By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
You can understand this if you are a mother. Or, maybe just a parent. But, no! Not just a parent. But an actual mother. A single mum. And, I am not a mother so my understanding of this might as well be limited. But I think I have ever been there – in life.
That stage of watching innocence, like a mask, fall off. I have ever witnessed it, first-hand. My own. Except, when my innocence fell off, I had been aware it would.
There had been days. And weeks. Of warnings. As if it was a storm coming. Or a sad episode of a mood (for those who battel with mood disorders). There were no surprises, really. For her, the mother here, it came as a shock.
A sad surprise. “She had been a good child,” she writes, like most mothers would do about their daughters. Not really sons.
She had been going to Church, with the family –that means her sister and mother. On Wednesdays, or maybe Thursdays since these days each day is for prayers, she would go to the midweek service – alone or with her younger sister. Mostly with her younger sister.
They would come back singing. Those songs of praise. Before bed, they would share stories. Of the day. Then, the Bible.
They would ice that cake with a prayer. Not these routine ‘thank you for the day, take care of us in the night’ prayers you started singing in your parents’ house and have now taken them to your own. Those were prayers. The ones that get the devil scampering for safety, afraid even his own hell can be attacked. You know warriors, those people who can pray until their voice goes hoarse?
Their prayers were from such. And, they seemed effective.
For, as around her agemates were starting to stand in dark corners and realise that it was a lie that there was a giant supermarket that sold babies, she was still attending prayers. When others, just with a poor advantage of age and height yet classmates, were abandoning school because they were on the way to motherhood, she was finishing her Form 2 – with not so excellent grades, of course.
It was that, the grades, that saw her off from home and – I sarcastically add – the Lord’s embrace. For the mother, she wanted the best for her. A sound education. An easier path into the public University. A march into a secure future. It was not that the mother’s liking for the daughter had waned when she sent her to a boarding school.
If she had a chance, she would have wished that the daughter attends that very same school but as a day scholar. Except, it never would have been tenable. It was far. In January, under the mourning of a pregnant sky, she saw off her daughter. They were together, the mother and the younger sister, when she sat on that bus and battled tears. Her face, she still had that innocent look, gave her away: the change was sudden, sad and unexpected.
“But, it was for the common good – or so I thought,” she does not write this, but I imagine if we were conversing in person then she would have said that. It was when she returned for the holiday that she saw the change.
Firstly, it was Church. Her who had been waking up the entire household for Church on Sundays suddenly realised she needed a little bit more of sleep and what was the best time to get it? A Sunday.
“The first week, I understood it. Yet when time came for the midweek service and she showed no interest, not even remote, I got seriously worried,” the mother says – not in direct speech as you would think.
Then, the prayer life also suffered a setback.
The prayer warrior ceased being one, she became a worrier of it. Each time they had to kneel and pray, she would just drift off into sleep. Quietly. Effortlessly.
Then, came the boys. She used to say they were her friends, that they were sharing notes. It was, however, the time that she chose to do that note sharing that had her mum worried. It was always at night. When darkness had settled. And, she would stay there long. As if the notes were a mineral, in a rock, at Sapitwa. The mother, still a prayer warrior, opted not to confront her. If anything, the time she spent on her bended knees, in Church, grew. This, to her, was an attack. You know that story of Job in the religious texts? Yes, this was her Job moment. She was not going to give up. Even that day, when the younger child came to her in the bedroom, she was on her knees. She could still have had been there if she had not noted that there was a guest: an apple of an eye.
This, the apple of the eye too, had been showing signs of a strangeness. As if she was bothered by a huge thing. A mountain. It was as if the devil was waging that war from both ends.
That day, however, she decided to put her – the young one – on the spot. Today, of course, she says it was the Lord who made her decide that.
She asked her of her sibling. She said she had gone. To where? She could not tell. But she had left after finishing doing that which she, the older sibling, said was something that mum advised to have done before going. “And, what was that, what had you been advising her to do?” It was a lie. Mum had left her with no advice.
She had not sat down with her properly since her return. And, anyway, which mother would be advising her daughter to be molesting her younger sister?