Tony followed me outside,  “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” I lied, and finding a convenient planter sat at the edge of it while I hugged myself “I . . . . just need some air”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded, then when a stab of pain at my side got me gasping, I shook my head “. . . It’s . . . my stomach hurts. Badly. I don’t know why”

“Oh.” He fidgeted nervously, as if looking for something to do “Do you need anything? I can go get it, there’s a pharmacy at the corner”

I was going to tel him to leave me alone and go back to the meeting, but I was attacked by another stab of pain, “Actually. I just wanna to go home. Can you call Zuri?”

“Of course” he said, springing to action

“Wait! You don’t even know who she is!”

“Oh. Right”

“Tall, thin. curly hair. She’s wearing green”

He went back into the room, and next thing I knew, both of them were next to me. Zuri had her purse and car keys, “Come on, Tanya. Let’s get you home”

“I’m sorry, Zuri,” I said when she deposited me in the car seat

“It’s alright, dear. Now, try to breathe, OK? We’ll be home soon”


Dimly, I was aware of Zuri and Tony talking outside, then she was in the car and we were driving away.

“Breathe deeply, Tanya.” She said to me, “In through the nose, out through the mouth. Try it”

I did, but even that made my stomach contract in pain.

“We’re almost home, don’t worry”

* * *

I lay in bed, with an  ice-pack on my lower stomach, looking up at the ceiling, crying. How could it be that a bit of pain could bring one to one’s knees. Pain is a shameful thing, indeed. I heard Zuri and my mother come back upstairs, and quickly wiped my tears away.

“How are you feeling?” Zuri said, placing a cool hand on my head.

“It still hurts”

“Here, chew on this” She took a pinchful of dried leaves from a little pouch hanging from her wrist.

I obeyed, and quickly wished I hadn’t “Ugh! What is this?”

“Absinthe wormwood. My mother called it ajenjo and would give it to us in tea–and believe me it’s even worse in that form. Chewing is faster and just as effective. Now, be a good girl, and chew on it as long as possible, then swallow it.”

“It’s awful!”

“Yes. But that bitterness will help. The stomach suffers when we stress, or when we are anxious or sad, or angry, and that’s why your whole digestive tract feels like it contracts in pain. This bitterness helps it get back to normal.”

Mara spoke at last, “What happened, Tanya? How was today worse that usual? Some thing you ate, perhaps?”

That was Mara. So quick to judge and condemn. “No, mom.”

“Let’s let her rest Mara.” Zuri said gently, “She’ll be fine, I promise.”

They turned the hallway light off and went back downstairs. I was left alone at last.

She’ll be fine, she’d said. But would I?


part 15 of If You Only Knew


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