I never knew what I’d do if I caught up with her

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With Rohey Samba

I was born in Farato village in the early eighties, a while after the attempted infamous coup d’etat by Kukoi Samba Sanyang. Unaffected by the bloody coup, the quaint settlement was a picturesque spot in a timeworn setting. It was a village surrounded by trees and vegetation all seasons round. Seasonal fruit trees were planted in reasonable distances all over our compound while ‘nymph’ trees enfolded the entire village’s footpaths. At daybreak, birds sang from the treetops in harmony, and sometimes in chorus, sending sweet melodies that permeated every corner of the village in the wake of the rising sun.

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The village was young and fertile and therefore very amenable to farming and vegetable gardening. My grandparents as well as a majority of the villagers living at Farato village took part in farming or gardening as their sources of livelihood. The village had very few residents then, notably, the Suwarehs who were our immediate neighbours residing adjacent to my grandfather’s compound, the Mendys, the Bahs, the Sowes and the Jawos on the other side of the village. The majority tribe were the Fulas even though there were Mandinkas, Wolofs, Jolas and Manjagos sparsely scattered across the small village.

The first settlers were the Haborbeh Fulas of the ‘Mbad daa’ singsong intonation. I heard that my grandparents who settled in the village in the late 1970s from the Firrdu Fulladu province of Casamance region found it very difficult to appreciate the dialect. Some similar words in both languages were found to be diametrically opposed, giving divergent meaning, which I was told generated a lot of confusion among them.
Yet they felt at home.

Baa Borcarr Jawo, my grandfather’s intimate friend, was the oldest known habitant born in Farato village. A healer and charlatan of some sort, I remember his goofy smile and affable voice. As a great talker from a young age, I commanded attention more than most. Everybody had a nickname given by my little self. Baa Borcarr and Daa Nyabou were ‘Mbab bah’. Ya Adam Sowe, the owner of fertile cattle and flowing milk, ‘Nyup di.’

My very first memory of the village was of waking up in the morning to the chirps of the birds that resided in the trees, which surrounded my grandfather’s large compound and its surrounding. I was three years old then and very sensible for my age, I would hear the elders say. Every day I awoke, my initial instinct was to turn onto my mother’s side of the bed to see if she was around.

If she wasn’t, which was mainly on weekdays when she left for work in Banjul, I would remove myself from the bed we shared, carefully skirting underneath the mosquito net, which was tucked under the bed mattress by the sides of the wooden bed, to prevent myself from being entangled by the netting. I would get to my feet and stand on tiptoes. I would hasten from the bedroom through the adjoining sitting room to the outer veranda and into the family compound, to retrace her footsteps. It was always my hope that I’d reach her before she reached the bus stop some 100 metres away.

And then what?
I never knew what I’d do if I caught up with her but in the hope of reaching her before she left with the bus, I’d venture out to find her anyway. My life revolved around the relentless need to be with my mother always. It was enough driving motion in the long trek I needed to make to join her on the road a hundred metres north of our family compound. The images I conjured in my mind showed her walking slowly to the bus stop while I ran up to her in full embrace before she entered the vehicle. She’d hug me back and smile at me, slowly lifting me up in her arms. My viewpoint was that of a child prodigy who tilted upward in anticipation, expecting my poor mother to quit her job and always remain by my side.

Due to her fondness of chicken heels, those high-heeled stilettos, I would be led on her trail by the holes her shoes had punched into the bare earth that had left a track in her path. I would stoop as I walk, carefully following the prints left by her stilettos. Sometimes they would merge to form a swallow smudge in the sandy soil ahead of me. Buoyed by the conviction of rejoining her, I never considered backtracking on my steps, tailing instead the easy pace of her unhurried footprints in the sand.
Before I reached the gate of our large compound however, my grandfather would call out, “Jewo Samba,” which was the name he called me.

“Come over here.”
Your mother has already left a long time ago.”
I would stop in my tracks and turn back to see my grandfather right outside of the veranda, looking pleasantly at me. I would consider his words for a moment and then turn back in frustration, as a child would who has been caught in the act of doing something naughty. My maternal grandmother would take cue from his proclamation to call me over to her place. Crushed, I would walk over to where she was, whether she was in the kitchen dishing out the morning meal of porridge or in her bedroom telling her beads in prayer. I knew as certainly as I had ever known anything in my life that my mother had long since gone. Perhaps she was already in Banjul at her office doing her official duties I would soliloquise. Even though I did not know official duties from daily chores at that time, my mother had taken me to her place of work occasionally, therefore I would picture her whiling her time away on her typewriter as a typist at the Printing Department in Banjul.
Each day that I realised my mother was absent from her side of the bed, before I woke up from bed, I would repeat the same routine and my grandfather would say the same thing all over again. Once or twice I was able to walk all the way to the bus stop unnoticed by my grandfather. Following her long trail of holes in the sand up to the bus stop. When I realised my mother had already left, I would return to the house with tears of disappointment in my eyes to be comforted by my grandmother.

At times, I would wake up before she left for work. On such occasions, I would wake up mainly to answer to the call of nature or to drink water. When I was roused in the night by thirst, there was always a jug filled with clean water by her bedside, which she gave me to drink from. I would drink from the jug and drowsily fall back into deep sleep. When I needed to pee, she would help me get out from underneath the mosquito net covering the bed and walk me outside of the room by the corrugated back door, which led to the backyard. I would ease myself a little bit further away. The soil there was sandy and would absorb my pee immediately.

My mother would clean me up with water that was stored in the clay pot that was placed by the door side in the back yard and sprinkle some of the water in the area where I had eased myself in order to dilute the acerbic scent of urine. Due to her sedulous potty training, by the age of two, I had stopped wetting the bed. In the unlikely event that I needed to poop during the night, I would do the same in the backyard, but even farther away from the bedroom door. She would cover the poop with sand and wait till daybreak when she would get rid of it with a shovel by discharging into the pit latrine at the extreme end of the compound.

Most times, when I awakened right before she left for work, I would make out her silhouette in the dim light of dawn through the gauge of the mosquito net, which hung around the bed to shield from mosquito bites during the night. I would strike up a conversation with her as she sat by her wooden dressing table facing the bed, in order to make-up her face. She always made-up her face by the light of the kerosene lamp placed right before the long mirror in the middle of her dressing table. On hearing my voice, she would turn around and talk to me softly. She would chide me to go back to sleep with the promise to return from work with a present for me. How I relished receiving those presents, which were either parcels of food items or colouring books. With that promise, I would return to sleep, happy and eager to receive the gifts at the end of day. My mother hardly ever broke a promise to me.

Culled from the novel 35! by Rohey Samba … coming out soon.

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