Steps

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You could always anticipate her arrival as her heavy feet hit the sand with so much force that the ground would stir and the goats would scurry. Each step she took was a victory, an expression of her certainty that she was protected and that her step had purpose. Cumulatively, her steps were a story, a testament to her ability to right herself and stand tall no matter how little or much wakyi she had sold that day. It was proof that she would go on, her life would move forward, and her mark would remain.

Hardened by years of such vigorous movement, the soles of her feet were calloused and served her better than any pair of rubber soled slippers you could buy in town. Like everything else, she would scream out at the thought of paying money for something God had already given her. And if you asked, God had given her plenty.

I, on the other hand, had a different step and as I heard hers forging its way up the stairs, I was thankful her hardened ways had not calloused my tenderness. I stepped with a lightness that she would never know, but also never understand. Somehow I managed to never let her weight sink me. “Whack-Whack-Whack”, her thick knuckles bashed against the thin door, hands that had become thick and stiff from the fire. I didn’t mind the disrupting strikes, it was a way for her to pound out her frustration at her disobedient daughter, without pounding me. Teeena-Teeena-Teena she called out in the coarse voice of a man. “Yes, Ma” I responded abidingly.

She spoke immediately as she ungracefully clamoured through the door, as if the words had been bubbling up inside her for hours before her knock. With a deepness that came from her ample belly she said “Why did I have a chile’ if all you do is sit ‘round all day creatin’ a muck in that notebook, them scribbles ain’t gonna find you a husband, your words ain’t gonna pound the fufu. It’s ‘nouff, get down here and help Arbah with the plantain.” Her voice had escalated in a way that used to frighten me.

She used to know how to make me tremble in nervousness. As her voice heightened my own thoughts would subside, pushed by her loudness to the back of my mind and hidden away. Her loudness subsumed me, directed me, became me. When she was yelling, nothing else could exist because her noise filled all the space. But I had learnt to protect myself from the racket, close myself off and seal out a space in my mind where I could hear my own brain. I stared into her eyes and pretended to listen but I already knew the words that were escaping her bulky lips. Her lips didn’t purse like those of the white mothers on t.v.. Those women had cheeks and features that were slighted, their lips had a slimness to them that matched their stature, a delicateness that was firm but implied a gentleness. There was nothing slight about my mother.

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