Year of the Butterfly

Life goes on.. even when you lose someone you love, even when you don't know what to think, how to feel, how to act and what to say. Everything will be okay, is what people like to say, but it won't and you know it. All you can do is bury your grief and hide, and hope on the surface at least life will appear to be normal. Is there any hope?
This is a story of a young girl battling with the loss of her father. Accompany her on a journey of self-discovery and misadventure as she negotiates her way through bereavement and processes the unanswered questions. Along the way, there are dreams, visions and schemes, at least one golden urn and a kidnapping. Her story is about a metamorphosis from pain into renewal and growth. Her destination is a place of hope with a promise of healing.

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2. The caterpillar stirs

The startled young girl watched in utter disbelief as the light grew bigger and longer until it descended onto the floor. Not a single thought passed through her brain in that moment, so focused was she on the apparition in front of her. She was gripped with fear and her heart was racing at a mile a minute. Her mouth was agape in a mute expression of shock. The next thing she knew, she heard a voice from inside the light saying, "You are going to be all right." It was also the last thing she remembered before she fainted.

 

***

What’s going on? Where am I? Oh, I’m in my room. Ouch, my head hurts. Feels like I banged it against something. What’s the time? What...? Oh, I remember now. Did that really happen or have I been dreaming? Ooh! I’ve got goose pimples on my arms and I feel cold. What’s happening to me? That was creepy… I’ll go find Mommy and tell her - she'll know. Um, no. Not a good idea. She won't believe me and then she'll have to worry about my seeing things. I’ll tell my big sister. Mm, also a bad idea. She’ll just think I’m crazy. Anyway, I don't remember much - maybe it's best if I keep this to myself for the moment, just until I figure things out. Yes, that's what I’ll do. It was probably nothing. But I did see that light and I did hear that voice. The weird thing about it is I can't remember if it was a man's voice or a woman's. It kind of sounded like both or neither. Oh I don't know! Maybe I just imagined all of that. Or it could be stress! I heard somewhere that people who have a lot of stress sometimes imagine things because their brains don't work perfectly, and that golden urn on my Mommy's dressing table is causing me a lot of stress. Ok, so Daddy's ashes are inside it, but what if someone decides they want to steal the urn and sell it for lots of money? Everyone knows that gold costs a lot of money and this is a very big piece of gold. I’m really surprised that none of the adults have thought of this before. Isn’t this why gold is normally kept inside bank vaults? So that it can stay safe and sound with security guards to watch over it! And here it is sitting for everybody to see and tell other people about. Then again, if nobody else is worried about this, then I’m not going to be either. Maybe if thieves know what is inside, they won't touch it. Or maybe they'll throw Daddy's ashes away! Let’s hope the home alarm system works.

 

I can't believe it! I cannot believe she just said that to me! And she didn't even try to listen to me, telling me I was lying! I’m not going to talk to her now. I’m not a liar. How could she think that? Ok, here's what happened. After I woke up half an hour ago, I was on my way to ask Mommy if the alarm system is working properly when I ran into Lisa. She told me I was in big, big trouble about the urn. She told me that she had found me a few hours ago lying on the floor of Mommy's bedroom, right in front of the dressing table, and the golden urn was lying on the floor beside me. Then she called Mommy and told her that I had been playing with the urn and maybe even tried to open it to look inside. Sure! That sounds exactly like something she would want to do! Well, I told her to stop talking nonsense and immediately went off to find Mommy, but she found us first. She looked really cross and had her hands on her hips as she asked me one loud question after another: "What were you doing with Daddy's ashes? Why were you in my room? What did I tell you girls about playing in that room? Did you try to open it? What were you trying to do? What happened? Why were you lying on the floor with the urn next to you?" On and on she went without giving me a chance to speak! I was scared seeing Mommy like that and it made me want to cry but I knew that as soon as I explained to her that I wanted to keep it safe, she would understand that I hadn't planned on opening the urn and she would calm down. Well, she didn't. She went red in the face and told me it's bad to tell lies, and no matter how well I tried to make her understand, she just kept repeating her questions as before. Finally, without thinking about what I was doing, I started explaining about the light and the voice, but she cut me off and angrily told me to stop making up stories. So I was right before - I knew she wouldn't believe it. My throat was getting sore from shouting and it was feeling thick like I was going to cry, when Lisa screamed at the top of her voice, "Stop it! Stop fighting, please!" We all stood there looking at each other until Mommy said, "Ok, it's over now. Please, honey, if you don't want to make Mommy angry, then just leave the urn alone from now on - the both of you please. It’s not a toy you know! It’s very special and very expensive. Your Daddy worked very hard all his life so that we could have nice things and the last nice thing we can do for him, is to surround his ashes with gold, to show how much he meant to us. So we should all do our best to keep it safe and appreciate it, okay?" We both nodded quietly but then my stupid sister insisted, "But Mommy, I didn't do anything." Then, shaking her head, she said to me, "I think it's best if you don't go into Mommy's room unless I’m in there, do you understand me? And I’m really disappointed in you with all these lies. Now go to your room and think about what you've done. Don’t come out until you are ready to tell me the truth or to apologise." I felt my heart sink to my toes and try as I might to get angry, I knew my Mommy had no reason to believe me about the light and the voice, but she knows me! She should know that I would never lie to her. Well, she used to know me better than that. Why did she change her mind about me? It’s not fair! It's bad enough that I lost my Daddy. Now Mommy thinks I’m lying... Well, she can have her golden urn and see if I care! I’ll be just too happy not to go in there, whether she's there or not! Even if she doesn't know it, I know I’m not a liar.

 

Kenny is the name of that rude boy at school who said that worms eat your body in the ground after you are buried. He’s not much older than me, so I don't know what makes him think he knows so much. I think most of the time he just says things to shock the other kids and then when they believe him, he smiles that big pudding face smile of his that makes his eyes look like evil slits. Sometimes I wish I could punch his face to make that horrible smile disappear, but Mommy keeps telling me I need to act more like a lady. I don’t know why she bothers. I’m a tomboy. I can do anything and everything a boy can do, maybe even better. That’s one of the reasons you will never catch me crying - I’m too tough for that. When I get upset, I usually just look cross, blow up my cheeks and fold my arms. I think that's much better than bursting into tears every time, like most girls do. After Kenny said that about the worms, I looked at him crossly, blew up my cheeks and folded my arms. I imagined myself punching his face and making him cry instead! That would be cool, especially if all his friends saw him crying and laughed at him, calling him a sissy-boy. Mm, if only he weren't so much bigger and stronger than me... He often talks nonsense like that to everyone, but someone must have told him that my Daddy died because every now and then I hear him making a comment about dead bodies, then he looks at me and giggles. I know he said something really bad like that to my friend Jada, because she refuses to tell me what he said. Jada is my best friend at school and she knows better than to ask me any questions or say anything about my Daddy. I know she thinks I had forgotten her dad's birthday last week, but I didn't. She just didn't want to tell me about all the special plans she and her brothers made with their mother to surprise her dad on his birthday. I heard from one of the other girls in my class that they bought their dad an expensive brown leather jacket and that they took him for lunch at his favourite restaurant. Whatever. I don't care. But I do want to know what that idiot Kenny said. I’ve decided to force her to tell me on our walk home from school tomorrow. We’ll be alone then and she won't have an excuse to get away. I’ve just said goodnight to Mommy. I’m still angry with her, not really talking to her, but if I didn't say goodnight, she would come to my room and probably give me a hard time again about not having manners; and I’m way too tired to be bothered with all that now. I’ve got a big day ahead...

 

***

With eyes feeling heavier and breathing getting deeper and slower, the young girl fell fast asleep and soon began to dream: she's walking along a beach and there's no one else about except for a tall person wearing white walking ahead of her in the distance. She's not paying much attention to the other beach stroller but she's aware of him, or it is her? It's hard to tell from this distance and besides, the sun is shining so hard on the sea, it's almost blinding. Actually this is one of her favourite things about the sea: to watch the sunlight sparkling on the water - it looks like diamonds gleaming and glittering as far as the eye can see! She's feeling happy, peaceful, and for once she doesn't remember anything about her normal life. She feels free and light as the birds hovering over the water and dipping into it to catch a snack of something fishy. Suddenly she's aware that the stroller in front of her has slowed down and is gesturing towards her. She doesn't feel scared somehow, even though she doesn't know this person and can't see their face; so she starts walking faster. It feels like a long time has passed and she cannot catch up with this person! Dreams are always like that, making you feel like your legs don't work! For no particular reason, she bends down and runs her hands through the water, scooping up a handful of diamonds from the sea. She holds out her hand as if she's offering these diamonds to the other person so they will slow down, and the next thing she knows, the figure is directly in front of her. It's a nun! The nun has the kindest face she's ever seen and although she will not remember the nun's face when she wakes up, it feels to her as if she's seen this face before, as if she knows it. The nun takes the diamonds from her and says, "Thank you my child. Your gift is very valuable, but do you know that you are more valuable than an ocean full of diamonds? That is why your father in heaven wants you know that you are going to be all right. What you saw and heard was very real." The young girl wants to know something, but she can't get her voice to work. The nun nods at her smiling - she has read the girl's mind. "Yes, nuns like swimming in the ocean and we do wear swim suits. Now, what's your real question, my child?" The young girl is thinking and squinting as all the while the sun continues to shine more and more brightly, so much so that soon she can't even see the nun's face any more. Just before the nun fades completely from her sight, the young girl gasps, "Why did God take my Daddy away? Was it something I did?" The instant that the nun disappears, she whispers her answer, but the young girl doesn’t hear it. After that, other dreams take over with images of different sorts that have no business being together: puppies and popcorn, worms and computers, her sister giggling crazily and a car ride, all jumbled up and meaningless. Soon she would wake up and...

 

***

I dreamt the strangest thing last night! Oh I wish I could tell someone what's been happening to me! The voice and the light, and then that strange dream - it was all real! I knew I wasn't going crazy. But who would believe me and what does it all mean? I liked the part about walking on the beach and scooping up the diamonds. Imagine a person really could do that! The ocean is so big; it could take forever to scoop up all the diamonds in it. That was pretty weird though: meeting a nun on a beach. What would a nun be doing on a beach and why would I dream about a nun? I don't even think I’ve ever seen a real nun up close, so I don't know exactly how they are supposed to look but it's funny that I asked the nun if she likes swimming. Well, I didn't actually ask her, I was thinking it and she must've read my mind. What am I saying? Nuns reading minds, swimming in the sea. Ha, ha, ha! It makes a funny picture: a nun wearing a swimsuit with a habit wrapped around her head. I’d best stop laughing about this now. Nuns are supposed to be the brides of God. I learnt that in Sunday school. And I can't afford to do anything more to upset God. I just wish I could remember what else the nun and I were talking about - probably something about diamonds because I remember giving her some in my dream. Wait a minute! She said the same thing that voice said, something like I’m going to be okay or... Um, no. I can't remember. Ah no!! What’s the point of dreaming if you're just going to forget the moment you wake up? I get the feeling this was an important dream, like it's got something to do with the voice and the light from yesterday. Well, I don't have time to think about that now - school's about to start and I’ve got to get Jada to spill the beans today. Then I’ll decide what to do about Kenny the idiot.

 

"Jada, what did Kenny say about me the other day?" Jada shrugs her shoulders. "Look, I know he said something mean about me. I won't get upset but I just want to know what it was, okay?" Jada's face looks like a prune, with her forehead all scrunched up in a frown and her shrugging shoulders pushing her neck up into folds under her little double chin. "Don't worry about it - it was nothing. It’s just him talking his usual rubbish. You know Kenny." Oh no, you don't. I’m not letting this go! "Then why not just tell me so I can get off your back about it, huh?" Now her little double chin is wobbling as she speaks. "Because it's no big deal! Now tell me what you're planning for the coming school holidays? We might be going camping at the beach." That’s a coincidence… "Mm, sounds nice. Don’t forget to scoop up some diamonds." Jada's left eyebrow lifts so high like it's trying to make contact with her hairline. "What are you talking about, weirdo?" I have to shake my head to wake up from my daydream. "Oh, ha, ha! Sorry, um, I meant seashells! Don’t forget to scoop up some seashells." Jada's eyebrow drops down gratefully and she rolls her eyes instead. "Oh I see. Since when are you into seashells? Never mind, just tell me what you guys are up to." Forget it, my friend! You’re not going home until you tell me what I want to hear. "Nice try, Jada. Now let's change the subject back to Kenny. Look, it's not like I’m going to blame you for what he said to you and I’m not going to tell him you told me, if that's what you're worried about. You're trying too hard to avoid this topic and that only makes me more curious; so just tell me already! I’m not going to stop bugging you about this." We're almost home and she's taking a long time to think about this. But finally she nods, sighs, and says, "Okay, it's stupid really; so maybe you don't have to get upset. Kenny doesn't know what he's talking about anyway, so..." We stop walking and I’m starting to get impatient now. "Come on, spill!" She looks down and starts mumbling. "Kenny said his older cousin who lives with them, said that when someone dies like that, like your Daddy did, in all that pain and stuff, then that person is probably being punished for something. He said that your Daddy must've done something really terrible to suffer like that and then die too. I told him to shut up because he knows nothing about your Daddy who's a very nice man by the way, but he said his older cousin heard your family has too much money for someone with a job like the one your Daddy had and that he probably did something dodgy to get so much money." My blood is boiling but I’m staying calm because I want her to finish. "What does dodgy mean?" "I don't know. Something bad, like your Daddy might have done something he wasn't supposed to do. You know, like against the law. Like that. And he carried on and on about that, asking me questions about stuff you guys have in your house and how many times a year you go away on holiday, and so on, like he was trying to work out how much money you spend. Stupid! You see, I told you he's just being his usual idiotic self. Don’t mind him." It feels like there's a volcano in my head waiting to erupt, but I want more. "Are you sure that was all? Didn’t he say anything about me?" Jada's face is turning red; she puts her hands on her hips and tilts her head to one side, like she does when she's irritated. "Why do you care what he says? This is making me crazy! Okay, you know what? Here you go: idiot Kenny said that if your family is having a hard time now that your Daddy's dead, it's probably because one of you did something to deserve it, and he seems to think it's you! Of course he thinks it's you because he's still angry that you beat him at Maths all the time and he always used to brag about being the best at Maths. That’s the only reason, you really mustn't-- " The dream. I remember.. Was it something I did? Oh my God... "What’s wrong? Are you okay? Your face is all white like you've seen a ghost. Oh please don't pay any attention to Kenny. You see? This is exactly why I didn't want to tell you! Now you're upset. Let’s go inside your house now. Maybe we should tell your Mum, huh?" She walks me to the door and all I can think is: I did something! This is all happening because I did something terrible. It’s all my fault! God is punishing me. But what did I do?

 

Wow, I slept like a baby last night! I don't remember dreaming last night. I’m a bit disappointed to tell you the truth. I was kind of hoping for one of those dreams that come to you every night like episodes of a TV series, like there was a story to follow. But no. No nun, no diamonds and no beach either. It’s weird though, how I can still picture myself walking on that beach like it really happened and I can still imagine that nun in front of me. The voice too, although I’m not sure any more if it's the nun's voice I hear in my head or the voice from the other night. Whatever. Right now it’s the least of my worries, especially after what happened yesterday! When Jada went inside our house with me and starting explaining to Mommy why I looked like I’d seen a ghost, Mommy blew a gasket! I’m not sure what a gasket is, but I’ve heard my cousins say that. I think it's something like the volcano in my head that I thought was going to erupt as Jada told me more about what Kenny said. Immediately Mommy wanted phone numbers and stopped listening; so she only heard the first part about Daddy doing something dodgy to make a lot of money. She wanted Kenny’s parents' home number; she wanted the school principal's number, our class teacher's, the works! She was going to sort this nonsense all out right away, she said, her face red with anger. I left Jada with her and went to my room because I’d had enough. Besides, that one question was ringing in my head like a fire truck siren: What did I do? I know all kids my age do naughty things from time to time. It's normal, isn't it? But it's not like I ever set fire to the curtains in the dining room or took apart the TV set or fed the dogs rat poison or anything really bad like that. So what was it? Was it because I didn't do well enough at my schoolwork? Daddy was usually pleased with my school reports, so it can't be that. Was it because I’m sometimes lazy to do my chores at home? But my sisters are all like that, so then it should be their fault too, right? Was it because I sometimes skip my prayers before eating or going to bed - that's probably a sin - but I know of other people who never pray and their daddies didn't die. I don't know. What can it be? I’ve got to figure this out so I can stop doing what I’m doing wrong before anyone else gets hurt. But before I do anything else, Kenny’s got to go down. He messed with the wrong person! So I can't fight him, huh? He’s too big for that. I can't talk him down because that mouth of his is always ready to say something worse back at you. How do I shut him up for good? Well, that's what I spent all of last night thinking about: revenge. After thinking long and hard, I’ve got an idea now. We’ll have to see if I can manage to do it. In the meantime, I got up a little bit earlier this morning and went digging in the backyard. I found what I was looking for in the garden. Now just to get my hands on Kenny’s schoolbag.

 

"Ew, Kenny! What’s that on your sandwich?" Now the other kids are making vomiting sounds, turning up their noses in disgust. "Cheese and tomato, why?" He's looking at his food now and I can see his eyes getting bigger and bigger in his pudding face, until he spits out the mouthful of bread, cheese, tomato, and a couple of earthworms from our backyard garden. He’s gagging now and turning green in the face, like a bowl of green jelly! I’m enjoying every minute of it, but I say nothing because I want him to figure out it was me. I think it's quite poetic, actually, after all his nonsense talk about worms eating our bodies after we die; so I thought he might like eating some worms while he's alive! Watching him take that first bite was better than my birthday and 2 Christmases combined, and it was so easy in the end! You should see the kids pointing their fingers at him and laughing at him - it's even better than the fantasy I had of slapping him in the face. There he goes, running off to the toilet. Good riddance! And don't come back. Nobody knows I did it, so I’ve just got away with murder - it was a worm massacre! I bet these kids will be talking about this for weeks, no months! Kenny will never live this down.

 

Why do I feel so miserable? I should be glad I got back at Kenny, but I don't feel any better. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not sorry I did it! He deserved it. But... "Yes, Mommy?" Mommy sounds upset. I’ll finish my homework later - I can't concentrate anyway - and go see what she wants. "I’m coming." She sounds really angry. "Come here this instant, young lady!" All right, now I know I’m in for it if she's calling me 'young lady'. Sigh! What now? "I just got off the phone now. Do you know who just called me?" I’m shaking my head because I’m too scared to speak. "Don’t you? Well, it was your school principal, wasn't it?" I’m shrugging my shoulders because I don't understand what's going on. "Don’t play stupid with me, young lady! You know precisely why the principal would call me at 7 o' clock in the evening, don't you?" I wish she would stop asking me questions I don't know the answers to. "Well, what have you got to say for yourself?" Uh... Sorry? I seem to be making a habit of doing wrong without realising it. "Right, you refuse to talk, so I’ll do all the talking instead. You are grounded! You’re not even allowed to ask me if you can go to the corner shop to buy a packet of gum. Do you hear me? You are to go to school and be on your best behaviour and come right back home afterwards, without any detours to Jada's or any other friend's house, and here you will stay until I tell you your punishment is finished. If I hear any more nonsense about you from a teacher or your principal, you'll be in big, big and I mean, big trouble. Now, go to your room!" I’m so confused and shocked, I can't even imagine what my face must look like now. I just know my mouth's hanging open. "Mommy, can I ask a question?" She snaps, "Yes, what?" I’m swallowing what feels like a tennis ball in my throat. "What did I do?" And dammit, but I can feel the tears rolling down my face! I hate this! Why am I crying? "Well, since you've clearly forgotten what it means to be lady with good manners and good sense, I’ll refresh your memory. Someone put a bunch of worms on your schoolmate Kenny’s sandwich today and he almost ate it." I’m sorry, I just can't help laughing! I can see it before my eyes again. "Oh you still think it's funny, do you? You know, it's bad enough that you don't care about what anyone at your school thinks of you, but you don't even bother to pretend to me to be sorry for your actions. And that really hurts Mommy." Okay, this is getting serious now. "Wait, Mommy! I didn't mean it like that! You heard all the terrible things Kenny said about us. I just gave him what he deserved. It’s not like he swallowed any worms and got sick because of it." Mommy's not impressed. "You cannot excuse that kind of behaviour, child. You can't just go around putting worms on people's food and think it's okay. Kenny will get what he deserves some other way, some other time." Now I’m not impressed. "When, Mommy? What will happen to him? He’s been bullying and teasing kids at school for ages now and nothing bad ever happens to him. I don't understand it!" Oh no! More tears! How do I stop them? "Never mind that, it's God's will what happens to Kenny - not for you to decide. So then tell me, don't you think that if you do bad things like what you did today, bad things might happen to you too?" Are you kidding me? "Bad things are already happening to me..." I don't want to hear any more, so I’m going back to my room to do my homework. "I’m still talking to you, young lady!" I’m no young lady. I’m bad news. Just a walking, talking, angry piece of trouble. "Come back here, I said!" And because I love my mother, I turn around for her sake, just to say, "Sorry mommy, I’ll never do anything like that again."

 

Dear Jesus, I’m not sure how this works but maybe I can just talk to you like I talk to Teddy. I know I’ve only really prayed to ask you for stuff I wanted for Christmas or my birthday, and to say bless my family and my food, and help me get good marks at school. So I won't blame you if you're not listening. You wouldn't be the only one. Mommy’s really upset with me, but she seems to be upset with me all the time these days. I know what I did to Kenny was probably a bad thing - okay, it was pretty terrible, but I know you understand why I had to do it, don't you? And I was so sure no one would find out it was me! I wonder how they found out... Well, Mommy forgets how angry she got when she heard what Kenny told Jada about Daddy, but I don't blame Mommy for not understanding me. I don't even understand me right now. Sometimes it feels like there are a hundred voices all talking at the same time in my head and I think I know what they're all talking about but when I try to listen to one, another talks over it and I can't hear. Maybe I’m going crazy. I would just really like it if you could make those voices go away. I feel like I should be thinking about something important but my head is always so noisy, I can't concentrate. Then other times, I’m glad because I don't feel like thinking about anything. My Mommy took Lisa and me to a lady who keeps asking us questions about stuff like Daddy and what we think happens when people die, and so on. I don't really want to talk to this stranger about this stuff - it's none of her business. Lisa likes it and so when we get home and she tells Mommy I didn't want to talk to the nice lady, I’m back in the dog box. I think if I can have that dream again, with the nun, I mean, I think the nun can tell me what I need to know. I really think she might be able to explain things to me. Even though I can't remember everything, I know I felt good in that dream. So now I’m asking you for a favour again: can you please let me dream about that nun again, please Jesus, and I promise I will try harder to be a good girl. Bless my family and my friends, and my Daddy in heaven. Amen.

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