He leaned down to better see my reaction. His face was full of cruel angles, and a smile wriggled across all of them. It was like a crack edging its way along the grooves of a rock. Everything seemed naturally cruel. My face grew hot and a ripple of energy flooded my chest. I wanted more than anything to take a kitchen knife to that awful face of his, but I settled on slapping him instead. It happened so fast that I barely knew what happened, and the sound of it reverberated throughout the room before I felt the sting on my hand. Pieter laughed in reaction.
“Pieter!” screamed Oma.
She ran over and hugged me to her skirts. I hugged her back and refused to break eye contact with him first. That would mean that he would have won, so I glared at him with all of the hate I could find. This man would not beat me.
“What is the matter with you, Pieter?”
He broke eye contact with me to look at her. I won.
“She is the one who slapped me, Moeder. Why do you not scold her?”
“Because you deserved that! What is wrong with you that you would say such a thing to a child?”
“Somehow, I do not think this one is much of a child,” he looked down at me again like a man selecting a cut of meat.
I glared at him. My hands were fists at my side, and they shook with adrenaline.
“No, not much of a child at that.”
“Get out! Maria is a child, and she is a good child! I will not have this in my house. Get out!”
“Yes, yes, Moeder, I will oblige you,” he said in a singing way as he returned his hat to his head. “Give my love to Sien and the new, little bastard she carries when you see her.”
“I will not!” she yelled as she chased him out of the parlor.
I heard the door slam behind male footsteps. The sound allowed me to relax my muscles. My fists relaxed, my face eased, and my body shook with the shock of it all. I sat on the floor and breathed the air of relief when Oma came back into the room.
“Come here, child,” she said as opened her arms to me. I ran to her and fell into her embrace without hesitation, trembling like a newly hatched baby bird.
“I am so sorry, my darling girl. I am so sorry. I had no idea he would do that after knowing you only a few minutes.”
I wept a little into her skirts, but only a little. The idea of him seeing us so upset by his words made me choke back the extra tears.
“Who was that? Why was he so cruel? What is wrong with him?”
“Oh, my Maria. That is your moeder’s brother. I love him because as a moeder, I must, but he is not a whole man. He loves to inflict cruelty on women. God only knows what terrors he inflicts on that strange, young wife of his. She always seemed so pious, but one never knows.”
“Why is he that way?”
“I do not know. He is missing parts of his soul. Where compassion should be lies the sin of vanity and pride. His ambition rules his life the way your moeder’s sorrow rules hers. She and Pieter do not speak much, and she did not want you around him. He insisted on meeting you. I thought he would behave himself if I was there. I had no idea he would act this way.”
“Does he treat boys the same way?”
“He does not seem to. I have combed through my memories to find a moment in his life that might have scarred him, but I have found none. Bless me, but I am afraid that he came from within me missing part of his soul. I must have witnessed some horror I do not remember when I carried him. Seeing terrible sights can steel that from a child.”
She hugged me tighter, and I could not help but reflect on what kind of childhood my moeder must have had with a brother who was missing part of his soul.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish