The Strange Woman

The Strange Woman
   How I learned for the first time of the  
   impureness of the world. (From the memory 
   of my childhood.)


My early child home, the thatched, rural house
at the foothill, sometimes attracts wayfarer for 
the overnight sojourn. So, when a middle-aged woman,
heavy set, sat on the edge of the entrance hall
with my mother, I thought, another one.
This one didn't go to the guest room near the gate,
gabbing low, stealing my mother's sewing hour.

Part of her story I heard was:
some say the bell is made of animal hide.
no one knows where it is, but it sounds 
deep and sonorous. It only tolls at midnight.
Although it is somewhere in the city where 
I live, you can hear it here if you listen hard. 

My mother nodded; didn't seem to believe the woman.
At the age seven, I was doubtful. 

I must go home to the city now, the woman said,
peeking in her bag. I have no money to ride a bus.
If you spare me some...

My mother gave her bus fee.
This is not enough, the woman demanded.
I don't have money, my mother told her.
The woman paused. What about the hidden one?

Furrowing her brows, my mother said, what money?
The one in the drawer, the woman said, her voice rising.
Tell that girl to bring it here, all of it. I'll take the half.

At the sudden turn of the woman's behavior, 
my mother and I, alone in the house, were shaken.
What's hidden in her bag? How does she know 
the money in the drawer, our life for the month?
Mother told me to bring the money.

All of it, the woman chimed. 

I hurried to the drawer in the room, took one half of the money
to my mother, which she gave the other half of it to the woman.

I know this is not all, the woman said to me. Go get all of it.

That is all we have, I lied.
Don't lie. the woman said.
I don't. I was angry at the rudeness of the woman. 
Did you get all the money? my mother asked me under her breath.

Yes. 
She's lying, the woman said.
That is all we have, I lied again.

The woman took the money and left. 

I feared, my mother said. the woman might harm us.
Blame the remote house. Naked and vulnerable.

Or the strange woman, I thought. She taught me the world
is not as pink and safe as I think; and that
I wouldn't become a part of it; angry no more.

Now, I wonder if the child of me had seen the woman
as more than just a robber, for I felt a gossamer of
sympathy for her, amused a bit by her story.
Like this world, good and bad, with many possibilities. 


©Byung A. Fallgren
    

 
 

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