It is Saturday, and I have been sitting at the same spot for more than an hour. Sel Sucre is my favorite bistro, it is small and cozy and I always enjoy their dainty little snacks; but today feels different. I have been staring out the window , my mind blank , my favorite muffins untouched, even the coffee has gone cold. I am drumming on the Formica table with my fingernails. I stop and take a look at my rough, chewed fingernails. That manicure is long overdue, I smile to myself.
‘Enjoying your snack ?’ the waiter is smiling above me, and I am pulled out of my reverie. ‘Yes, thank you’ I smile back. I am wondering why he asked. It must be because he has noticed that I have not touched my food. I find myself staring as he walks away. He is not particularly handsome, but his tall, muscular build seems to make up for it. It gives him a charismatic look. I cannot tell how old he is- twenty something , perhaps. I look away so that he does not catch me staring. I wonder if he can tell that I am not okay. He must be psychic , or something. ’ Don’t be ridiculous.’ I scoff under my breath. Maybe , the question was his way of saying, ‘ Are you okay?” without necessarily trying to pry into my life. I am only a stranger , after all – a paying customer. I take a bite of my cake . It tastes bland on my tongue. There is no life on my tongue. There is no life within me. I have lost the ability to feel anything but pain. Good old raw pain. This is the pain, it’s choking me , right at this moment. My throat feels dry, so I take a sip of the cold coffee. It is no better than the cake. I cannot remember how to live without you. My heart cannot take it. The pain of losing you will never go away- I know this. My mind is flashing again. The tears fall slowly down my face.
YOU AND ME
[ Saturday used to be our day; the day we would sleep till ten, the day we would stand in front of the mirror , you and I would pretend to be rock and roll stars from the seventies and the eighties. You would be Gloria Gaynor, and I would be Tina Turner, and in that moment I would be a little child again; using my hairbrushes as microphones, laughing , screaming, and you would tickle me until I thought I would die of laughter. You weren’t ticklish , so I could never fight back- too bad for me.
In those moments when I did not want to play, you would curl up to me in my bed, and you would pretend the ceiling was the starry sky, gazing up at it, saying absolutely nothing. I didn’t expect you to understand, but you did- surprisingly. I was your mother, and sometimes you were mine; in a way that I still cannot explain. I loved you, and you loved me. On those nights that I would wake up, feeling all alone in the whole world, I would hear you breathing softly beside me, and everything would be right again.
I would help with your homework, and you would cry out whenever you had math homework . ‘it’s very easy’ I would say, you would grumble as I taught u to add and subtract. We would take long walks in the evenings, with your hand clasped in mine, trusting me completely. You trusted me, just as I had once trusted your father. I trusted him, loved him, yielded completely my heart and my hopes and my dreams to him; but it was not enough- I couldn’t make him stay.
I knew your father was married. ‘Unhappily married’ ,he made me believe. We were entangled in the fabrications of our minds , in a moment lost in time, where we were free to love and to be loved in return without remorse. Love was what we called it. I was patient with him, giving him everything I thought he needed and demanding for much less in return.
He needed some time to ‘ sort things out’ with his wife, and I was only too understanding . I was the patient , understanding woman in his life: the other woman- I filled that most undesirable position that many a woman has occupied at some point or the other in life. I was the “HUSBAND SNATCHER” , only I did not mind it so much. It was only temporary, or was it?
‘Every dream comes to an end” That was what I told myself when his calls became less frequent. I do not have to tell you that your father soon disappeared altogether. Like Juno McGuff, I like being a piece of furniture in your father’s life, and that piece of furniture was being moved out.
He said he had fallen in love with his wife again, and he wanted to set things right with his family. His woman’s prayers had been answered. Her husband was only hers to keep. I was defenseless against the rewards that my karma had brought to my doorstep. His wife was having his baby, and so was I – the husband ‘stealer’ .
He wanted me to get rid of you. I tore the cheque he offered me into pieces. I cannot remember the amount he offered me. Your father did not want you. I did. The last three words I said to him were ‘ BURN IN HELL !!!’ He slammed the front door of my little flat so hard I stood frozen for several minutes, after he stormed out. I will not lie to you; I was terrified.
I fell in love with you the very moment I felt your pretty little heart beating against mine in that stuffy hospital ward you were born in. My father would not touch you, and my mother scarcely put you down. I suppose the love that she showed you was enough for both of them . I could not quench my father’s anger and disappointment for bringing you into the world. You were my revenge. You were my retribution for the ill treatment that life had meted out to me . You were my reward.
You would not stop crying . I had countless sleepless nights and I was worried by your restlessness. I would sing to you , cooing and humming softly until you fell asleep. I was alone. At times I felt I was going crazy, but I loved you as my mother loved me.
I knew you loved me the first day you called me ‘ Ma-m!’ I laughed and I cried and I couldn’t stop kissing you. It was the first of many gifts that I would receive from you. I cheered on as you took your first steps towards me. I was your world and you were mine. The world had meaning to me once again.
I cried on my way to the office on your first day of school. Even settled at my desk in the snotty office where I worked as a clerk, I sniffled , marveling at how fast you were growing. Everyone loved you. You were smart and kind and thoughtful . Many a time, I would come home bearing little presents my colleagues at work had bought for you. My cup was running over.
Your father came back for you, shortly after you turned five. He and his woman had parted ways and she had taken the only product of their union away with him , along with half of his belongings. He wanted to have the chance to be a part of your life . I was livid on hearing that the very man who did not want you to exist, wanted you back. I knew that he did not love you. He was only searching for the last shred of evidence of his manhood, that was you. I forbade him from seeing you again . I wanted to raise you myself. You and I were content and happy , being in each other’s lives .I wanted to protect you.
Your father came to your school and took you away, one rainy day in August. A wave of shock ran through me as I sat at my desk that morning ; call it a mother’s intuition. What seemed even more strange to me was that you held my hand a little tighter than usual as we walked to school that day, It was as though you knew that he would take you away from me .
The police could not trace you. Your father relocated to England shortly after the incident, taking you with him to start his life anew. The shock of your disappearance killed me. I went from place to place, searching endlessly for my lost child- my stolen child. What could I do? A struggling , defenseless clerk – A woman , with no more than an ordinary national diploma who still mixed up her tenses – I had no money or connections to reach you, or even find you.
I slipped into depression soon after. Losing you broke me down completely, and not even the heavy doses of escalitopram oxalate could fix me. To me, life became a dreary composition of monochromatic pictures, the very image of a broken woman’s resignation to fate.
Olamide, this is my story; this is my predicament. Your father has deprived you of the love that only I could have given you. It is now two years since I last saw you. This is the 730th letter I am writing to you. I know that you will feel me in your heart, even though you were torn away from me . I hope that you are safe, and that you have the capacity to be loved and to love in return. I love you, my sweet, sweet girl. I will find you.
The rain stops as I finish writing my letter. I drank the dregs of my cold coffee and put the letter away. I even manage to smile as I settle my bill with the waiter, but he does not smile back. I do not blame him. There isn’t really much to smile about these days, anyway. It starts to rain again as I get up to leave. The air outside is clean and an earthy fragrance fills the late afternoon air. I say a prayer for my Olamide – my 730th prayer. My tears baptize me.