The day you talked back at your mother she did not sleep that whole night. She lay alone in her bed, her eyes red and puffy, and her large bosom heaving aggressively. She sobbed quietly that night and then she knelt at the foot of the bed, counted her zikr beads and prayed to Allah not to strike you down for what you had done. It was more than just the talking back at her that shook her. It was the impunity with which you did it, the brazenness. And you did not even show remorse. You simply looked at her passively when she screamed and cried. “Ah! Sherifatu! What have you become?!”
When you were much younger you loved riding to school with your father. He was the most amazing man you knew. He was tall and handsome. His broad-chest always made you feel like nothing could ever harm you as long as he was there. His skin was smooth and dark and glistened all the time. He had very dark eyes that seemed to bore into you. It felt like he could look right into your mind and know what you were thinking. You were always afraid to lie to him.
Your father was the most intelligent person you had ever come across. He could remember the exact dates that everything happened in the world. He could remember the exact date Nelson Mandela was put in prison. He remembered the date Malawi became an independent nation. He remembered the name of the first president of Trinidad and Tobago and he could remember all the times Ghana had hosted the African Cup of Nations although he wasn’t even a Ghanaian.
He taught you so many things that even your teachers didn’t approve of. One day when you were eight years old you used the word “preposterous” in school and you got into trouble for that. The teacher beat you and said you were a preposterous child yourself, always showing off to the other kids.
When your father died, it was as if someone put a knife in your chest and twisted it. You were only twelve years old. At the funeral, people who barely knew your family wailed and rolled about in the sand but your eyes were as dry as roasted corn. It was just that sharp piercing pain you felt in your chest. You did not want to cry because you thought your father was so brave he’d have expected you to be strong for your mother.
The day you talked back at your mother, she had tried to stop you from running for the president of National Students Union. She said since the death of your father you had become headstrong and reckless. You were always wrestling with your brothers and challenging your teachers at school. You were always at the front of any demonstration against the school authorities and sometimes the government. You had become a hot-head, too aggressive for a nice Muslim girl.
You couldn’t stand it. You didn’t understand how your mother could be so docile and timid. Did she not know that success is for the people who can eat hot pepper without squinting? Did she not know that these days people are only limited by their own inadequacies? Did she not know that nobody dictates anymore what somebody can or cannot be? You were tired and fed up of people telling you what was or wasn’t good for you.
But the day you talked back to your mother you could not sleep either. You lay awake in bed thinking about what you had become. It was wrong you knew, to despise your mother so when all she had done was to protect you. You knew then that your ambition had hardened you and you weren’t so sure if you were right after all. You turned to face the wall and when you closed your eyes, you were a little girl sitting on the shoulders of her father.
Fatima B. Derby
Fatima is an alumna of Mfantsiman Girls’ Secondary School, Saltpond. She holds a B.A in English with a minor in Psychology from the University of Ghana, Legon. She is a budding writer and has published a collection of short stories. She currently writes for Echo House Ghana’s website, kuulpeeps.com. She is passionate about women and gender issues and advances these ideas in her writing.