The sky has cleared slightly, but the cold and the wind remain. Maurice and I are on our way to collect his sisters. Again. It’s beginning to feel like all we do these days is walk to and from school. It’s beginning to feel like it’s the only thing I write about. It’s all a bit boring.
My hair is blowing around my face wildly, and my ears are beginning to ache. I look down at my son and double check that his hat is covering his ears. It looks fine, but I tug the hat down slightly lower anyway. Just to be sure. I don’t want him getting cold, and I definitely don’t want him getting an earache. I might suck at taking care of myself, but I do my damnedest to take care of my children. I always try my best.
I reach the street corner and I turn right, and I suddenly notice that we’re not alone. I suddenly realise there’s someone behind me. I can hear faint footsteps, but that’s not what tipped me off. I can only hear them because I’m listening for them. It was the presence. I sensed it. I didn’t see it, but I sensed it, and I know it’s there now, because I can hear them. Whoever it is I can hear them walking.
I don’t want to turn around, I don’t want to stare. I begin taking slightly bigger steps. I start to move my feet just a little faster. I don’t know who it is and I don’t know where they’re going, but I’m uncomfortable. I’m nervous. I don’t like this dark shadow lurking behind me. I don’t like feeling like I’m being followed.
I’m going as fast as I can with a baby tied to my body, but the shadow, the presence, the person, seems to be gaining on me. It feels like they’re coming closer. I turn my head to the side and pretend I’m looking out over the park, and I can see them out of the corner of one eye. I can see a dark outline. I can see they’re dressed in black, but I still can’t see who it really is. I still can’t tell what they’re doing behind me. I turn away from the park and look down at Maurice instead and as I tell myself to calm down I remember…
It’s my brother’s 30th birthday and the whole family is coming down to Wellington to celebrate. Mum and I flew down from Tauranga first thing this morning, and we were the first to arrive. Mum and my brother and his girlfriend and I all went out for breakfast at a café, and now we’re heading to another café to meet up with the others; my brother, my sisters, their partners. We’re walking along the street and the wind is blowing and I’m wearing my long red coat and my mustard yellow headscarf. I’m ahead of the others, half walking, half skipping, because I’m excited and I’m happy and I feel free somehow. I’m enjoying the sun and the wind and the colours of my clothes. I’m enjoying my morning in Wellington.
I turn around in the street to look at Mum and my brother and his girlfriend. I have something to say. I open my mouth and I go to speak and suddenly I realise we’re not alone. There’s someone following us, and it’s not just someone, it’s not just anyone. It’s Karl. It’s Karl. Out of all the people in the entire fucking world it had to be Karl. He tries to catch my eye and I throw my body around, turn myself around, hide my face away. This can’t be happening.
Mum and my brother and his girlfriend have no idea. They have no clue. They don’t realise what’s going on. I’m still walking ahead, well ahead now, but my legs are made of lead and my stomach is in my knees and my heart is racing, galloping, leaping out of my chest. My face has frozen, my lips sewn together, I’m numb, numb, numb. What the fuck am I going to do.
We make it to the café and we meet up with the rest of the family. They’re all smiling, hugging, kissing, and I am too because I have to, but it’s all an act. I’m acting. I’m pretending everything is normal. Karl is still there. Still standing around in the background. Looking, watching, waiting. He is silent, but for how long? I don’t know what he wants, don’t know how long he’s going to hang around. I feel sick. I’m sick. I’m so ashamed. Everything has gone wrong.
We’re inside the café and my sister says she needs to go to the toilet and I say I need to go too. I pretend I need to use the bathroom. We get up and we walk into the toilets and I’m shaking, nervous, embarrassed, and I look at my sister and I tell her.
“Keren,” I say. “Karl is outside. He’s been following me. He followed me here and now he’s just standing outside staring in at me.”
Keren looks at me and she asks if I’m serious, she asks if I’m sure, and she’s all furrowed eyebrows, and sad twinkly eyes, and it’s serious. It feels so serious. She doesn’t know what to say and I don’t know what to say, so we wash our hands and we go back out to the café. We go back out and join our family, and they’re all happy, but I’m still acting and now Keren is acting too. I glance out the window. He’s still there. Leaning against a post, rolling a cigarette, looking at me.
We’re all out on the street now, and word has spread. Keren has told her husband and he’s told my brother, and everyone’s whispering about it, turning and looking at Karl, frowning at me, and we’re all trying to act normal now. The whole bloody lot of us. Only Mum is unawares. Only Mum is genuine. We start walking, headed to our next destination, and Karl is a few steps behind. He’s determined. He doesn’t give a fuck. I’m walking on gelatine legs, wobbly, shaky, but I’m going as fast as I can. I need to get away.
We’re just about to turn in, just about to stop, when suddenly Karl appears before me. Before my family. He’s in front of us, all of us, and he turns and faces us, faces me, and we half-stop because we have to. He’s here, he’s blocked us off, there’s nothing we can do. He stands in front of my family and he looks at me and he opens his mouth. His opens his big fucking mouth.
“Anita,” he says, “have you heard anything about the court case?”
I want to die. There is nothing I want more than to die right this minute, right this second. Bile rushes up and hits the back of my throat, and tears sting my eyes, and it’s not just wobbly legs anymore, it’s wobbly everything. It’s shaky fucking everything.
“No!” I cry. “Now can you FUCK off!”
My brother goes at him, protectively, aggressively. He stands over Karl and he tells him to go away, to get the fuck away and leave his sister alone, his sister doesn’t want to talk to him. I’m shaking and I’m crying and I rush through the entrance way of the restaurant and bar and I collapse onto the lone chair that’s sitting there as if it was expecting a moment like this. As if it knew what was going to happen. I think the universe left this chair here for me. I sit and I shake and I cry. I cry.
I have never felt more ashamed in front of my family than I did that day.