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The morning started off just as normal and mundane as any other in Athens USA. The fact that the Atlanta sun was beating down on my face and turning my bedroom from a comfortable solace to the heat that emanated from a den of iniquity was just an upside. I wasn’t particularly sure what made me want to return to my Mother’s home this summer other than my Father’s nagging. It had been years since I’d been here. I left Athens when my Father did and I wanted to pursue a more exciting life for myself. I had received my acceptance letter to UCLA and I never imagined that I would ever agree to come back but that’s exactly what I did. Now all I could do was hope that it wouldn’t be a decision that I would regret and hope for a summer that wouldn’t be wasted.
I opened my eyes in order to face the heat that was radiating off of the blistering sun and I immediately closed them again. The side of the house that my bedroom sat on caused me to grunt and groan in disgust. Who could stand this heat so early in the morning? A Rooster wouldn’t even want to stand at this angle. I rolled over onto my side and pulled the hand stitched quilt my mother made me up and over my head with the hopes of blocking out some of the sun. It was keeping me from extending my beauty sleep and that was never a good thing. It was no secret to anyone who knew me; if India didn’t get her beauty sleep then India was going to make everyone else suffer because of it.
I must have fallen asleep because the sound of the front door closing bellowed throughout my mother’s small, albeit quaint bungalow that was on the outskirts of town. The sound of her voice was vibrant and positive; it followed shortly thereafter as if goading me or warning me of impending doom.
“India! India, where you at child? You gon’ sleep your life away?”
My mother’s resounding footsteps traveled along the narrow hallway that was lined with rich mahogany and when you listened carefully, you could still pick up a bit of the Island on her tongue. I knew it was only a matter of time before she made her way into my bedroom to give me some lecture on the importance of making the most of your days while you still can – and I was right. It took all but two minutes for her to invade my personal space with her looming presence and suddenly, I was missing my Father’s house all over again.
“Get up! Lots ta’ do today, Sweetness. Every moment wasted is a moment we’re taking for granted from God”, her overwhelmingly pleasant voice chirped. It was like the birds that were resting on my windowsill. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shoo her away as easily as I could them.
“Martha, it’s what, nine in the morning? Two more hours of sleep and I’ll be good to go. I don’t know how you expect me to sleep in this oven, anyway. Have you not heard of air conditioning or does that not fit into the Lord’s plan?” My tone was infused with a new-found sarcasm that I had picked up during the past few years I’ve been living in Los Angeles. I knew Martha—or my mother, rather—would not approve. “I’m exhausted, so why don’t you get a head start on the things that need to be done and I will catch up with you later.”
Within seconds Mama had my quilt ripped off of me and thrown to the floor; leaving my bare thighs exposed to the world and a scowl to embed itself across my features. Being back at my mother’s home was one thing, but being treated like a child, was quite another. I could feel the irritation swelling at the pit of my stomach as I sat upon my mattress, stubborn as a mule with heated green eyes that challenged my Mother’s browns. More often than not, you weren’t going to win against Martha Green.
“While you are in my home, you gon respect my rules and understand when I say there’s lots ta’ be done today. Now g’on and get yourself dressed and covered up, India. God is watching”, she said with her usual matter of fact tone.
Even though I had pushed her, she still remained patient as if she knew that without a doubt, she was only doing what was in my best interest. She also knew that she would be getting her way. She had always been this way.
The silence that quickly filled the room was almost to the point of suffocation as neither of us stubborn Green women wanted to back down. Mama knew that I would come to my senses eventually, and she was right. Logic always did outweigh stubbornness. I could get up and get dressed to go through the day, or I could stay in bed and make things far more difficult on myself for the rest of the summer. Unless I planned on skipping back to Los Angeles and into the rooftop pool at my Father’s condo, I shouldn’t make things harder than they needed to be. I did miss my Dad, though. He always let me do as I wished and that was one of the reasons I left Athens when he did. It broke Mama’s heart, even if she will never admit it.
I inhaled a deep breath of air and surrendered in the unspoken battle between Mama and I. I clambered from the bed and my eyes settled upon Mama Green’s; she looked smug and pleased while I was in desperate need of a Swedish massage.
“I’m just going to take a shower and freshen up, Mama. I’ll be out to help you with what you need done today after that, okay?” I tried to sound as upbeat as possible.
I didn’t want her to think that I was regretting coming back to Athens for the summer, even though I was. Maybe on some level she had already come to that conclusion because Martha Green always seemed to know me better than I knew myself; but if she did, she wasn’t saying anything about it. She was probably saving it up to use against me during the Summer.
“No can do, Child. We had to turn the water off. It’s something to do with the pipes being blocked or clogged. Anyhow, it ain’t happening to just us. I had to deliver some jugs of water from the market to Mrs. Tanner just down the road so her horses there could drink somethin’ fresh”, Mama said.
As I stood there in the middle of my room, listening to my mother go on about not having any water and feeding horses, my mind had suddenly become a blank canvas. I didn’t have the luxury here that I have in Los Angeles and maybe in some retrospective way, that’s the purpose of all of this; but right now I know I just needed the luxury of being able to shower.
“This is Athens, Georgia in the Millennia, Mother. It’s not the eighteenth century. Water is a right now, it’s not a privilege.”
I shook my head in a display of unadulterated frustration while I pulled a pair of jean shorts from my dresser. I knew that Mama wouldn’t approve of the shorts I chose. After all, she was the Pastor’s assistant and God was always watching. She couldn’t even let me have that blissful moment of witnessing her disappointment. She had already caught me and I could tell by the heavy sigh that she let slip.
I decided to pair the tiny, cut off denim shorts with a simple white tank top that clashed perfectly against the chocolate skin that I kept moisturized. I was thankful that I found a half full bottle of Evian in my bag from yesterday, so I was at least able to brush my teeth, clean up my face and still have enough left to tousle my hair. I was by no means the most attractive woman in the world, but thankfully I was given some great assets to work with. My body was firm and tall, my hair fell past my shoulders when in its natural curly state and when blown out, fell almost to my mid back. My eyes popped green despite the dark shade of my skin. My skin resembled that of a Hersey’s Kiss. At least that’s what I’ve always been told.
One of the greatest things about majoring in Fashion Merchandising at UCLA is the fact that I can almost always work with my wardrobe to make it fresh, clean, appealing and keeping up with the trends. Accessories were always needed and even though I didn’t have anyone that I needed to impress here in Athens, I think mostly it’s about making me feel good. More often than not I say that if you’re dressing to impress someone else, then you’re doing it wrong.
Mama was already standing at the stove preparing some breakfast by the time I made it from my bedroom and into the small space that smelled of eggs and bacon. I was surprised because given that I was sure she had been up hours before me, she must have already eaten breakfast.
“Mama, you didn’t need to make all of this for me. I could have cooked my own breakfast or better yet, I could have sped on over to the nearest McDonald’s and picked us up some egg mcmuffins. You haven’t had breakfast until you’ve had the egg mcmuffin.”
Surprisingly, my mood had lifted incredulously and the playful edge of my personality that had been suppressed for the past few days had started to shine once again. I reached my hand near the plate to pull a strip of bacon free, only to have Mama smack at it with her spatula.
“Ow! Are you out of your mind?! What was that for?” I immediately blurted out.
I felt my brows creasing in confusion while watching the way my mother whom had just berated me with a spatula continued with her bacon as if nothing happened. I think she may have even hummed a song or two during the span of time it took her to speak up.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, Child”, mother Martha finally replied, though she introduced a new wave of vague that I didn’t understand at all.
I watched carefully as she eased her spatula to the side and turned around to face me with her usual confidence and polite smile that flitted across her weathered features. I felt myself feeling as if I were a part of some twilight zone.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, India. It is the biblical golden rule. This food is not for you, this food is for those who do not have the capability of cooking for themselves at this time and those who need someone to just give them an extra hand. In this house, breakfast is at seven in the morning and if you are not here for breakfast at seven then you do not eat. Lunch is at noon and dinner is at six.” She couldn’t be serious. “As God is my witness, India, I am serious. Now help me prepare these to-go containers with breakfast and I will tell you where you need to be delivering them.”
What had I gotten myself into? I gave up a summer in Los Angeles and all of my friends to spend a summer with my mother who has a main goal of putting me to work and starving me all at the same time? Is this some new type of punishment for the low grade on my exam? If so, she needs to get over it. All she does is talk about her God, but what about forgiveness? Isn’t that one of his golden rules, too?
“You expect me to believe that you want me to cart off all of this food to your townie friends, Mama? I could be on the beach in L.A. right now. I could be soaking up the sun and enjoying my summer with my friends, but no, you want me bagging bacon and eggs.”
I couldn’t help the childlike immaturity that was taking over my tone. It was developing a whine that came from a spoiled girl, but truth be told, I hadn’t lived this life in so long that it was hard for me to remember what it was all about. Sure, when I was younger, I partook in everything that my Mother did. I wanted to be just like her and she was the greatest woman on earth in my eyes, but as I grew up that opinion changed and switched to my Father. I chose him and I think on some level, she resented me for that.
“I’m on summer vacation. I didn’t think that meant joining the Peace Corps.”
“You are already dark, Indi. You don’t be needin’ any sun now”, my mother spoke out against my obvious rebellion towards what she had planned for me. She began sorting Styrofoam containers with bacon, eggs, and two pieces of whole-wheat toast and all the appropriate condiments and cutlery.
“Seems to me, that God built the world in six days and he rested on the seventh. But today ain’t that restin’ day now, is it? Today is a workin’ day, Child. Now you will take these here breakfast platters and you will deliver them to the name on the carton. You need some structure in your life and this is in God’s plan. Now go on.”
Mother turned my attention towards the overwhelmingly large oak table that sat in the middle of the kitchen. I always said that it would look much better as an open concept kitchen, but what did I know? Fashion Merchandising isn’t Interior Design. Mama waved me off and pointed to the truck keys that were sitting on top of the final delivery bag.
“Go on and use the pickup truck. Your fancy BMW from your Father is locked in the garage and with me bein’ so forgetful in my old age, the keys might be lost. It’s time to open your heart and mind up, India Green. There are lots of people in this world and lots of things that money can’t buy, baby girl. I’m afraid you’s gon’ lose your heart.”
I took the necessary minutes that were needed in order to cool myself down so I didn’t end up losing it with my mother. I knew deep down inside that Mama only had the best of intentions, but she clearly needed a lesson or two on how to go about executing her plans. I closed my eyes just briefly and allowed myself to be calmed by imagining the soft waves on the California coastline. That always helped to calm me down and within a matter of moments; my eyes were open and I was grabbing everything from the table. I didn’t need to meet my Mother’s gaze again.
“Fine, but if you get a phone call saying that the bacon was missing then it’s not my fault.”
A smug grin turned the corners of my lightly glossed lips upwards to reveal a dimly lit smile. It only lasted the amount of time it took me to walk from the bungalow to the pick-up truck, but it was a few moments of success. The thing had to be at least twice my age and I’m no math whiz, but that would easily make it forty-four. I knew that if I didn’t do this, that I would just regret it and that there would probably be some type of punishment awaiting me. Besides, what was I going to do? Eat ten breakfast platters all to myself? I knew I wasn’t that hungry.
It took me about an hour to deliver all of the homemade take-out that my Mother had prepared for a few people in the “downtown” of Athens, or what could be called downtown. They were mostly business owners or some of the elderly who had to fend for them themselves because they lost their spouse. When I realized that fact, I felt a sharp, gut wrenching pain that could only be described as guilt in the pit of my stomach. Isn’t that what Dad and I did to Mama? We left her to fend for herself, though it was quite evident that she was doing just fine without us or anyone else. I questioned myself repeatedly while I was driving through the town to finish dropping off the last few breakfast dishes. I had to admit to myself that it felt good. I got thanked with a kiss on the cheek, a flower put in my hair and even got myself a few suckers from the doctor’s office, but after doing unto others, for once, I remembered that I hadn’t eaten myself.
When I clambered back into the pick-up truck that my Mother had so kindly let me use after taking my BMW hostage, I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t quite tell if it was the stale air, the heat or the smell of the old and tired engine that was causing me to feel so nauseous. Maybe it was all of the elements mixed together. It wasn’t a shocker that I found out that the air conditioning didn’t work in this antique truck; the dust that blew out when I tried turning it on was a clear indication of that.
“Maybe air conditioners just don’t—“, my own thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a truck similar in style to the one that I was driving, but with ‘Holy Hands Handy Man’ painted onto the side of it. That must have been the company logo because in this town, it fit. I couldn’t help the immediate laugh that pushed past my parted lips while I inched upwards, watching the black truck disappear the further it got down the road. I knew this town was big on religion and you could find everyone and their sister all cramped into one church on Sunday mornings, but that was taking it to a different extreme entirely. Though admittedly enough, it was a pretty creative name and Jesus himself was said to be a carpenter. Maybe the Holy Hands Handy Man could fix anything, including the air conditioner in this truck and the trick door set on the barn/garage that was presently housing my BMW—a gift from my father for my twenty-second birthday.
I pushed the thought of the witty company name from my mind when my stomach began to grumble uncontrollably. I was guessing that was its way of letting me know that it didn’t plan on stopping until I decided to feed it. I knew Mama had worked hard this morning to prepare breakfast for over ten people and she had said it herself, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
Making the decision to pick up lunch for Mama and I wasn’t a difficult one to make. I had managed to keep a few extra dollars in my pocket—though I knew it would be against her wishes—and it happened to be more than enough to buy the special at the café. Two roast beef sandwiches on rye, with sides of fries and gravy. I had paid for our lunch and successfully carried it to my antique truck and all the while I ignored the stares of the passers by who clearly approved of my outfit about as much as my Mama did. I wasn’t about to dress to impress anyone else though, I needed to impress myself.
The sweltering interior of the truck only caused the aroma of the freshly prepared food to travel down to my stomach faster, which induced another ride of hunger pangs. I had become so hungry that I was almost chewing the lip gloss off of my lip in an attempt to get some food into my stomach. There was no way that I could be late getting back home because I wouldn’t survive another few hours without food.
I pressed my foot against the gas pedal to floor the old engine as much as possible without flooding it. I made a mental note to keep a stern eye on the barely visible clock on the tape deck so I would always know whether or not I was making good time.
“God dammit”, I outwardly cursed after catching the actual time from my peripheral and the watch on my wrist; the hands showing 11:52 A.M. Sure, I could always pull over to the side of the road, eat the food and then discard of the evidence like nothing ever happened, but I’m thinking that may be a little deceitful—even for me.
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