baby. I’m not even going to see it. Why did I say I’d give it away?”
She knew why, but that did not ease the pain. It seemed so unfair. After all, Anita had been a ‘mistake’ and how happy Ana was to have her. The words, ‘if only it had been you who had died in that car crash …’ resounded in her ears and she found it difficult to breathe. Why? Why did her father judge her like that? It was quite possible that Brian might have got a girl into ‘trouble’ and have had to get married at eighteen or nineteen. Would her father have thrown him out of the house? Would Brian have expected his girl to abort? Would he ever have been capable of saying the things that Kevin had said? No, Brian was not like that. But then, until it had happened, she would never have said that Kevin was like that either.
The baby was offered the other breast and it set to, drinking greedily, kneading the full brown flesh with one of its little hands. Gonzalo and Ricardo watched with fascination. They were always asking Anita when she was going to bring them a baby sister.
The visitors left late in the afternoon, full of praise for the house and the new bathroom. Ana and Anita remained sitting in the kitchen sipping matè and discussing all the news they had received, tossing the subjects to and fro between them and squeezing the last ounce of interest out of them. Jane went to her room and lay down. She became very tired after sitting for any length of time on the hard kitchen chairs and her new mattress was invitingly comfortable. Homesickness invaded her. For a while she let her tears spill over. There were times when her longing to speak to her mother was almost unbearable, twice she had gone to the telephone booth, determined to ‘phone, but then she had changed her mind and returned to Ana’s filled with melancholy. Her mother did not write and the only news she got was through Dr. Michaelson, who, now that she was better, only came now and again and brought her scraps of news about her mother’s life. She had had a most interesting but very tiring trip to Brazil. Jane had looked through the glossy pictures in the book she had been given and tried to imagine her parents looking at the same views and buildings in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
At last she sat up and rubbed her eyes dry. There was no use in crying. It would upset the baby. Slipping a cassette into her walkman, she pushed the earphones into place over her ears as she lay back again. Mozart`s Concierto for violin Nº 1 filled her head and heart and she smiled, what would Bettina think of her listening to classical music ?
The golden autumn days came to an abrupt end one night with a fierce storm which came with lashing wind and rain from the south. Lying on her bed, Jane felt the house tremble as the wind shrieked round it. The rain drummed on the tin roof and it seemed as if Nature was determined to blow away the humble little home and all of them with it. The image from childhood days of the wolf blowing down the little pigs’ houses broke into Jane’s thoughts and she was suddenly filled with fear. She scrambled out of bed dragging a blanket around her shoulders and sat trembling. Standing up she hurried to the kitchen where she found Ana sipping mate by the stove.
“Niña Jane, what is the matter?” she asked anxiously,
“Nothing, just the storm. Ana, my father said I was not his daughter anymore and that he never wanted to see me again and my mother, like a tame sheep has gone bleating after him. Just because I am pregnant! Heaps of girls of my age live with their boyfriends, have babies, what is so terrible after all? If a baby wants to be born and could find no other way?
Ana sighed, “I don’t know, niña Jane. All I feel is that it is not chance that ‘el Doctor’ should have been asked by a couple about adopting a baby just before you went to see him. I see in that the hand of God. I am an old woman and I have seen the hand of God at work very often. He took my husband and Florencia my daughter but He left me Anita. My husband drank very much and used to come home drunk and beat me and beat Florencia too. When he was sober he would weep and make many promises, but then he would drink again and forget his promises. My Florencia was never very strong. When she was small she always suffered from colds and bronchitis, every winter. I worried about her continually. She was twenty six when she died and Anita was just five years old. Anita was always well and healthy, full of energy too. I used to take her with me to work and she used to help me. What a bonny little girl! The Señoras I worked for all loved her! And now she is married and has her own little boys and we all live together. It is very comforting for me.”
“Yes, but my baby Ana. Why do I have to give my baby up?”
“Perhaps it is the only way it can become the child of the parents it wishes, niña Jane.”
“My heart and my head have such terrible arguments, Ana. They fight and fight. I’ve said yes and I can’t say no now I suppose, but I wish I knew, really knew why, why everything… Kevin, my father, my mother… these people who want to adopt my baby … why, Ana? Why?”
Ana smiled sadly and shook her head. “I cannot help you, querida,” she said. “But my heart tells me that your decision was the correct one, even though it means giving up your child. Anita I know, doesn’t feel that way, but your lives are very different.”
She looked at the alpine cottage clock on the wall and said. “The storm is nearly over. You must go to bed, niña Jane, and I too must rest, good night my child.”
Jane rose, kissed her and returned to bed thoughtfully.
She had lost her parents but she had found Ana. In a sense Ana and Anita and her family were her family now. They certainly loved her unreservedly and did their best to make her feel comfortable and welcome in their modest home. Well, anyway, it had all been decided now. She would live quietly here with Ana until the baby was born and then, if she wanted to she could put an end to her life. Now, for the baby, she must keep well and healthy, she must concentrate on that very time she felt she was going to go crazy. She had a mission. It was a very difficult one, but she was a very special person, Dr. Michaelson had said so, he had said he thought she was a very special person, and here she was on this strange uncomfortable island…
About a month later Anita came home with a small book for Jane.
“I found it on the bus. Someone must have dropped it. I found the cover so beautiful, and I know that you have finished reading the books the Doctor brought you.”
Jane took the book from her and gazed at the paper cover which was illustrated with a very beautiful coloured butterfly. The book was called “The Wing of a Butterfly”, it was very slim and she hardly felt its weight in her fingers as she held it. It was written in Spanish.
“Thank you Anita,” she smiled, looking up. “But why give it to me? I can read it and give it back to you.”
“No, no. I dreamt about you the other day, I forgot to tell you. I dreamt that I had to give you some bread and I was very worried because I didn´t have any. Somehow I connect this book with the dream. Anyway I’m not a great reader and you are, please keep it.”
“Well, thanks very much.”
That night, once she was in bed, she opened it at random and began to read.
“ … we who believe in repeated lives begin to understand a little more clearly the enigmas of this life. The tragedies and apparent injustices fall into place, for they become simply lessons, experiences, or the effects of actions in past lives which have to be experienced in this life in order that we may progress. And what progresses? What, in us, is eternal? We cannot say it is our physical body for we cannot deny death. Neither can we say that it is our soul for that is the vehicle for our thinking, feeling and willing, but we can, perhaps, say that it is our essence, our very-self, that which we designate by the little word “I” …”
Jane sat looking at the printed words with unseeing eyes as this new concept began to expand in her mind.
She thought of the poor people, like Ana, struggling all their lives to make ends meet; of the rich, like the Torres Hidalgos, with their houses and cars, trips abroad, properties and possessions; of those who dedicated their lives to helping other people. She thought of the people in South America and in Europe, and then in Africa and China. White, brown, black and yellow, all over the world human beings were living and suffering… experiences, lessons… each individual person learning and learning. If someone was a villain or a thief, well, in the next life there was the possibility that they would be quite the opposite. And if it was one’s essence, one’s individuality which wanted to learn, then every kind of experience was important…
Jane felt a wave of peace fill her heart. The idea of the baby using her to reach its real parents changed from being a mere thought, clutched at as a straw to which to cling, into a living possibility. How often had she said, and really felt “My baby is a person, he is not just a bunch of cells,”? A person had an ‘I’ and that ‘I’ could have very definite plans and aims. It would need to be born and to live in a body in order to be effective on earth, in order to fulfill its obligations. A baby, of course, had no obligations as such, but one could not deny it an individuality, its ‘I’, just because it was a baby. In fact, a baby was like the bud of a flower, growing and developing, first inside its mother’s tummy and then…
Jane turned back to the cover of the book in order to find out the name of the author. Bernardo Rivas, she must remember that name. What was it Dr. Michaelson had said? That some people thought the body was only a sort of overcoat, something a spirit puts on when it wants to live on earth. She had liked the idea, and the idea of repeated lives she liked even better. It made sense. It gave one a chance, lots of chances in fact, to really work at deserving heaven before being hustled into hell, if there was such a place.
A loving God seemed to be much more feasible from such a point of view. It was like being at school, in a way, and God was the Headmaster. Each life would be like first form or second form… if one was lazy one would have to repeat a form, perhaps a two or three times! One could receive a lot of punishments… one might even have to take special exams in order to catch up!
Perhaps giving up her baby was that, a special exam. It was only because she did not know the whole situation that she couldn’t understand. Perhaps if she were in a higher form it would be quite clear to her and it would not be so painful. And anybody could be in the upper or lower forms! It had nothing to do with money or good schools or anything like that! Ana was probably very near the top, her own parents near the bottom. Was it possible that she was in a higher form than her own parents? The idea startled her. But it was possible, of course it was possible, and it made certain enigmas a little clearer.
Lying back on her pillows Jane held the book against her breast and whispered her first prayer. “God, if you really exist, if this is really a special exam I have to take, please help me.”
The idea of reincarnation absorbed her from that moment on. She read and re-read the book Anita had ‘found’ in the bus. Everything took on a new meaning for her, even suffering. One only really learned, she saw, when one suffered, when something was difficult. When everything was easy one just fooled around. She looked about her and considered the animals and birds and insects and felt the book was right. They did not have individual ‘I’s so they were just a combination of bodies and feelings. They did not think logically, they did not plan ahead about what they wanted to do, and so when they died their bodies returned to the earth and their souls to the world of feelings. She treated Pepito with gentle reverence and gave up eating meat.
The vegetable garden suddenly became a holy place where the mystery of the earth forces together with the consciously directed forces of a human being produced neat rows of vegetables growing vigorously, offering themselves as a sacrifice so that the human beings in turn could live and flourish.
When Dr. Michaelson came on his regular visit, she showed him the book.
“Anita found it on a bus and brought it to me. She’d dreamed about me you know, that she had to give me bread and that she didn’t have any to give me, and when she picked up the book she sort of felt it was the answer to her dream. Can that be true d’you think, Dr. Michaelson? I really feel it is. This little book has helped me so much, you can’t imagine. Everything makes sense for me, even Kevin and my parents. I mean I’m trying to see that what they did had to do with an… er… a sort of exam I myself wanted me to take. D’you get me? It’s a bit complicated I know but…”
“Yes, I do understand what you are trying to say,” Dr. Michaelson smiled. “And I too believe as you do. But Jane, I know you feel you have found the pearl of great price, and you have too, but don’t try and force other people to find it. Each one in his own time must come to understand these matters of the spirit, they cannot be forced.”
Jane regarded him seriously and said. “It’s true you know, Duarte begins to get sort of angry when I start to talk about all this, and then Anita and Ana get upset too. But it’s so special, so important for me!”
“Talking about an important experience sometimes has the effect of dissipating it. It all seems to blow away in hot air! But if one says nothing and meditates on it and tries to think about it up to the furthest consequences that one can, then it really takes root in one’s heart. What is the use of an idea if it just remains an idea and doesn’t change one in some way, bear fruit I mean?”
“Like the vegetables in the vegetable garden,” Jane said eagerly.
“Mmm-hmm. Good ideas bear good fruit, bad ideas bad fruit, good ideas out of season can sometimes be almost poison. We must learn to recognize them for what they are. What is good for me need not necessarily be so for you. What is important is that one always aims for the highest in oneself, but that one never becomes fanatical or tries to impose one’s ideas on another. We must all be free, even if the God we worship is only money, or fame, or whatever.”
They sat in silence for a while until at last Jane said, “Do you speak to my mother often?”
“I telephone her after each visit and tell her how you are.”
“Will you give her my love?”
“I miss my home so much, still, you know. I’ve got used to living here and the smell of garlic doesn’t bother me at all any more, or Anita searching for nits in the childrens’ hair or Duarte’s belches after a meal. The T.V. bothers me a lot, they have it on so loud! And also their morbid interest in all the calamities which are shown, it’s incredible, they just lap them up.”
“I suppose it makes their own small, dull lives seem like bliss by comparison.”
“Could be. I hadn’t thought of that. Does Mummy know about the adoption?”
“Only that it is a probability, that nothing is definite. The arrangement I mentioned when you and I talked about this business the very first time, still stands, by the way. And the couple have accepted it.”
“You mean, in case I can’t have any more children?”
“Dr. Michaelson, I feel like writing to my friend Bettina and telling her that I lost the baby in a natural way, and that I’m in Brazil and that I’m fine. I don’t know. I just don’t want her to know that I have given him away. Ever. Would there be a way of sending the letter from somewhere in Brazil?”
“Oh, yes. That would be no problem, dear. Send the letter along with Ana when you’ve written it.”
“Where am I going to have him?”
“At home. My wife and I have decided to have you come and stay in our house when you get near to the date of your delivery. I calculate about September the fifteenth. How does the idea seem to you?”
“Wild. Oh dear, September seems such a long time away.”
“It’ll pass quickly enough. Just concentrate on doing the exercises I’ve given you, and keeping occupied. How are the English lessons going?”
“Fine thanks. I have three pupils now, you know. Oh, gosh, I’ll have to abandon them before the end of their school year, poor things. Unless I come back here… but…”
“Jane, the future will look after itself. Concern yourself with the present, dear. Things have changed now for you haven’t they? Because of this little book I mean.”
Jane wiped away the tears that had filled her eyes. She nodded forlornly.
“Then you can be sure that your future is just what you yourself want it to be, whatever it is and wherever you go. Don’t try to manipulate your destiny, that will only bring you a lot of headaches.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, programming through mental control, and all that sort of thing. One should just let one’s destiny flow and accept what comes as the experiences which are necessary for one at the time they occur.”
“But then I could just drift along not doing anything.”
“You know as well as I do that when one has to do something or should do something it becomes as clear as a summer’s day.”
“Yes. I suppose you’re right.”
“Well, I must be off now. Would you like some more books on the subject of reincarnation or is this one enough?”
“Oh, I’d like others if you have them.”
“I’ll send a couple through Ana then.”
“I hate it when you go.”
“You’re doing very well on this very strange Island.”
“I’m preparing for a very difficult exam.”
“Yes, you are. But you’ll pass it with flying colours. You’ll see.”
“I hope so.”
The cold weather clamped down hard over the land. The garden became dark and dreary and it was hard to believe that in a few weeks it would again be filled with flowers and vegetables. The trees had lost their leaves and the sky was often grey and leaden. But there were days when the sun shone and one could sit outside at mid-day and feel its warmth on one’s face and arms.
Jane looked after herself with great care. She did the exercises Dr. Michaelson had given her, every day, and listened to classical music on her radio regularly because the baby seemed to like it. It moved a lot now and she felt she had come to know almost instinctively its likes and dislikes. She tried not to dwell on the fact that she would never see it after it was born, and simply tried to connect with it as deeply as possible while it was still so intimately part of her.
Her birthday came and went without anyone knowing. She kept it a secret and stared at herself in the mirror and said. “You are eighteen years old today, Jane Rowan. Happy Birthday, dear!” Her mother sent her two maternity outfits but no card or letter. Jane wore them and felt linked to her mother, but she would have preferred a visit.
Ana was still working for Soledad and brought home all the tidbits of news which she felt would interest Jane. Javier had left home and had gone to live in a flat which he shared with a cousin. Lucio was having trouble at school. Sarita was crawling all over the place and had an oldish nanny looking after her. Soledad had taken up golf and was very keen. Jane was interested, but she felt very distant from the Torres Hidalgo since there was no way in which she could communicate with them personally.
Her belly became larger and rounder. She was sure it was going to be a boy. It seemed so strange not to be choosing names or knitting little garments. She wondered if the other mother was doing just that. She often thought of the other mother and wondered what she was like, if she was Argentine or of British descent, or even French or German…
The new books Dr. Michaelson sent her were interesting and difficult. However, she read them and found much to meditate upon. She did not talk about the subject any more or even allude to it, but there were moments when she longed to give a candid opinion based on all the new concepts which she had been absorbing. She had decided that that was another exam she had to pass as well, and contented herself with writing all her thoughts and feelings in her journal.
She wrote a short letter to Bettina saying she had lost the baby but please not to tell Kevin, and that she was enjoying herself a lot in her new job and was even considering taking up nursing as a career. It was not until sometime later that she realized that that playful remark had actually risen from her subconscious and that the idea of becoming a nurse was indeed something she really wanted to do. She mentioned it to Dr. Michaelson and he said he would write to the British Hospital in Buenos Aires where there was a Nursing School.
The days marched slowly past. The strange island with its people and their habits had become familiar and even loved but the warm weather was returning and soon the time would come when, Jane knew, her ‘plane’ would be ready to fly away and leave them all behind. It made her sad. But it was another ‘exam’, another test. What was it that she had to learn from this repeated having to ‘give up’ things? Her boyfriend, her home and parents, her security with Ana, her child, what did her future hold in store for her?
“I’ll come and fetch you on Wednesday,” Dr. Michaelson said cheerfully during his visit in August. “All going well, your baby should be very punctual but one can never tell with the first.”
Jane felt a flash of fear. Two more weeks… Only two more weeks. Her bulk and the discomfort of getting about were a bore of course, but once it had gone, what would she do? How would she feel? She could not bare to think about it. With stoic firmness she made herself pack her belongings, selecting quite a large pile of clothes which she set aside to give to Anita.
On the last evening she cooked a special goodbye dinner for Ana and Anita and her family and gave them presents. The next morning she closed her suitcase, took down the picture from the wall and hung up the butterfly-wing picture in its place and then went to play with Ricardo and Gonzalo. It was a glorious day and the breath of spring was everywhere. The children had begged to be allowed to stay at home from school and Anita had relented, so they sat outside and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. Jane looked about her and remembered how dreary the garden had been only a few weeks ago but now the japonica bush was in full bloom, its rosy red echoed by a pink azalea. The corona-de-novia was a mass of white blossom and around its stem nasturtiums glowed gold and orange. The wisteria in the chicken run had also begun to flower. On the sidewalk a bitter orange tree was blooming and when one walked under it, its perfume was sweet and fragrant. Both Anita and Duarte loved the garden and gardening so that the house and vegetable patch were, now as the spring weather approached, like an oasis of burgeoning life in the somewhat drab surroundings.
Dr. Michaelson arrived at a quarter to eight that evening and the neighbours gathered quickly, kissing Jane tearfully and wishing her luck. Several women gave her baby garments they had made, wrapped in crumpled little bits of paper. Jane hugged Anita and the boys and kissed Duarte on his stubbly cheek. She clung to Ana, her brave little mask suddenly crumbling. It was all over. She was leaving this haven of love and protection and the big wide world beyond loomed fearful and menacing.
“Don’t worry, niña Jane,” Ana whispered. “I shall be going to stay at the Doctor’s too, to accompany you. We have just spoken about it.”
Filled with relief Jane kissed Gonzalo and Ricardo once again and climbed into the car. Her suitcases had already been loaded. The little knot of women waved energetically and wished her luck once again as Dr. Michaelson let in the clutch and they drove slowly away over the deep ruts in the road. Jane waved back and said in a low voice. “Goodbye, strange island.”
As they negotiated a particularly deep rut she said, “A truck got stuck here the last time it rained. They had to get a tractor from I don’t know where to drag it cut. That’s why the ruts are so deep this time.”
“It’s pretty grim, isn’t it?” Dr. Michaelson agreed. Soon, however, they had left the shanty town behind them and were skimming along the main road towards Santa Laura.
Mrs. Michaelson was waiting for them with hot soup and a fruit salad. She took Jane to her bedroom on the ground floor at the back of the house overlooking the garden. It had its own little bathroom and a hall with a built-in wardrobe.
“This will be your suite, dear,” she said, pushing away a few strands of white hair from her sweet round face. “I think you’ll be comfortable here.”
“It’s wild,” Jane breathed, staring about her with wonder. Even her own bedroom at home was not as cozy and comfortable as this room was. “It’s like being in a five star hotel. My own bathroom, too. Its just… lovely.”
Mrs. Michaelson beamed with pleasure. “It was our daughter’s room before she married.”
“Gosh, I’d forgotten almost – wooden doors, wooden floors, big windows, pretty curtains, carpets. I’d forgotten Mrs. Michaelson. I’ve been in another world for only seven months and I had forgotten. How strange.”
“If you need us in the night,” Mrs. Michaelson said. “Just press this button, or at any time for that matter. How are you feeling?”
“All tummy and a dreadfully uncomfortable but O.K. Oh, thank you so much for all the books you sent me. Did Dr. Michaelson tell you how much I liked them?”
“Yes, I’m glad.”
“D’you believe in reincarnation as well?”
“Oh, yes. I have believed in it for most of my life.”
Jane sank down into the little arm chair in the corner of the room. “You know, I feel giving my baby away is a kind of test. If I can do it sort of gladly, then, well, I will have passed the test and things will go better. Something good will happen. Perhaps Daddy will forgive me or something.”
Mrs. Michaelson bent and kissed her gently. “I think you’re doing pretty well,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll pass the test with flying colours.”
Jane went straight to bed, too tired to unpack or to take a shower or even to wash her teeth. Her heart was full of conflicting emotions and she wanted to sleep quickly to escape from them.
“Pumpkin,” she said seriously to her protruding belly as she wallowed in a hot bath the following morning. “You are to come out quickly and properly. No getting stuck half way or wrapping yourself up with the cord or anything like that. We’ve got to pass this test, you and I, and we’re going to get ten out of ten if we can!”
It was decided that Jane should remain in her room except for meals, for it would be very silly to ruin all the carefully laid plans by being found by some friend of the Michaelsons’, sitting in the sitting room, and perhaps being recognized as Dora Rowan’s daughter, with Pumpkin giving the whole show away. She either lay on her bed or sat in the small arm chair, reading or dreaming. The little book Anita had given her lay on her night table and she dipped into it from time to time, reading and re-reading the parts she had underlined.
Ana arrived with a small hold-all and was given a bed in the ironing room a few days later.
“We’re all ready now Pumpkin,” Jane informed her tummy. “It’s all up to you now.”
She wondered what her mother and father were feeling. Her mother knew she was here at the doctor’s, and she had hoped that Dora would at last come and see her. It was only a taxi ride away. But Dora did not come and neither did she telephone.
“Niña Jane, what is it?”
“Come. Am I getting contractions?”
Ana, pulling her overall on and buttoning it as she followed Jane to her room, felt her heart hammering. Jane lay down and placed Ana’s hand on her hard abdomen. After a moment or two the contraction eased.
“Yes, niña Jane, you are. We had better see how many minutes pass before the next comes.”
“Does that mean I’ve started? That the baby is going to be born?”
“Oh, Ana. Ana. I’m afraid.”
“There is nothing to be afraid of, niña Jane. Just remember all the exercises the doctor gave you and you will be able to relax if you do them properly now.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
They timed the contractions together. After a while Jane said, “Perhaps we had better tell the Doctor. He will want to… organize things I suppose.”
She stretched out her arm and pressed the button which Mrs. Michaelson had shown her. It was just on midnight. Dr. Michaelson appeared a few minutes later.
“It’s started,” Jane whispered as Ana moved aside.
“Well, well. Very punctual, your little pumpkin, isn’t it? Fine. I must examine
you now Jane.”
Once he had finished examining her he said, “Still a little time to go but we had better move you to my consulting room. You can lie on the sofa there while we get everything ready.”
Jane heaved herself off the bed and, helped by Ana, wrapped herself as best she could in her dressing gown and got herself to Dr. Michaelson’s consulting room. There she rested on the sofa with Ana beside her while Dr. and Mrs. Michaelson bustled about preparing all the necessary paraphernalia.
The contractions suddenly changed their rhythm and became very painful. Jane grabbed her stomach, gasping. From there on her world became a nightmare of pain, of pushing, of panting, of writhing and struggling and crying aloud. Ana and Mrs. Michaelson held her firmly as she tried to wrench herself free. Dr. Michaelson gave her something to bite on, and then, mercifully, he gave her an injection and she swam away from that pushing, pain-wracked body and floated up and up into soft, feathery clouds blazing with light and warmth and peace.
“Ana. What happened?”
“Everything went well.”
“What was it? Was it a boy?”
“It was a fine child, niña Jane. A beautiful, healthy baby.”
“Was it a boy? Was it a boy? I want to know!”
“It is all over now. Go to sleep, niña Jane. Rest. The baby was very big for
you, you have many stitches.”
Tears of anguish and weakness slid out from under Jane’s eyelids and trickled onto her pillow. She was not even to know whether the baby had been a boy or a girl. Just a baby, a healthy baby.
“Is it alive?” she asked. “Was it born alive?”
“Yes. It is alive.”
“Have they come to take it yet?”
“I don’t know. That is not our business.”
“Ana, oh! Ana. My baby … “ Jane began to cry in earnest. Ana touched the
bell and Dr. Michaelson came at once. Jane, her face drawn with anguish, stretched out her hands and gripped his.
“Is my baby alright? Is it alive?”
“Yes, dear. It’s a fine child.”
“I want to see it, please, just once. Please!”
Dr. Michaelson stared down at her and felt his heart contract within him. How to refuse? What right had he? After a moment’s hesitation he nodded and told Ana to bring the baby. She gave him a shocked glance, but turned away at once and left the room.
Jane sat trembling in her bed. She had to see it – know that it was alive and perfect. But if she saw it how could she ever… ? She was about to fail her test. The arrangement had been that she wouldn’t ask to see it – nothing – that she would … No! No ! No!
Ana appeared in the door with the baby, wrapped in a shawl, in her arms. She paused. Jane grabbed the sheet and covered her face as she stretched out her hands towards Ana. Dr. Michaelson guided her fingers to touch the soft, warm little head, the nose and cheek, the tiny hand. A thin wail filled the room and Jane turned away and clenched her fists in order to overcome her desire to see her child. She heard Ana leave and relaxed, opened her eyes and stared up at Dr. Michaelson bleakly.
At last she said, “I’m sorry… but… I had to.”
He nodded. “I understand. I shall give you a pill to make you sleep now. The stitches will be very painful and I want you to rest.”
She took the pill he proffered her and lay back on her pillow trying to control the flood of weeping which shook her. Gently, he stroked her hair and prayed.
“Your will be done Lord, Your will, and only yours, be done.”
When Ana returned he rose wearily and left the room quietly. Once Jane was able to control her tears she lay still and re-lived the feeling of the warmth and the littleness and the roundness; the shapes of the nose and hand, the softness of the cheek. Her child, her baby. Well, it had been born and it was alive and it was healthy and she had not seen it. She had felt it and heard it, but she had managed not to look. Had she passed the test? She didn’t know, but at least she had made contact with her baby in this world, given him something of herself, her conscious self, to take with him into his new life. She was sure it was a boy.
After a while she drifted off to sleep.
“Yes, niña Jane?”
“What time is it?”
“Has the baby gone? Has it been taken away?”
“I don`t know, querida. I have been here with you.”
“Could you ask?”
Ana left the room and Jane listened to the thrushes singing in the garden and waited. At last Ana returned carrying a tray with Jane’s breakfast.
“Niña Jane? The people came and took the baby half an hour ago.”
“So he’s gone.”
“Pray for him Ana. Pray that we’ve done the right thing. Poor baby. Pray for
“I’m praying all the time, niña Jane, all the time.”
Jane remained on at the Michaelson’s house. Her stitches were very painful and she needed attention and a little nursing. Ana returned home and came only on the days she always came to clean. Mrs. Michaelson attended to Jane. Since Dr. Michaelson had received a letter from the British Hospital saying that Jane would be welcome as soon as she was free she looked into the future with growing trepidation.
“You were a nurse before you married Dr. Michaelson, weren’t you,” she asked Mrs. Michaelson.
“Yes, and at the British Hospital too. It’s one of the best nursing schools. I’m
sure you will be very happy there. I know I was.”
“What if I faint at the sight of blood during an operation or some-thing awful like that?”
“You wouldn’t be the first.”
“D’you think I’ve made the right decision?”
“You’ll soon know once you’re there. But I think that you’ll find nursing to be a deeply satisfying job. A real job, in every sense of the word. One may earn more as a public translator, or an English speaking secretary but, well, it’s not the same. It’s not the same thing at all.”
Gradually Jane’s strength and vitality returned and she began to yearn to get away and immerse herself in the most exhausting activity possible.
“Have you told my mother she’s a granny?” she asked Dr.Michaelson one day.
“I told her that you had had your child. That you were both well and that the baby had been adopted immediately,” Dr. Michaelson replied a little dryly.
Jane considered telephoning her mother but decided not to. If her mother made no effort to come and see her there seemed little point in trying to force the situation. Once again Jane packed her suitcases and said her goodbyes. She took the overnight bus to Buenos Aires and a taxi from the bus terminal to the British Hospital, feeling more like an autumn leaf floating along the surface of some unknown stream rather than a competent, intelligent, self-confident eighteen-year-old about to embark upon the career of her choice. Once inside her uniform, however, she felt different, as if the little white cap and the white apron over the pale blue and white striped overall gave her the scaffolding which she needed to, at least, act the part.
Soledad`s eyes widened.
“You haven’t spoken to your parents since I last saw you?” she asked incredulously. “But that’s five years ago!”
“I can’t believe it. It sounds Victorian.”
“D’you think so? Perhaps you’re right, but that’s how it is all the same.”
“And where are you living?”
“A friend has lent me her flat for a month.”
“Are you going to stay here? In Santa Laura I mean?”
“I don’t know. I’ll see. I’ve come back to find out how I feel here. Buenos Aires is very big and can be very lonely. I’ve got so many friends here, and who knows, I may even make it up with my parents.” Jane gave a wry smile. “Now that I have my degree, or rather, diploma and a little money saved I feel I can take a holiday and decide what my next step is going to be.”
“How very sensible. Listen Jane, we’re having a small party tomorrow evening. Nothing formal. Same old crowd. Do come.”
Jane’s eyes lit up. “Why thank you Soledad, I’d love that. Will Javier and Lucio be there?”
“Javier definitely, and you’ll be able to see Sarita too. How lucky that we met like this! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you, and you’ve changed so much too.”
Jane smiled. “Just as well,” she said lightly. “I was pretty dumb when I was seventeen, wasn’t I?”
Soledad laughed. “Oh, I thought you were very sweet,” she said cheerfully. “Naive but sweet.”
She paid for their coffees and rose. “We’ll see you tomorrow then? About seven thirty, eight. Lovely.”
They bade each other farewell on the sidewalk and went their separate ways, but both of them were remembering that month at the farm and wondering about the other.