Waiting at Heaven's GatebyRedHairedandFriendly©
The familiar sound of women laughing and conversing amongst themselves was a blessing to hear. It reminded Rose that even through tragedy love would prevail and good would triumph over evil. It had been weeks since the last European had been buried and it looked as if the yellow fever that had struck the area was finally gone. Prayer had worked, and God had spared the village of Calabar, but not before taking most of the foreigners with it. She had been spared, along with a small handful of her father's church. Her father, Reverend John Delany had survived, but her mother Eugene had not.
Rose reached the river, glanced across at the cemetery that her father had erected after arriving in Calabar. The bodies of the missionaries that had not survived the trip across the Atlantic had been the first of many that had sacrificed their lives for the Word. Her mother now rested there, along with family friends of both races.
"Miss Rose, come on down here and join us."
The young woman turned, smiled softly and closed the distance between her and a group of middle-aged black women. It did not take them long to bring the shy girl out of her shell and wash away the stain of sorrow that often filled her thoughts. They talked and laughed as they worked to cleanse the clothing of their respective families. Rose did not mind helping, in fact she embraced work, it was one of the things that helped her feel useful.
"How is your father?"
Rose turned toward the woman who had raised the question. Suidelike, a woman of strong character and distinct features looked back at her. "He still insists on leaving when the next trade ship comes in."
"That is a pity," Suidelike said. Her displeasure was soon echoed by the others, as well as Rose.
"He has lost the will to live," she admitted. "Ever since mother died. I have tried to bring him back to us, to the church, but he is done."
"He's lost his faith?" another woman asked.
"Yes Samona, he has. It has been a hard year, the loss of mother has convinced him that our God is not the loving presence he had always believed in," Rose confessed.
"And what will become of us?" Suidelike questioned.
Rose sighed. "I have petitioned the church that I be allowed to remain behind and continue my father's work."
The other women all seemed to smile, save Samona. Rose noticed the lack of joy on the girl's face, but she chose to ignore it.
"When will you know?" another asked.
"I will know when the merchant vessel arrives. If the church agrees then I will hear from the new Pastor that is being assigned. Until then, I will continue to pray that God allows me to remain here, with all of you."
Rose could not help but glance toward Samona. She felt the displeasure of her decision to stay behind rolling easily from the woman's stare. Again she said nothing, choosing to pick her battles and jealousy was a battle that could not be won.
When the washing was done, the women gathered their clothing, and made their way back toward the village. Working side-by-side they draped the clothes over twine that had been linked between poles. It would not take long for the heat to dry the wet material. Rose thanked her friends for their prayers and shared that she too would keep their families in her thoughts and ask the Lord to protect their homes.
Back in the small hut that had been made for her and parents, she saw her father still lying where he'd fallen the night before. His clothes were rumpled, dirty and torn. Sometime during the night he had kicked off his shoes, leaving his socks to keep his feet safe from bugs that often frequented their small dwelling. The bottle of rum was empty; the amber glass lay on its side. He would wake up with a headache and once again blame God for the death of his wife and she would do her best to console him. She would not however quote bible verses -- the last time she had done that her father had struck her. The bruise was long gone, but the pain behind his words still haunted her. Someday she would forgive him, she knew it, but it would only be through God's healing hand.
Rose headed toward the desk that her father use to use to write out his weekly scripture lesson and pulled some of the books from its shelves. She packed them into a worn satchel, along with fruit and a vessel of water that would see her through the day. A quick glance back at her father left her more determined to remain at Calabar -- if she were to go home with him -- what would she be going home to?
As she made her way through the village, waving at children and saying hello to the few missionaries that still lived, she thought back over the past year and how much she had changed. She had balked at the idea of coming to the African continent and had it not been for the kindness of its people, she would not be the woman she was now. They had absorbed the word of the Lord like a sponge absorbing the much needed rains. They were anxious to learn, eager to please and more friendly than Rose could have imagined.
She had come to Calabar believing that the black race was ignorant, cruel and full of demonic beliefs. Yet the missionaries before her and her father's church had done so much to help the faithless grow more aware of their Creator and civilization seemed to flourish within the village, once education and God had been introduce. It did not take long for Rose to embrace the culture and learn how to survive in the wilds of Africa.
The sound of men shouting brought her up short, causing her to turn on her heel and seek out who or what had caused the ruckus. The satchel she carried was hefted higher on her shoulder as she stopped in front of Samona's home.
Women and men were scrambling to removed several logs that had spilled off a wagon. At first Rose did not understand why they behaved so chaotically. Then she saw the legs and arms that lay under the pile of wood. Quickly she dropped what she carried and hurried over to help. Soon the logs were discarded and the bruised and broken body of Samona's intended lay still. Samona screamed and fell to her knees, rocked back and forth as she prayed to God in her native tongue.
Rose hurried to the young man's side, pressed her fingers to his neck and searched for signs of life. The rise and fall of his chest was inconsistent, but it was there and an overwhelming since of thankfulness assailed her. "He's alive!" she shouted, then began directing the men in the area on how best to transfer the unconscious Kame to the medical hut.
She followed the men, pausing only long enough to pick up her belongings. Samona followed, her weeping was loud and echoed those of Kame's mother and sister. Rose felt a pang of sorrow in her chest at the anguish the women felt, as well as the knowing fear that Kame would not recover from his injuries. One leg appeared crushed, walking again would be a miracle. Both arms looked to be broken, and the wound on his head had left bone exposed. She feared that his lungs were punctured by ribs that were most likely broken.
By the time Kame was placed on one of the cots, she had prayed for healing in every language she knew, including Jukan, Calabar's native tongue. Samona insisted on helping to wash her intended, but her mother ushered her out. The young woman was not to look upon the young man's naked flesh until they were wed. Rose also was forced to leave, and not allowed back into the hut until the men and married women of the village had cleaned and covered the young black man's genitalia.
When it was time for Rose to aid the Mark, the missionary doctor that that had been in Calabar for several years, she did so without hesitation. She along with men from the village worked to set Kame's leg and arm. The young man had woken for a brief time, only to slip back into unconsciousness when his bones were pulled and turned. "Will he survive?" Rose asked Mark, while running her palm across Kame's sweaty brow.
Mark took a deep breath, wiped at the sweat on his own face and sighed. "You know as well as I that it is not by my will that Kame lives or dies, but by God's."
"I know," Rose whispered. "But you do hold some knowledge in your hand."
"We will know in a few days, if not within a few hours. Go get Samona, she will want to see him," Mark whispered, before turning away to clean up the linen and blood that littered the floor and table.
Rose hurried to do the doctor's bidding, finding Samona anxiously waiting just outside the hut's door. "He's still unconscious, but you can see him," she told the young black woman.
Samona pushed pass Rose and hurried to her intended's side. Her weeping again was easily heard through the walls of the hut. "Will he live?"
Rose turned and stared at Suidelike, Samona's aunt. "I hope so," she answered. "Infection will be our downfall -- the bones set more easily than we could have hoped, at least that is what the doctor believes. We will carry Kame to God through our prayers," Rose said, while squeezing the other woman's arm.
"You are a blessing to us," Suidelike said. "I wish Samona would see that."
Rose glanced back toward the hut. "Why does she not like me?"
Suidelike shook her head. "She is jealous of you and your beauty. Your education and your confidence in the Lord. She wishes to be like you and yet cannot see her own value," Suidelike then huffed, "even though she is to wed the most notable of our men."
"I shall ask God to help me make her feel less threatened by my presence," Rose told the woman.
"Only you leaving will make her feel less threatened," Suidelike admitted.
Rose said nothing, choosing once again to remain passive as was her nature. She left Suidelike and took with her the satchel, fruit and water she'd packed earlier. She made her way to the village school, apologizing to the children, and thanking them for being patient and waiting for her. She was a young teacher, younger than many who had come to the mission to spread God's love. Her nineteen years had been been fueled with knowledge and she was eager to share it with those less fortunate.
The day moved swiftly from morning into afternoon. Her thoughts centered around the children, and then later around Samona and the jealousy that Suidelike spoke of. Those thoughts then flickered to Kame and she wondered how he was fairing. Her father and his well-being was only allowed a small fraction of her time. When the day's lessons were over, she hurried back to the medical hut and offered aid to Mark, hoping to see some sort of improvement in their patient.
Samona was there, hovering over her intended, touching his brow, speaking soft and low to him. When Rose entered, she glared hotly at the redheaded white woman and Rose felt the hate blanketing her. She swallowed nervously as she walked over to Mark's side. "How is he?" she asked.
"No change. Samona however needs relieved, so if you could keep watch over Kame for her, I'm sure she would appreciate it."
Suidelike's words echoed in Rose's head. "I doubt it," she thought to herself, but still chose to turn to Samona and offer her relief.
Samona sneered and opened her mouth to speak. Before the words could spill out a soft whispered word slipped from Kame's lips, "Rose." Samona's eyes widen in shock and fury. Rose's brow furrowed in confusion, then horror as Samona leaped across the cot and wrapped her hands around the white woman's throat.
Rose clutched the young girl's arms, trying desperately to pull herself free from the strong grip that was choking the life out of her. Mark's hands were soon pulling at Samona's and with his help the redhead was free and Samona was being lifted away. Mark pushed the African villager outside, yelling and screaming at her for her loss of reason. He ordered her home and demanded she not return until the following morning. Many from the village had come running out of curiosity, while Rose remained stunned into silence. Her gaze shifted from the retreating form of Samona to the man on the bed, who was again silent.
"What was that all about?" Mark asked, after waving the onlookers away from the hut.
Rose touched her throat and whispered she had no idea what Samona had been thinking. Mark frowned, but said nothing more, except to excuse the woman's loss of reason due to exhaustion and worry. Rose refused to tell him that Kame had been the reason behind Samona's act of craziness. She could still hear her name on the young black man's lips.
"Wipe him down with a cool cloth, and speak with him. Read him something from the Bible and say prayers for his recovery. I will return and sleep here tonight," Mark told her, before heading toward the door. "Rose --- I am sorry about your father."
Rose looked up, shrugged her shoulders and walked over to the bowl where water to rinse Kame waited. "Have you seen him today?" she asked.
"I did. I made a trip over to your house to speak with him, but... ."
"He was either still passed out or had gone back to drinking?"
"The latter. I tried to talk to him, but I --- well, I think we can only pray for him. A man will only change when he is ready and when he let's God back in."
Rose shook her head knowingly. "It will be good for him to return to his homeland. I just hope I am able to stay," she admitted.
"We all wish that," Mark said, before pulling on his straw woven hat and bidding her goodbye.
With the cool cloth held lightly between her fingers Rose slowly slid it over Kame's face, neck, shoulders, and arms. She tried to distance herself from the whispered sound of her name falling from his lips, and yet she could not forget the way her stomach had tightened and her pulse had raced. A crimson blushed slid over her cheeks as she moved the sheet covering his torso down and began to cool his chest. The air was still warm and muggy and his body still sweated from the heat that invaded the structure. A long sigh filled the air and caused Rose to stop her tender aid.
"It is true."
Rose turned and looked at Kame. Her eyes widened in surprise that the young man was speaking. She smiled, thanking God for the gift of healing. "What is true?" she asked, through eyes brimming with tears of gladness.
"That Heaven's gate gives way to beautiful riches."
"You are not dead Kame," Rose whispered, before bringing the cloth up to his forehead and wiping it down.
"I am dead, for I am with you and that has been my prayer."
Rose stopped what she was doing and looked down at Kame. Her face paled as she studied his features. "You are feverish," she chastised, before rising to find the young man some water to drink.
He said nothing as she busied herself. When she turned back to face him, his eyes looked clear and alert. Surely, his recovery was due to the power of prayer and their God was working miracles right before her. She swallowed the nervous jitters that threatened to bubble out as she made her way back toward him. "I don't understand our Lord's power, but He is a miracle worker."
Kame stared at her, while she lifted his head and poured water between his open lips. When the man was finished drinking, she pulled her bible from her satchel and opened to a random book and chapter. She read to him, trying desperately to concentrate on the words of scripture and not the steady gaze that were leveled on her features. When Mark appeared a sense of overwhelming relief flooded her. She rose and hurried to his side. "I believe he's feverish," she confessed before darting out of the hut and hurrying home.
It took Kame weeks to heal and during that time Samona was by his side as often as her mother would allow. Rose had taken up Kame's evening care, hoping that his words would be shielded by sleep. Mark had spent much of his time traveling between Calabar and nearby villages tending to those that needed his healing touch.
Samona had done all she could to make Rose's life more difficult. Her clothing was often found trampled in the mud, the food she had set out to dry and preserve covered in feces or maggots. Samona had also seen fit to provide Rose's father with herbs to smoke along with drink that her family had coveted throughout the years. Rose in return kept quiet the transgression placed upon her; she avoided being seen near Kame when Samona was present and when she was near him, she would take leave before the black woman could retaliate in a jealous rage.
Kame never spoke Rose's name again during the time he was healing, unless it was to speak directly to her or about her. His mind was no longer clouded by pain or medication that the doctor had provided. His head was clear and for that Rose was thankful. She told herself that his desire for her had simply been crazy words spoken by a wounded man.
When Kame was finally allowed to leave the sanctuary of the medical hut to return to his home, he did so with Samona by his side. She kept watch over him, while he walked through town, baring his weight on crutches that had been fashioned for his great height and muscular frame. He was weak, and welcomed the well-wishers that stopped his trek through the village. Their kind words gave him many appreciative breaks between the path from the village to his home. Once there Samona and her mother kept him company until he finally awoke one morning insisting that they no longer needed to tend to him during the day. Constant visits from Mark eventually led to his recovery and the routine of his life returned, much to the joy of everyone in the village, including Rose.
The summer months proved to be trying for Calabar and its people. The rains refused to come, and heat took its toll on the elders of the village. Reverend John still drank himself into a mindless stupor and Rose took over giving the scripture lessons. She feared the arrival of the new missionaries and yet she longed for them too. Her hope in remaining in Calabar had only grown over the past months, as did the desire to see her father disappear from the beauty of the country he now chose to despise.
The days were longer and the nights shorter, which allowed more work to be done and Rose filled her days with various tasks as well as accompanying others on trips to neighboring villages where the word of the Gospel was spread.
"Rose, come inside. It looks like God has answered our prayers and we will get some rain."
Rose turned toward Mark, noting the concern in his voice as well as the sudden darkening of the sky. A chill ran up her spine as she looked around and saw the villagers of Malaw hurrying to secure their livestock and protect their possessions. She had heard of rains that wiped out villages and freak storms that laid havoc across thousands of miles and yet this storm, in her mind was no diferent than those in Europe. She took Mark's warning to heart and hurried inside the hut where she, and others from her church waited, including Kame, who had chosen to accompany the group in hopes to see his family.
While the wind picked up speed, she tried to help out the Malaw women. They waved her off, telling her that she was a guest in their home and so she was forced to sit. It did not take long for her eyes to wander about the home of one of the Malaw people. It was spacious and much larger than the huts in which she and many of the Calabar people lived. There were intricate rugs littering the floor, as well as ancestral carvings of spiritual relics that Christianity would frown upon, yet Rose saw the beauty in the work and knew that one day others would too. She felt the presence of another bending down to sit beside her on the floor.
"You have been avoiding me."
Rose glanced at Kame, licked her lips and lowered her gaze to her skirt.
"Do you recall what I said that day?" he asked.
She bit her lower lip and shook her head yes.
"And yet you keep yourself far from my reach. It is only because of this blessed rain that I am able to speak with you -- that and Samona is not willing to venture beyond the borders of Calabar," Kame confessed.