Night Before Dawn

(Revised post of The Girl)

The huge waves lashed against the jet-black rocks. The two coconut trees danced in the humid breeze and the pale sun was halfway hidden in the bright clouds. The sun had set but the residue was a bluish sky which descended into shades of purple with a slight yellow sympathizing with the gloomy mood that she was in. She sank into the dry coarse sand with her face in her hands. She could hear the continuous sussing of the wind and the buzzing of the bees in the nearby plant growth. It was quite windy today because her dark hair kept dancing in the wind. Her face looked grumpy and was pink due to the continuous crying. She had a flawless, immaculate figure, the kind people would fawn over. Yet she was here in this small town of Cadaqués, weeping till her eyes turned red.

Isabelle was grief-stricken and there was an endless stream of tears flowing down her cheeks. She had just attended her late Aunt Flora’s funeral held in the town Cathedral. Cadaqués is a tight-knit village where everyone knew each other and hence, almost the entire town had come to pay their respects. Such was also the reverence her aunt upheld. She was an extremely affectionate and benevolent person whom everyone loved her. The villagers remembered her aunt’s kindness which was cast on them when it was the least expected, the happy moments and the sad ones too. Aunt Flora had died in a car accident. It was quite uncommon for such accidents to occur. Especially since Aunt Flora was neither driving her own car nor was it her usual style of driving. One could blame it on fate but it was outlandish for aunt Flora to drive so rashly. The ambiguity of the entire accident was pushing Isabelle towards insanity. Why was her aunt driving a car, not hers, as if she was out of her mind? The very composed aunt who was always the one trying to pacify Isabelle’s impatience. There had to be something. Something of utmost importance. This unusual behavior of her aunt perplexed her by the minute. Her head was whirling past a million thoughts, but none struck her as strong enough to explain such erratic behavior on her aunt’s part.

For the past twelve years Aunt Flora had been a mother and a father to Isabelle. Isabelle’s parents, Alejandro and Alicia, had died when Isabelle was only five. Aunt Flora was her mother’s sister who was more than happy to take her custody. She was there for it all: from her first day of school to her first fist fight, from her first successful painting to her failure at flamenco dancing. She was a constant presence; supporting her, appreciating her and loving her. Though Isabelle had always been grateful to have her aunt by her side, she had never explicitly expressed it. Now she wished she had.

A year after taking over Isabelle, Aunt Flora had met a handsome sailor, Mr. Nicholas who had come along the coast with a group of friends. There was a kind of charm about him which was hard to resist. Even Isabelle liked him. Not surprisingly, Aunt Flora believed that she was irrevocably in love with him and though a hasty decision, agreed to marry him within a month. The newly married couple were unaware of how much they were yet to know about each other, or at least one of them was. They made a mutual decision to live in Cadaqués as Mr. Nicholas had no home of his own, being at sea for most part of his life.

Aunt Flora owned a tiny house on the outskirts of the town along the deep blue sea. There were two rooms, a small kitchen and a living room. The house was painted white from the outside, like all the other structures in the town. The town was along the coast and has a dockyard. Isabelle was presently mourning her aunt’s death at the pier. Added to the grief of her late aunt, Isabelle had over the years begun to abhor her uncle. After a couple of months into Aunt Flora and Mr. Nicholas’ marriage, one day Isabelle had returned home early from school and she stumbled on her uncle who was passed out in the living room. The entire room and the passage which led to the stairs was reeking of cheap alcohol and some kind of a drug. That day she covered up the terrible stench by opening the windows and spraying the room freshner, thinking it must have been a mistake. In the evening when she was having a light snack by the kitchen, her uncle looking fresh as always sneaked up from behind her and whispered in her ear,

“Thank you for covering up for me princess. I knew I could count on you.”

The comment made the hair at the nape of her neck rise. This made her realise that such behavior had always been a regular occurrence. Earlier on whenever she would return from school, she would see Uncle Nicholas sleeping in his room assuming that he had come home after a tiring shift at work. But she had her doubts. So one day, Isabelle skipped school under the pretence that she wasn’t feeling too well, and realised that Uncle Nicholas never did leave for work. In fact he sat in the living room drinking alcohol which was hid in a discreet corner of the room. She now registered that the all too pleasant and flowery, sweet smell that would hit her senses when she would enter the house was for the sole reason to hide the stench of the alcohol. Step by step everything that she had previously ignored about her uncle came back to her. Those accidental touches and the intrusion of her personal space, those coy glances which had once upon a time made her erupt into a fit of giggles, she realised were all actually deliberate actions. She had felt sick then and she felt sick now. She was unable to bring herself to tell her aunt at that time about the true and perilous nature of her husband. She knew her aunt loved Uncle Nicholas a lot however Isabelle had failed to understand see the reason behind it. The only reason she presumed that Uncle Nicholas had not laid a hand on her was because of the presence of her aunt. Aunt Flora had been like a realm of security for her. But now with her gone, Isabelle was terrorised. There was a whirlwind of emotions going on within her. It was difficult to think straight.

Isabelle was at that moment more glum about what was going to happen to herself than of the sorrow of her aunt passing away. It was a pity she was only seventeen. Only a couple of months more and then she would be able to live legally on her own. But still that did not mean that she would go back to the house. She will not let herself live through the constant fear and torture of getting molested.

Sitting there in front of the sea as the sun gave away its last light, she wiped her tears, and took three deep breaths. I can figure out a way, she said to herself. Determined, Isabelle began to chalk out a plan in her head. Incontestably, the first thing that she would need was money. She thanked God for the funds she had saved all through her school years. It was not much, she knew that, but she could definitely survive for sometime. The most crucial problem was that she would have to go back to the house where the loathsome man lived, to procure her savings. Just the thought of it made her shudder.

No, she did not have it in her to go back to the dreadful place. She needed some more time on her own.

Isabelle began to walk towards the outskirts of town where she knew a small inn by the name of Bienvenido. There it was, at the corner of the road behind the twin coconut trees. Only a young man from the next town handled Bienvenido, so it was hardly plausible that the others in town would know about her staying in the inn for the night.

She reached the dingy little inn. The white paint of the structure had peeled off. The front door loosely hanging from the hinges, creaked when Isabelle pushed it open. Alarmed by the unusual noise after a quiet evening, Isabelle took a couple of seconds to set her heartbeats back to their usual rhythm. She entered and the first thing she saw was a tiny worn-out wooden desk and a single bulb flickered over it. There was no one there. The room was small, almost claustrophobic with a door to the left and a tiny passage that disappeared into darkness. Isabelle found a little rusted bell to call the manager. After waiting for several minutes, an old lady, may be in her late sixties with straight white hair came out looking fresh as ever. Isabelle was astounded.

“Hola! How can I help you today Ms.–?”

“Ah, um Bella, please call me Bella. I want a room for the night,” stuttered Isabelle.

“Of course, the rate is ten euros for the night. Why don’t you fill in the details here, in this register, right here.” said the old lady presenting a worn out pale blue book from the drawer.

“Thank you.”

Isabelle filled in her name as Bella instead of Isabelle and while she was contemplating what her hometown should be, old lady, whose name she had learnt was Mrs. García, recognised her from the funeral.

“Aren’t you Flora’s niece. Oh my, my why yes indeed. I remember you. I have been meaning to talk to you… You’ve got Alicia’s beautiful green eyes too!”

Isabelle was taken by surprise at the mention of her mother. Nobody had ever in her entire life mentioned her parents before her; it was an unspoken subject. She just stared at Mrs. García.

Isabelle mumbled,“Ah! E-um yes, no, no. Um, I need to leave–”, and she turned to leave.

“Oh no darling, I didn’t mean to scare you. Come in here, into my office. We can talk. There’s a lot I would like to tell you.”

Isabelle felt irresolute. Should she go in? But what if Mrs. García does not let her go through her plan and report her to the authorities? But then again what if she actually helps her through? It was a risk to be taken. And more importantly what did she have to tell her? Isabelle followed Mrs. García into the room, nervous and constantly fidgeting with her side bag. Isabelle entered the office. There was a medium sized desk at the back of the room, a comfortable looking couch by the side window and an electric stove on the opposite side where Mrs. García was rummaging through the vessels. Isabelle took the liberty to sit on the couch and waited for Mrs. Garcías to turn around.

She smelled something sweet and chocolaty and soon a mug of bubbling hot chocolate was handed over to her. Isabelle was surprised. Why was this stranger being so nice to her? They had never spoken before, at least she couldn’t remember ever talking to this kind old lady. Maybe there have been no tenants in the inn and she needs one to pay the bills. But she doesn’t give off the vibe of being sly. She seemed quite genuine.

Mrs. García took a seat next to Isabelle and put an end to Isabelle’s endless stream of thoughts.

“My name is Ms. Fleur Lopéz. I have known your aunt and your mother since the time they were born. I know it may come as a surprise to you. But I just moved into this village recently and brought this inn. I don’t even need the money, god knows I have enough of it, but I just wished to stay close to your aunt and mother. I didn’t know your mother had died,” Ms. Fleur said her voice wavering for just a second. If Isabelle hadn’t been staring straight at her, she wouldn’t have noticed the breaking of this unknown lady’s almost-still voice.

“Your aunt had come to meet me today morning. She had heard that the owner of this inn had moved away and that there was a new owner. Obviously it seemed suspicious to your aunt that there was such an unexpected move. So she came to see what the fuss was about. That look on her face when she first saw me. I was terrified. But eventually happiness spread across her face like wildfire. For a long time, I wasn’t sure how she would have reacted considering the way I had left her, your mother and your grandmother back then. But I decided to take the leap. I wanted to be under cover for a while and see my family from a-far. You know I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. But this is a small town and news spreads so easily here, it’s scary, won’t you agree Isabelle?”

So she did know about her. She knew her real name. But she still didn’t know how everything was connected. Her mind still fuzzy, she took a sip of hot chocolate while staring out the window. It was delicious, the rich melted chocolate with hardly any milk had her craving for more. She tried to put on a confident front, steadied her voice and said,

“You still haven’t told me how you are- no sorry- were related to my mother and Aunt Flora.”

Aunt Flora, this was the first time she had said her name since the accident. How is she going to live on. She did not realise how dependent she was on her aunt until recently. Her future seemed so blurry. Look at me, she thought to herself, I am sitting in the room of an unknown woman, who claims to know the two most significant people of my life.

Ms. Fleur’s voice brought her back to the present.

“I am their aunt. Your grandmother’s sister.”

Isabelle did not know how to react. One thing she knew was to make sure that she was not bluffing. She decided to ask some basic questions first as to what had happened that this old lady who claims to be a great-aunt of hers, had disappeared for so long.

“Why did you vanish? Where did you go? And why did my aunt never talk of you? How do I even know you are speaking the truth”

“Yes, you are right. Why didn’t I even think you would need some proof. I will get you the photographs which will prove that I am indeed related to you. But first with an open mind just listen to my story. My first marriage was an unhappy one. There were some, oh no, many irreconcilable differences and we got divorced in a couple of months. Following that, I was so desperate for love, I was careless and ran away with the first man I met. It was a disaster. I left without informing anyone. Your grandmother was furious with me, and I was so close to Alicia and Flora, that when everything went down with this man I ran away with, I was scared that they would hate me too. But I was wrong. So wrong, I did not realise that I was so late. My sister, your mother and now your aunt,” whimpered Ms. Fleur.

She then moved slowly to her desk, opened a drawer and produced a huge photo album and handed it to me. I turned the cover page, and saw the first picture of my mother, aunt Flora, my grandmother and another lady who I now realised was Ms. Fleur. She continued to flip through the pictures where she saw a picture of both her mother and father from their prom, which she always has in her wallet. Her aunt had given it to her. Her parents had been childhood sweethearts and from what she was told, and as cliché as it sounded, they completed each other. She realised that this lady before her was indeed her grandmother’s younger sister.  

Isabelle did not know how to react. She just sat there staring at the photo album, flipping through the pictures as a tear slipped down her cheek.  

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