The first time I knew something wasn’t quite right with me, my earliest childhood memory; I stood in the kitchen, no more than 6, holding a knife to my stomach.
I wasn’t sleep-walking, I wasn’t playing pretend. I remember thinking; I wonder what it would feel like to just not feel anymore? Things weren’t bad back then though even at that point, I knew I wasn’t built like the rest.
I grew up on Sesame street like everyone else, learnt my times tables and alphabets like everyone else but read tea as tear, thought the word queen to be queer and often wondered why Humpty Dumpty would want to be put back together, what does an eggshell want to live for anyway?
Like you I had an imaginary friend but we mostly argued.
My security blanket was more like my worst enemy. I would fight it every day before school, after homework, before Voltron, after Tales by Moonlight, every night.
It never wrapped me warm enough, it never protected me from the shadows at night, it never spoke to me when I asked it questions, it was defiant in its rich colours, thick cotton and obeyed no one but the fibres it was woven with.
It betrayed me at night; conspiring with the mosquito net around my bed and had me serve as feast to mosquito and other insects willing to attack me. I grew increasingly mad with this mute, it grew increasingly conniving.
With time, you forget; the whips for words that did not escape your lips, the name calling for events that other children were guilty of, a flog for breathing, two for sneezing inappropriately, 10 lashes for ‘not coming first in class’, for not making class monitor, for complaining that the braids are too tight, for commenting on the itchy fabric that together made your uniform.
I was a nervous child once but after one smack to many, I changed. You either learn to play the monopoly or your thin hide withers till your soul is no more. You cannot feel my life, cannot taste it, cannot smell it, you can only read it unaffected and for that, you should be thankful.
How did I come to have such a life?
I have my mother to thank for that, her generosity of giving me life knows no compassionate bounds. The only thing she loved more than her bottle of Pinot was her bottle of Merlot. Anything in between is of no significance to her.
I watched her destroy our lives, with only my stubborn imaginary friend and my defiant security blanket to converse with.
Father left before I was born, went traveling and never came back. Though these days, I cannot be certain how credible mother’s tales were. I learnt to read by reciting the prescriptions on mother’s capsules to her as she slept. She never snored though. She was perfect in sleep…it was the one thing she could not control and the only time I saw her at peace.
She has Alzheimer’s now. Sometimes she calls me Josephine, apparently she was in love with me once, even had sex with my brother just so we could have our own baby, our own family.
Sometimes she begs me not to leave her. She will be 18 in a few weeks and we can elope together, she’ll have the baby, I can be the mother and we can live away form the judgmental eyes of our families.
Some days, she calls me Gloria. On those days, she isn’t nice to me. She screams at me and tells me to give her back her life, the only things she has ever loved.
She offers me a baby – usually her wrapped up towel- it cries too much she tells me. It wants Josephine. We need Josephine. I need Josephine. You can have your grand child but let me have my love!
Yesterday, I sat in her room, a stranger again. She had no words for me but to say ‘who are you? I have nothing to give you child, go back to wherever you came from’.
I left, to start my afternoon shift at the store. The phone rang, my manager called me from the shop floor. It’s about your mother she said, she overdosed on some pills and drank some bleach, she …’ I faded her out after she said ‘it’s about your mother’. Numb.
I’d like to say that last night I had an epiphany of sorts but that would be a lie. I’d like to say I can finally breathe relieved and that I will not miss her. Instead, I mourn what I never had, a mother, a friend, family, laughter, love.
Whatever she was, she was in love once and as I sit in her rocking chair, barren and with bitter anger, a product of that warped love.
My heart shed its hope of finding love everyday since I first made her a cookie at nursery school, it was mother’s day. She threw it in the bin and muttered something about me trying to poison her, just like Gloria.
Over the years, my heart has been spliced like cheese strings. Her hands crushed it against the grater, each strand dissipating beyond my reach, each piece trod on by the world around me. Seasons changed and I continued to shed like leaves at autumn, ready for the hibernation of winter except I was never revived. There was no spring or summer for me, just toil and neglect.
Sitting in her rocking chair, in the same kitchen I stood twenty odd years ago; with no other family to call on other than my tattered blanket. My imaginary friend is long gone, and I have inherited nothing but woe.
Is it really better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?
Oreka will be writing a series of short fictions for The New Black Magazine. She holds copyright to her work
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