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Authors: Isla Morley

Come Sunday: A Novel (47 page)

BOOK: Come Sunday: A Novel
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It is the swift movement of the day that hardwires us for quick change. Shadows chase themselves around corners all day till they can do nothing but lie down in long, languid paths. No sooner have the flowers yawned and stretched out their petals at sunup than they are wrapping up again with the evening’s cool shawl. Things change quickly in a day, and how we have grown accustomed to this. Mr. Nguyen, neither shadow nor flower, shows no notice of how the sun has shifted. I could stare at him for hours, as one might watch a sequoia grow, or a turtle rest upon a rock, and still not see the effect of my words. Perhaps forgiveness, then, is more like compost than the sun so quick to snap heads this way or that. Partnered with the wormy work of penitence, forgiveness is the victuals, the daily bread that nourishes what is buried in the dark, one molecule at a time. Someday its good might be perceptible to the naked eye, maybe in an nth of an inch gained from this man’s unfurling stoop. But not today.

“I must go,” I announce, getting up. Mr. Nguyen walks me to the front door without words, and on the way I notice the forlorn bookshelf and its one tiny patch of color. A fuzzy blue bear, the kind a machine claw might catch if fed enough quarters. Seeing my glance, the old man reaches for it and thrusts it at me. “Please,” he says. “Take this.”

“Oh no,” I reply, “you keep it. Blue was my daughter’s favorite color.”

But he is adamant. “Please. Maybe one day I try my luck again.”

 

DESPITE JENNY’S CONCERNS that we would arrive at the airport late, we are half an hour ahead of schedule. Instead of entering the air-conditioned departure terminal, we find a bench outside, where the soft, fragrant breeze brushes up against me one last time.

We watch a group of tourists, identifiable by their matching leis, wrestle their luggage to their designated coach.

“You’re going to write every week, you hear?” Jenny says.

“They have telephones in Africa too, you know; if you’re very good, I’ll even call.”

“I’m not laughing. Do you see me laughing?”

“And you said you were going to visit,” I remind her. “Your next tax return, right?”

She nods. “As long as you know I’m not staying in any maid’s quarters.” She tries to laugh, but she chokes on her tears instead.

“Come here,” I say, folding my friend into my arms.

We have promised not to say goodbye, so when Jenny withdraws from my embrace, she pats her face and picks up my bag. “Come on, we’re not going to drag this out any longer.” Seeing Mr. Nguyen’s fuzzy blue bear sticking out the top of it, she asks, “So what are you going to do with this little fellow?”

“I’m going to give it to the boy I told you about, Bumlani.” The child who had knocked at Beauty’s
kaia
even though the door was open. Past his scrawny frame I had been able to see Rhiaan at the car talking on his cell phone, no doubt to Piet. Everyone had witnessed the spectacle, watched the pickup trucks spin their wheels and sputter
down my grandmother’s driveway, heard the growl of the bulldozer disturbed from its lair. But it had been the owl-and-pussycat boy who followed me to Beauty’s
kaia
, stirring in me the familiar sense of being caught red-handed. Except I had held nothing in my hands, just the tremble of something akin to hope. The hope that a group of motherless children, those who came with death certificates, somehow stood more of a chance by our holding on to the farm. More of a chance than one little girl who had once chased a yellow kite.

It was only when Bumlani stood in front of me that he asked his question. “Are you going to help us?” There is a saying in Africa that Qamatha casts a wide net. It was in the boy’s question that I felt gathered up in the catch.

“You know,” I tell Jenny, “I never did ask Bumlani what he needed help with. Who knows, maybe it was simply to help move a table or serve the stew, and here I am giving up everything to go do something I’m not sure I am going to be any good at.”

“Oh, you’ll be good at teaching,” Jenny says. “I’ve always thought so.”

“And why is that?”

Without hesitating, Jenny gives her answer. “Because you learn from your mistakes.”

 

 

MY GRANDMOTHER used to say if it was rainy on Ascension Day, the crops would do badly and the livestock would perish from disease. There wasn’t much anyone could do about it, even Beauty with her ancient spells. But if it was sunny, the summer would be long and hot, the farm productive. Now, at takeoff, the day could not be more glorious. For just a moment, it seems the airplane might catch up with the sun on its way back home. Sunday skies, having parted for the ascending Lord, stretch out for a bit of undisturbed peace and quiet. A hot, long summer, then.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

I am indebted to my wonderful agent, Emma Sweeney, who went from reader to advocate with supersonic speed, and yet still found time to answer all my questions.

To my publisher and editor, Sarah Crichton, I offer my appreciation for her guidance and clarity, for bringing to the manuscript a light touch and the weight of her expertise. Credit also goes to her assistant, Cailey Hall, who provided invaluable help along the way. To all the people at FSG, particularly Debra Helfand, Michelle Crehan, Susan Goldfarb, Charlotte Strick, Abby Kagan, and Laurel Cook, I am much obliged.

For her medical expertise, I am grateful to Dr. Ranjini Kandasamy, a fine pediatrician and friend.

My appreciation goes to Hilary Saner and Anthony Peckham. It is no simple task to be both friend and critic, yet it is one they accomplished with distinction. The book is better because of them.

Thank you to Helena Ogle, Carol Saggese, and Margie Hubbard, who spent almost as much time praying for this as I did writing.

Emily, my Halley’s Comet of a child, has a myriad of ways to remind me what really counts—singing at the top of her voice while I was editing was the most effective. Thanks for the music, Ems.

It is with deep love and gratitude that I thank my husband, Robert
Morley. This book would not exist if he had not said three magical words—
Write it down
—and then provided a lifetime’s supply of encouragement as I did. Without his insight, counsel, and commitment, I would be adrift. He is both anchor and sail to me.

And to the Wind for sending a gust this way, thanks.

 

A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and a fourth-generation South African mother. During the country’s State of Emergency, she graduated from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth with a degree in English literature.

By 1994 she was one of the youngest magazine editors in South Africa, but she left career, country, and kin when she married an American and moved to California. For more than a decade she pursued a career in nonprofit work, focusing on the needs of women and children.

Morley has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London, and Honolulu. Now in the Los Angeles area, she shares a home with her husband, their daughter, two cats, a dog, and a tortoise.

BOOK: Come Sunday: A Novel
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