I spotted her from far, there she was, seated frail and timid on the veranda. It was well past two years since we had last met. Our meetings had been more frequent earlier, but then, it was getting a bit too difficult to hide my growing resentment for her.
I saw her face light up at my sight. If only I could reciprocate, but I couldn’t bring myself to smile. It was dusk already and ignoring her completely, I entered my shanty. Not mine precisely, three of us girls shared it.
I plonked myself on a chair, and she positioned herself beside me. My roommate quietly moved into the kitchen, to grant us some mother-daughter time.
“I visited your uncle’s place as always, but he said you had moved. What sort of shady dwelling is this, why don’t you stay with his family anymore?” Mother prodded. I looked away.
She had obviously noticed my make-up, my trendy clothes and jewellery. I could tell from her face she didn’t approve.
“Do you dress up like this every day? You have changed since the last time we met. Doesn’t all this look too loud and attention-seeking?” She prodded.
“It’s been ages since you saw me and this is all you have to say? I am an adult, I don’t need your consent. Moreover, I need to look good.” I retorted.
“Why? You are in college, tell me about your studies, your marks…” she didn’t relent.
“Please.” I interrupted midway, “You think it’s all free? Books, bus, clothes, food, they all cost money. Do you think uncle can afford all this? I need to work, my uncle’s family can’t put me up forever. Besides, I hate going to college.” I seriously hoped she would leave it at that.
But mothers, I tell you. And mine was definitely not the usual kind.
“What work?” she thundered, “And why? I send all my little savings to your uncle. Tell me exactly what you do, you aren’t even a graduate.”
I replied as calmly as I could, “I want to be rich and famous as well, so one of my friends is helping me. He recommends me for small-time stage shows, I am making some money.”
I got up to leave, I wondered what gave her the authority to command me like this.
“Shut up! Who’s this friend? Do you dance in bars? Do you…” she was almost screaming.
“Shhhh….” My roommate hurriedly rushed out of the kitchen, “There are neighbours around.”
I heard my mother apologize, while I walked out to the balcony. I could sense her behind me. She had calmed down, she stroked my hair.
I jerked my head away and conveyed my hatred loud and clear, “You have no business schooling me about how to live my life. You are a whore, you know that? You blame uncle for not providing me with a comfortable life, he took me in when you conveniently abandoned me for your lover. Father couldn’t overcome his grief, he died drinking because you orphaned me for your lust and greed.”
‘Thwack!’ I felt the burning sting of her slap on my cheeks. but I was glad I had finally spoken out, my loathing for her had been bottled up for too long.
“Is this what they told you? Do you think I was living a life of luxury for all those years? I was married off at sixteen, against my wishes. Your father would drink all night and beat me up, torture me, abuse me. I thought a child would change him for good, but he got worse.”
“When the vegetable vendor offered to help me, I couldn’t refuse. I honestly wished to take you along, but he was a widower, with two children his own. I hoped our relatives would look after you, you have no inkling about the agony I suffered, separated from you.” she wept.
But would she ever know the pain of those copious tears I had shed? In school, I was isolated by classmates, never included, because my mother brazenly eloped with someone.
I was often shamed by my peers and cousins, called characterless like my mother. My uncle’s house which she thought was paradise, was worse than hell, what with the step-motherly treatment meted out to me by the family. But I couldn’t blame them entirely, they weren’t all that wealthy, I was always a burden, an extra mouth to feed.
If she thought her slap would silence me, she was in for a surprise, I was about to give her an earful.