I finally told my mother I didn’t believe in God and instead of bashing me, she opted to tolerate it.

“So are you a devil worshipper?” she asked me, with this creepy blank expression on her face. Note she didn’t ask me, “So what do you believe in?” or “Why not?” No, she immediately thought: devil worshipper. The words ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ don’t exist in her mind.

I told her ‘no’ and wasn’t able or wanting to explain myself any further. I just lay there in bed while she stood over me quietly, already in her church clothes. She walked out of the room and a part of me expected her to come back with the neighbours, ready to drag me out of bed, and maybe force me into clothes before throwing me into the car. She must have been considering it; I’m sure the idea did cross her mind.

They’d tie me up and we’d go to a different church. We’d look for a tent with a more charismatic pastor. I’d be brought forward, and the pastor would ask me to repeat what I had said in the morning, the whole congregation would gasp. Then from nowhere the pastor would judo-slide me and kneel on my chest, throwing holy water in my face and shouting, “Through the power of Jesus Christ I command you!” till the demon inside me started talking. But that didn’t happen, she just went to church by herself.

She came back after church and there was no iciness except for the fact that she shouted at me for “spending the whole morning without thinking about mopping the floor, or at least cooking Sunday lunch”.

Now that I think about it, church was one of the few things we did together, and the only time we really got to talk on the way to and on the way back. We spoke about school, work and plans for the week. It was our way of figuring out our place in the world. Together. We were choosing how we were going to go about living our day-to-day lives. Were we being good and living up to the standards we set for ourselves every Sunday? Most importantly, I think it helped us keep up to date with who the other person was and was becoming.

My mother is stubborn, not in a loud declamatory way, but in her own quiet, blank-stare kind of way. She’s managed to raise me almost single handedly by herself for almost all of my 17 years, with little help from my father. She’s just about the complete opposite to my old man; I understand how they were never able to get it right together. Forget the neighbours, forget the charismatic pastor and white tent, my father would have done the exorcism himself. He would have quoted long passages from the bible, explaining their meaning in one breath, spittle-boiling on the sides of his mouth. That’s all before finally giving me a chance to repent. And I would have to, he wouldn’t accept no for an answer.

I realise my mother is always going to hope that I repent one day. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. But I am glad she’s trusting and letting me figure things out by myself for a change. This is what love is.