Bebenya waits to hear Estere’s answer to her mocking question.
Estere stares back at her in anguish. “What do you mean, do I deserve to be punished?”
Once again, Bebenya jumps up from the chair, unable to sit still any longer.
“Why did I get ‘chosen’, as you call it?” she demands. “Because you lost me, or let me go, whatever it was. Right?”
“No!” Estere’s protest is desperate. “No, I … I only did what all the mothers around here did every day. I was a working woman, the same as now. I was tired at the end of a long day, all that travelling to and from work. I was on my feet all day back then, I hadn’t been promoted to the office yet–”
“It’s nothing to do with me,” Bebenya interrupts, turning away. “That was another life. You say, they all say, you’re my family and I’m lucky to be rescued. But you’re like strangers to me. And you don’t love me. You can’t.”
“Of course we love you.”
“How can you? You don’t know me. And I’ve seen how you all look, you and that man, and the boy you call my brother – I’ve seen you when something makes you think of how I’ve been living, what I’ve been doing. Like I’ve shamed you. The Daddy loved us.”
It’s like a hand is clenched around her heart, squeezing painfully, because it’s true. How can anyone else, anyone normal, love her after what she has been?
“No. He made you live like that, do those things,” Estere says.
“He cared about us, he kept us, he helped us to feel better,” Bebenya argues.
“As long as you did what he told you to do.”
“You don’t understand!” Bebenya’s voice rises.
There’s silence. Then Estere laughs, shocking her.
“And at last you sound like a normal teenage daughter: ‘Ma doesn’t understand me.’ And you’re right, I can’t hope to understand it all. But maybe, just maybe, Miss Bebenya, I understand more than you think.”
Then she leaves the room. In a way, Bebenya is relieved. It means she doesn’t have to think of an answer. One of the things she is realising since coming home is that her lack of schooling puts her at a disadvantage in an argument. Even that kid Tsietsi comes across sharper and more sophisticated than her in the way he talks.
So even with what she has been doing all these years, in some ironic way she has remained a child. The Daddy did that, treating her and the other girls as if they were still children, buying them strange clothes that were babyish but sexy at the same time.
Oh God, what is going to become of her? She will never fit into this one-time family of hers.
And what about the community outside these walls? The people out there will judge her, won’t they? Judge her and condemn her.
Tell us what you think: Is Bebenya right; will the community be judgemental?