The distinct smell of bleach was felt in the house. One could hear scrubbing sounds from the bathroom. Ann was knee deep in scrubbing her bathtub, at one in the morning.She had her gloves on and she tied up her hair in a bun, with a scarf protecting her hairline. She was taking her cleaning seriously, as if, for the first time, she had noticed her house was a mess.
It had been two weeks since the funeral, two weeks since her dear Fred passed away. Two weeks. Nobody ever warns you how lonely it gets after the funeral. That only after they pass is when you know they are gone for sure. A loneliness creeps up in your heart that causes an unexplainable pain. You begin to remember things about your loved ones that you never took notice of when they were alive. She realized that every day at ten in the evening, she would look at her phone and wonder why Fred was not home yet. Or how the children and herself all avoided his favorite seat. Two days after the funeral she found herself setting the dinner table and placing a plate for him. She had even cut out his favorite chilies which no other family member could tolerate eating.
Her bedroom was no better. She was accustomed to placing her cold feet on his warm body for warmth. Now she had to wear socks but sleep had evaded her. So two weeks in, after sobbing silently to avoid waking her kids, she could not take it anymore. She could not sleep, so she opted to clean. Yet, she realized with every stroke of detergent she took, she washed away a part of her Fred in this home.
Fred was not a good man, but he was hers and he was good to her. He loved his family and kept reminding them that all he did was for them. When news of Fred’s death got to her, she worried for the children, and how they would take the news. She knew, she always knew that this day would come, seeing that her husband had opted for a life in crime. But her children did not know this, they did not know their father was an armed robber. She had to be the one to tell them. This proved to be difficult seeing that he had been publicly executed by police in the afternoon near their home. Everyone now knew and there was nothing she could do.
As soon as her first born son came home, she knew he had already been told. They sat together, embraced and mourned in silence. Some neighbors came in to comfort them, but most of them were just being nosy. They wanted to know if the family had known before. She kept silent on the matter but everyone assumed she was in the dark, just like her children. But her best friend, Diana, she knew the truth and yet, she did not care. She stood by her friend and helped plan a proper send-off for Fred.
The obituary and funeral program was laughable. Her in-laws yelled at her, said she had no respect for the dead mentioning he was a wanted criminal in his eulogy. She stood firm and said that her Fred was a robber, but he was no liar. She swore that she would tell the truth and that those who judged him or loved him less never loved him in the first place.
The family did not know that the burden of truth was weighed on her by the deceased. When he opened up and told her about his profession, they were four years in as husband and wife. He told her he had to make sure she truly loved him before he told her. He warned her that his profession had many enemies and that their children might be in danger one day. He wanted her to know and decide if she would stay by his side. She loved him, and so she stayed. She prayed for him every single day and panicked if he were home past ten o’clock. Of course, there were few nights with big heists that required him to work at night. Those were the toughest for her. She could not sleep and kept looking out her window to see if he would come home. Whenever she saw the car lights she would sigh in relief and thank God for the safe return of her husband. You see, in as much as he was a bad man at work, he was a loving husband and father at home. He would talk to her about everything and anything, his death no exception. He told her he was not ashamed of who he had become, and he knew, one die he would die in the hands of the police if he did not retire early. If the day came, he made her promise that she would not be ashamed of who he had become. That she would explain to their children that his love for them remained true no matter what people said. He made her promise that he would be buried with the world knowing who he truly was, and he hoped she would not be ashamed of him then.
She did everything he asked. To the last word. And that left her world in shambles. She had gone to the market twice since his death. The vendors checked on her, asked how she was holding up now that she was a single mother. They said they were sorry for her but glad that he was dead as the world would be a better place without him. She paid for her vegetables and walked away as she heard the whispers behind her. It was difficult that nobody could see his humanity beyond his profession, but she knew better than to argue.
A few days later, she sent off her children to her mother’s place for a week to give her space, and also protect them from the stigmatization. She was left with her youngest, Abby, who was four years old. She locked herself in her home, with Diana coming every two days to replenish their supplies.
Tonight was a dose of reality. He was gone, gone forever. And she had to pick off where he left. She had to be strong for her children, and find a way to remind them of who their father was, beyond being an armed robber. She had to be alright, she had to clean the house, clean her life, and start afresh.