That was going to be my first time in my hometown. Seventeen years after my birth I would be visiting my hometown for the very first time. Seventeen long years of waiting. It was a trip long overdue and I was very excited to finally be making it. I was hysteric. I had every reason to be. According to the story my mother told me, my father passed away exactly five days before my birth. His family members, not slightly considering my recent arrival, went completely berserk following his demise. Before my naming ceremony, they had come to cart away will all of “their brother’s” belongings. She said they even threatened to take me away from her. I am grateful she mustered the courage to fight to keep me. This heartless behavior of theirs severed the relationship with relatives from my father’s side.
It would be expected that, with this knowledge, I would want nothing to do with my deceased father’s family. But, on the contrary, I was curious to know about his people. When I was in primary school, my friends would return with fun tales about their hometowns after every Christmas holiday. This made me even more desperate to make the journey back home. Back then, my mother would chide me if I ever mentioned it in her ears. You have to understand that my mother was very liberal with her approach to bringing me up. She was strict but not in a conventional manner. As her only daughter, I enjoyed a lot of privileges that would be considered unusual for my time. But whenever I talked about visiting my hometown, I saw this aggressive side to her. I even got a hiding for being persistent on a few occasions.
Over time, I stopped bothering her on this issue. I had seen and heard enough to know it was never going to happen. I was never going to my hometown on my mother’s watch. If it was ever going to happen, it would be without my mother’s consent. I would have to be daring and do it on my own. And I was ready to take that bold step. I had the perfect plan in place. It was going to happen in my first year at the university. That would be next year. I would leave for my hometown from the campus and my mother would not have the slightest clue. I was determined. It was going to happen and both of us were going to be all the better for it. I just had to pull myself together for one more year. At least, that was what I thought.
But here was I. My mother had just announced to me that we would be visiting my hometown. Without my asking. I almost could not believe my ears. I am pretty stoked about this trip. I’m even more excited that it would not be happening behind my mother’s back anymore. Because, as much as I was determined to do it without her. I was not entirely happy about it. I knew it would hurt her if she ever found out. And hurting her was the last thing I ever wanted to do. Now you can understand my excitement about this trip now.
The day arrives and we head to my hometown. It is a long journey but it does not take a toll on me. I am too excited for any of that to happen. My mind was racing all through the journey. What would the place look like? Would anyone recognize me? Would there be tales to share with friends when I return? Questions kept flying through my mind and I could not wait to get the answers to them. I had my camera with me. I was going to take as many pictures as possible. Enough to make up for my seventeen years of absence. I already bought an extra memory stick just for that purpose. This was going to be the best two days of my life.
We finally arrive my hometown and contrary to what I expected, there wasn’t much to it. I had expected there would be something out of the ordinary about the village. An energy of sorts. But here everything was just normal at best. Everybody went about their businesses like the village people that they were. Maybe I was the problem. Maybe my expectations were just a little too high. But I could not be blamed for that. The blame should be put on the seventeen years long wait that I had to endure.
The next day my mother takes me sightseeing after breakfast. We visit a couple of fairly interesting spots. I had to make do with what I could get. My first memory stick was not even half-full and it was afternoon already. We are set to leave at dawn of the third day. If we miss the bus that would mean we would be stuck in the village for an extra day. I would have wanted that originally. But, that was before this boring experience, now, not so much. I also want to get out of this place as soon as possible.
Evening comes and my mother is resting. I try to get some sleep too but I am unable to. Not because I am excited. I just can’t seem to doze off. I step outside the room to go sit at the corridor. Outside, I busy myself with watching as people go in their different directions. To engage my bored mind, I begin to imagine where they could be coming from. Or where they could be headed. I’m having fun at this newly invented game of mine when I see a group of girls with buckets on their heads. They are making small talk, but they are really loud. Annoyingly loud. Uncivilized loud. I listen for a bit and make from their conversation that they are headed to the stream. And that was my light bulb moment
The stream! Now I remember. That is where the most fun stories my childhood friends shared came from. How come I had forgotten? How come my mother did not take me to the stream? Now I have to see the stream. I just have to. I begin to follow the girls at a distance. Good for me, they are too engrossed in their chitchat to notice the stranger following behind. They turn a bend leading to a footpath covered on both sides with thick bush and I am scared. But I am sure I heard them talk about going to the stream, so I keep following. We walk for a little longer and finally arrive at the stream.
I am relieved because I was right and amazed at the sight of the stream at the same time. I had heard of people washing in streams but seeing it just felt so different. So otherworldly. Mothers with babies strapped to their backs washing, filling buckets with water and carrying them on their heads. Kids screaming in exhilaration whilst swimming in the stream, flapping their hands like Olympic swimmers. I am tempted to jump in the water like the kids. But I stop myself from going close to the water. Okay, I stepped in it, the water reaching up to my ankles. I take in the sight for a little more then I began to notice the stream was slowly getting less busy. In fact, I am now one of the last people here now.
I look up and the sun is almost completely out of sight. I had lost track of time. Now I have to hurry back home. I put on my slippers and begin to head back home. I’m hoping my mother hasn’t noticed my absence yet. She would be mad at me for going out on my own. Now I am walking as fast as I can. It is a straightforward road once I make it past the footpath. Except, I never make it safely past the bush path. I noticed two young men coming behind me. I did not make much of it. They must also be heading home I assume. I am glad I won’t be walking the footpath alone. But I was wrong. They had other intentions. Untowardly intentions. I did not make it past the footpath safely.
The men were discovered but they went unpunished. The town defended them. Saying I had come from the city to corrupt their men. The elders said the reason they forced themselves on me was because my skirt was short. They blamed it all on me. They said I brought it upon myself with my indecent dressing…
I stop and watch as tears run freely down my daughter’s face. Horrified as she listens to me narrate this horrid experience of mine from the comfort of my deathbed. One she never could have imagined because I mastered the art of silence. Even though I was a mess inside, I knew to be silent. I knew to deal with it myself and not to project any of it to the outside side. I had successfully done that for a lifetime. Now it is time to be free from it all. Moments from now, the doctor would come to unplug the life support machine.