By summer’s end that year, Mama had made the weekend and holiday dances a ritual. She went because she wanted to go, unburdened by guilt, now searching only within for approval. Her daughters still were disdainful and frequently admonished her, but she gave only perfunctory audience to their chorus of objections. She considered them well-intentioned, but eventually she came to regard the girls as selfish, soothing only their own guilty feelings and in time she ignored them.

There were more clues of her nascent assertiveness. She began to decide for herself what groceries to buy, when the bills would be paid and who to summon when repairs around the house were needed. Everything was not perfect. She made some mistakes but did not allow herself to be troubled by them. They were her mistakes; she owned them. When she wanted to, she would correct them.

She was not bored with routine chores; she welcomed them, found them as outlets for her new energy. Going about them gave her a sense of self-satisfaction and awareness she was free to act on her own. It was her own initiative now, overshadowing the habits from before, from her generation’s culture, and even dictates from Esposo.

She wore a brighter expression, her smile a regular feature. Her friends saw a bounce in her step. Life’s travails became less threatening. On her own, no one to give direction, she made her own decisions with no fear of being overruled.

She was not learned, but there were things she knew; knew them instinctively, knew them from experience, knew them because she felt them, felt them deep within her. She was freer, not tethered by expectations of others, loosened of perceptions poured from molds of the past.

There were fewer trepidations, some still lingered, most of them to be sure residues of old culture, leftover preaching of religious dogmas, and habits from a heritage of depravity. But they were easing and would be gone but for the one that persisted longer than the others.

She had fulfilled her vows and he was gone, but the emptiness wouldn’t let her be without him. She kept a vigil for his voice and when it came, it soothed the final pangs of uncertainty. Esposo told her there were no shackles. Mama said he whispered it to her. It happened in the quiet interlude that stirs night’s deepest sleep but does not fully awaken it. “You never left me alone. I never felt loneliness,” she heard him say. “You must not feel it either.”

The weekend and holiday dances became regular fare. Mama was in the company of her family and danced away the evenings in partner with sons and nephews. The dances, their music made for good times. They were a fresh breath, free from the expectations of the past and from the habits of the old culture. She owned herself. Nobody was entitled a piece.

And Mama sensed her hours were late.