I believe that I was raised well; as much as our four room house was always filled with children, my cousins, siblings and I never had anything to complain about. The only thing that bothered me growing up was my mother’s lack of attention towards me.
My mother worked as a nurse in the community clinic and her salary ensured that I along with my siblings and cousins were well provided for. I’ve always admired her; she took care of eight kids and payed off my older sisters’ college tuition. Her hustle never ceased to astound me. My mother was never short of money, she must’ve saved up where she could to be able to buy us what we wanted and asked for. Not all my friends were as fortunate as I was.
Thabo for instance, he and his family lived opposite us, his parents can hardly afford to buy him new shoes. He didn’t get Christmas or birthday gifts. My mother on the other hand would buy me fancy toys, cars and guns, she knew me so well. All the kids in our house would get presents on those occasions and every time it would be something that they liked. Those times are the most memorable times of my childhood.
Today, I’m all grown up and sitting in my office reminiscing about all the gifts my mother bought me. The one I loved the most was the photo album she had left on my doorstep one Christmas. In the album were photos of a cute little boy in the arms of a man I couldn’t recognise. The baby looked so sweet and innocent; he had plump cheeks and saliva dripping down the side of his mouth – the epitome of virginity and purity. I figured out that the baby must be me but after looking through that photo album multiple times, I still couldn’t figure out who the man in the picture was.
That photo had bothered me all these years yet, here I was sitting at my desk and analysing it once more. I’ve been meaning to ask my mother if that was my father in the picture but she herself had been through a lot and I didn’t want to force her to rehash her past. Perhaps the time had come for me to call and ask her about it. I dialled her number on my cell and hoped that she wasn’t too busy to not pick up.
“Hi mom, it’s me Thuto,” I said with a sigh. The last thing I wanted to ask her about was the man in that picture but I had no choice. “I need to…” she cut me off before I could finish my question.
“What’s wrong, my boy?” she asked concerned. She always had a knack for knowing when something was bothering me.
“I’ve been looking at that photo album you gave me a couple of years ago and somethings bothering me. There’s a picture in there of a man holding a baby, I assumed that that baby was me, but who is the man holding me then?” I said quickly afraid that I’d change my mind.
My mom was quiet for a moment then she said, “I’m coming to your work place now. We’ll talk about it when I get there.” She then hung up while I sat staring at the phone in my hand.
My heart was pounding so fast in my chest, who could this man be and why did the mention of him make my mother act so strange? She used to turn red with anger whenever my siblings and I asked her about our father. Could that man in the picture be my father? I wondered about that ever since she gave me that album.
I got up and stood at my office window, it was snowing outside, and it had been like that for the past three days. Snow wasn’t something that my country or town experienced a lot but when it snowed the town’s people relished in the whiteness that covered everything from cars, houses and buildings.
I thought about how I used to hate the snow when I was still young. I loved playing outside with my siblings and cousins, but we couldn’t play outside if it snowed. Mom used to say that we’d get sick if she allowed us to play outside in the snow. As I wait for my mother to arrive, I get lost in my day dream.
Standing at the bedroom window that I shared with my three of my siblings, I’d watch the snow fall with bloodshot eyes. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. Piet and Karabo were still asleep as I listen to the TV, there was a weather man saying that more snow was expected but that it was unusual for snow to fall in the interior of the country.
It usually snows in places with high hills and mountain tops like the Cape, Durban and Johannesburg. Later that morning the snow subsided, my cousins and I decided then to go window shopping at the mall. This is how we spent most of our free time; walking around the mall and looking at things that we like and want but can’t afford. I stood in front of the sports shop for a while admiring the cricket outfit through the window. That’s something I desperately wanted my mom to buy me as a gift when I was a child but she refused to buy me a cricket set. Mom used to say that education was more important than sports.
My cousins saw me standing there and decided to enter the shop in order to look around. I checked out all the cricket equipment and saw a bat and ball on a stand. I took and shoved the ball into my pocket while no one was looking and casually walked out of the store with the bat. When I reached the door, the store’s alarm went off. There was a loud buzzing sound followed by a heavy security guard who grabbed me by my arm before I could turn and run.
The security guard took me to go stand by the payment counter and asked me to empty my pockets. My cousins stood watching from the door, none of them came to my rescue. I did as I was told and took the ball out and handed it to the man. He had already taken the bat out of my hands. The security guard then gave me a stern warning about theft. I stood there being lectured about stealing while all the other shoppers looked at me with disgust. I saw the girl from school on which I had a big crush on and was immediately filled with shame and embarrassment.
They asked me for my mother’s number and called her. The way my mother covered up for me that day when she arrived was remarkable to me. I thought that she would beat me senseless or ground me but she didn’t do any such thing. Since that day I have come to depend on her whenever I found myself in a crises or trouble. In that moment, I realised that she would always come through for me no matter what.
Even with the personal crisis, she was always there whenever I needed her. Then I heard a knock on my door that pulled me out of my reverie. I knew that it was my mother on the other side of my door. My hands started sweating because I was nervous off the news that she was about to reveal to me. I was now going to get answers that would put the unfixed puzzle of my life into place.
“Come on in mom,” I said forgetting that I had locked the door. When she didn’t immediately come in, I remembered that the door was locked. I ran to the door to unlock it aware that my mother was cursing on the other side of it. Once the door was open, mom came in and surveyed my office. The shake of her head told me that she disapproved of the state it was in; the dustbin was overflowing with papers and rubbish while my desk was piled with a range of messy folders.
Quickly I arranged the files in order and set them next to my laptop then poured her a cup of coffee. Mom emptied my dustbin into a black plastic bag she fund in my drawer then opened my window slightly to let fresh air in. The difference was welcome, it looked like the office of a respected man and that is how I thought of myself.
Mom then gave me a hug and took seat opposite me at my desk. The nervous look on her face told me that what she came to tell me bothered her very much. I felt a bit uncomfortable because I was the one who was supposed to be disgruntled and uncomfortable. My mother then sat up straight and crossed her legs this gave her a look of authority. I just smiled at that.
“You still have a brimming smile and joyful face, dear,” she said smiling at me.
I chuckled at her statement; mom had a way with words when it came to flattery and making a person feel at ease. I relaxed back into my chair and looked at her with anticipation.
“I have something for you,” she said.
“Does it have anything to do with the photo album,” I asked cutting to the chase.
I knew that the baby in the picture was me all I needed from my mom was validation that the man holding the baby was my father. She took the photo album as I handed it to her. After flipping though some of the pictures in it, her eyes filled with tears. I could feel the pain she was feeling for having to look at those pictures. My mother wasn’t a person that dwelled on the past. In all my life I had never seen her cry, seeing her do so made me feel guilty.
“So, I’m guessing that’s my father, the same father that abandoned me?” I asked pointing at the picture of the man holding a baby boy. I felt sorry for having to ask because my mother had worked hard to raise my siblings, cousins and I on her own.
“No, he didn’t leave us, my son. I along with my family chased him way because I had fallen in love with another man. I asked your father to leave us and never come back because I no longer loved him. I’m so sorry, my son,” she said sobbing into her handkerchief.
I didn’t know what to say next, I was in shock and disbelief. How could a mother do that to her children? She allowed me to grow up hating my own father for something that wasn’t his fault. From that day onwards to the day that she died, I swore that I’d never forgive her. Even now after her death, I still haven’t forgiven her, I’m not sure I ever will.
Tell us what you think: When someone is angry at someone else, who suffers the most?