Receiving news of a death in the family can be the most paralysing thing ever to be experienced by anyone in this lifetime. When they called my cell phone to inform me of grandma’s passing, I literally hung up on them twice. It probably was the sudden shock to the body. She was my superhero. She gave the biggest bear hugs. She often would cover me in prayer. Till today, I owe some of my victories to her. In her presence, I knew I could get away with almost anything. The truth is, I was spoilt rotten. Before sending me off to school, she had shared with me her strongest desire. It was to meet my future boyfriend and give her blessing to the relationship. She wanted him to buy her a large pizza on the day of introductions, as a way to secure a place in her heart. I can only imagine it was for her to show off to her neighbour friends. Sadly that never got to happen. A part of me believed grandma was immortal. There was no way that this news was real. Then in kicked the denial.
Having been studying in a neighbouring country meant that I had to embark on a very long journey back home for grandma’s funeral. I managed to book the next available bus out of town and thankfully got one of the back seats. The entire journey was so emotionally overwhelming. Like any road trip, the passing scenery just forced my thoughts to wander. Tears continually rolled down my cheeks. I got awkward glances from fellow passengers who weren't sure what was going on. At this point, I was not bothered. I was overwhelmed with heartache. A trip that normally takes twelve hours by road felt like an eternity as I was trying to process this terrible news.
With time, people grow, they relocate and settle down elsewhere. We evolve. That’s just how life works. Upon arrival in the neighbourhood, there wasn't a familiar face in sight. All my childhood friends were not there anymore. The neighbourhood wasn't as glorious as it was back in the day. I would blame the rundown on the bad economic state of the country. The only thing that brought a warm feeling was seeing the shiny address plate with the bold numbers, 2394. I was home.
In my culture, it is common practice at a funeral, for men to be sitting outside, round an open fire and for women to be singing indoors consoling the bereaved. I walked past many people, in my own bubble. I needed to ascertain that she really was no more and I feared that if I spoke to anyone that would distract me from seeing her walking into the house or going to the garden. I ignored the women that were cooking outside and chose to follow the sweet-smelling aroma from the mulberry trees in the garden. Growing up, we had gotten into a lot of trouble from staining our clothes with the mulberry juice but we would always go back for more. There, I zoned out and had a moment of solitude. It just took me way back into time. Amongst all my cousins, I had the blessing of staying with grandma the longest.
One day, as a 7year old, I came back from school, washed my school socks, ate lunch and did homework as per normal routine. After watching the cartoon line up, I went out to play with Seth, a boy neighbour on the other side of the fence. Funny to think of it now, we were never on the same side of the fence. We probably were playing house, Seth being husband and myself the wife and at the very moment that I leaned in for a kiss through the fence opening, I heard a loud shout from my mom, ‘What are you doing, Michelle?’. She had seen us and I knew I was in trouble. Lucky for Seth, he was safe on his turf.
I thought to run around the house thinking that since I run faster than mom she wouldn't catch me. Little did I know that the women had outsmarted me. Mom called for grandma to come to help her catch me. She went after me around one side and grandma around the other side of the house. Grandma was a heavily built woman and constantly complained of sore joints but it seemed as though all of that had miraculously disappeared as she came after me. They caught up and blocked me. There was nowhere to run to. I got the beating of my life. My mom was so angry, the rage in her eyes said it all. Seth and I probably had kissed before. It really didn’t seem to be the first kiss but I don't know where or when we had learnt of kisses. I probably had seen it on TV but even that as an excuse was unacceptable. I knew I wouldn't have the chance to reason with mom. All I did was scream at the top of my lungs. I had hoped that it would get the neighbours’ attention and that they would come to my rescue.
She dragged me indoors, took out a belt and gave me numerous whiplashes. I am dark-skinned but after that encounter with the belt, I was heavily bruised. I couldn't sit nor sleep because I was in excruciating pain. I considered running away from home and even reporting her to the police for child abuse. It really could have gone worse but thankfully grandma stepped in to shield me.
With such a memory, I realised that in as much as her disciplining seemed harsh, it was always laced with love. I learnt to stay away from boys for a very long time and I turned out okay. At that moment I made eye contact with a familiar pair of eyes, my mom’s. I ran into her arms and cried like a baby. This was a confirmation that grandma had gone to be with the Lord and that I would never see her walk around her house.