It was fun being the Three Beans, but seven-year-old Gillianna wasn’t sure she liked her nickname. Embarrassed about her pudgy tummy and chubby cheeks, she pulled her blanket over her blonde head. Her best friends Marjorie and Betsy, a.k.a. Stringbean and Jumpingbean, lay quietly in their boarding school cots.
One thing Gillianna was sure of was deep homesickness. Rain, lashing dormitory windows, encouraged teardrops to slip onto her pillow. The outside deluge reminded her how comforting it was to snuggle, rain drumming on the mission house tin roof, knowing Mama and Daddy were in the next room. But they aren’t in the next room; they’re a hundred miles away in Bossembele while I’m here in Yaloke. She sniffled to stem the storm threat of tears.
Daddy had ordered, “Be a good little soldier for Jesus. No tears allowed!”
Daddy and Mama came to French Equatorial Africa in 1946 to translate the Bible into Sango, the tribal trade language. At the Bible Institute Daddy taught African men desiring to become pastors.
Gillianna’s mother gave birth to her in 1948 in the infirmary at Yaloke. Two other sisters were born here, the oldest two having been born in America. The mission board mandated that missionary children attend the boarding school it provided in order to eliminate distractions for the parents performing mission duties. Every quarter the children were allowed to go home for two months but to Gillianna the four months at school seemed endless. Even with three of her sisters here it wasn’t the same as being home. She longed for those evenings singing favorite hymns, Mama and Daddy harmonizing, playing games and reading to each other.
Gillianna’s grief included a cloud-sized guilt. Maybe God’s punishing me for what happened last time I was home. I didn’t mean to do wrong. But If I tell Daddy after he told me to keep away from the servants’ quarters, he’ll never forgive me.
The sisters had been playing house, a rabbit from the cages out back their baby.
“You be the mama and put the baby sling on now.” Sonya helped Gillianna tuck the furry bunny in. The animal’s weight felt comfortable against her chest. Stroking between its ears and down its back, then cupping her hand underneath she could feel its heart beating.
“It’s alright, Baby,” she cooed.
Sonya had Esperanza, her pet monkey, on her shoulder. Brenda, Linda and four-year-old Marcia handed pieces of fresh picked guava and papaya to Esperanza. They giggled as tiny hands quickly pushed fruit into a tiny mouth, gobbling it.
“Here comes Simone-Pierre to cut the grass,” Linda said. Left untended grass grew long right up to the veranda surrounding the brick house. Snakes might lie in wait. The girls watched the young native from a distance as he swept his scythe, his eyes in turn sweeping them.
Bored with the mundane task, Gillianna murmured to her baby as she strolled away, “Would you like some avocado?”
I should ask Mama before I go alone. But Baby’s hungry. I don’t want to make her wait. She headed for the avocado grove.
“Hello, Miss Gillianna.” Simone-Pierre stepped from behind a tree. “Where’re you going?”
Gillianna was sure he’d not finished cutting the grass but didn’t want to be rude. “Baby Bunny is hungry. I’m getting avocado for her.”
Simone-Pierre smiled. “Such a good mama deserves some fresh pineapple.”
Gillianna’s penchant for the fruit was well known. She forgot Daddy’s stern instructions and followed Simone-Pierre. The juicy pulp was like candy to her but that wasn’t all Simone-Pierre offered. His inappropriate touch brought a snowball-like pain into Gillianna’s heart sending her words into deep-freeze.
For five years boarding school nights were Gillianna’s self-torture sessions. In 1960, when French Equatorial Africa became the Central African Republic, the family returned permanently to America and Gillianna kept her secret on ice.
The snowball grew through high school. In rebellion against her parents Gillianna, at age eighteen, married the first man who asked. The fifteen-year marriage was a silent separation. They ate and slept in the same house but even though present, Bill was absent. Feeling abandoned, Gillianna sought intimacy elsewhere to no relief. The snowball gained momentum in a second marriage, sweeping Gillianna into infidelity.
Though her words froze, her heart cried out. Oh, God, please rescue me.
“The truth shall set you free,” said the godly woman counselor God provided.
Gillianna’s tears fell afresh; her tongue released the secret as the Son’s light melted a snowball from Africa.
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