She dragged her father along the ground through his own plantation. “Stop!” cried the groaning man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree. ” A roar of laughter escaped sapphire’s lips. Her laughter erupted, echoing through the church building as she bent over, slapping her knee repeatedly.
Sapphire jumped out of her thoughts when Papa dug his finger painfully into her skin and whispered; ” Keep your voice down. No one wants to see your ugly face. ”
Sapphire loved Sundays. It was the only day Papa closed the shop and Mama could get some rest from sewing all the time. The whole family dressed in their finest clothes and walked to church, Mama and Papa ahead, Sapphire’s older brother, Kelvin, being them, and sapphire and her younger sister, Jane. Most times, they see other families walking to church too. Sapphire would wait eagerly for her best friend, Precious Coker, who’d run down the hill to join her and walk the rest of the way to the old Anglican church with its arches mortared shut and the white clock tower.
Today, sapphire hung her head, wishing she could just disappear while the townsfolk gathered for service. Sometimes she asked God why papa despised her so much and seemed so set on making her suffer. Various thoughts like the one she had earlier keeps crossing her mind. Today, she wouldn’t have complained if Papa had told her to stay home and work in the shop alone and not step foot outside the door for a week, though it would take longer than that for the bruises to fade. Despite evidence of the beating he had given her, papa insisted everyone attend services. She wore a scarf and kept her chin down, hoping no one would notice. It wasn’t the first time she had carried the marks of his anger. When people came close, sapphire shifted the scarf or turned her face away. When they got into the church, papa sent mama ahead with kelvin and Jane. He caught Sapphire by the elbow and spoke in her ear. “Don’t let me see you talk to anyone or you’ll make me tell them the truth that you’re being punished for defying me. ”
Fighting tears, Sapphire went in and stepped into the last row of the chairs. She watched her father join mama. When he glanced, she tucked her chin quickly, looking up again only after he had looked away. The sharp pain she felt after papa dug his finger in her skin makes her want to avoid another trouble with him. Her sister, Jane, gave her a glance, face far too plain and strained for a young child. Mama leaned close, whispering, and Jane turned face-forward again. Kelvin sat beside mama, his head turning to the right and left. He was surely looking for friends and would disappear as soon as the service ended. Precious passed by and sat near the front. The Coker had seven children and took up the entire row. Precious glanced towards Sapphire’s mother and father, then back. All the murmuring stopped when the minister stepped into the pulpit. He opened the service with prayer. Sapphire left her mind drift again, she imagined herself spreading her arms like wings and letting God carry her wherever he willed.
And where exactly would that be? She wondered.
The minister’s voice rose as he preached. He always said the same thing, but sometimes use different words, different examples from the Bible. “Strive harder. Faith is dead without good works. Do not become self-satisfied. Those who turn their backs on God and still sin are destined for hell. “
Was God like papa, never satisfied no matter how hard she tried? Papa believed in God and he still couldn’t control his anger. Her father cursed her each time she passed the school examination “and made kelvin look a fool! ” She tries to defend herself. She should have known better. “Kelvin doesn’t read. He’d rather play down the hills with his friends than do his studies. ” Papa came after. Mama tried to get in the way, but he shoved her roughly aside. “You think you can talk to me like that and get away with it? ” Sapphire raised her arm to protect herself, but it did not help.
“Richard, stop! “Mama cried out.
Still griping sapphire’s arm, he turned on Mama. “Don’t you tell me that nonsense! “. Something fervid rose up inside sapphire when he threatened Mama. That’s when he used his fist on her. He let go of her quickly and stood over her. “She made me do it. You heard her! A father can’t tolerate insolence in his own home! ”
Sapphire didn’t know when she fainted until Mama stroked her hair back from her face. “Be still, sapphire. Jane is getting wet cloth.” Sapphire could hear Jane crying. “Papa’s gone to the cobbler. He won’t be back for a while.” Mama tool the cloth Jane held out. Sapphire sucked her breath when Mama dabbed her chin.
“You shouldn’t provoke your father. ”
“So it’s my fault. ”
“I didn’t say that. ”
“I passed the examination with the highest marks in school and got a beating for it. Where’s kelvin? Running around the hills?”
Mama cupped her cheek. “You must forgive your father. He lost his temper. He didn’t know what he was doing. ”
Mama always made excuses for him, just as papa made excuses for kelvin. No one made excuses for her.
“Forgive, “ Mama said. “Seventy times seven. Let it go! “
Sapphire’s mouth twisted as the minister spoke of God the father. She wished God was like Mama instead. When service ended, Sapphire walked beside Jane.
Papa turned at Henry Coker’s voice. The two men shook hands and talked. Henry took advantage of the distraction to join some friends heading up the hill. Mama took Jane’s hand when Mary Coker joined them.
“Where have you been all week?”
Precious spoke softly and sapphire turned. Precious gasped softly. “Oh, Sapphire. ” She moaned in sympathy. “Again?” What was his reason this time? ”
“But you passed the examination! ”
“Why does that have to be your problem?”
Sapphire lifted up a shoulder and gave precious a lop-sided smile. Precious would never be able to understand. Her father loves her. Henry Coker loves all his children. They all work together in the running of their eatery, Relish, encouraging one another in everything. If one of them had a difficulty, the others lovingly surround him and helped. Sometimes Sapphire envied her friend. Every member of the Coker family will finish school and go off to a university of their choice. If any of the children had further aspirations,their father wouldn’t deny them.
“You’ve been in school long enough,” Papa had declared when he came back from the cobbler.” You’re old enough to carry your share of the financial burden.”
Begging him for one more year of school had done no good.
Tears filled her eyes.” Papa said its enough that I can read and write.”
“But you’re only twelve, and if anyone in our class should make it to the university, it would be you. ”
“That cannot happen for me. Papa said I’m done with school. ”
“But why? ”
“Papa says too much school fills a girl’s head with nonsense. ” By nonsense papa meant ambition. Sapphire burned with it. She had hoped that with enough schooling, she would have choices about what to do with her life.
Precious took sapphire’s hand. ‘Maybe hell change his mind and let you come back to school. I’m sure my father will want to talk to him about it. ‘
Henry Coker might try, but her father wouldn’t listen. Once he made up his mind, not even a war could change it. “It’ll do no good, Precious. ”
“What will you do now? ”
“Papa plans to find me a job. ”
Sapphire jumped at Papa’s husky voice. With displeasure, he motioned for her to come. Precious didn’t let go of her hand as they joined their families.
Mary Coker stared at Sapphire. ‘What happened to your face? ‘ She cast an angry look at Papa.
Papa stared back to her. “She tripped down the stairs. ” He gave sapphire a look of warning. “She’s always been clumsy. She seem to lack coordination in everything.
Mary coker snapped “She won’t stop being disorganized if all you do is scare her. ” Her husband put his hand beneath her elbow.
Mama held out her hand to Sapphire ” Come along. Your sister is cold. We need to go home as soon as possible. ” Jane clinched to mama’ side, not looking at anyone.
Precious hugged Sapphire and whispered. ” I’ll ask my father to hire you! ”
Sapphire didn’t hope her father would agree -he knows how much she would enjoy working for the Cokers.
Papa went out that afternoon and didn’t return home until late in the evening. He reeked of beer and seemed happy. “Sapphire! ” He slapped his hand on the table. “I have found a job for you. “