When people ask, “Can a mother hate her own child this much?” I go mute as I bite my lip to control the welling tears desperately yearning to burst from my eyes. It is a story I tell over and over to inquisitive people. I don’t blame their curiosity, not with this whale of a scar on my face that gets people to stop and stare. Others strike a conversation with me so that they finally get to ask, “What happened to your face?”
The memories are bad. Goosebumps grow all over my body at the mention of my mother. Cruel is an understatement for how she treated me. I was her unwanted first and gratefully last child. She always made it clear to me that I was unexpected, unplanned for and un-needed.
For misery loves company, I grew up in abject poverty. We depended on my mother’s cookie jar, she loved to say that. Sometimes she even spoke to her money maker.
“Today this cookie better find some good money today or else…. you have nothing to eat.” She said, patting her groin. She said as if I was to blame if she did not make enough money from her prostitution. She would often leave late at night and come back in the morning to find me preparing to go to school. I learnt to dress myself from a tender age.
School was a solace for me. Albeit some of my school mates called me mtoto wa malaya (a prostitute’s child), I loved it there. It was better than the chores I was made to do at home. Lucky for me was a concerned teacher we called Madam Julie.
We first met with Madam Julie at the slum shops,I was all dirty and salivating as I watched in envy as other children went to school. I was five. She pushed for my attendance to school and campaigned for sponsorship from wellwishers. I adored that woman, I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
“Tomorrow you will not go to school,” my mother said one evening putting on her stockings. She dressed in front of me. I would often look away when she shamelessly displayed her nudity to me.
“Why?” I asked trembling in apprehension. The following day was an exam day. Exams were important to me,very important. This especially were end of year exams, they would determine whether my sponsors would continue schooling me to the next level, Grade 8. I had burned the midnight oil for them.
“Because I want you to cook for a guest. He will make our lives better.” She replied now pushing her breasts to fit well in the lacy bra. My tears were flowing now. She glanced at me and snickered.
“I will leave some money for you to buy some meat and rice.”
“No” I said. That is how I got the huge scar on my face. She picked a knife that was lying around on the floor and threw it at me. I covered my face in shock, fear and pain and my hands were instantly bloody. I looked at her worriedly but she was putting her shoes on, muttering angrily at herself.
“Next time I will do something worse!” She said as she placed some cash on the table, “This is for the rice and meat.” She left. I ran to the water pitcher and poured a cup to wash my face off the torrential tears and blood. I used a rag to tie my head up,and slept like an Egyptian mummy, head all bandaged up.
The desire I had burned in me so deep that the next day, I opted to defy my mother’s orders and go to school and sit for my exams.I had written a small note and left it in my desk for Madam Julie to thank her for being there for me knowing that I would die that day, when I arrived at home. But mother was all smiles. She welcomed me, I was temporarily relieved. The worst was waiting for me inside.
He was a pot bellied man, few hairs on his head, popping eyes and hairy nose. The edges of his lips were foamy. He smiled at me and asked me to sit on his lap. I was hesitant but mother urged me on. When I did, she left, closing the door behind her. That was his cue. I realised their plan when harm had already been done. He defiled me despite the fights I tried to keep up. When he was done, he knocked at the door and it was opened immediately.
He whispered something to her ear and she giggled ,then from his breast pocket he fished out a brown envelope. My mother peeped in and hugged him passionately. He left as she stood by the door watching him leave. Then she turned to me.
“Take that basin ,put some warm water,pour some salt and sit on it. The first time is always stinging, you will enjoy the next time.” She said and dropped on the bed, yawned,sighed and fell asleep. I wobbled to get the basin , crying silently not much for the action that was done but by her words, “the next time.”
True to her word, there was a next time, not once , not twice but several times. My mother had hit a jackpot through me. I would arrive home from school and meet a different man from yesterday’s. I could not report to anyone, my mother had put the fear of God in me.
“And if you decide to tell anyone, think, who will you tell, some men who come here are policemen, others are powerful forces that can kill to keep their secrets, so think before you do such a foolish thing.” So I kept hush until one day, she became greedy and thought she could make even more money. She brought two men to take advantage of me at the same time.
I remember running so fast that I thought I was flying. When I reached my destination, all I could do was fall into unconsciousness. It was Madam Julie’s house. She had lay me in bed, my head on a pillow. I had never placed my head on a pillow before. She listened as I narrated the A to Z of my life story. Needless to say, she could not hold back her tears.
“You should have reported to me that very first day!” She said.
“I was scared!”
“No need to be scared any more!” She was now embracing me. And from that day, I stayed at her house. She told me that her husband had left her for being childless so I would be the child she always yearned for. So I strived to be her dream child. I read books, I got good grades, I maintained my good manners and pushed the emotional scars as far away as I could.
Time passed and I attained my dream too.I finally became a teacher. It was a job I enjoyed. I wanted to be a teacher to transform lives, like Madam Julie had done to mine. I was busy teaching one day when I heard a knock on the door.
“Madam Patience,you have a visitor at the gate.” I went to see who it was. I recognized her at once. I had always thought that this day would never reach. When I escaped from her house years ago, she did not bustle a sweat to search for me. No one came to claim me from Madam Julie.
There she was now, much older and skinnier. She still had heavy make-up on her face, some cheap jewellery and her grey hair was blowdried to fall on her back. She wore a mini skirt that exposed wrinkly thighs and one could see through the white chiffon blouse she had. Her pair of black heels had seen better days.
She started with my shoes, scrutinized them for a while, then went up to my knees, to my skirt, as if reading on it, upwards to my blouse, her eyes lingering at my bosom and then she met my eyes. I shifted my gaze in exasperation. I was still very scared of her even after all these years. She uttered her snicker,then sneered at me.
“Don’t care where your mother is?” She asked. My hands were drenching in sweat. I was very apprehensive.
” I am sorry.” I whispered.
“Will I eat that sorry? Be quick and give me a sorry’s worth token!” She demanded as she rubbbed her index finger and thumb to indicate money. I dived into my pocket quickly and took out some money. As I emptied my pocket, my handkerchief fell. I picked it up and stared at it. It was a handkerchief gifted to me by the late Madam Julie. With it had come a card, with the words,
To you my girl , a girl whose courage is like that of a lion.You have gone through so much, but you keep on strong! I love you my daughter. Keep this in remembrance of me.
I gazed at the impatient woman staring vexatedly at my delay. Then I returned all the contents I had in my pocket.She glared at me like a mad bull.
“No. All these years I have suffered because of you. I feel like peeing at myself right now because of the courage you stole from me. But then again, you have nothing on me! Goodbye!” I said and walked back to the school compound feeling like a novice wrestler who had won a match with a world record holder.
“My daughter, I am sorry!” She pleaded with a voice and utterances I had never heard before from her. I walked on, smiling at my belated courage. Glad that I no longer felt spite for her. I had forgiven her for the atrocities she did to me. Pain was behind me now. No need to re-live it.