Who are you, Dellilah?
(OFF-STORY: I haven't touched my character for almost a year. Here I am now, attempting a return to the role playing stage, with some changes to my character -- but not reinventing her from scratch. Call it a makeover of her life since she last entered the stage many months ago.)
When the stars began to appear in the sky, Mama Nita's bakery and cafe closed shop for the day. Elenita -- more known as Mama Nita, the gentle old woman who owned the small bakery at the end of the street -- counted the earnings for the day and began preparing for tomorrow's menu, while her young assistant Dellilah cleaned the tables and floor.
“Thirty-seven, thirty-eight... Why, this is the best profit we've ever had, my dear,” the old woman said, beaming with joy. “This has been a wonderful day. Thank you so much, my Lord!” Her gray eyes sparkled as she looked up and held the cash to her chest.
Dellilah hugged the old woman. “Oh, I am so happy, Mama! Thank the Lord indeed for His wonderful blessings!”
Mama Nita smiled. She put the money into a lock-and-key drawer beneath the sink. “And to think I used peddle the bread in an old rickety cart all by myself through the streets of New York. Now I have a shop, a cafe, and a daughter. I sometimes wonder if you're an angel who fell from heaven. I think I should have named you Maria, or Veronica, or Deborah, or some other godly woman... and not the temptress who led Samson away from God. Well, no offense, my dear.”
“No offense taken, Mama.” A look of sadness washed over Dellilah's beautiful face. “But, I wonder, why is my name Dellilah? What if I was, indeed, a temptress... or worse? I doubt if I am angel from heaven. I really do. What if I was meant to bring the curse of heaven upon you?”
Mama Nita looked upon her with compassionate eyes, and said, “God gives everyone a chance to redeem their life, my dear. Even Saul, who was a murderer, which I certainly think you never were. And even then, even if you were the most evil person who ever lived, He would still save you. Your past life no longer matters now. That evening when we met was the first day of the new life that He has given you. Just enjoy His gift, and give thanks for every day.”
“Perhaps. But I am still so confused--”
“Now, now, my dear.” The old woman's wrinkly hands patted Dellilah's shiny brown hair. “Try not to think to much about it. Maybe... it is best if you never remember.”
It has been almost a year since Mama Nita found the young lady at a garbage dump in a nearby alley. She was barely breathing, almost without a pulse. Her head was wet with blood, her mouth gagged with an odorous rag. Her arms and legs were covered with abrasions, as though she had been tied up with a rough rope and left here for dead.
Taking pity on her, the old woman dragged her into her empty bread wagon, and brought her home, and cared for her. The girl spent many days unconscious, waking for just enough time to be fed and given water. Mama Nita feared that the girl would die, and prayed for her often.
And then the girl gradually regained her strength. When she finally became fully conscious, one month later, Mama Nita asked for her name.
The girl said she could not remember.
Hoping that it would revive the girl's memory, Mama Nita then showed her a note that she had found when she was about to wash her bloody clothes. The note said, in a messy handwriting,
10:00. Same place.
Neither Mama Nita nor the girl could make sense of the message. The old woman figured that the mysterious note was addressed to the girl, and she called her Deborah.
Deborah became strong enough to walk and care for herself. One day, while she was bathing, she scrubbed on -- as she had been doing since she began to bathe on her own -- the brown mark on the inner part of her right thigh. She was annoyed that it would not come off. Thinking that maybe it wasn't dirt but a permanent birthmark, she inspected it even more closely.
That was when she realized that it was not a birthmark, but a tattoo, shaped in cursive writing, too small to be read at one glance, but decipherable at closer inspection by a good set of eyes.
The writing said, “Dellilah.”
And thus she learned that her name was Dellilah, and began to be called as such -- but not without some protest from the religious Mama Nita.
“I am sorry, Mama... but I have to find out who I really am. I have to remember. And using this name is a start.”
“But what if the people from your past find out that you are still alive? They might go after you, and kill you. Think about it, dearie,” the old woman had pleaded. She was shaking. “You are everything I have, and if I lose you... oh, if I lose you--”
Mama Nita was breaking down again. Dellilah gently took the old woman in her arms. “Oh, Mama... please don't cry...”
“You have a new life now... There's no reason to hold on to a remnant of the past...” the old woman wept.
Dellilah knew there was little she could do to reason with her adoptive mother. She felt tempted to give in, to let go of her past and simply move on... but the yearning within her, the need to find the truth about herself and about the people who tried to kill her, was so strong. She couldn't let go of her past, no matter how much she loved her Mama Nita.
“If they want to come after me,” she said, “then let them come. I will fight them. The Lord is with me now, Mama. I will win this time. Have faith.”
Dellilah held Mama Nita's icy hands in hers.
“Your hands are so warm,” the old woman said, “as your heart is kind and brave. May the Lord protect you, always.”
"Miss Dellilah, I know this is hard, but it's part of the process, do you think you can do it for her?" asked detective Corelli, trying to look into her eyes, but it was like she was in some far away time, remembering, "Miss Dellilah, are you ok?"
"Yes... I'm sorry... it's just that..."
"Don't worry about it, this is the kind of things that no one should do, but I promise we will get the people that did this to her" Dellilah nodded, Corelli said something that no one could listen and raised the white sheet.
"Yes" answered Dellilah in a trembling voice.
Corelli called his partner, Harry, and he produced a cup of coffee that was given to Dellilah.
"Miss Dellilah, we're going to ask you a few questions, would you mind if we go to my office? But you can start by telling us what happened after you decided to find out who you are"
Dellilah gripped the white rosary in her hand and tried to stop herself from giving in to crying. If she did, she knew she would not be able to stop, and she had to tell this man what had happened. So she wiped her tears and followed him to the next room.
When someone gave her a cup of coffee, she put it down on a nearby desk without taking a sip. She felt a bit ashamed that she should had not told them beforehand, so that they would not have had to bother making it for her. As far as she could remember, she never liked the experience of drinking coffee; it made her heart beat uncomfortably fast.
As it is, her heart was already knocking painfully on her chest.
After taking a couple of deep breaths, she began to tell her story:
“Well, it all began this morning, at around 4 o' clock. Mama and I were preparing to open the bakery for the day -- she was at the kitchen, and I was at the dining area -- when she suddenly shrieked. So I ran to her, and she was trembling and so pale, like... like she had seen something that scared her so much.
“And I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that we were running out of flour and molasses and other things, which was strange because I checked the other night and we still had enough to last an entire week. But I was relieved that at least it wasn't anything too terrible.
“And then she told me to go out and buy the ingredients from the store, which was a long walk away from the bakery, about an hour on foot -- so two hours to and fro.
“She told me to leave immediately, because there would be a long line and I might return late, and a lot of other reasons I couldn't remember. And she was practically pushing me out of the door to get those things! It was so strange.”
“Why do you say it is strange?” asked the interrogator.
“Because Mama never allowed me to go out unaccompanied when the sun is not yet up in the sky. And it was still dark at that time.”
After getting a nod from the interrogator, Dellilah continued, “So I asked her if she would like to come with me, but she told me that someone has to take care of the customers, and that her walk was slow and that she would be burden, which I don't mind at all because I enjoy Mama's company. But she insisted somebody has to take care of the bakery; that was the only good point she made about it.
“I was confused but decided to just obey my Mama. Again, she reminded me not to take the 4th Street--”
“Why?” the interrogator inquired.
“Because... that was where she found me.”
“That moment you left the bakery, was that the last time you saw her alive?”
“Yes. Her last words were, 'Godspeed, my dear daughter.'” Dellilah's voice shook as she said these words. Tears dripped from the corners of her eyes. “I didn't know that was the last time I would ever see her. I wish I had thanked her for everything she has done for me. I wish I had told her... that I love her so much...”
She breathed in to grip her tears and continued her story, “Then, when I got to return at 7 o' clock, the bakery was burning. And the cafe, and our house... everything was on fire, and the neighbors were doing their best to stop the fire but it kept on growing and growing... and then the fire brigade came and finally got to stop the fire. And I screamed for my Mama and prayed that she had gotten out. And then, and then... she's... dead.”
Detective Corelli seemed to have asked as many questions as he needed for the present. Now, as he spoke to his partner in low tones from the next room, Dellilah sat numbly in the chair, staring at her now-cold cup of coffee. The green pottery seemed uneven, she noticed distantly, and the handle was chipped.
She wondered why her brain was still working at all, when her home was burnt to the ground and her beloved Mama, the only person she knew of who loved her, was--
She choked on the thought and doubled over. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing could make this better. She rocked back and forth in anguish. Nothing, nothing, nothing...
A light hand on her shoulder made her jerk up. A dark-haired young woman about her own age was looking at her closely. "I noticed you didn't drink your coffee," she said quietly. "So I brought you some tea. It's decent tea, too, from London." She gave her a lopsided, sympathetic half-smile and handed her one of the two cups she was carrying.
Dellilah took the cup in shaking hands, and the grey-eyed woman sat down in the chair beside her. "I'm Norah," she said. "I thought you could use some company."
The tea was hot, and sweet, with a generous tot of whiskey. Dellilah took a grateful sip, and then another. Norah watched her drink, and nodded. "Good. We were all a bit worried about you. We have loved ones in here often, but you seem especially... well, hurting."
Dellilah took a shaky breath. "Mama was all I had," she said, trying to keep her voice from breaking. "She found me, took care of me, loved me. I don't know who I am--" she stopped. How much of her story was it safe to tell anyone? "...without her," she finished quickly. Had the detective beside her noticed?
Norah took another sip of her own tea, and nodded. "You're safe here," she said, examining the ceiling. "But I understand. I wondered about that, you know, when I realized I recognized your face."
Harry called Corelli to another room.
"Hey, man, I'm thirsty, what do you say if we file this one and go for a couple of cold ones?"
"I don't drink" said Corelli, while looking at the window that connected the interrogation room "Wait a minute, who is she? The dark-haired woman who is talking to miss Dellilah"
"Who? Oh, right, she must be a stenographer, look we can discuss the case at the Tricky Mister"
"Another beer, Bernie, please" said Harry, dragging his voice all the way to the counter, Bernie looked at Corelli, who just asked for another coffee.
"So... what do you think of the case?"
"Why don't you drink a beer with me? Come on, we're partners..."
"No, I don't drink"
Detective Corelli parked a few blocks from the house and decided to walk, he knew the place, it was becoming a familiar scene, except that this time there was something wrong, the yellow tapes were scattered so freely, hanging sorely trying to reach the floor, the scene made him raise an eyebrow, he returned to his car and looked for a flashlight, and his gun.
"This is detective Corelli from the police, you're trespassing a crime sce..."
At the faint light he could see a person, waiting in silence.
"What are you doing here?"
Heart pounding, Norah froze as a shape materialized out of the fog. After a moment, she recognized Corelli's build, and then his voice, exasperated. "What are you doing here?"
He took a step or two closer, putting her inside the circle from the electric torch in his hand. From there, she could see the dumbfounded look on his face. After all, she was just an office face. She had no business mucking up one of his crime scenes.
Except that she had to try. "I don't know who did this," she said quietly. "But I think I know why. I found--"
"Found what?" Corelli's voice was steady, but his eyes sparked with something like fury. She knew how passionate he was about the losers, the nowheres-- the cases no one else would try to solve.
"A letter. Here." Checking her eagerness, Norah held up a small canvas bag. She had to convince him. Had to. "There's one corner that isn't burned beyond saving. I thought I could bring it back, and you could test it for--"
"You thought you could. Listen, Miss--" Corelli was keeping his anger in check, but barely. "I think you should know by now that evidence is not for hacking about. I also think you should find another position. That is all." He turned his back.
"I'm not a typist!" The words flew out of her mouth; two quick steps and she was between him and the road. "I solve murders. On the streets. Just not making enough to make rent. I wanted to work for your agency so I could learn-- even if I had to start as a stenographer."
Corelli sighed. Another rookie wanting to learn from the big guns, just what he needed. "Go home," he said. "Look, you can keep your job if you leave me alone. Just go home."
Except... he sighed again and turned around. Norah was still standing there, holding the satchel. "Before you go... what the hell did you think you could do that I couldn't?"
Norah took a breath. This was it. She smiled wryly.
"I got Dellilah to tell me where to look."
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