I knew my aunt wouldn’t come looking for me if I didn’t show up. We’d agreed a month ago to meet today at two p.m. at the airport and we’d not spoken since. My resolve had wavered more and more each day since our last conversation and this morning I just wasn’t sure that I could leave. The thought of leaving this place, I’ve never been anywhere else and my aunt wanted me to simply pack up and go live in America? How would I be any safer there? At least here, with my husband, I knew what hell to expect.
I paused in the hallway outside my bedroom door, staring at my purse and my keys, reminding myself, that’s all you have to do, Mina. Pick up these things and your son and go. That’s all it takes.
I got in the shower and gingerly washed my hair, careful to avoid the new bruises from the night before and went to wake my son from his nap once I had dressed. Looking in his eyes, the shame I felt overwhelmed me. I couldn’t take him away from his father, his family, but I couldn’t raise him with the man either. Not if I had any chance of raising a good man, one everything his father wasn’t. I held him on my hip and he took my face in his chubby little hands and he planted a kiss on the end of my nose. He was such a sweet little boy, always had been, and he’d yet to witness the way his father treated me.
Before I put him down for his nap, I told him we could go to the park when he woke, and I hoped that as I watched him play, I could find my resolve. The moment I opened the door the scent of the river and the nearby spice market greeted me, and I followed them, growing ever stronger, as I guided my son and with his wobbly steps by hand down the cobblestone streets. Ahead of me I could see rooftops and the winding curves of the steep street and I thought of how much I would miss that beautiful sight if I was to leave. Overhead the seagulls circled, waiting for a tourist, or a kindly old woman, to toss them a snack and my son pointed to them and squealed. He loved birds. I did as well, although I suspected for different reasons. He simply had the usual childhood fascination with this creature that was always just outside of his grasp, while I wanted to be a bird, to have that freedom to fly away anything frightened or threatened me.
We walked into the square and greeted the resident cats. It always saddened me when I heard the tourists speaking of the sad “homeless cats” of the square. Couldn’t they see, they were far from homeless. The square was their home and the residents, every one of us, their caregivers. They needed for nothing and had the adoration of a hundred people on any given day. What kind of life that would be, to have an entire city looking out for you, caring for you.
I watched my son play with them while I prayed, silently, for my choice to become easier. Leave here forever and leap into the unknown with blind faith, or stay here, returning home to the same man that had hated me for the entire five years I’d been married to him and die here, likely by his hand, never knowing what we could have had. There was safety in that kind of certainty, although I doubted anyone else would understand that. I look at my son and saw the pure joy on his face and I envied him. I’d long forgotten what that lack of restraint felt like. He sat on the ground and called each of the cats by name — names he had given them — while six of them circled around him, their tails wrapping around his body. I wished that I could ask him, I wished that just for a moment he could lose his innocence and tell me what to do for him, for us.
“Mama!” He shouted, as one of the cats gently head-butted his face, demanding all of his affection. “Look, kitty!”
My child and his innocent wisdom. Just forget about this all and find joy in the cats. Be like the cats, take the gifts you’re given and return the love in kind. How I longed for my decision, any decision, to be so simple.
I stood and took his hand in mine, unsure still of which way we would go, east to the airport or north to return home. We started walking as I dug through my purse searching for my keys to the house. They were gone. I dug and dug, opened every pocket and zipper and they were nowhere. My head whipped around searching the ground of the square, but they were nowhere to be found.
I snorted a quick laugh. Could something this stupid decide our fate? Could I use my own forgetfulness as cause to run and never look back? We came to the square every day and not once had I forgotten my keys, perhaps this was God doing as I had asked, showing me a path. One day when my son was grown, and he asked me why we lived in the United States and who his father was, how would I tell him that I’d taken him from that life because I’d lost my keys? I’d never been one for “signs” but I needed one because I’d never been more frightened or uncertain and so I took it on faith.
We hadn’t a thing but the clothes on our backs and whatever I had in my purse, but I wouldn’t have been any better prepared had I made this decision days ago. I knew I wouldn’t be able to pack, not without my husband knowing. With my son resting his head on one shoulder and my purse hanging from the other, we walked east, past the market, past the church, past the salon I’d once worked at before I was married, and I didn’t let myself look back, I couldn’t. I wanted more than anything to turn around and sit on my stoop, waiting for my husband to return home and let me in the house, but I also knew what waited for me when he learned I’d locked myself out of the house.
I would not be hurt again.
I quickened my pace before I lost control of my body and returned home not of my own will. I walked faster and faster and my swaying rocked my son to sleep as tears streamed down my face. Tears for the home I loved that I was leaving and tears for what awaited my son and me. Tears because I knew that with this decision, one day I’d be able to laugh about ending up in America because I’d lost my keys.