Celebrating East African Writing!
Thirty years ago today, I scooped the Mother of the Year Award for Dereliction of Motherhood duties. I defended the title for fifteen good years. I had swung from depression to exhilaration, and when I couldn’t sleep, I was slovenly wide-eyed, and agitated. I reached the breaking point. That’s when the plan formed in my head, the plan to hurt my baby: smothering her with the shawls, drowning her as I washed her, cutting her into pieces and preparing her for dinner, or bludgeoning her with a mwiko.
She used to look up at me as if she had seen my face before but couldn’t place it. I looked down at her too. I did not know how the child could have come from me. I kept waiting for the primordial instinct to sacrifice everything for her the way mothers have for their children to set in me but it never came. I just wasn’t ready. She had been born early. I needed more time, at least another one month to prepare. Her gums clamped down on my nipples mercilessly, it hurt too much to be right. She screamed through the night, howled at nothing in particular, yowled at the slightest innocent provocation, and she was greedy, a seventy-inch tyrant queen-she-devil that held me slave day and night by turning my breasts to food pouches. She took away what was left of my life. I became afraid of her than she was ought to be of the world she had loved so to come out of me where I had protected her from everything one month before she was due.
There had to be some explanation why I hated her. There was a reason why I was not fit for her. There was a reason why she was safer away from the fluid arms of her mother. She was better off without a mother who wanted to marinate her for dinner. I was not good for my baby. That’s why I had to leave my one-week-old baby before I sautéed her, hurt her, threw her into the toilet, or dumped her at Dandora.
I suppose I had known all along that I was going to leave. Right from the time I knew I was pregnant, again. I was not ready to be a mother. Some people were not meant to be, like me. When I made the first step away from home, my spirit started bubbling from deep inside. It was that liberating. I would go and forget I had a husband, and a baby. I would go and never look back, I decided. Even when, and if, I figured how to be a mother I won’t go back, I told myself. My baby needed me away, I was doing her a favour, giving her back her life.
My mother used to say that once you had sex everyone could tell. I wondered whether it was true for abortions, and when I committed the crime I eloped with another man on the day I was to go to college before she could read my face and threw away my life. When my husband celebrated our pregnancy, the face of the child I had killed danced in front of me. That’s when I knew I was not meant to be a mother.
Fifteen years later when all my friends were rushing to deactivate their ticking biological clocks I figured how to be a mother. My thirteen-year-old daughter seems to know boys at an alarming rate, I wonder whether I would know when she has sex like my mother knew about me.
I now see the grown doppelganger of the baby I abandoned thirty years ago. It has haunted me for weeks now. It has made it perfectly clear that the past is not to be forgiven.
In the thirty years I’ve been alive I hear my father mention my mother’s name for the first time today. “Mona,” he says when he opens the door for me. He’s called me by my mother’s name, but what I really hear is ‘mourn her’.
I don’t move. For an instance I stand frozen in the door. He blinks severally, takes a step back and then says, “Oh, Viv.” He shakes his head as though he can’t believe it and wraps me in a firm lingering hug and whispers, “You’re the image of your mother.”
I realize that my father has never given up on my mother. He keeps hoping that one day she will walk through the door and he will welcome her with open arms, with everything he can offer. Is that what love does to people? I too have been hoping I will see her one day. Except I’ve never tried to find her, instead it feels like she has been the one trying to find me. She’s always there when I look over my shoulder, begging to come back into my life. Until now I had believed she was the reason my father was ulcerative, the reason he didn’t smile, the reason I had never been in a relationship. I saw her at the root of every woe that besieged us. But now I wonder if she was to blame. After all we all seemed to be following in her footsteps, running from ourselves. She ran away and abandoned Dad and me for some reason, and maybe if we knew her reasons we would understand. For all I know, I could be just like my mother.
“Dad,” I whisper back. “How come you never tried to find?”
Thirty years ago today, my wife walked out on us – me and our less-than-a-week-old baby. She took everything that held her memory: birth certificate, education certificates, photos, diaries, everything. It was like she died, like it was her plan to leave. When the forty-eight-hour requirement by law passed, I filled a missing persons’ report. I searched for her in hospitals, mortuaries. I never found her.
I did not know whom I was angry at more: me or her. What kind of woman abandoned her week-old baby? Surely she was not the woman who had given up everything for me, whom I had fallen in love with. What bothered me most was why I didn’t see it coming. I was just beginning to know her, the way most couples did in their second year of marriage.
I’m wounded beyond healing. But I’ve not lost faith on love. Over the years I’ve been expecting to hear of her some. If she appeared on my doorstep she wouldn’t be any stranger than she was before she left.
I now see her doppelganger. I feel she is somewhere on her way back to us. She ought to see what her daughter Vivian has grown to be. I’ve spent years staring at the front door wishing and praying she walked through. I’d welcome her back because, after all those years I never stopped loving her. But it might not be as I will it to be. Some things were just meant to be free. That’s why I never went looking for her.
© Vincent de Paul, 2015. http://flashes-of-vice.blogspot.com