It was another humid morning in Chicago, a small town in Illinois and Annie was so excited. She could feel the tinge of sunlight on her skin as she walked to school that morning, a good sign that the long awaited summer holiday was finally approaching. It was just a month away yet, she felt it was too far. She had been disturbing her parents for as long as she could remember, seeking their permission to visit her Aunt, Becky, her favorite Aunty. She didn’t only like Aunty Becky but also her place. Contrary to the quiet Chicago she had lived in all her life, Aunty Becky lived in New Orleans, a small but festive Louisiana City on the Mississippi River, very close to Mexico-the place Annie had far longed to visit.

For someone who had never been to New Orleans, Annie knew a lot about the city. She had read about the city countless times that she could tell it’s history better than most of it’s inhabitants. She had grasped a lot of information regarding it’s round-the-clock night life, vibrant live-music scene and most especially, it’s spicy, singular Cuisine-one she couldn’t wait to have a taste of! She often wondered why the city was nicknamed “Big Easy”-the one question she has reserved for Aunty Becky.

Having spent her 15years of life in Chicago, she had gotten familiar with everyone in the entire town. Growing up, she had loved the city so much that she didn’t fancy going on holiday. Being the only child of her parents, she wasn’t given much freedom to go anywhere. She soon got used to staying on her own. Since everyone was like family in Chicago, she didn’t see the need for friends. She never talked about changing environment…the reason her parents weren’t taking her new love for New Orleans seriously.

person walking on the road
The typical Chicago neighborhood
people walking on paved road
The typical New Orleans neighborhood

As she walked home from school, she kept comparing the two Cities in her mind, smiling from time to time. She wasn’t bordered by the quizzical stares she got from passers-by. As far as she was concerned, she was having a great time. It wasn’t until she got home that she understood what the stares were about. Her completely burnt house starred back at her. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Lots of questions popped through her head: could fire service not even save a thing? Where are my parents? She stood transfixed for minutes before finally finding her voice: where are my parents?

There was no answer! She looked quizzically from one person to the other but there was no familiar face. All she saw was the usual people of Chicago trying to empathize. She was now scared. where are my parents? She asked again, now screaming yet, no answer. All she got was pity. Some starred at her like they were sorry for her while others wore an expression full of pity. It wasn’t until she made to run into the fire that a young man, presumably one of the fire service squad held unto her and broke the news. The worst of her fears was confirmed: her parents had died in the fire incident!

As she sat on the floor, weeping and thinking about her life, she felt a hand carry her up. She was too lost in agony to check who it was. She was ready for anything, in fact, she wanted to die too. She wasn’t sure why the incident didn’t happen when she was also at home. She couldn’t understand why it would take away the two most important people in her life, leaving her all alone. She wished whoever this was could just kill her too.

The new environment

woman in grey jacket

Annie’s new life revolved around mindless strolls around town in the day time and self isolation whenever she was in the house. She would always wet her pillow with tears each time she lay on her bed. She hadn’t only lost interest in all that life had to offer but in life itself. Even her stay with her Aunt in New Orleans didn’t change anything. She had even refused to speak to anyone not to mention enrolling herself in school to finish what was left of the semester.

Days went by and Aunty Becky was running short of ideas. She didn’t know what else to do. She had only managed to get her to start eating. With all her effort, Annie would only smile at her when she was looking and break into tears the moment she felt she wasn’t. Every attempt by Aunt Becky to connect her with some friends had also proved abortive.

two woman hugging each other

It look a long heart-to-heart talk to get Annie to accept her new environment and agree to resume school. Aunty Becky had packaged and given her a necklace, one that was given to her on her wedding day by her late mother. It was the beginning of their long discussion… growing up with Annie’s mum, their childhood experiences and lots of other things…the only thing that got Annie laughing, momentarily forgetting the heaviness in her heart.


women lying on green surface

Annie had gone for her usual alone walk around the neighbourhood when she noticed a familiar face. She couldn’t particularly remember where she had seen that face but it was the least of her problems. She didn’t care. The only reason she had agreed to continue schooling was to make her Aunty and her late grandma happy. She had no business getting familiar with anyone.

Now that her Aunty’s husband was back from his trip, she didn’t want to give anyone a reason to call her “ill behaved”. Her situation already was bad enough, the last thing she wanted was anyone adding to it by giving her up for adoption. The flashback of the fire incident got her sprawling to the floor and weeping like her last shred of hope had just been crushed. The familiar girl she had seen earlier who seemed to be taking a walk too, rushed to her side and consoled her.

It was the next day in school that she realized where she had earlier seen the girl. They were classmates. The previous day’s event had made them come together as friends…the first person to make Annie open her heart wide enough to accommodate the set of people called “friends”. Lilly, her new friend didn’t let the fact that Annie was hurting come in between their friendship, instead, she helped her heal. She would always make her laugh so hard that she would even forget that she was sad a few minutes ago.

woman pouring brewed tea into glass teacup to ethnic friend

With Lilly’s help and Aunty Becky’s never ending showers of love, Annie’s mind was finally restored to the usual state of positivity and love for New Orleans. It was only at this point that Annie started living again.