Shadows on the Wall
Written By: Kirsten Alanna
I feel like a spinning top, abruptly halted in its movements. The sounds have long since become a dull background noise. If I try hard enough, I can hear the soundtrack of the motions happening beneath me. The old man I am focussed on now puzzles me. I enjoy looking down at him; everything about him is light and laughter. He doesn't seem afraid or aware of the monsters that lurk at his doorstep. I wonder why that is. Why he doesn't cower in fear? How can he live on, despite the harshness of his past? He doesn't speak of it to anyone, but I know it's always pressing on his heart. He watched someone fade away to nothing.
He doesn't know everything about her. I don't see how that's possible, not to know. I am grateful that her life is her own and in no way tied to mine. Yet, the more I watch her the more reminded I am of myself.
She is just a scared little girl being cornered by the very things that will one day free her. I want her to be free, for reasons that are unknown to me.
"Hey Vinnie!" Jakileena exclaimed with truthful enthusiasm as she entered the vintage diner after her brisk walk from school. She nodded to Lila, the other waitress at Vinnie's as she made her way to the front counter.
"Hi Jay-lee," Lila called over her shoulder, balanced by two heavy trays of food she was carrying to the corner booth. Jakileena glared in her general direction. She hated it when people shortened her name. Lila grinned cheekily in response before turning towards the customers seated in the corner booth.
Lila, in her late twenties, was a student at New York University. She never had to write down an order and could recall the smallest things about a person. She also refused to take no for an answer and thus, it was impossible to avoid her or deflect her questions. She was the only other person that knew about Jakileena's mother. It had been unavoidable when she walked in on her changing into her uniform. She begged Jakileena to come and stay with her, but she had refused. Even now as she walked into the diner she could feel Lila's concerned appraisal.
Before she became friends with Jakileena she was studying theatre and music. After listening to her tell her story with wide fearful eyes, Lila switched her major. Seeing the fear, the terror not born from her actual experiences, but from the idea that she might somehow blame Jakileena for what her mother did to her broke Lila's heart. It was because of this that she was studying to be a social worker and a damn good one at that.
Jakileena possessed a natural vivacity that rarely shone through her timid and fearful exterior. On rare occasions that it did, it was toned down. The people who didn't know her, thought she was just to be shy. To the very few who knew her, such as Vinnie and Lila, realized it was something more. It was as if she was constantly playing tug of war with who she actually was and who she felt it was safe to be. Lila knew the reasons why and it only made her work harder in her studies at school. If she could one day help children and teens like her, she could be content.
She'd been waiting to come to work all day; it had been a long and trying one at school. She only had two more days until graduation and only one more day left of high school. Unlike most of her high school counterparts, she would never miss it; it represented more than just a diploma for her. She knew when the day finally came, she'd accept her diploma and never look back. She'd run with everything she had.
She let the smells of the diner lull her into the realms familiarity. Coming to work was like finding a home that she had always secretly dreamed of, but knew she would never have. She imagined a motherly figure lovingly making chocolate chip cookies because they were Jakileena's favourite (she had no idea, her mother had never bothered). She imagined a father in his den upstairs pretending to be working on a proposal for work, while he really nibbled on chicken wings and popcorn while watching the big game. Finally, in her wildest imaginings, she pictured a quaint home with two loving parents who were always there for her.
"Well good evenin' darlin'! How was school today?" Vinnie asked in his New Orleans accent as he stepped out of the kitchen. It always puzzled her how a man born and raised in New York could gain an accent from a different state. Not only that, but own a diner that specialized in burgers, malts and diner paraphernalia. After hours, the girls would speculate his history, often creating outlandish stories to which Vinnie would only reply with a wink and a smile. They could never agree on a story, however. He was a walking contradiction.
Jakileena smiled, conscious of her concealed bruises and said, "Hey Vinnie, it was okay. You know how high school can be." He frowned at this statement and leaned over the high table top of the bar as if he had a secret to tell.
"It'll be done and over in two days."
Vinnie was an entity that had been discussed and speculated to death, but never fully understood. He treated all of his employees like his own children, but never talked about family. He wore a wedding ring but never made reference to his wife and lived alone. Although his diner was shabby, people flocked to it; people from all walks of life. Jakileena used to wonder why that was. How a high-class Wall Street businessman could feel comfortable in the same place that an undiscovered actress fighting for auditions and struggling to pay the bills on empty dreams could feel comfortable. After some time of working for him, she discovered her answer. It was Vinnie. His smile filled the entire diner with a loving and homey atmosphere and his laughter brought everyone to ease. He never failed to remember the name of a customer, even if the customer had only visited the diner once.
"Are them kids at school still botherin' you?" he asked as Lila joined Jakileena on the black barstools. They shared a secret look; Lila asking Jakileena with her eyes if anything new had happened, while Jakileena shook her head sadly.
She looked back at Vinnie with a bemused expression. Even though she trusted him with her life and looked to him as her father figure, Vinnie didn't know much about her. Telling him about her high school woes— which every teenager had, was easier than explaining the mess of a home life she had created for herself. It helped to get lost in the superficial knots and tears in her life. They made her feel more normal. It also avoided the unnecessary burdening of worry on him. He was an old man— evident by the white hair on his head— a stark but comforting contrast to his chocolate warm skin.
Vinnie shook his head and walked towards the ice-cream freezer. "I think this calls for Vinnie's world famous chocolate milkshake."
Smiling wider Jakileena replied, "Just the way I like it?"
"With bananas, extra whipped cream and chocolate shavings? You know, sooner or later I better add Jakileena's Milkshake Extraordinaire to the menu," he added, chuckling to himself.
"Would you like one too, Lila?" he asked, reaching for an extra glass before hearing her answer.
"No thanks Vinnie, I think I'm going to take my break now," she said as she hopped off the barstool, lifted the counter and walked towards the back room but not before giving Jakileena a significant glance.
The sound of an old-fashioned glass being placed in front of her jarred Jakileena from her thoughts of eminent graduation. She sucked on the straw gratefully and looked up at him as he was wiping his hands on a white terry cloth. Finishing her milkshake, she got off the bar stool and Vinnie lifted the counter up for her. She walked into the backroom to change into her uniform.
"What happened and don't tell me 'nothing'. I know that look," Lila rounded on her as soon as she entered the back room. She was sitting on the couch but had stood to follow her towards the bathroom.
"Nothing," Jakileena answered firmly, though her grimace was answer enough.
"What did she do to you Jakileena?" she demanded, as Jakileena removed her sweater and shirt and started to pull on the blue dress uniform. She grimaced, knowing she was upset because she used her full name instead of a stupid nickname.
"She didn't do anything, okay? I just heard her crash around a few things last night and another voice. You know, arguing. They tried to get into my room," she finally relented as Lila zipped the back zipper of the dress. Jakileena removed her pants from underneath the dress and sat on the couch to tie her white tennis shoes.
"They tried to get into your room? What were they arguing about?" She sat next to Jakileena, nothing but worry on her face.
"The doorknob jiggled. They were drunk— Kendra gets confused when she's drunk. That's all and I have no idea." Jakileena set to work on pulling her hair into a ponytail.
"That's all? That's all? Jakileena, what would have happened if they got into your room? Do you even know who they are?" she exclaimed. Jakileena knew it was her mother and a man, but she wasn't going to tell her that.
"Yes that's all. I wasn't hurt last night. Nothing happened," she said as she stood and walked towards a clipboard with the work schedule on it. She signed her name by the date and the time of her arrival, not that it mattered to Vinnie. Lila still sat on the couch, looking at her hands. After a few moments, she looked up at her. She could see tears in her friend's eyes and wished more than anything that she hadn't been the one to put them there.
"I'm just worried that one day something will happen. Something, God forbid, worse than what Kendra does to you." Lila refused to call Kendra Jakileena's mother.
"Lila, it isn't your job to worry about me or take care of me," she reminded her. Her hand rested on the open door that led to the diner.
"It isn't your responsibility to take care of a parent who does nothing but terrorize you!"
"I don't want to talk about this," she replied stubbornly. Lila jumped up from the couch, staring her down with disbelief.
"That's just it! You never want to talk about it because you don't want to acknowledge how true it is! You don't have to live like this Jakileena. I don't know how many times I can say it before you'll believe me. She isn't a mother, so stop giving her the courtesy that goes along with the title."
"Once I graduate I'm leaving, okay?" she said indignantly. Lila laughed bitterly.
"No, you won't. You say that but we both know it isn't true."
"I am," Jakileena argued weakly. She smiled sadly at her before shaking her head.
"She has her claws in you so deep Jakileena. It scares me. What's even worse is you can't see it. What happened to Kendra isn't your fault. She isn't your responsibility. You were hers and she let you down."
"Don't say that Lila," she said softly, backing away fearfully.
Lila's eyes filled with more tears and her voice choked with emotion as she asked, "What are you so scared of Jakileena? Why can't you just leave?" She watched Jakileena chew on her lip and square her shoulders.
"Unfortunately Lila, life isn't black and white. It is so easy for people on the outside to just judge. Yeah she shoves me around. Yeah she hasn't been the best parent but she's all I've got. She's my family Lila, and families look out for each other. As twisted as it may sound to you I still love Kendra. She's the woman that brought me into this world on her own and raised me on her own. I can't change that by just running away. Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to just— just change your life from everything and everyone you know?" she wiped a few stray tears away and sat next to Lila on the couch. Tears had started to stream down her face at Jakileena's speech.
"I'm trying to understand Jakileena, but—"
"Stop it Lila. I mean it. I can take care of myself and this isn't your job," she interjected, standing in the process.
"If I don't stop and say something I'm not doing my job as your friend. You may not think it's my job, but I'm not letting her ruin your life. I care about you too much to see that happen." She fixed her gaze on Jakileena intently before looking away and slouching on the couch.
"I know. That's what makes you such a great friend," she said. "I'll see you out there when you're done your break."
Lila forced a smile, "You know it Jay-lee."
Jakileena rolled her eyes before exiting the small back room. Once she was gone, Lila let her face fall. She sat a little while longer, trying to compose herself.
"Sometimes it doesn't feel like I'm a very good friend," she whispered to herself, letting her head fall into her hands.