Copyright is held by the author.
BEYOND THE cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a swath of colours, a 10-foot high concrete wall stood. A small shrine at the foot of it had burnt-out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!
Seated in the bar, her table close to the window, Rainbow saw it all — exactly as Reverend Hazard described, right down to the soggy teddy bears. How many times had she passed this way and never noticed!
“It starts where it ends,” the Reverend had told her. “Just follow your instinct and you will find she, waiting, where you lost she. But you need to change your life around, to be able to take good care of the child.”
She picked up the glass and downed the drink. The waitress came over, raised her eyebrows and Rainbow nodded. Was this her fifth, or sixth? She’d lost count, like she’d lost track of the many leads the police had followed and the multiple sightings reported in her daughter’s disappearance.
The waitress returned with the drink. Rainbow extracted a tablet from her bag, placed it on her tongue, moved the glass to her mouth and tilted her head back.
She thought of the ad in the Caribbean Camera, long after Blossom had disappeared — after the enthusiasm in the search had waned and the trail grown cold, after she had given up hope. Reverend Hazard. Universally recognized priest and clairvoyant with proven success in helping his flock, encourages you to get in touch with him. He will find a solution to your personal problems. Contact him. Today! At that stage, she was willing to turn to anyone if it would help find her daughter. Even someone who might be a charlatan.
Three years, three months and three days — didn’t sound long in the greater scheme of things but it was the time during which her world had collapsed. If only she hadn’t attended the Caribbean Carnival Parade on that fateful morning. If only she’d kept a closer eye on Blossom. If only . . .
The parade started off late, as it did every year — a million people thronging the Exhibition Grounds. The two drinks before she joined the carnival helped to calm her nerves. A couple more gave her the boost she needed. She wore an outfit she’d worked on for over a year. Designed with the idea of buoyancy, yet still elaborate enough to catch the judges’ eyes, it had challenged her skills as a designer and dressmaker. This was Blossom’s first parade in her six year-old life and she had looked forward to it from the moment Rainbow began sewing the costumes. Now, the child’s excitement was at a peak as the first band started up and revellers inched their way down Lakeshore Boulevard.
It all happened so quickly. One moment Blossom was in sight and the next the child vanished. Rainbow’s panic was sobering. She looked around, furious at first with Blossom for not keeping close, then as the seconds passed, the realization seized her — the little girl was nowhere to be seen.
She screamed: “My daughter, I’ve lost my daughter. Has anyone seen her?” In the clamour of the steel band, the revellers, the juke box on the float, no one seemed to notice.
After a search of the area, expanding to a kilometre radius and beyond, even dragging Lake Ontario, nothing had turned up.
Rainbow left two bills on the table, headed for the exit and crossed the road.
An accumulation of paraphernalia from well-wishers cluttered the shrine. How many of these sympathizers had kept updated on the plight of her child, in what was described by everyone — police, the media, the public, as the most blatant kidnapping in the city in decades? An item that once dominated the headlines was now yesterday’s news.
She scrutinized the sign: Rejoice. Someone had taken great pains to craft it — the background panel painted in gold and the words in red, one foot tall, three inches wide, skillfully designed. Rejoice — Reverend Hazard had said on her first visit. He would have sensed the stale trace of alcohol on her breath as he studied the way she walked — a tilted, drug-induced slant she was powerless to correct.
A strong breeze raced across the street purging flyers dangling precariously on the post, while a few hung tenaciously, clinging to life, as if waiting for a resurrection. One of them was a faded photograph of Blossom, her features blurred, the most remarkable aspect: her gold earrings — a gift from her grandmother in Trinidad. She told her grandmother she’d never take them off, not even if she died.
A 10-foot high wall. What secrets did it guard? Blossom had disappeared within mere feet. Had the police really included the area beyond the wall in their search? It just didn’t make sense. There had to be an opening somewhere, to something, or some place.
The wall eventually swung east and she followed until she arrived at an open gate. A sign at the side: The Lord Cometh Ministry and below: All Are Welcome. She walked through the gate to the front door of the building. She tried the handle. To her amazement, the door opened to a dimly lit room.
“Anyone here?” she shouted. No answer. “Hello, is anyone here?” Still no response except the echo of her voice in the vacant chamber.
A picture-window on the far wall drew her attention. Intrigued, she crossed the floor, looked through and saw a massive hall, tall ceiling reaching to thirty or more feet. Narrow tracks ran the length and breadth of the hall and a train — engine and five small roofless carriages, idled on the tracks. Children came out of a door on the far side and ran towards the train. Rainbow watched them board and saw their exhilaration even though no sound penetrated the picture-window. Was that Blossom — in the first carriage? Rainbow’s vision blurred.
She shook her head and took a deep breath, but a rustle of clothing distracted her. Before she could turn around to investigate, hands grabbed her and covered her mouth. She kicked against the wall but strong arms forced her to the ground. She felt a knee implanted on her back and just as she opened her mouth to scream the person shoved a nauseating rag into her mouth and tugged and tied her hands and feet. A breath reeking of garlic and pepperoni and a whiff of talcum powder — the kind her mother always doused her body with every night before she went to bed — invaded her senses before she was flipped around to face her assailant.
He was no more than a boy, perhaps thirteen or fourteen. He elevated her over his shoulder with the ease of someone lifting a child and took her through a door to the inner chamber and a boarding platform. As gently as she could imagine him handling a new-born baby, he placed her on the last carriage, easing her head back against the top of the cushioned seat. Just before he went off in the direction of the engine he removed her gag and held his index finger to his lips.
Rainbow eased herself to a sitting position and watched the boy cram his body into the engine, his torso extending two feet above the carriage. The boy blew the whistle and pumped his arms up and down. The train started. The children shrieked with excitement as the locomotive picked up speed.
She scrutinized the face of every child as the train went around the bend but they were jumping up and down and she found it difficult to focus. Was it possible that Blossom was one of them? Dare she even hope? The train went out one door, the carriages ahead were lost for half-a-minute then reappeared through a second door fifty feet away, but by that time the children up front were only hazy phantasms in her vision as the train bobbed along.
The train pulled into the station and slowed as it approached the platform.
The boy began to sing: “Here come the pizza man. Get you pizza while it hot, hot, hot. No time like the present, boy. Get you pizza while it hot, hot, hot.”
When the ride ended, she was lifted again. The kid slid her body onto a soft pile of clothing among boxes in the garage. He pulled an old coat over the top, creating a cave that emanated the sweetness of old ladies who frequently powdered themselves — a light rose motif that played ironically well in the deep recesses of Rainbow’s brain.
A squeak from the far corner of her cavern drew her attention and in the streak of light through a rip in the coat, she saw a wire-cage with two white mice chewing on morsels of pepperoni.
The boy sang as he left. His voice was melodic, sometimes out of tune, as he belted out the notes and sang the lines over and over again. A hymn. It was vaguely familiar — and stirred a memory of growing up and attending bible classes under the bottom house of her Sunday School teacher.
My cup is full and running over, running over, running over. Since the Lord saved me, I’m as happy as can be . . . My cup is full and running over…In-between pauses in his singing, when the Pizza Kid missed a note and struggled to catch up, Rainbow heard other voices, and squeaks. They were young voices, children singing, like a church choir — so clear, and yet so far.
Pizza Boy’s singing grew louder. The coat was pulled swiftly away from the top of the crate and his head, perched on his long neck, peered in.
“Peekaboo,” he said. He looked at her and the mice. “Did you all miss me?” And without waiting for an answer: “You know yuh not suppose to be in that front room — I tell Reverend Hazard about you and he didn’t like it!”
Reverend Hazard? Oh my God, the shock of the name hit her even as the boy picked her up like a bundle of sugar-cane stalks and stood her up, placed his finger to his lips, then encircled her neck with his huge hands. The menace in his eyes did not escape her and she stifled the urge to scream. But Reverend Hazard? What was he doing here and how was he connected? Why didn’t he tell her about this residence when she went to see him? Or had he?
Pizza Boy spun her around and untied her ankles and wrists.
He said, “Bye my little friends,” and led Rainbow across the factory floor.
“Where is my daughter, Blossom?” she demanded, and this stopped him in his tracks.
“Who you talking about?” he said.
“My daughter, Blossom. I saw her on the train. She’s here I tell you.”
He screwed up his eyes and shook his head. “No Blossom here,” turned around and carried on.
Pizza Boy knocked. A voice called out: “Come in,” and he opened the door.
Reverend Hazard rose from behind a desk. “My dear Rainbow,” he said. “You okay? I been worried ’bout you.” He came closer and draped his arm around her.
Pizza Boy said, “Reverend, she claiming she daughter here riding the train.”
The Reverend ordered him: “Wait outside.”
The boy left, like a sulking child who had been reproached once too often.
“Reverend Hazard,” Rainbow said. “Where is Blossom? Why didn’t you tell me that you were keeping her here?”
He shook his head. “I practically told you where to find her. I suspect though, you been in no condition to locate her, or perhaps didn’t want to, after you abandoned her.”
Abandoned? She sobbed. “What do you mean by that? I’ve never given up my child, much less abandoned her! You have no right to say things like that to me.”
His tone seemed to soften and he smiled. “Perhaps I was too harsh. But you ’ave to admit, Rainbow, you ’ave not been the best of mothers.”
She shook her head. “I saw her in the train. I want to see her, right now, or I’m going to the police and have you charged with kidnapping.” She staggered towards the door. “I must see her.”
He blocked her exit. “Look at you. You about ready to fall flat on your face. I don’ think any daughter want to see her mother the way you look. Let us pray together in the chapel and the Lord will show you the way.” He opened the door.
She pushed him aside. “I don’t want to pray. I want to find my daughter. Either you take me to her or I turn this place upside down.”
The Reverend said: “Since you insist, come with me. I will show you all the happy children in our keep.”
The effects of the alcohol were wearing off but she still felt wobbly, her vision blurred from the last pill. She wanted to stop and take another, but she knew she had to concentrate when she saw Blossom. And the last thing she wanted was to justify the Reverend’s opinion of her.
Windows on the left, doors on the right. The first door opened to an assembly room. Children seated in groups around small tables were engaged in various activities — snipping cutouts from picture books and gluing the pieces onto blank pages. A buzz in the room evidently was that of the chatter of happy children. Rainbow hadn’t observed such contentment in a long time. Half of the children in the groups faced her. None of them looked like Blossom — either too young or too old, too short or too tall, too slim or too chubby; many of them were boys dressed in a white shirt and blue pants. The ones with their backs to her, though — could one of them be Blossom?
A girl with finely permed black hair turned to speak to another on her right. Rainbow’s pulse quickened. The curtain parted and for an instant the girl’s features looked like Blossom’s. But this girl was older. Was this how her daughter would look in the three years since her disappearance? Could it be her? The girl threw her head back and laughed at something her friend said. If there was anyone adapted to an environment that seemed well suited to a happy outcome, this girl seemed to be the one. Rainbow shook her head. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Could she ever hope to give her daughter such a happy life and ensure a bright future?
The girl reached up and stroked an earring dangling from her lobe. The earring glittered in the overhead light.
Rainbow shook her head. “My daughter is not here.” She walked out.