Anna sank back in the sofa trying to take in all the details from these letters. She wondered if there was anything left of the places being described in these pages. Even if the buildings were no longer there, the earth beneath would be the same. There was such a sudden urge to be there, to see it, to understand. She had been scribbling notes of place names, people and dates in order to do further research. Perhaps that was what her Mum had wanted to do but simply ran out of time. Once again the woman who spoke to her in the museum came back to her mind.
“I see it now,” she whispered.
Or at least she was starting to. This information had opened her eyes to the blind spots in her family history, and that of her city and country. What was she going to do about that? How would this change how she saw the buildings and streets so familiar to her?
There was one final letter waiting to be read, the one with different handwriting to the others. As she held it in her hands there was a sense of something drawing to a close. As far as she knew there was nothing more to read after the contents of this envelope and she felt sad about that. Over the course of many hours she had gotten to know Molly and Jacob, following their relationship and the impact it had on both of their lives. The contents of the journal and subsequent correspondence was having a profound impact on Anna as well and as she reached into the envelope she could almost feel a hand on her shoulder, as though her Mum was leaning in to share this moment with her. The date shown was 28th September 1838, not long after the last message and there was one simple sheet as opposed to the several pages of all the previous letters. The handwriting was larger and a little less refined than Molly’s and glancing to the bottom she saw Jacob’s name written there. Perhaps he had been given the honour of writing to tell of the child’s arrival? Or Molly had dictated the letter to him as she was weary or had her hands full? Anna took a deep breath and began to read.
28th September 1838
Dear Mistress Mackenzie
Mi hope yuh can read mi writing an understand all mi ave to say. Mi neva write a letter before. The Pastor have helped mi a likkle as mi ave important news tuh share.
Last Thursday Molly give birth tuh a baby boy, healthy an hearty. The three of us was together an mi heart was full of love an joy like mi neva experience before. Molly was tired but happy an asked me tuh ave paper enuff fi tuh write yuh herself after she rest a likkle. We call di child Samuel James, after two great friends of di slave, Sam Sharp an Pastor James Phillippo. If di name of a child give dem any qualities of those who dem named for, then my boy be well blessed. Him wi need all di strength an courage dem man can offer.
Mistress mi can delay no more tuh writing di words mi know will break yuh heart. Later dat same day Molly did overcome wid a great fever. We care fi her as best we could inna di days dat follow, wid prayer an simple medicine but it did no good. Yuh precious daughter, mi loving wife, went tuh be wid God. Mi a wretch without her.
Mi know yuh a kind an gracious woman. Molly did talk of yuh almost every day an mi give God thanks dat yuh raise a daughter tuh believe di best of people. Yuh can be proud of who she was an di life she led. Mi cannot imagine how yuh will bear dis news. Likkle Samuel sleeps beside me as mi write an mi cannot guess what misery would be inna mi heart if something happen tuh him. Mi life has been full of hardship an loss but for a brief time mi was truly happy. Mi shall try mi best tuh raise mi son so his mother would be proud.
Mi send wid dis letter di gown yuh sent us. Samuel wore it wen we bury his mother. Mi hope it give comfort fi yuh an a link tuh yuh grandson an daughter. Mi nuh know wha di future hold or if we shall eva meet again but di name an flesh of yuh family lives on in Jamaica. Pray for us, mi beg of yuh.
Anna reached a hand up to wipe away the tears, her own loss mingled with that of people from generations ago who. She hadn’t even known they existed until recently and yet now, in this moment, she felt such a sense of connection to this long forgotten family. As she sat listening to the waves crash against the sea wall outside there was an emptiness in the sorrow, the deflation of an ending with so many loose ends and unanswered questions.
Her eyes wandered across the table to the family tree laid out under the pile of papers and she noticed the details that were missing. There was no record of Jacob or Samuel beside Molly’s name. Why? Had her Mum not got as far as reading the documents she had found? Or had she read them but simply not updated this page? Looking more closely at the other names and dates in that corner of the page, Anna compared them to the date on this final letter. Emily Mackenzie died in March 1839, a mere six months after her daughter. She was only forty three. Had she succumbed to an illness, or simply died of a broken heart? Anna lifted the christening gown and tried to imagine how Emily would have received this letter and its contents. Did she hold the gown close to her, imagining the child she would never meet and the one she would never see again?
Anna had always been fond of filling in the blanks of history with her imagination, creating great stories around the facts that were known, but here for the first time she was dissatisfied with having only her own fancied notions of what might have happened. She scribbled more questions on her scrap of paper, knowing full well that she may not find the answers but needing a way to capture the thoughts flooding through her mind. What of Papa Mackenzie, she wondered, tracing her finger back along the page and doing some quick calculations around the dates in front of her. Five years after Emily died he remarried, aged 55, to Ella Green who was nearly thirty years his junior. Well Molly had always said he cut a dashing figure and now he would be very wealthy and possibly a respected man of society with any scandal long since forgotten. Together they had one son, William, and it was there that the rest of the family line progressed. So Molly was another step removed from Anna and yet she felt a sense of understanding of this long lost almost-relative, a bond she could not explain. Looking at the questions and notes, barely legible on the page beside her she realised that the person she wanted to speak to more than anyone else in this moment, the person she had most questions for as always, was her Mum. She was so thankful for this trail of heritage, knowing the painstaking work that must have gone into finding these details. Picking up her pencil she filled in the missing names beside Molly’s – her husband, her son and her year of death.
“There,” she said, with a momentary sense of completion.
Standing to stretch her tense body, a restlessness began to settle upon her, to the point that she began to pace around the living room, unsure what to do with herself. This wasn’t something she could simply set down and carry on. She would not allow this to be the end of the story. But where to turn to next? Where to begin with all of the questions? As she made her way in circles around the coffee table, the clouds of confusion began to clear from her mind and she finally knelt and reached once more for the old atlas. Tapping her finger on the tiny shape in the middle of the Caribbean Sea she saw her next move.
“I’m going to finish what you started Mum,” Anna whispered, “I’m going to go to Jamaica.”