Thursday, February 14, 2008

Growing Pain

Oumy and my mother were neighbors and classmates and since they grew up together and probably shared a lot of time with each other, they quickly became best friends. My mother was reserved and very shy while Oumy was everything but and for some unexplainable reason, the friendship between such different people wistood the test of time and distance. My aunt-by-friendship had no children. She never married and as such, couldn’t move out of the familial home, not that it would have been against any laws, but in the Patriarchal Senegalese society, single women living alone or together is very unacceptable and even offensive to some.
Oumy was a little over 30 years old when her oldest sister’s marriage became her jackpot; she finally received her ticket to partial freedom by moving in with her.
So, on what I imagine to be a sunny day, Oumy, her three nieces and newlywed sister moved into a two bedroom apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood. As you can imagine there was little space to spare. But this didn’t stop her from convincing my poor mother, a few years later, that sending me to live with her would turn me into a well behaved lady. She promised to watch over me and teach me manners. In reality, she had secret, ulterior motives: Oumy desperately wanted to fulfill her dream of a family and children of her own. I was the closest thing she had.
As usual, with every new relationship, I was welcomed with open arms and even treated like a family member. I ate to my heart’s content, slept next to her at night and even got along great with the three little nieces. It felt like home. Since Oumy’s sister was the second wife of a prominent man, she was expected to bear him children, like his first wife, before her had done. But for some reason, she wasn’t able to and somehow, this made her less than a woman. By the second week of my being there, as the newness wore off, I was quickly demoted to third class mooch. My loving aunt-by-friendship suddenly transformed into an evil, gossip fiend stepmother. She divided to conquer and looking back, I was nothing more than a chess piece. Since her highness couldn’t bear to share her queen size bed, because doing so kept her from a good night’s rest, I was presented with a blanket, 3 square, red ottoman pads and the cold, tiled dining room floor: This was my new bed.
The resident couple’s relationship was rocky at best and since our salvation and housing rested in their hands, we silently lived on edge, in fear. We anxiously laid in wait for the inevitable day the tension would burst in our faces. In the meantime, we quietly lived together and hated each other.
Although my parents sent a monthly stipend for my wellbeing and care, it became obvious that once again, the money was being put to various, other uses but the one intended. As the marital problems arose, the cable was cut off; then food became scare around the house. I still remember the hunger skipping meals brought on me; the kind that painfully pulls at your heartstrings, slowly churn your stomach in tight knots and leaves you dazed and brain dead.
Alas, no matter how much water I drank, it always failed to quench my hunger; my empty stomach still growled. I laid awake most nights as the icy floor caressed my scrawny legs and the ottoman pads ran away from my frail body.
I cried myself, my anger to sleep. I questioned God’s existence, His love because as much as I called out to Him, as much as I wanted Him to be there with me and give me back my parents, He always answered me with His silence.