Friday, January 11, 2008


I stood outside our front door, my grandmother by my side and watched as my mother, aunt, sister, cousin and all of their belongings sped away in a moving van. I felt my heart ache, my throat tighten, my eyes sting. I wanted to cry; but there were no tears. I wanted to run after them, but my feet wouldn’t carry me. We silently stood there and stared until the van made a right turn and disappeared, breaking the spell. My grandmother had lost her husband, now her daughters. I lost everyone. Her warm hands silently took me by the shoulders, and led me back inside the house. She explained why because of school, I couldn’t move until summer. My grandmother became my mother, my friend. I loved her and she adored me. Every morning, she boiled the water for my bath and the kinkeliba tea for my breakfast. Although illiterate, she made sure that my homework was done daily. We would sit together on her bassang rug and she would explain why school was so important, how I could travel, dream and hope with a book. She was so wise…

On Friday afternoons, I rode the bus to my mother’s house and returned on Sundays. For safety reasons, my dad’s two younger brothers moved in with them. Although my mother was very strict, I loved visiting her. She was so pretty, so glamorous; her teeth were perfectly aligned and bright. I wanted to be just like her! I wanted her to love me as much as I loved her. But she terrified me. Misbehaving was unacceptable to her and back when I was a child, beating your children was the only way known to punish them: there were no explanations, no discussions. So when I misbehaved, just like any other child, I was taken into her room by the ear, stripped naked and whipped with a belt or an extension cord. My whole body would be covered by deep bruises and bumpy welts that burned when wet and lasted for days. But they were nothing compared to the emotional scars I was left with. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is by no means a monster or a hateful person. She just did the best she could, as a 23 year old mother of two, the only way she knew how.

I was so afraid of my mother, her belt and extension cord; so when my dad’s youngest brother started molesting me and threatened to tell my mother when I refused to let him, or tried to run away, I kept my mouth shut. Unbeknownst to my mother and grandmother, I was constantly humiliated. I lived in fear, in pain. I would lay next to them at night, wide awake afraid that if I closed my eyes, even for a second, God would come down from the Heavens and strike me dead. After all, I was dirty; I felt so ugly. I still feel dirty most days and sadly, I am also afraid of the dark.
I became a very sickly, withdrawn child. I had routine epileptic-like seizures, unexplained illnesses and weight loss so sudden and apparent that I quickly became a bully target in my neighborhood. I was always getting into fights. Yet, I still managed to get good grades that never failed to light up my grandmother’s face and get me compliments from my mother.
A little after 1992, on the night of Tamkarit (Achoura), my mother noticed my strained walk and pain from peeing. Along with my aunt and my dad’s second brother, she locked me in her room and with a belt in his hand, I was swiftly questioned. I told. I was so relieved. I would finally be safe. I just knew it.
Early the next morning, my mother took me to a doctor’s office who confirmed what she’d been told the night before. When we returned home, I remember him crying his eyes out. He called me a liar, swore that he would never do such things to me and that he loved me like his own child… He started packing to leave, but his brother reminded him that the house belonged to their brother; he didn’t have to go anywhere. By noon that day, my duffle bag was filled with my belongings and I was sent on my way, to my naive grandmother. The following morning, two men came to pick me up in a rusty, light blue Nissan sedan and drove me to my oldest aunt’s house, 450 kilometers away. For over a decade I was left to fell like everything that ever happened to me was my fault.
This, I can never forgive.

No comments: