A/N: this is my small contribution for Mother's Day! 💜
To the challenging relationships
between some less fortunate
mothers and daughters, the missed opportunities,
the good intentions gone awry, and in the end
the love that carries one through, whatever
the story looked like, appeared to be, or was.
We knew each other better as adults,
two entirely different women,
with such different views of life,
We disappointed each other often,
understood each other little
but I give us both credit for trying and hanging on till the end.
May God smile on you and hold you closely,
may you find joy and peace.
I love you, Mom.
Honour Thyself, d.s.
At the sound of approaching footsteps, Sergio looked up from his desk.
It was Paula.
However, it was not her usual chirpy teenage self. Something was amiss. The realisation that there was anything that could hurt Paula always hit Sergio like a truck.
Beside him, Raquel had also noticed Paula entering their office space. Sergio and she were going over the news for any suspicious updates regarding them. It was their weekly routine coupled with going over the details of their contingent escape plans. She was so emerged in the paperwork and news updates that even the low sound of footsteps had startled her.
She was relieved to see it was only Paula but her relief was soon marred with the clouded expression on her daughter's face. Raquel always advised Paula to become a strong self-dependent woman, yet Raquel's heart never failed to tighten whenever Paula appeared with such a sullen expression. Sergio had stiffened beside her and she knew his emotions were not very different.
"Hey honey, did you need something?" Raquel tried to keep her voice even.
Sauntering into the office, Paula picked up a criminal psychology book off the shelf as if she had not even heard her speak. The room had fallen silent as neither Raquel nor Sergio dared to poke Paula to speak up when she refused to answer.
Thus they waited in silence, observing her, hoping she would let them help her somehow. Paula raised her eyes from the book to gaze at Sergio, her lips pressed together. Sergio squirmed in his seat but tried to show no sign of it. He knew Raquel would be furious if he showed Paula his vulnerability when she was clearly pissed about something.
Sergio cleared his throat and took a chance, "Paula, can we help you with anything?"
Her face hardened.
In a flash, Sergio knew he was her target, though he could not figure out any reason for it. He racked his brain wondering what he might have done wrong that day. In the middle of his torment, he felt Raquel's hand squeezing his thigh under the table, letting him know she was still on his side.
Paula had now carelessly discarded the book on the table and picked up one of the pages of their paperwork. She turned it around in her hand as if it was a wrapper of some tasteless food. Then she started crumpling it in her palm as Sergio looked on in horror.
"Paula!" Raquel had enough of it.
This was Sergio's turn to calm her down but she was already on her foot, enraged.
"That page has important data in it," Raquel half screamed.
"Oh?" Paula said, without flinching, "This one?"
Paula flattened it out in her hand, only to begin tearing it into pieces.
"That's enough!" Raquel started going around the table towards her but Sergio grabbed her hand at the last moment.
"No, let me handle this," his voice was low.
Paula scoffed at the scene, "You'd handle me ?"
The jab pierced right through his heart but he brushed it off as one of those things that Paula never meant.
Raquel, however, did not find it as easy to close her eyes to that. She could not believe how disrespectful Paula could get when she was angry. Dissent was something Raquel strongly believed in but it should never come at the cost of hurling rude comments at your family or any person for that matter. She was more than ready to give Paula a lecture on unacceptable behaviour if only Sergio would let go of her hand.
Paula turned on her heel to leave the room without a care for the scene she had caused.
Just as Raquel was going to yell at her to apologise, she turned around.
"You," she uttered one firm word, looking Raquel straight in the eye.
"What?" Raquel did not try to hide her annoyance.
"You asked me earlier if I needed something," Paula's voice gradually lowered as she uttered the next words, "I need you ."
Raquel and Sergio stood side by side, stunned, even after Paula was gone.
Neither of them had expected to hear that. Raquel felt both relief and alarm coursing through her veins. It was a warm feeling knowing her teenage daughter still needed her, but Paula had to cause such an incident to ask for her help was something that troubled her deeply.
"Go, Raquel," Sergio gave a mild push on her lower back.
Raquel gave a small nervous smile to Sergio. No matter the strong front that she put up in front of her daughter, she was always second-guessing her actions. It always scared her to think what impact even her smallest of actions or decisions might have on her, what examples were she building for her. Raquel knew her heart was in the right place but that didn't stop her from questioning herself if she was doing the right thing by her little girl.
As she slowly left the room to look for Paula, there was only one wish in her heart: to be the mother that Paula needed, to be the mother that Paula deserved.
There was no explanation for why Paula had done what she had done.
Sitting at the porch steps, she gazed at the ocean and the rise and fall of its waves. The mild breeze, the gentle afterglow of the sunset, the rhythmic sound of the ocean somewhat calmed down her nerves.
There was no excuse but she just knew she wanted to get rid of the growing ache in her heart. It had appeared to her that if she could channel her anger towards any external object, it'd help soothe her woes. Sergio had seemed like an easy target. It was so easy to blame him for everything, for her upturned life, for living in secret, for a way of living she had not chosen.
The fact that she was older now than when these changes had first occurred and she understood clearly that Sergio was not to be blamed, made it all worse. It made her want to loathe him. But she just could not. Thus she did what she could. If she could not rile up Sergio, she knew very well how to piss off her mother. So she took all her unreasonable unresolved anger out on the one woman she had full right over.
It was unsatisfying, to say the least. Paula had thought doing something to enrage her mother, destroying some of their precious plan's materials would bring her some peace. But none of that had happened. She felt terrible. She was angry with herself, her mother, even the god damn Caribbean sea.
Grasping a hand full of sand she threw it at a distance with all her might. A groan escaped her throat.
"You think that would help?" her mother said calmly, taking a seat beside her on the porch step.
Paula remained silent.
There was still time before dark but grey clouds were starting to form in the sky, foreshadowing the arrival of a storm.
Raquel had practiced several lines before approaching her brooding girl. It was bizarre how she was a brilliant negotiator yet when it came to Paula all her tactics were forgotten. She didn't know which approach was suitable for her teenage daughter, she didn't know what she could possibly say now that would not set Paula off again.
"There was no news from Spain this week that could cause us any headache," Raquel began with the first thing that came to her mind, "We have updated some details of our contingent plan nonetheless."
"Did you change any of my roles there?"
A sense of relief flooded through Raquel's veins hearing Paula's somewhat normal voice. She knew Paula was curious about what Sergio and she were discussing and planning in their office space. Like the proactive girl Paula was, she always wanted to have a more active part in their plans. It terrified Raquel to let her get involved in this any more than what was strictly needed. But she knew she needed to let Paula make her own choices.
"Yes, we in fact did."
"Really?" Paula could not suppress the hope in her voice. Without noticing she had almost forgotten why her mother and she were sitting on the porch that afternoon. All that mattered was she could be more involved, the thrill of that prospect undeniable.
"Well only if you want to," Raquel hoped Paula would back out.
Paula nodded her head eagerly. She'd be damned if she let go of such a great chance.
"Yes, yes. I do."
Raquel's heart sank, "Well in that case you can take a more active part by staying awake in turns with Sergio and me if and when we have to escape. You know we are supposed to sleep in shifts. You could stay up and be vigilant when we take rest."
"You said that I could play a more active role. That's not really active, Mom. I'd like to learn attack tactics and…"
"No," Raquel cut her off mid-sentence, "That is all you can do for now."
"That's not fair. You can't always cut me off like that." Paula's simmering anger started to resurface.
"It might not seem fair to you right now but you shouldn't be more involved than you are required to. I'm doing this only for your safety."
"I don't give a fuck about my safety."
"Language Paula! What is wrong with you today?" Raquel regretted her words as soon as she said them. Of course nothing was wrong with Paula. She was just having a bad day. It was on Raquel to guide her through it and so far she was doing a pretty terrible job.
"Like you care!" Paula scoffed. It was not worth it. She was incredibly stupid to ask her mother for help, for confessing that she needed her. Because all she was receiving now was judgment.
"Honey," Raquel began in a calmer voice but Paula spoke again before she could finish.
"I miss home."
"But you are at home."
"Mom! I miss home. My home. In Spain. Do you even remember it?" Tears threatened in Paula's eyes.
Raquel was so taken aback by those words, by Paula's reddened face and by the force of that accusation that she lost her ability to respond for several moments.
The first few drops of rain started to drizzle down on the beach. The wind steadily grew heavier.
If only Raquel could just gaze at the vicious beauty of the storm that afternoon and not deal with the torment that was brought to her heart, she'd have been so grateful. But Raquel had been through hell and back numerous times in her life. She never ran away from any of them to peer leisurely at the beach while her loved ones suffered. This was only her little girl asking for help in her own way.
"I remember our home," Raquel breathed, "I remember it so well."
Paula's timid quivery voice shot pain through Raquel's heart. It was guilt. She had not felt the tremendous burden of that emotion in a long while. During their early days in Palawan, Paula would often talk about Madrid and sometimes would even plead to Raquel to take her back. Raquel had only been able to hope that with time and patience Paula would be able to move on from those troubling emotions. As Sergio and Paula had grown closer over the years the guilt of upending her daughter and mother's lives had gradually evaporated from Raquel's heart.
What she had not expected was to meet her demon after all these years on a completely ordinary day, unannounced.
Taking a deep breath in, she answered, "Yes. I do. You know what was my favourite place in that home?"
"What?" Paula softened her voice. The fact that her mother remembered their home might be a small matter in the grand scheme of things but the comfort it brought to Paula's heart was enormous.
"No, Mom. It was my favourite place."
"No way. Are you kidding me?"
Paula giggled despite herself. Her first smile that afternoon.
"You remember Mom that we used to play hide and seek there? Even though there were not many places to hide except that big oak tree."
"Oh yes, and I had to pretend that I couldn't see you although you hid at the same place every time."
"Ha! I knew it. I knew you were pretending."
"Yeah, like you knew Santa Claus wasn't real," Raquel nudged Paula's shoulder.
"Of course I did," she stuck her nose up in the air. Her heart was feeling so much lighter than before. Maybe it was not such a bad decision to admit to her mom what was bothering her. So she took another chance, "Can't we go back Mom? Even once?"
A flash of lightning tore through the sky, followed by its uproar.
A storm started hammering around in Raquel's heart again. She did not want to do this. She simply did not have the strength to say no and break her daughter's heart all over again, just after Raquel had managed to make her smile. Paula knew the answer so well. Then why couldn't she not ask that question, why not spare Raquel the pain of hurting Paula again.
"Honey, see the thing is…"
"Mom, we don't have to enter our home. We don't even have to stay in Madrid. We can just see the house from afar once and come back."
"Paula, you need to understand…"
"I'm sure Sergio can come up with a foolproof plan to execute it. We won't make a fuss. We'd be back before anyone would even notice and," Paula's voice choked with her increasing excitement. She was so sure Sergio would find a way to make it happen for her.
They'd just stand on the street across from their home and gaze at it for a couple of minutes. She'll be able to see her old room's window. She used to love sitting at her desk in front of that window to do her homework and occasionally look out at the street. She'll be able to see their rusty main entrance, their small front garden. She wondered if the new owners had made many changes to the place or not. If Sergio arranged a car for her, she might even have it driven once behind the house quickly and take one last glance at her beloved backyard and…
Paula's daydreams shattered instantly.
"No," Raquel confirmed.
"Are you worried that I'd want to meet dad? Because I don't. I swear I don't."
"I'm not worried about that."
"Then what is it? Why can't you let me have just this one thing? Why can't you let me be happy?"
"Because it's not worth the risk, honey."
"Oh and going to rob the Bank of Spain was? Hm? Was that worth the risk Mom?"
Raquel saw an undeniable reflection of herself in Paula. Stubborn, hard-hitting, sharp-tongued and taking nonsense from no one. Truth be told she did not like it. She didn't like how hurtful Paula could be when facing rejection. But Raquel knew in her heart she might have done the same if the roles were reversed.
The splashes of rainwater were starting to soak their feet now. Raquel closed her eyes momentarily, before answering, "That was different."
The response was so vague that Paula wanted to scream her lungs out.
"You are such a hypocrite," Paula hissed.
"Just because I am being patient with you does not mean you can talk to me like that."
"God damnit! You knew what kind of danger you were placing Abuela and me in while going on the heist, didn't you?"
Raquel's stomach was in a knot. She had more demons than one and she wished so many of them did not have to visit her in one day. She turned her head away from Paula, away from the truth.
"Tell me, Mom. Didn't you know what would happen to us if they somehow found us? They could pick us up and send me straight to a care home. Didn't you know that? Tell me. Answer ME!"
"I did know, yes," Raquel answered, her voice trembling. When she turned around to look at Paula again she could see tears dripping down her cheeks now.
Paula could not stop her tears as she heard her mother admit the long-held truth. The confession that Paula received by cornering Raquel did not bring her any comfort. Instead, it broke her heart to see her mother so vulnerable, so out of her depth. The Raquel Murillo she knew as her mother was always in command. To witness her this defenceless was both a privilege and a calamity.
Raquel continued, "I knew I was putting you at risk. I knew you could be snatched away from me any moment. Yet I left you and Mamá behind for months."
"It was not just that," Paula interjected in a low voice, "You put your life at risk."
Raquel gulped. She knew what she had done and the impact it had on her family. They had even talked about it afterwards. But it was still a bitter pill to swallow to hear it straight from her daughter, to hear her fear, her insecurities about a past event and not being able to do anything about it now.
"Mom, what if something had happened to you? In fact, something did happen to you, didn't it? How do you think I'd have survived… without you?"
To Raquel, it felt like a thousand knives being hurled into her chest at the same instant. During her formative years, Paula had started to grow away from Raquel or so it had seemed. But right now, with her moist eyes and bare soul Paula seemed no older than the little girl who used to fall asleep in Raquel's bed waiting for her to return from work. The fact that Raquel had scarred her girl's heart forever with fear of losing her mother was almost too much to bear. But Raquel knew that Paula was now old enough to face the reality.
"Paula, my darling, I know I caused you pain, a lot of pain. All your anger, frustration and even hatred towards me are thus quite valid. All your emotions are valid."
Raquel stretched a tentative finger towards Paula's face to wipe off a drop of tear and said, "But I won't apologise to you for my actions. Because I am not sorry for what I did and you need to know I'd do it again if it came to that. In a heartbeat."
Paula nodded her head, "I know."
Although she did not always agree with her mother or understand why she'd risk all their lives, Paula admired that Raquel was resilient, unapologetic and that she would do anything for the people she loved and would always fight for a better, more just world.
Raquel had not at all expected to receive an affirmative reaction from Paula. It flooded her with relief but she still had things left to say. The heavy winds were starting to alleviate.
"I know I won't win the Best Mother Award for abandoning you in a foreign land to go join a heist, but I also know because I made that choice I'm now able to advise you to follow your guts, to take hard decisions on your own and stick to them. You know why? Because you are not answerable to anyone but yourself. That being said, I didn't do what I did to become an example for you. I did it because I knew I'd never back down from the things I believe in."
Paula leaned back, letting her shoulders relax.
It was still not even close to easy to let go of the hurt that Paula felt towards her mom for leaving them behind all those years ago but she could now see light on the horizon. She was beginning to see her mother as just a woman. Raquel Murillo was first and foremost her mother and yet she was so much more than that. She was the woman Paula would always look up to and find refuge in no matter what.
The drizzles reduced and the sky started to clear up. Paula softly grabbed one of her mother's knees and sat in silence for a long while.
Raquel knew Paula had found the same glimmer of light she had, so she let her daughter take her time to understand and reflect on their conversation. Raquel had not been prepared to face all these accusations and questions today. She was never going to be. But now that she had said what she needed to, she felt so much lighter. She silently thanked Paula for throwing a fit today and for forcing Raquel to finally look her demons in the face. In retrospect, maybe Raquel had not done such a bad job that afternoon.
"Mom, I am proud of who you are," Paula found her voice, "And I think it's pretty cool that you are so proud of yourself. But I want to stand up for what I believe in too."
"I'd be more than glad and supportive if you did, darling."
"I want to learn attack techniques from you and Sergio along with my defence classes. I've to be able to fight if it comes to that. You need to let me make my own choices too, Mom. I also want to keep a track of International news on us and report those to you and Sergio weekly. I'm done being kept out of the loop."
Raquel raised an eyebrow at how firm Paula's words were. It was clear that this time around she was not taking no for an answer.
Paula added as a last-minute thought, "In exchange, I'd let go of my wish to visit our Madrid house."
"Oh, aren't you a fierce negotiator?"
"You've trained me well," Paula gave her a crooked smile, "Now I just need a pencil in my hair to top it off."
"No need to get sassy, young lady," Raquel put an affectionate arm around her shoulder, "Don't forget you have a redemption tour to do, starting with Sergio."
"Oh shoot," Paula promptly stood up, mortified with the realisation that she had destroyed one of Sergio's paperwork earlier, in a fit of rage, "I'll get to that right away. Oh and Mom?"
Raquel looked up at her.
"Hatred isn't something I'd ever feel about you."
She left before Raquel could respond. Raquel mumbled after her, "I love you too."
There was only one person who could soothe Raquel's heart after such a draining day. She slowly got up from the porch steps to go look for her.
Mariví was on her bed, reading a book by herself. Her nurse must be in the kitchen making her an evening soup. Raquel came to sit at the foot of the bed.
"Do you like that book, Mamá?"
Mariví looked at her, disconcerted for a moment before the fog cleared in her brain. It was those flashes of lost gazes that always stung Raquel. It was a reminder that she'd gradually lose her mother right in front of her eyes. Raquel suppressed the knot in her throat.
"I... I think I do. I just keep forgetting what happened in the previous chapters. So I have to keep going back to read those parts again and again."
"Look at it this way, you can read your favourite book for the first time so many times. I'd kill to read my favourite book for the first time again."
In response, a gentle smile spread across Mariví's face.
"Mamá, do you want to go on a walk on the beach with me? The clouds have cleared up and it's very nice outside."
Squinting her eyes at her daughter, Mariví said, "I'd like that, yes. But is everything alright dear?"
"Yes, everything is alright," Raquel's smile was genuine, "I just need to take a walk with you."
"Alright then," Mariví closed the book and Raquel helped her get off the bed.
The mother and daughter then strolled for a long time on the starlit beach, arm in arm, talking about everything and nothing.
A/N: Thank you for reading.
Reach me on Twitter ( ch_rainlily).