For months, her innocent mind fought to understand phrases like “coast guard”, “search party” and “lost at sea”; words she had heard through her mother’s muffled cries as she spoke on the telephone. For months she asked, “Where’s daddy?”, and received an apologetic smile and her mother’s soothing voice, “Daddy’s away, but he’ll be back soon.”
Four years old, perched anxiously on the window sill, Annelle waited. A simple pass-time which had become like a ritual, as every afternoon she climbed unto the ledge of the window, looking out for something she was unsure would ever occur.
“Ann!” On this beautiful afternoon, the air was filled with the undefiled laughter of the neighbourhood children playing nearby. Shrills of joy pierced every house, yet Annelle did not hear them. Her mind wandered far away.
“Ann!” little Marianne from the house next door called out again. “Ann, come and play!” Somewhat reluctantly, she turned her head to face the kitchen.
“Mummy!” she called. “Yes baby?” her mother replied, concerned.
“I’m going outside to play.”
Annelle jumped onto the cracked ground below. Momentarily she forgot the longing in her heart as she ran to the youngsters playing in the dirt.
Walking to the living room, Susan glanced at the window where she usually saw her daughter sitting, gazing out at the roadway. On seeing nothing but the sun’s rays casting an abstract picture on the wooden floor of the room, she looked outside and smiled as she saw happiness written on Annelle’s face while she played.
“Susan! You home?” came the high-pitched voice of Miss Cynthia at the front door. “Yes, yes, I’m coming,” Susan replied. Her thin frame, sunken eyes and ruffled hair greeted Cynthia at the door. “Oh heavens, I see you’ve gotten worse,” came Cynthia’s frank but worried voice. Susan sighed as she stepped out of the way for her guest to enter. They sat near the window facing each other and Susan fought back the tears.
“What’s the latest?” Cynthia asked. Susan wiped away an approaching tear with the sleeve of her dress, and replied, “Still nothing new. The last I heard was that they found a vessel near Venezuela, but they weren’t sure if it was ours. I think Richard…” Her voice trailed off, she tilted her head back, and then looked out the window.
As though feeling her mother’s eyes, Annelle turned and flashed a huge smile. Her eyes then followed her mother’s as they moved quickly toward the road and fell upon a jeep. Susan rose slowly as it came to a stop a few feet from Annelle. She recognized this vehicle. It was the same one which, eight months ago, had picked up her husband Richard. She ran excitedly past Cynthia and swung open the front door. About two feet from the jeep she stopped, legs trembling, heart pounding in her chest, and her voice caught in her throat.
Annelle looked on, confused, as two men dressed in a familiar uniform exited the jeep and walked toward mummy. One of them held in his hand a funny-shaped hat which she had once seen atop her daddy’s head. Her gaze shifted to her mother and her stomach wrenched.
The blood had drained from Susan’s face. She was as pale as was possible for a person of cocoa-coloured skin to become. Her body shook violently and she collapsed. “Mummy!” came Annelle’s shrill scream as she ran toward the writhing figure on the ground. Her mother’s screams and cries made every child in the neighbourhood run into their homes as their parents ran out.
Susan grabbed her daughter and rocked to and fro as the men’s words faded into the wind. Cynthia knelt nearby and placed her shaking hands on her friend’s shoulders. Susan’s cries were reduced to sobs while her body convulsed painfully, as she fought to be strong for the last remaining leaf of her family tree.
“No…No…No…” were the only words that escaped from her lips. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her fingers clasped tightly around her husband’s old beret. “Daddy!” Annelle screamed, “Where’s daddy? I want my daddy!”
“Come,” Miss Cynthia said in a kind voice with a slight tremor, “Let’s get inside.” She gently pulled Susan to her feet, still clutching her crying Annelle. They stumbled slowly to the house as the neighbours looked on with teary eyes.
“Daddy’s gone baby, daddy’s gone.”