Thursday, the 13th.
The cock crows repeatedly announcing the birth of a new day. I open my eyes with indifference, as I have done every other day for the past couple of years. I guess it’s just how you learn to live when you live in a community where tomorrow is far from being certain. I raise my self from the half slice of foam that makes my bed, and get ready to go to the farm. There is a lot of weeding to be done in preparation for harvest. I am tempted to await Byenchit, my son, but it is needless. Who knows what tomorrow holds? Every now and then, a smile fleets across my face as I look forward to the weekend when Maryam is due home for her weekend visits, with a letter from my son. The smile keeps me hopeful, as I pluck up weed after weed with my matchete. Once I am done, I head back home. Clearing will have to wait till tomorrow.
I am surprised to meet Maryam at my frontyard. Quickly, weariness deserts my body as I hurry towards her with my best smile.
‘Eyyy! Sannu fa! How the journey? How Jos? How Byenchit, my son?’ She offers me a warm embrace despite my farm-fresh stink.
‘Sannu fa. Fine, fine, Aliamdulilah!’
‘Bhet I think weekend na. The other time, weekend. The other time again, weekend.’
‘Yes Saratu, the children are on break. No school today, that’s why.’
‘Yowa! Toor, Sannu fa. Siddon, let me Gaan bring Gote.’
‘No, no Saratu. I have a letter for you.’
My eye does not miss the unease in her. I become a little worried as I turn away from the entrance to sit beside her at the frontyard.
‘Ba gajia Saratu. I just want to read the letter to you first.’
‘Toor.’ I watch her fish the letter from her bag, and take a minute before reading. I assume he has written it in English, and she is trying to see how best to read it in a language I can understand. I appreciate her kindness.
I want this letter to be perfect, so I have asked Mrs Maryam to write it for me.
How are you? How is the maize farm? And my beloved community? Mama, I have missed you terribly, and I hope you are missing me too. Are you getting enough rest too, since I am not there to help you or stress you? Mama, I hope you still find reasons to smile? I hope nobody is troubling you?
I am very happy about my new school but mama, I insist staying back home with you would have been better for both of us. My teachers are very friendly, and the students are nice too. Infact mama, I have made a lot of new friends, most of whom I play football with in preparation for the state competition. Mama, my coach and team mates think I will make a fine striker in the nearest future.
Mama, there is more to this letter than the usual ones I would send you every week through your friend, Mrs Maryam. I am writing this letter to you because I failed at a classwork where I was told to write to my father about school. Mama, I have asked you about him severally, but you have been hesitant about it. What was he like? How did you meet him? Did you love him? Did you marry him? Is he alive, or did the herdsmen kill him? Was he a hunter, or a blacksmith? Did he marry more wives to show his might as a great Tarok man?
Mama, these questions and more plague my mind and the older I grow, the more they haunt me. Mama, I am no longer a child in my eyes; but if you insist I am still a child, I feel I deserve to know the truth nonetheless. Mama, my social studies teacher taught me that knowledge of my origin is what truly makes me a man; and I fear that if I grow to maturity without this knowledge, I will lack identity for the rest of my life. Mama, each time I ask about him, you promise to tell me in the near tomorrow; but mama, I fear that if the herdsmen kill you today, I may never get to know the truth.
Mama, I love you so much. Despite the times when you hit me so hard, I felt you were punishing me for a past I had nothing to do with, I love you. I love that you save your smile for my return after every school term. I love that you love me so much that you have sent me to a faraway land so the herdsmen don’t harm me on one of their surprise attacks on the village… but mama, I need to know.
I am confused about how to feel towards him. Love, or hate? Let me know him, so maybe I may understand you better.
Your son Suleiman.
Misery is me right now. I hold my head between my hands as I break into sobs I have tried to hold back in all these years. He has asked me that question over and over in the past, and each time he did, I would beat him without mercy. I thought I had beaten the thought out of his senses, but I guess not now. He doesn’t deserve to be haunted by the tale of what went down many many years ago. He should be happy he has me, or have I not been enough?
Maryam holds me to her chest now, rocking me back and forth. This feels good. At least, for the very first time since 16 years ago, I find someone willing to share my pain with me. But I can’t tell her the story, neither can I tell Byenchit. Everyone who knew the story back then walked out on me. Maybe it was fear, maybe the knowledge was too great a burden to bear, I don’t know. But how do I know they won’t do same too?
Sannu fa- hello
Aliamdulilah- we thank God
Yaya Gajia- any problem?
Ba Gajia- No problem
© The Short Black Girl, 2015.