With Mankhokwe Namusanya:
“Does your mother know that song?”
She shakes her head. Doubts if her mother even knows any song for that matter.
“Her life, these days, is in the Lord. I doubt she knows any song. Hymns? She must know them all, by heart.”
I chuckle. A quiet small one. Say that hymns are music. She thinks otherwise. Says that music is what you dance to, not what you just sing along and then it transports you to places. I think: this one likes to dance. And, I am not really wrong. She confirms.
But it is not her story we are talking about. It is her mother’s story which, of course, is also her story. And of her two siblings. Now, all of them grown-ups.
She is unmarried and says she does not think highly of marriage. At least, not to men.
“But a woman?”
She laughs. Says her mother would die of shock. Her father? Would pretend she does not exist. Like she did with her two step-siblings.
And that is another story. Of the two step-siblings. But it is also one that we are not really talking about.
She was young when her parents divorced. It was her father who sought that divorce.
“All I remember was that we moved houses. I went to live with mum. As for my brothers, I did not know where they were. But, they went to live with my grandparents from my father’s side. I think I asked mum where dad was and I don’t remember her responses.”
“How old were you?”
“It must be four, or five. Or the transition from four, to five. I was just about to start primary school.”
Her mother has never told her why they divorced. A sister to her mother, in one of those sibling fights, is the one who disclosed why they divorced.
She, the sister to her mother (or to just be brief: her aunt), had that week come to visit. It was a small house they had moved into. Years after that quiet divorce. With just a bedroom. In a district she tells but I cannot disclose. When the sister came visiting, she was excused from the bedroom, to sleep at the sitting room.
In the night, she could hear them – the two sisters – talking. And laughing. Long into the night. She would actually drift off into sleep while they buzzed around her.
That night, however, they were not laughing. They were arguing. Her mother was saying she had no money. Her sister was saying the point was not money. Her sister, the aunt, said that people in the village were worried for her.
“It was a long argument but, to sum it up, I heard her say: ‘That is why he divorced you, failing to’…,” she struggles to say the words. Still, she says them. The point is: her mother was cheating. Or, was accused of cheating.
You know those stories that you to share, yet, when you start sharing, you become so emotional that you want to excuse yourself, and beat yourself for starting to share them? They are like some decency on you, that when you start to peer inside them, it is as if you are slowly cascading down a path of indecent exposure, they are what defines you.
When you are an audience to such a story, you do not ask questions anyhow. So, I do not ask if she really thinks her mother cheated. Instead, I try to drive the conversation to some point that might get me the answer:
“Have you ever talked with your mother about this, now that you are grown?”
“No, I have never. You do not know my mother.”
“Is she that secretive?”
“Not that secretive, but she is one you can accuse and she will not fight back even if it is untrue.”
She thinks her mother did not fight back. Either out of her personality or because she did not want to wash dirty linen in public. She walked out – or was kicked out – of that marriage with nothing. Just her life. And child. The other two? Well, they are males. They have some connection with their father. They recognise her as their mother and nod in her direction.
When her education started demanding much money, she went to her father. He was the one who was going to pay. And holidays were spent mostly at her father’s place. There was some guy she was falling for – nothing serious.
One holiday, she came. She was in college. Older than her, older than her other sibling – the second born. Her father was at work.
When this girl came, she asked for ‘her father’. They were sisters. Step-sisters.
“He had fathered two other children with another woman. All the time she was married to my mother.”
It was him who actually made her mother aware of the other children.
“How did she take it?”
“She basically took it to the Lord in prayer.”
“Your step-siblings, do they know your mother?”
“Yes, they do. The girl was close to me at some point and actually fed me all the info on what was happening all that time he was married to my mother.”
“Do you think your mother cheated on him?”
“I don’t know but, even if she did, she should have been forgiven.”
I ask her if she knows that song, that Dolly Parton song. She asks which one. I start to sing with my bad voice: my mistakes are not worse than yours, just because I am a woman.
She waves. Asks me to stop singing. Says my voice is horrible.
“Does your mother know that song?”
She shakes her head. Promises she will have her listen to it.
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