By Miss Kay
From his bent position it was hard to make out his face. He seemed unfazed by the happenings around him. The town centre was abuzz. Honking cars, traffic slowly building. The park close by engulfed in activity. It was Saturday and the town’s people descended upon the park to flex their muscles. Salons and barber shop doors opening and closing like clockwork. Image was a great part of this small community, Saturday preferably the best day to groom. He dug the trowel deeper into the earth. There were those who offered a courteous greeting to which he never responded and just shrugged his shoulders. Others stood a while staring at him then walked away shaking their heads. Others rallied past him like he was in quarantine. Linger around and you may contract some lethal disease. He stood up and shielded his eyes from the sun. He had to finish his work fast if he was to make his next appointment.
No one knew his name or where he came from. Story had it that he walked into the town one stormy night. Drenched to the bone. The diner’s patio offers shelter. Next morning, he scoured the town’s garbage cans for food. A wooden shack behind the diner became his residence. He never spoke, just went about his way. Most times seated at the diner’s patio staring at town’s square. Slowly sipping coffee, courtesy of Bo, the diner’s owner. He was a stranger in a small town, everything about him subject to scrutiny. And gossip.
He was clumsy. Not that he was unsteady, or that he stunk alcohol 24/7? No. His grooming was the problem. He rarely shaved. Slowly acquiring a bushy mane. He smelt worse than the garbage cans and his clothes now possessed stains of gunk and goo. Large black patches on his trousers and once brown jacket. Definitely clumsy and crude in their books. Clam became his name.
The memory flashed in his mind. Leaning against a tree. People all dressed in black. Umbrellas held up to shelter against the light showers. Handkerchiefs in the ladies’ hands as men consoled them. The priest braved the rain as he made the sign of the cross. He knew well who lay in the casket. Abby. He would have loved to pay his final respects but couldn’t. Left only to watch from a distance. A fugitive by default.
“Have a kid?” Bo again.
Why would he never leave him alone? He regretted having helped him with the broken faucet. Two weeks ago. He was peskier than a fly. Always with questions. His constant companion when the diner was empty. He did not answer. He kept his gaze fixed on the children. Purple flowers decked the shade around the Eastern redbud tree. The children smiled bright as they gathered a handful of purples. The corner of his lips turned in a smile. Boys were collecting too. Probably for their mums, sisters or any other female they adored.
“Have one of my own. Will probably be getting flowers too.” Bo blubbered. The apple pie in his mouth was visible.
Bo? Kids? Nah. Almost three weeks now since his arrival, he saw no child fussing around Bo. Bo saw the shock and curiosity in his eyes. Smiled, stood up and walked away. An empty glass and plate in his hands. Like him, Bo too had a secret.
A little girl with a handful of purples raced into the diner. Shouting “Pa! Pa!” He followed her in. Utter disbelief! The young girl was in Bo’s arms. Bo cradling her. His eyes shone with tears. Her eyes and smile are the only resemblance of Bo. She took after in a greater proportion her mother. Clam concluded her mother must be Hispanic.
He smiled, watching father and daughter lost in conversation. She was telling him of school days, Mo the family cow and the harvest of corn and honey. News of her mother she narrated with a sad look. Age was catching up with her and was beginning to reduce her time at the farm. Mo was due to deliver anytime soon but the calf would have to be sold for she could not handle an extra task. Mo and the farm was enough. Bo restored smiles upon his daughter’s face. She was too young to worry. Interesting diner customers, Panda, his cat and his new friend were the stories that he shared. That of the customer who fell flat on his belly rushing to help the waitress he admired, cracked her up with laughter. Being introduced to the little girl as his father’s friend that surprised Clam.
“Will I get to meet your friend?” she asked.
“Soon.” He answered.
“Beautiful girl.” Bo interrupted his thoughts. He looked up surprised. “She sleeps.” Bo answered his concern. He turned and continued looking at the town square.
“Didn’t think Clara would let her see me. The separation I accepted but I could not accept my baby be taken away from me. She visits but on good days. Today is a good day. I was a drunk, beat her Ma and did not provide. Seeing her tells me Clara forgives. She is a single mum and hopes someday we will be family again. I saw the smile on your face, I pray you have a family of your own someday.” Bo spoke.
Silence. Both staring at the town square.
The diner was filled with flowers. Thanks to Gracie. She brought flowers, putting them in whatever container she could find. Bo was having more than one good day. Gracie was happy to meet Clam. He became a closer friend to her than her father. This never bothered Bo. Seeing Clam up and about and not at his usual spot was an answered prayer. Gracie had questions that equalled her curiosity. The diner livelier than before. Remembering Bo’s shocking revelation brewed a storm of regret and anger in his heart.
It was not his fault she died. They had gone out for burgers. The race to the car was his idea. An idea that ended in tragedy. She ran into the path of a reversing pick up. He was screaming at her to stop. She smiled thinking he was cheering her on. There was a blast and she lay on the ground motionless. He ran to her side calling out her name. The driver of the vehicle was bent about to carry her. He pushed him aside and carried her, still calling her name. She was dead and gone but he continued calling. He wished he neither suggested the race nor the diner; they had just enjoyed milkshakes and burgers. How would he explain it to Dani? Already their marriage was strained. In a separation, staring at divorce. She, the daughter of the city’s District Attorney. He was leading the team of lawyers filing the divorce suit. A day with her daughter was a gift from the court. His testimony before the court judge was convincing. Before then he faced a restraining order. He, the son of lowly farmers, stood no chance against this force of wealth and might. The sirens became clear. Run! His first instinct.
Angered that now he was a hunted man. His one day with his daughter was to be a beautiful day. A gift to both of them. Flyers were now circulating with a cash reward concerning his whereabouts. Worst of all, he feared facing Dani. Seeing her grieve their daughter’s death at the funeral broke his heart. He still loved her. He wished they could work things out now he would be comforting her. This was all thanks to Dani’s mother. She counted him as unworthy of his daughter therefore meddling in their family affairs. His poor background could not provide Dani with the happiness she deserved. Happiness equated to comfort. He was left to participate in the funeral from a distance. Hiding in the nearby woods.
His was now a life of running from town to town. Starting a new life with a new identity and proposing to survive. Whenever his life would stabilise he would be found out. Forced to run again. This sequence soon drowned his zeal and joy of living, finally resigning to giving up. He would now just survive, not live. His decision before he ran away to Country Road on a rainy night. The park’s bench serving as his bed through the night. Awakening the new day he would make bearing of his new surroundings.
“For you.” Gracie smiled. Handing him a flower.
He missed his daughter. Watching Bo and Gracie through the window, his heart was stirred. Hope. If not for him, for Bo. He needed to do something. Give Bo many good days as he had given him. Gracie had become like his daughter. Teaching her the games he enjoyed with his daughter, Abby. Baseball becoming their favourite as it was theirs with Abby. Batting is greater fun than pitching to Gracie.
A flower patch. He had noticed Gracie’s love for flowers. She did her best to brighten the diner with the little she could get. The Eastern redbud was the only flowering tree in Country Road but numerous were the flowers. These flowers are a preserve for the few rich folk in the town.
Country Road was a quaint little town. Agriculture is its backbone. Rodeo shows a highly anticipated festival. A weeklong celebration. Corn fest is another enjoyable festival to celebrate the corn harvest. A weekend long of enjoying various delicacies and games. Before the bank came into town, they were a well knit community. Now divisions existed based on money as the standard of wealth. Once open homes now needed an invitation to visit. Parcels of land were now being sold or being bought out for those who could not keep with the mechanisation of farm activity. Boutiques coming up and putting up a stiff competition against the town’s seamstresses and tailors. Salons and barber shops did not escape the aristocratic division. The school was the only remaining place where equality was ensured. It was the only available school. Where no one was rich or poor. They were all children. Class showing its ugly head when they got home.
He spoke to Bo to help him get tools and needed seeds to plant the flower patch. Gracie was overjoyed when Clam shared his plan. Gracie would pick out the flowers from the brochures Bo had gathered. His contribution towards the project. Soon beauty would paint the diner’s backyard. The spring break was a few weeks away and the project would not suffer delays. Bo was most happy and thankful that Gracie would be a constant presence. Clara allowing Gracie to visit daily and at times to sleepover increased Bo’s hope of them reuniting as a family.
Two weeks later, the project was initiated. Immediately the diner closed Bo, clam and Gracie gathered at the backyard to choose a suitable site for the flower patch. Planting would begin the next day. Having spotted the best spot for their project they returned into the diner to enjoy milk and cookies. She slept over that night. They would be working in the evening as during the day Gracie would be helping out in house chores. Clam was thankful that he would be free to speak. Only Gracie and Bo knew that he could speak. Famous to the rest of the town as a mute. Working in the evening would help conceal his secret.
Interaction with Clam came at a price. Bo and Gracie slowly became outcasts. Among the adults. The children were happy being around him. Baseball games with Gracie had grown in number as she had invited her friends who in turn extended an invitation to their friends. Despite the silence Clam was a great coach. Milkshake at the diner, the children’s after game treat. Bo footing the bill. The frequent baseball games sparked an idea in Clam’s mind.
“Sad kids.” Clam spoke.
“Huh?” Bo asked surprised.
It was Saturday midmorning. Unlike other Saturdays when the diner was full today it was empty. The town had gathered at Joe’s ranch, the biggest ranch in town, for the rodeo show. They were uninvited as they were now persona non grata to town functions. Bo was thankful that Gracie did not have to suffer his fate.
“The kids at the town square?” He repeated.
Bo looked up at the children gathered at the town square picking the fallen flowers of the Eastern redbud. Sadness visible on their faces.
“Sad for sure. They had to be drawn into our problems as grown-ups.” Bo said.
“Seems this is the only place they can meet freely?” Clam asked.
“Yeah. Now that school is out they cannot freely interact. Gracie told me that she overheard her friend at the rodeo show being scolded for playing with a classmate. When her friend asked if it’s because her classmate’s family does not have as much money as they do, she was further scolded and reminded her to stay away from the classmate. Her friend burst out in tears as her mother walked away. The town square is where they can freely meet under the guise that they are picking flowers.” Bo explained.
“A flower patch would be great!” Clam exclaimed.
“Think it would help?” Bo asked.
“It’s worth a shot. At least put a smile on their faces and try to restore this town to its former glory that you fondly speak of.” Clam said.
“I’m all in.” Bo offered.
Seated at the diner’s patio, they now watched the children gather flowers with hope. Clam felt he owed it to the children. His own Abby had suffered the same fate. She robbed of love from both parents because of a misunderstanding among grown-ups.
Gracie was elated to learn of another flower patch project. She looked forward to participating but did not anticipate the hurdles ahead. Bo receiving the town’s Sheriff go- ahead to undertake their project was no easy gift. Numerous promised appointments cancelled at the last minute. He never gave up visiting his office to follow up on the Sheriff’s promises to make up for the cancelled meetings. His perseverance nagged the Sherriff into granting him the approval he needed despite the opposition of the rich class of the town. The low class cared less. The town square, a place they rarely frequented. Times had changed and they needed to work twice as hard to meet their needs. Leisure time is now a luxury. Festivals remain as the only time they could take a break.
Approval granted plans began without delay. Flowers were chosen and a date set to begin the project then came another hurdle. Gracie was warned by Clara from helping out Clam or she would be stripped of the chance of visiting her father. For a small town, town gossip travelled faster than bushfire. At the grocery store she was grilled by two elderly women as to why she had allowed her daughter to be in the company of the town’s unwanted. Now Clam was more than a clumsy individual, most people viewed him as a threat. They preferred when he was out of sight and not taking centre stage. His presence at the town square intimidated them. Afraid of town talk she warned Gracie from interacting with Big Mo. Being a man without identity his name was up for change as they pleased.
He may have improved on his grooming but that did not spare him the taunts he received. He was a stranger and they were unsure about him. His weekly shave and donation of clean clothes, remaining a secret between Bo and the contributors. Kindness is still alive in the hearts of some. As Bo they hoped for the good old days and refused to be sucked into the ugliness of industrialisation. His new set of clothes a perfect fit exposing his building up muscles. His occasional grants as he worked earned him his new name Big Mo.
His grants were out of frustration. He was saddened when he learnt that Gracie, his handy helper, would not be available to help out. Bo would lose seeing his daughter if Big Mo was to be seen anywhere near Gracie. Clara laid down clearly the new conditions as concerns Gracie’s visit when she visited Bo’s diner one evening. Bo tried to convince Clara that Big Mo was no threat to Gracie. Nothing doing. Her mind was made up. Gracie cried herself to sleep that night, having refused to eat dinner earlier. She might have been in the backyard but her parents’ conversation was clear. Bo’s good days came to an end. Saddest news being that there would be no more sleepovers. That night felt like a funeral. Memories of Abby’s funeral clear in Big Mo’s mind.
“We did our best. I don’t think I can risk losing her.” Bo said.
Big Mo understood his friend’s fears but he was not giving up. He was now encouraged to fight stronger not only for Gracie but all the children of the town. Children denied a childhood their parents once enjoyed. In his hometown he stood no chance to fight, here the scales tipped to his advantage. He was a stranger, his history not a barrier to act. He would act. Bo had suffered enough for his kindness. Living knowing that your child lives but you will never see her is worse than living with the fact that you cannot see your child because she is dead. To repay Bo’s kindness Big Mo was more determined than before to fight for Gracie.
“Don’t give up. We are still in this.” Big Mo encouraged Bo.
Bo did not speak. He sat quietly staring at the framed photo he was holding. It was Gracie. She was planting at the backyard patch.
School break was long behind them. No more did the children visit the town square. It was in quarantine. Big Mo was working there and fearing for their children the parents accompanied them to and from school. The situation was worse than a disease outbreak. Disease is natural and unites people to find its cure. Country Road was suffering more like dead men walking and they seemed not to realise. They that offered a courteous greeting were acting out of guilt, he could tell. It is their children who prompted them to act; they would linger awhile to ask a question. Questions that were never answered as he would be cut short by a “Good day.” As parent and child walked away. He would shrug and carry on with his work. Angered to the bone.
He was not late for his next appointment. The flower patch at the backyard diner was beginning to bloom. It was now in need of weeding as well as spraying. The bugs were determined to make a feast of the tender shoots. He had taken up to do some landscaping too. Try and lighten up the backyard. A swing hung from a large oak tree. Gracie shared great good times with her father on that swing. While in his wooden shack he could hear father and daughter laugh. A deserved gift for both of them in their difficult sad situation.
Clara was kind to allow Gracie to spend Saturdays with her father. Big Mo had become accustomed to staying out of sight. The town’s people were as always vigilant. His ins and outs, outs and about ever under scrutiny. Given Clara’s warning, any suspicious interaction with Gracie would send little birds flying. News of such reaching Clara before the end of day. Having overheard her parents’ conversation, she understood. She could not see or hug Big Mo. Her cheerful greetings as she ran into the backyard and sad farewells as she left for home at his door would have to do.
On Saturdays she arrived early to spend most of the day with Bo. Racing through her chores not to be late, she made it to the diner by 1 o’clock. He had 30 minutes to work. He would have to do the necessary. Spray dead the bugs and weed. The painting he had planned to do would have to wait.
Dani was not a lawyer like her father. A disappointment to him as he hoped she would take up his empire, Archer Inc. Her choice of banking was highly welcomed. Her father did not waste time in connecting her with the top bank in the region immediately after her graduation. B&B Investment Firm. She would begin at the clerk’s position in a decision that did not sit well with her father. Having graduated from the best Business school in the state, he believed his daughter deserved better. Sentiments that were shared by Dani’s mother. The manager stood his ground that she had to begin at the clerk’s position and rise up the ranks. Despite graduating top of her class, she had no earlier work experience and she had to learn the bank’s policies. Dani was not ready to lose her chance due to her parents’ stubbornness. She convinced them it was a good beginning giving her a chance to work harder.
Working harder pleased her father, making her his choice for his firm’s takeover. His older brother was a lawyer but not as hard working by his father’s standard. He served well as a consultant in the firm but Dani, he believed, would be the one to take it to greater heights financially. As a clerk at B&B Investment Firm, she quickly learned that public relations was more than common courtesy as she had learnt at school. Calming irate customers is harder than she expected. Cheerful customers may have been a handful but they were a great welcome. Clam one among the few.
“I’m sorry ma’am. The bank cannot extend its grace period. If you are not able to raise the half of the required amount, we have no choice but to buy you out of your farm.” She said.
Clara had tried her best to persuade the lady for more time. Impossible. She stood her ground.
“Okay. Do what you must.” Clara spoke.
“Try to talk to some friends and see if they could help. I don’t want to buy you out of your farm. I understand it’s your home.” The lady advised.
She had an ounce of mercy. Clara was comforted. She would have been homeless a month ago were it not for the lady’s kindness.
“I’ll try.” Clara promised as she bid the lady goodbye.
Bo was surprised to see Clara and Gracie at the diner one Sunday afternoon. A surprise both unexpected and pleasant. Clara was troubled. Behind the cheery greeting she extended to Bo was worry. Bo felt it in her handshake. Bo thought it wise not to ask but took their order. Gracie asked to go into the diner’s kitchen, Clara did not oppose. Her mind weighed on other matters.
“Big Mo!” Gracie shouted as she entered the kitchen.
“Gra..!” Big Mo responded. Quickly biting his tongue before he could let out his secret. Embracing Gracie in a bear hug.
“Missed you so much!” Gracie said.
Big Mo replied with a smile. He had equally missed Gracie. Forced into avoiding her had hurt him deeply.
Bo walked into the kitchen as Gracie was pulling at Big Mo’s hand. He blocked his daughter’s steps.
“Where do you think you going young lady?” He asked.
“Taking Big Mo to greet Ma.” She answered.
“You know that is not going to happen. You remember Ma’s instruction.” He said.
Sad, Gracie let go of Big Mo’s hand and walked out of the kitchen. Her head bent low. Seated across her mother at the table, she stared at the chequered tablecloth. Clara stared outside the window. The park was busy with activity. The rich of course out on an afternoon out. The lowly as she must be back in their farms working hard not to be bought out. She now wished she had a larger brood. Gracie was a blessing given the difficult birth she experienced. That they were both alive was a blessing. Looking at her daughter she noticed the sadness in her eyes.
“Why the long face Gracie?” She asked.
“I sure wish I could play with Big Mo.” She said, wiping a stray tear.
Clara was heartbroken. Town gossip had robbed her daughter of joy. She knew how much her daughter loved Big Mo, the town’s reject. She feared what the town would speak of her yet now the same town’s people wanted to kick her out of her home. She never thought that the division was real, her visits to several upstanding neighbours revealed the depth of division. They sent her away with, “Sorry we cannot be of help. Our resources are already far much stretched.” The very elderly women who warned her about Big Mo avoided her best they could. Excuses bearing an interesting twist whenever she approached them. Their very husbands seeking to buy her out. Making her a tenant in the very land that had been passed down to her through generations.
“Go have fun with Big Mo, love.” She spoke to her daughter.
“Really Ma?!” Gracie asked, surprised.
“Yes Gracie. Go ahead and have fun.” She instructed.
“Thank you Ma!” Gracie squealed.
Jumping off her seat, she kissed her mother and ran towards the kitchen. Almost knocking over her father who was walking towards their table to serve their order. Bo laid their order on the table with concern on his face.
“Enjoy.” He said and turned to walk away.
It was not his place to ask. He did not want to mess up the kindness Clara had shown so far with his prying.
“Please sit Bo?” Clara pleaded. Holding his arm before he could walk away.
“Please.” Clara insisted.
Bo sat where Gracie previously sat. His eyes filled with more concern than before. A few minutes of silence passed between them.
“Bo I will lose the farm!” Clara said, breaking into tears.
“What! How?” Bo asked surprised and quickly moved to Clara’s side to comfort her.
“The farm is no longer producing as before. I had to let go off the farm and I could no longer afford to pay him. My body is no longer as strong to produce enough for our mouths and to sell. I had to take a loan to help provide for Gracie and now I’m behind in payment and the bank is threatening to buy me out. The lady has been kind enough to extend my grace period but now she can’t extend it. If I don’t raise at least 50,000 dollars in the next three weeks, Gracie and I will be homeless.” Clara answered amidst sobs.
Bo did not know what to say. He could not ask anything, the much he had heard broke his heart.
“I came here knowing you are my last hope. I know I haven’t been very kind in the past but as the father to our child I believed you would have some mercy and help her if not me. Please?” Clara asked.
“I will help my daughter and you. Listen to me Clara I have never stopped loving you. I have not been the man you desired but I ask for a second chance.” Bo responded on bent knee before Clara.
Big Mo and Gracie walked into the diner with a few people clapping. Bo and Clara were hugging. Gracie ran towards her parents who welcomed her with a hug. Big Mo joined in the clapping. He was overjoyed for his friend; his hopes were now a reality. Bo had reunited with his family. Bo saw Big Mo standing at the counter congratulating them and motioned to him to join them. They that did not clap now sneered as they exited the diner. They could tolerate the reunion of Bo and Clara but not with Big Mo as part of the picture.
“What do I do Big Mo? I’m happy to have her back but how do I prove my commitment to handle the situation?” Bo popped the question.
It was evening. Bo had escorted Clara back to the farm. Gracie was asleep in the guest room. Clara had agreed to her request for a sleepover.
“I have an idea.” Big Mo replied.
“What?” Bo queried. Concern in his eyes.
“The flowers are ready for harvest. We can sell them.” Big Mo shared.
“That won’t be enough to raise 50, 000 dollars in three weeks. We still have a few kind people in the town who are willing to buy from us. If you have been attentive to the current situation, the diner is going through hard times.” Bo expressed.
The diner hit the hard times as soon as the next week. Customer numbers greatly decreased. Mercy shining upon them as those who visited increased their tips. Bo followed Big Mo’s idea but the sales they made were hardly enough to make any savings. In addition to caring for Clara and Gracie, the diner was suffering financial constraints. There were supplies to purchase and workers to pay.
“I would like to speak to the bank lady.” Bo told Clara.
“Are you sure it will help?” Clara asked.
“It’s worth a try.” Bo encouraged.
It was a week away from the deadline. Half of 50,000 dollars is what they had achieved to raise. If they were to save Clara’s farm they needed to negotiate.
“Invite her over for lunch; we shall talk this matter over. Food has a way of softening even the hardest of hearts.” Bo advised.
“She’s not that hard hearted. I just think it’s the pressure from the bank on her neck.” Clara said.
The invitation was sent out. Friday the set date. Offering a chance for Big Mo to attend the meeting as well. Clara did not know. Bo and Big Mo had run through some ideas and the sale of the diner listed as the last resort if worse came to worst. Sweet talking her to a week’s extension top on the list.
Friday noon. A mid height lady walked into the diner. Her classy business suit stands out among the farm dressed customers. Her court shoes increased her height by an inch. Clutching her suitcase tighter she made her way to a free booth. She felt out of place and the customers rubbed it in with their cynical stares and harrumphs. The creepy silence captured Clara’s attention. She stood from her booth and went to greet the lady.
“Hello, welcome to Bo’s diner. I’ll be with you soon.” Clara greeted the lady.
“She’s here.” Clara spoke.
“Will soon be there.” Bo replied.
Clara walked out of the kitchen to join the lady as they waited for Bo.
“My husband will be joining us.” Clara explained as she took a seat.
Back in the kitchen, Bo signalled Big Mo. It was time. Bo walked out of the kitchen leading the way. Big Mo in tow.
Clara scooted over to make room for Bo as she introduced him to the lady.
“Ax!” The lady exclaimed.
“Dani!” Big Mo gasped.
Confusion and surprise gripped the diner. First, “Did Big Mo just speak?” That was a surprise big enough. What followed was most bizarre.
“You know each other?” Bo and Clara asked in unison.
That he could speak a secret already out in the open. A private talk outside not an offer on the table. All eyes were on them and from the silence and look on Bo’s and Clara’s faces, everyone was waiting for answers.
“Bo, this is my wife Dani. Dani, these are my friends, Bo and his wife Clara. Please do not buy them out of their farm.” Big Mo broke the silence.
“What are you doing here Ax?” Dani asked. What Big Mo had said did not register in her mind.
“Ax. At least we now have a name to you stranger? Out with Big Mo, in with Ax!” A middle aged man commented. His wife quickly jabbed his ribs.
“What?” He exclaimed. His wife’s cross eye shut him up.
“Big Mo?” Dani questioned. “Ax, what happened to you?” She questioned further.
“Long story Dani.” Ax said. Taking a seat beside her.
“I’m all ears. I want to hear everything. No secrets.” Dani demanded.
The customers nod in agreement. They too wanted the whole truth. No secrets. They had lived in enough secrecy about Ax. The knowledge of his real name was a good start.
“Abby’s death was an accident but I couldn’t stick around to explain. With the court battle heated, I knew I didn’t stand a chance against your dad. It would be serious jail time for time. Immediately I heard the sirens. I ran. Facing you with the truth was hardest. I was there at her funeral and the look on your father’s face declared me a dead man. I chose to run and keep on running. Hoping to forget the past and start all over again. Every time I would be discovered I ran to the next town. I made up my mind to stop running when I came to this town. Bo made me stop running. Gracie, his daughter, reminded me of Abby. Abby would be turning 10 just like her next month. Bo despite his mistakes was willing to fight for his daughter by becoming a changed man.” Ax narrated.
Clara kissed Bo on his cheek. Without a doubt he was a changed man. Having given up the bottle, he took up to running his new diner with zeal. Surprising Clara by reaching out to her to work out an agreement on Gracie’s visit. He respected her request for time to think it over. Thankful that she agreed as Gracie lit up with life.
“Ax, I’m so sorry.” Dani sobbed. “How I hoped and prayed that you would one day come back. I lost both you and Abby at that funeral. I was so sorry I didn’t fight for you, for us. I was more afraid of losing my family not knowing you were my real family.” She continued.
Ax wiped Dani’s tears. Looking into her eyes his heart was comforted. She still loved him as much as he loved her. There was hope of them getting back together.
“All in the past now and forgiven. Now I have a favour to ask of you. Please please don’t allow the bank to go ahead with buying out Clara’s farm.” Ax pleaded.
“I wish I could but the bank is firmly set on its decision. I have done my best to have them extend but now they stand firm. Sorry I wish there was more I could do.” Dani explained.
Ax looked at Bo and Clara. His heart was disappointed.
“Dani, before Abby died she suffered the misfortune of a dysfunctional home. Parents are unable to love her because of our inabilities. Gracie is blessed to have her parents reunite; sale of the farm would break her heart. If there is anything you can do to save the farm please do it. For Gracie and the children of this town.” Ax begged.
He was not done trying. The customers agreed with him as they joined in begging Dani for help. Most of them understood what being bought off meant. Reduced to tenants on their own land or another’s farm. The remaining few struggling hard to survive in the wake of industrialization. Their story is almost similar to her own. Money created a divide and ruined her family. Same script was playing itself in Country Road.
“I know you love your job but you have a chance to make things right. Growth is good but not if everybody fails to benefit from it.” Ax advised.
“I will try.” Dani promised.
The diner burst out in jubilation. Clapping and whistling.
Try she did however Coot and CJ were not ready to lose out on this sale. They had already placed some money. They were determined it would not go down the drain. They pressured the bank to follow on its word. Dani approached their wives to help change their husbands’ minds. They were of no help. They too wanted to expand their wealth. Equally determined to fight for Clara’s farm, she made a drastic decision. One that would change the course of her life forever.
The three weeks were over. Soon the bank’s representative would arrive at the farm. Dani had stepped down from handling this case. Ax was now helping out at the farm with Gracie as his continued handy helper. Bo’s diner opening half day as he rushed to the farm to await news from the bank.
Two days into the fourth week, the bank representative arrived. Coot and CJ in his company. He skipped the pleasantries and jumped right into business.
“If you would please sign here and here as proof of the sale.” He said.
“Wait!” Dani shouted. Running into the house.
“What is this? Young lady, we are in the middle of business here!” Coot shot back.
“Let her speak.” Bo instructed.
All eyes on her with confused and irate stares, she caught her breath then spoke.
“I have a higher offer.” She said, handing over a cheque to the bank representative.
“Gentlemen I’m sorry but it seems she has bought you out.” He said.
“Impossible!” CJ exclaimed.
“Have a look. Sorry gentlemen, the farm goes to the young lady at twice what you offered. No offence, it’s just business.” He added. As he walked out.
Irked, Coot and CJ followed him out. Mumbling something to themselves.
“Bo and Clara, your farm is safe. I may have bought it but you retain full rights over it.” Dani said.
“You didn’t need to.” Clara expressed.
“It was not me who bought your farm. A friend of mine made a generous contribution once I shared your story with him. He was moved to do something.” Dani clarified.
“Thank you so much Dani.” Clara mouthed. Hugging her as the men watched on.
Truthfully, Dani sought to buy her shares from her father’s empire. This part of her inheritance. She explained she wanted to invest on a farm, which was a promising venture. The details she left out. Her father was never satisfied deciding to follow up on his daughter’s dealings. Dani is doing well to cover her tracks knowing her father too well. She quit her job at the bank, closed her accounts and transferred her savings to her brother’s account. She knew he desired to open his own firm. Chart his own path though his father doubted his success. After a lengthy discussion with him on her decision, they both resolved to sever ties with their father. Choosing to live away from the shadow of Archer Inc. Empire. It is her brother who bought Clara’s farm on Dani’s behalf. His appreciation for her contribution towards his law firm. Arobees, Dani’s new venture. With connections of her own she helped sell the farmers’ produce and flowers from Ax’s flower patches. She did well to market their farms as go to destinations for exchange programs. Her business degree serves her well.
They were not lowly anymore, just humble residents of Country Road. Dani and Ax moving into the farm. Serving as an astute farmer. Landscaping gives the farm a fresh new look. Once a quiet farm was now abuzz with activity. Bo and Clara would soon renew their vows with Ax and Dani as their best couple. Invitations had been sent and the lowly were all in support. Everyone chipped in best they could to make the day colourful. Decorations and food provided without restrain.
Under the warm morning sun, Clara walked down the aisle with Dani by her side. Her ivory gown accessorised with a pearl necklace and earrings. A birdcage veil on her hair held up in a bun. She was breathtaking even in her fifties. Gracie escorted them down the aisle as she splayed flowers on their path. Bo fidgeted. Ax placed his arm on his shoulder for encouragement. The women approaching were beautiful. Gracie adorable. Dani’s smile sent his heart flipping. Vows exchanged, the gathered broke into screams, coots, claps and whistles when Bo kissed his bride. Clara’s farm was big enough for the vibrant reception. Dancing and feasting lasting into the night. The children enjoy games of tag and catch. Each dropping off to sleep like dominos.
Their joy was not infectious enough for the rest of the town. Lines had clearly been drawn. After the buyout, town gossip burned more fierce than before. Ax and Dani are spoken of as illegal business people running away from the law. Hiding their money in the sale of Clara’s farm. Thankfully Gracie was spared the torrents of ridicule. The town square flower patch had become the children’s school project. It was their responsibility to tend it. This kept them busy, not available for adults’ trifles. The rich kept to their business while slowly united under Dani’s efforts to improve their farms. If not the entire town, they were encouraged that among the lowly the division was dying. Farms their common ground while their produce cemented their relationship. Eat outs and Sunday picnics are becoming a common feature.
A year had passed since Bo’s and Clara’s wedding. Three years since Ax set foot in Country Road. There were many. Clara’s brood had increased by twins. Gracie had baby brothers whom she swooned over whenever they were awake. Bo’s diner opened another outlet in town. Dani oversaw its running as she handed over Arobees to Ax but remained in an associate capacity. Flam Associates became the legal advisor to both Arobees and Bo’s diners. Flam Associates, Devin’s legal firm. Devin, Dani’s brother. He did well to market his sister’s ventures. Arobees becoming the main supplier of flowers to Flora Scent. The leading floral company in the region. Devin opting for Clara’s farm for his weekend getaways to his acquainted coastal hotels. He considered the air more refreshing. The idea of a permanent residence turned in his mind. Following up on his idea a few months later, the commute between his firm and home seemed no bother. His new bride rejoiced in his choice of location for a home.
“Isn’t it beyond time?” Bo asked Ax.
Seated at the diner’s patio enjoying a cup of coffee as old times, Bo and Ax recounted their journey together. That is when he asked the question.
“A year and a half now since you reunited, why the long wait? You should have been the first to remarry.” Bo joked.
“Patience my friend. Dani needed time to come to terms with her life changes. Be sure of her decision.” Ax disclosed.
“And?” Bo grilled.
“She is ready.” Ax confided.
“It’s about time. Her brother beat you guys to the altar.” Bo teased.
Watching the cows graze at a distance, Dani smiled to herself. She had made a complete 180° turn. From a city girl to a farm lady. From Mo the cow, a herd of cattle grazed the out pastures of Clara’s farm. With hard work and discipline, wealth increased in Clara’s farm. She truly felt out of place in all the affluence of her upbringing. Unable to freely express herself. At the farm she was free to engage her mind and follow through her ideas.
“Beautiful isn’t it.” Ax startled her.
“Yeah. Nothing like the city.” Dani responded.
“Miss the city?” He asked.
“Nope. The farm is more relaxing.” She replied.
“What about your parents? Will you never want to visit them?” He queried further.
“Surely I would.”
“Have you thought out what you will say when you meet?”
“Not yet. I will think of our meeting when we get to that bridge.”
A cool breeze blew. The faint scent of fresh corn clear in the air. They were silent for a while.
“Mind a stroll?” Ax requested.
“Sure. Nothing on my schedule this morning” Dani replied.
Around Clara’s farm they walked. Enjoying the landscaping. The fruit orchard was growing at a good pace. Soon they would be enjoying oranges, mangoes and strawberries. The mixture of scents was inviting. The garden was not far off. Gracie picked out most of the flowers for the garden. Hand in hand they walked around the farm. Returning to where they first began.
“Anything you wanted to ask?” Dani asked.
“What? Me?” Ax replied. And smiled.
Dani knew him well. He was not one gifted at being direct. It took him a long time to ask her out when they first met. Hesitant in speaking his mind however Dani understood him. This is why he came to love her. She did not think him a coward, just reserved.
“Yes. I will be delighted to walk down the aisle to you again.” Dani said. Kissing him on the cheek.
“My pleasure to be waiting for you at the end of the aisle.” He responded.
Clam then Big Mo, a stranger. His beginning at Country Road. Now Ax, his true identity. Dani, his beloved, is by his side. No longer needing to run in out of fear.