Let It Rain: Broken Porcelain on a Red Stoep Pt I
Trigger and content warning for graphic descriptions of deliberate manipulation, gaslighting, corporeal violence; self- harm; queer-antagonism, rape and child-neglect.]
“I won’t let myself be forgiven; I won’t say that I’ve done wrong. I’ve been stuck in my ways, but out of my mind. Did what I did ‘cause I had to survive. I won’t let myself be forgiven; I don’t need to justify.” – Kwabs, ‘Forgiven’ (2015)
January 1st, 2012
It had been almost five years since I’d last seen my mother. She was standing on the stoep outside her four room house, one hand on her apron-clad hip and the other tightly clutching the wooden handle of a brand new mop. She had a khaki spoti over her shoulder length grey-black hair and a sharp, mean look in her small black eyes. Her height and body filled the door frame. Her anger was palpable from the other side of the silver-grey fence that surrounded the threadbare garden in front of her home. The denim sleeveless dress she wore was slightly worn in the hem and its buttons strained against her big breasts. Her neck looked soft despite still being quite long and elegant and her ankles seemed to be slightly swollen. I could smell the heady aroma of cooking tripe from outside; one of her many culinary specialties. I wondered who she was preparing that particular meal for since I was certain my brothers had left home almost as long ago as I had. She had never wanted a man around and she barely spoke to our neighbours. Perhaps some things had changed in the time that I had been away.
“Why are you just standing there, looking at me like a fool?” she demanded.
Perhaps some things hadn’t changed at all.
I let myself into the yard through the small gate in the short fence. I approached her and the house, wearily. She looked me up and down and up again with a facial expression that suggested that a bad smell had suddenly settled underneath her nose. She sucked her teeth in disgust and turned back into the house to finish mopping it. I stood outside the front door for a moment, my stomach turning with fear. I heard her throw out the bucket of dirty cleaning water and ring and rinse the mop in the tap outside in the back of the house. I heard her walk back into the kitchen and tend to her pots. In addition to the strong smell of ulusu I caught a whiff of cooking phuthu and spinach. I smelled the onion and garlic she added to the meat and the pinch of barbeque spice she sprinkled in addition. I imagined her large fingers working quickly and deftly, her brow furrowed in concentration and slight annoyance. I took a deep breath and steeled myself for her wrath as I walked into her spotless, aromatic kitchen. There was steam rising from the three pots on her small black stove. Her broad back was turned to me while she worked on them.
“Sorry for dropping by unannounced, Mama,” I said as I sat on one of the kitchen chairs.
“You kids have never respected me. I don’t expect you to start now,” she muttered, while pouring a little more water into the pot of spinach.
I sighed. “Can I help with any of that?”
She turned around and glared at me momentarily then handed me the wooden spoon she was using to stir the phuthu. I stood up and took it from her. While I stirred the pap I caught sight of the carpet-like chunks of meat and the springy brown intestines boiling among them in the other pot. This time my stomach was moved by hunger. I could see my mother watching me intently out of the corner of my eye. I wondered how she felt about the tattoos snaking their way up and around my neck, visible through the collar of the black button-up shirt I was wearing with a pair of beige chinos. I wondered if she was impressed by the neatness of my high-top fade which I refreshed every other week so it always looked sleek. I wondered if my multiple piercings in each ear annoyed her and if she noticed that my chest was unnaturally flat because I had taken to wearing binders. This was the first time she was seeing me in my full studly regalia and speculating about how she felt about me looking this way filled me with a quiet terror. She kept her thoughts to herself, however, and we cooked quietly side by side, until the meal was ready.
It was my therapist who had suggested I visit my mother. I had been seeing her for about a year; after my last really bad break-up. She had advised me to go to the source of my pain and try commencing the journey of healing, there. I told her she was wrong; that that would be a terrible mistake but she had insisted and because I was also curious about how my mama was doing, I’d decided to go ahead and pay her a visit. Her stony silence as she ladled food into baby blue porcelain plates made me feel that my initial instinct about coming here had been correct. It would only be a matter of time before her anger broke through the banks of her silence and some kind of violence led me fleeing from her hot little house. I had forgotten how hot her house always got. Even with all the windows and the doors on both ends of the place wide open the heat caused rivulets of sweat to fall down my back and over my long sideburns. She also had a soft spray of sweat all across her furrowed brow but she didn’t seem to notice or mind it. She barely noticed the flies that danced too closely to her plate of food as she ate. I spent more time angrily waving those demons away than actually enjoying the meal.
“Ufunani lana, Leroy?” she asked when the final morsel of ulusu, phuthu and spinach had been eaten.
“I thought I’d come and see how you were doing, mama,” I said quietly.
“Humph. Why now after all this time?”
“I’m almost 30, ma. I wanted to come home and make things right between us.” I offered.
She sucked her teeth again and stood up to pour herself a cold glass of coca cola. She didn’t offer me one and I knew better than to ask for it. I took a deep breath and tried again.
“My therapist also thought it would be a good idea for me to come and see you. To try and heal. I think we both need healing, you know?” I was trying not to start crying as memories of my childhood and teens came flooding back.
In my mind’s eye I saw how my mother had come home one day, when I was in grade 12 and instead of insulting me or hitting me as she usually did; she had taken my school uniform and a few other items of my clothing and tossed them into a suitcase. She had been fuming but she didn’t say a single word to me until my belongings had been flung outside her house and she’d declared “I will not have a filthy lesbian living in my house.” I’d started shaking and tried to deny that whatever she had heard about me wasn’t true but she had stood next to that open front door waiting for me to step into the cold darkness beyond it. I remembered whispering through my tears that I had nowhere to go and no one to go to; her telling me that none of that was any of her concern. I remembered sleeping in a backroom of the tavern down the road and the owner of the place, mam’Stella, who had since died from being stabbed by her ex boyfriend, coming to negotiate for me to return home till at least I was done with school. I remembered her allowing me back home the next morning and barely speaking to me until my matric academic year was done and then her telling me I could go back to Stella’s because she had honored her end of the deal by keeping me there till I was done with high school.
I remembered how my best friends at the time, Latoya and Malaika had helped me apply for university and secure a bursary to study Pharmacy. I remembered coming back here five years ago, when my degree was done and I was making good money as a pharmacist’s assistant and I wanted to share some of it with her. She hadn’t come to my graduation or been in any way involved with my tertiary education journey. It was as though I didn’t exist to her anymore. And when I showed up on her doorstep in 2007, shortly after my break up with Laika, she had gotten up from the plastic-covered sofa in her lounge and grabbed the china sets she had been saving for my wedding day and started hurtling them at me until I backed all the way out of the front door. She didn’t stop throwing that delicate china out from the room divider. I stood outside the door watching the steady rain of broken porcelain land on her spotless red stoep. When there was none of it left to throw at me, she had come charging at me with fury and hatred in her eyes.
“Out!” she had shrieked. “Futsek! Futsek!” she yelled pushing me through the small gate in the short fence that ran around the yard and her house.
I walked through the whispers and stares of our neighbors gathered around our house, filled with shame and a sadness unlike anything I had ever felt before.
“I have nothing to heal,” she was saying in the present. The way she avoided making eye contact with me told me that she was also thinking about the incident with the china set. “You’re the one with a sickness. I don’t understand why you couldn’t just be a normal girl. Maybe it’s because you just had brothers around you as a child. But many girls have only brothers for siblings and they don’t turn out to be like this,” she said the last word with a look that let me know exactly how she felt about my appearance.
“You know, mama, there’s nothing wrong with the way I am. Many people are gay and lesbian. It was once very normal here in Africa,” I began.
“Hheyi, shut up wena! Just shut up!” she yelled. My mouth instantly clamped shut.
“I don’t need you to come in here and tell me stories about what’s normal and not normal. No child of mine is going to have this sickness, in my house, do you understand me? And if you can’t accept that then you can go back to wherever the hell you’ve been the past five years. I will not accept it.”
I suddenly felt 29 years worth of anger rising inside of me.
“I wonder if this is how you’d react if one of your sons who’ve been in and out of jail came home right now. They’ve never done anything for you. I’ve been sending you money and gifts since I started working. I actually love you. I’ve worked extra hard to make you proud. I’ve been a good child and an even better adult and yet you love those useless brothers of mine more than you love me. Were you expecting one of them when you made all this food? Have they been coming here like this is some kind of pit stop between their next crime and jail time? Is that why you make these big meals? In case they come home and say they’re hungry? Me loving women is unacceptable to you but having criminals for sons is perfectly okay?” I felt spit flying from my mouth as I shouted at her.
She kept her eyes glued to the wall directly opposite her. They were cold, hard and remained dry; while mine were red from the crying which I couldn’t stop as I remembered, with a searing pain, all of the ways she had rejected and neglected me.
“You can leave my house now.” She said quietly, barely hiding her disgust in the way she glared at me. I got up from the table.
“You know that night you kicked me out and I wound up sleeping in mam’Stella’s tavern? Her boyfriend snuck into the backroom I was sleeping in and raped me. I hope you think of that the next time you visit one of your sons in prison or worse yet have to go identify one of their bodies in the mortuary.” I was shaking as I slowly walked out of her house. I felt as though I was going to vomit. I hadn’t thought of the incident in the tavern since it happened. I had never spoken about it to another living human being. Not even Latoya or Laika knew about it. I had a feeling that mam’Stella knew the kind of man her boyfriend was and that was why she had broken up with him shortly after my visit there. I had never told her about what had happened and for years I was riddled with guilt over her death. If she had known for sure she may have been prepared for him the night he returned to her tavern, in a drunken jealous rage. I had no idea why I had returned to this place. It was filled with too much pain for me to grapple with. Just as I stepped off my mother’s red stoep I heard something whizzing in my direction. I jumped to the side just as the baby blue plate I’d just finished eating from crashed onto the newly mopped red concrete.
Mercy Thokozane Minah © The Letter X Publishing House, 2018. You can support my work using this tip service and buy me coffee.
This post was first published on the blog The Letter to X.
Read the entire series of these stories under #LetItRainSeries, published every Wednesday, Part II is coming next week. For all the articles and pieces on #QueeringTheCloak (our series on abuse and violence in queer women communities) click here.
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