And as the car stood running, the American waiting inside, every minute or two shouting: “We will be late. We will miss our plane!” out of the open window, Sylvia’s mother stooped down next to Sylvia in the well-swept dirt of the lolwapa, even though she wore the expensive white suit the American had bought her.

“I will come and see you one day and you will be a big, clever, girl. You will go to university and have so many choices and not have to sell your life away like your silly, stupid mother.”

Sylvia remembered the tears falling from her mother’s beautiful eyes, and the long, low moaning sound her Gran made deep in the night, while she thought Sylvia lay asleep next to her.

They managed though, Sylvia and her Gran. Sylvia hardly noticed how their sadness hid behind the tasks of living.

Then the time came for Sylvia to go to the rich people’s school. On a hot summer morning she went with her Gran, who carried a thick roll of money in her dress pocket.

When Sylvia saw the school, she thought perhaps she had been taken to another country. Green, grass-covered lawns were being watered from hidden pipes in the ground. Flowerbeds bloomed in every rainbow colour. Children laughed and chased each other around brightly painted jungle gyms and swings.

Sylvia had never seen a school like this. She only knew the government school near their home, with its wide, dusty yard scattered with broken desks. She smiled at her Gran, but her Gran only looked at her with a face Sylvia had never seen before. It was a face of anger and fear at the same time. Sylvia wondered if Gran was afraid of the water shooting from the ground … or maybe she was afraid of the children swinging high on the swings.

“You must behave now do you hear?” Gran said in someone else’s voice.

Ee mma,” Sylvia said, wondering how her Gran could be frightened and angry when everything looked so lovely.

They walked up the shiny, polished, red steps of the brick building. A thin, white woman sat at the desk. She spoke in English to her Gran and her Gran spoke back looking down at the floor the whole time. She handed the woman the big roll of money and the woman wrote out a paper and handed it to her Gran.

When they went out of the door, back to the shiny steps, Sylvia was surprised to see that a small group of children had gathered. They stared at her and her Gran as they walked down the path and out of the front gate.

In the morning, Gran woke Sylvia before the sun and washed her in the big zinc bathtub outside. Then she brought out Sylvia’s brand new school uniform and shiny black school shoes.

“You look smart Sylvia. Very smart,” Gran said, turning her around to see all sides and smiling.

Before reaching the school, Sylvia’s Gran stopped. “It’s better I leave you here, Sylvia. There’s the gate, can you see it?” Sylvia nodded. “You go in that gate and ask for the Standard One class. They will take you there; just tell them your name. Be a good girl. I will be right here when you finish.”

Sylvia looked at her Gran and wondered why she was behaving so oddly. Perhaps she was sad that all day she would be at home alone without Sylvia to talk to.


Tell us what you think: Why is the grandmother behaving like this?