Grace

 

The rainbow-painted streaks shout promise from the tail of the 747 as it gently begins the journey towards the narrow airstrip, bordered by parched land and palm trees. Gliding along, it finally turns its rear end towards a few emotional spectators, senselessly waving from the departure stand. The plane turns to the left, its runway opens up ahead and it waits.
The engine power shifts an octave higher. The cabin volume roars louder. The plane accelerates wildly, enforced by the will and anticipation of its passengers. Suddenly, the ascending wings slice through the bright blue sky distancing the aircraft from the sleepy island below. The jet turns sharply right. From the shore below, nets in hand, the young man looks upwards, eyes glistening as the plane passes over, his heart in turmoil.
Smiling in her seat, her adorable mother’s crinkled leather handbag sits snugly in her lap. It carries entry papers to her new life tucked beside family photographs and one of him, Jacob. Gazing at the clouds below Grace recalls how this journey was once unimaginable....
Grace had a simple yet happy family life. Father was loving, hard-working, God-fearing and conservative. Mother had a free spirit, often giggling at inappropriate moments. Father never expressed his annoyance at her. He would sigh, pick up his newspaper and retreat to the porch to smoke his cigar.
Sunday mornings were a joy and the sleepy town came alive. The whole family joined the small community at the local Pentecostal church. It was a day of celebration and the pinnacle of Grace’s sister’s week. Over-fed ladies in brightly-coloured hats squeezed through the church doors and into song once the Reverend gave the prompt to begin. Afterwards, excited chatter reverberated through the town. Family friends came to Grace’s home to savour their famous iced cakes and tea..
Grace and her mother had always been inseparable. Joyful memories of them baking together in the kitchen filled her mind. Cooking was often interrupted by their dancing to one of Mother’s favourite songs on the radio. Flour sprinkled the wooden floor from their jiving aprons. Grace’s sister, Henrietta would tap her toes enthusiastically, from the rocking chair and giggle as her mother and sister twirled around the room.
As Grace grew, Mother talked incessantly about her own youth, frequently about the dreams never realised. At those moments her tone of voice altered, hinting regret. Grace had lost count of the times she’d heard the story of her parents’ meeting. Each time, her mother relayed it, her eyes illuminated with joy.
One fateful autumn day she was sent to the local store to collect an urgent telegram from Kingston. Sidney was seated on the bench outside, beside the stooped maple tree. Their hearts met instantly and their lives altered irreversibly. The love-struck couple married within six months.
Grace’s younger and only sibling, Henrietta, was born with a grave heart defect. Henrietta was a beautiful soul. She had a smile and spirit that lifted the hearts of all who met her. She knew and accepted her life would be short. Mother said Henrietta had an intimate relationship with God and trusted that this was her path. She taught them all so much with her gentleness, positivity and unwavering endurance. Henrietta’s personality was like all your favourite colours and desserts mixed into one. Grace absolutely adored her.
Grace assisted in her sister’s care from a young age, bringing her meals and medication. Sitting on the edge of her bed or snuggled in beside her, when she was well enough, she would read her childhood stories. Often she complained about her dull catechism classes, especially the prim teacher who preached about Jesus, yet never smiled. Henrietta grinned, but never commented.
Grace yearned for her sister to be well. She wished their lives were a little more perfect. If only they could play together in the yard or on the beach. As she grew up and her own strength increased, Henrietta’s decreased and she learned to accept it would never happen. Mother strongly encouraged Grace to study hard for she knew in her own heart that Grace had the potential for a promising future.
Grace’s experience of observing her sister suffer two major yet unsuccessful heart operations motivated her to become a heart surgeon. And so, she studied relentlessly, often late into the night while the family slept.
When Grace was 18, Henrietta’s health suddenly deteriorated and within three months, she died, creating a vacuum in their hearts forever. A week later, once her tears had begun to subside, she realised she could leave the island and begin a new life. Not that she was trying to escape, but Henrietta’s passing opened a new pathway for her.
She felt that the hardest part would be leaving her mother behind, but Mother encouraged her to leave. She said the island was too small for Grace and that she was destined for greater experiences.
Her father’s fury was unexpected. For ten long and painful days he refused to speak to or even look at her. Having lost one child was unbearable. However, after a drunken night followed by tears, he woke up to the realisation that he would never truly lose Grace.
Grace by this time had met her first love, Jacob, a fisherman, like his father. However, her desire for a medical career outweighed her love for him. He idolised her, but lacked ambition and loved island life. The coldness that appeared in his eyes when she told him she had earned a scholarship to study in New York made her separation from him easier.
Her aunt Josie in Manhattan would meet her at JFK in just a few hours. Now, there was time to rest and dream.....

Siobhan Purcell

 

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