“Have you ever looked at your old mother and wished you had a time machine? You wish she could live forever. You feel like if she died,she would die with a part of you. That is how I feel with mine. I owe my 55 years to her.”
This is Maria’s story.
“It’s Christmas time and my family has decided to spend Christmas at my parents’ home this year. Last year was spent at my husband’s. So I was really eager this time to see my family. When we arrived,the house was full. The stomachs almost full. We joined in the party and gobbled down whatever was offered with small chit chat here and there accompanied by hubbubs of laughter.
Mother was growing old. She was now partially deaf. One had to really shout to have a conversation with her. Her eyesight was also poor. She could not tell which of her ten kids was talking to her. We loved her,senile or not. She had coped with the different personalities her womb had produced. She had taken care of us almost alone with little help from a drunk husband,my father, who had succumbed to liver cancer ten years ago.
I observed her attentively as she tried to converse with one of her grandkids. I remembered the worst thrashing she had given me for “standing” with a boy. She had forbidden her daughters from speaking to boys.
“I don’t even want to see you standing next to a boy. If I do,then I will kill you that day.” She had commanded.
So when she met me talking to this boy, she did not say a word. She walked by us as if we were strangers. I gasped at her sight and my legs lost power. My friend disappeared and I followed my mother, keeping my distance. She did not say a word. She cooked dinner and served us. We would line up for our plates . When my turn came,she pulled my plate away and gestured the next to pick his food.
When all were served,she pulled my plate towards me. As soon as I bent to pick it,a long thorny stick tore deep through my light clothes into my flesh. Not once,not twice. Several times. The whipping I received on that day sends chills on my body when I recall it. I remember crying that night so hard that all my siblings woke up to help me cry.
But I did not stop the relationship with the boy. I believed I was wiser now. We had rendezvous in safer places. Nevertheless, a child can be no wiser than a parent. It was my elder sister who informed me that mother had gotten wind of our affair. As soon as I heard that,I went to my bedroom and started packing my few clothes. I was not going to get another battering.
“Where to,young girl?”It was the voice I dreaded to fear. I heard a very loud shriek but did not realize it was mine until much later. She smiled as she walked to the bed. She sat and beckoned me to sit with her.
“Maria, If I get hold of that stick ,I will kill you.” She was calm as she said those words. “But I am not a murderer. I have therefore decided to give you what you want. Come,follow me.”
I sheepishly followed her and to my shock, we were heading to my boyfriend’s house.We were met by a smiling ‘mother-in-law’. She welcomed me with open arms. I saw my mother leave and this woman held my hand leading me to her house. She introduced me to her husband and three kids as her new daughter.
My boyfriend was not talking to me. He avoided me like a chick avoids a hawk. When sleep time came,my new mother showed me where to sleep. With the chicken. She brought me a worn out mattress and an old blanket and said her goodnight. She came back with that look on her face,like she had forgotten something.
“Wake up early tomorrow,you and I will go and pick tea. Be prepared,it’s a long way to the farm.”
What?No school? The smell of chick poo, the uncomfortable sleep situation, the confusing future and the fear that my mother was tired of me made me break into a waterfall of tears. I do not know how I fell asleep.
There was a knock on the door. It was my new mama. It was already morning.As we prepared our farm tools,her children were preparing to go to school.
That was one of the longest days of my life. My hands were sore from picking tea, my legs were itchy from the biting mosquitoes,my stomach grumbling from lack of food. Moreover,we were supposed to hurry home to prepare supper for the school going children.
“Don’t worry, within one week, your body will get used.”
Her words made my breathing irregular,my pulse rapid,my pupils dilated. I was really getting feeble. I could not walk any more. I fell into unconsciousness.
When I came to, I was in my chicken room. My new mother was fanning me. I almost fainted again before my mother came in. Suddenly I was strong . I rose to hug her as I cried my heart out,promising to obey every word of her.I remember telling her that if she ordered me to pee on the roof,I would not hesistate.
She said she was not so sure about me going back home and I begged again this time washing her feet with my tears.
“Ok. Stand up. Let’s leave. ” As soon as she uttered those words ,I was out of the gate. I think I heard the women break into peals of laughter.
I ran home like a leopard in pusuit of a prey. My siblings were joyous to see me. We embraced tearfully.
I changed henceforth. I became more obedient than a dog. I read all the books available. I wanted nothing to do with boys.
40 years later,I am watching this old frail woman and I admire her. I know I would not be a bank manager were it not for her. I walked to her and kissed her forehead. She looked up and smiled back at me.
“Maria,my daughter. I am so glad you all came. I can now die in peace”
I was on the verge of tears when I realised she recognized me. She talks of death too. But she is just 98 years!
“I love you mummy.Please don’t die.”