In the distance I hear someone calling my name “Anna”. But I can’t quite coordinate the right parts of my body to figure out from whom and from where the voice is coming. Maybe it’s one of my relatives seated on the sofa across from me. I know that I am sitting on a big brown couch. My head is facing down. I am studying the uneven maroon floor. I’ve been in this house many times before. It’s my mother’s best friend’s home. It’s Aunty Helen’s house. This house is permanently stuck in the the nineties; every inch plastered in precious childhood memories. Aunty Helen has six dark auburn wooden tables. They sometimes double as stools for the children. Today, because of this meeting, they covered by white clothes with embroidered blue and red flowers in the middle, and matching trim around the edges.
Before the meeting, Aunty Helen purposely placed a stool near me. She put a glass of freshly made passion juice on it. She served me, as though I was still the little girl who used to visit with my mother. I watched her put some extra sugar in my glass. Maybe it will help sweeten the proceedings? But even as the meeting commenced, I knew I had already failed her.
Since this all began, I have been unable to focus. My mind is stuck. It is stuck between the present and the past, getting choked up in memories and emotions. My mind is jumbled up like a garbage dump site, full of everything one can imagine, but nothing anyone needs. I can’t differentiate between my dreams and reality. I am literally in pieces.
From my childhood, I remember one yellow colored afternoon asleep on my Aunty’s couch, I kept coming in and out of a sickly slumber, a damp face towel on my forehead and my mother reassuringly rubbing my back. I woke to hear the faint whispers of my aunty’s and my mother’s conversation. Andrew and aunty’s sons were outside, playing football. I think maybe more than once I heard a sob from my mother or even my aunty. I instinctively knew to remain still. I learnt long ago the consequences of interrupting adult conversation. I heard their pain clearly. The pain of ‘mistresses’, ‘unclaimed children’, ‘masked bruises’.
Suddenly, G.A.D brings me back into the meeting.
“Look, is that a gun under your Aunty’s chair? ” He gasps
G.A.D is the part of me that always requires convincing. Today he’s struggling to understand the point of Aunty Helen ‘s meeting, even though he’s aware it is important. I am already losing my patience.
“Stop your stupid games!” I snap.
I am grateful, this is an internal conversation. G.A.D lives in my head. I can only assume people in the meeting can’t hear him. Across from me, Aunty Helen is giving us a strange look, like she’s caught me in some terrible mischief; I hope she hasn’t figured us out.
I am not sure when G.A.D came into my life, but I feel as though he has always been there, maybe just appearing in different forms. He wasn’t there that day at the mortuary as the silver drawer was pulled out to reveal my mother’s lifeless body. G.A.D appeared in this current form two weeks after, when I found myself curled up in the fetal position on the floor of my parent’s dressing room. I was covered in my mother’s clothes like an Ethiopian dessert nomad, who’s put up camp for the night on the marble tiled floor. My face was swollen and puffy, I had somehow completely cried my voice into a hoarse crocky whisper. It was G.A.D who told me I’d been lying there for hours. I must have locked myself in the night before. I can’t remember.
Eventually, they broke down the bedroom door and a scuffle enshrewed. I am not a fighter, but G.A.D told me to fight, so I did. He told me to slap my father’s mistress across the face, which I did.
“Pull her cheap plastic weave out!” G.A.D shouted “... Remove your mother’s clothes. We say NO! ”
After an hour, the mistress retreated with pieces of her pulled out light brown weave dangling from her head to her shoulder. The housegirl followed closely behind masking her amusement at my latest antics. The Relatives waiting at the bottom of stairs to pretend-comfort her. G.A.D let out a Braveheart like battle cry and I continued to lie on the floor, my body now spread out like a star fish basking in my morning triumph, numb to the bruises and cuts on my arms from the mistress’s fake acrylic nails. Sometimes, it actually pays to be crazy.
G.A.D stands for Grief, Anxiety and Depression. I call him G.A.D for short. Imagine those bald goblin statues perched high up on the ledges of those Medieval European churches, that’s what G.A.D looks like. My mother once joked “Africans don’t get sicknesses in their heads, only bazungu do.” I wish I could ask her, “But mom, what is going on in my mind now? Who should I tell? Who should I speak too?”
In today’s meeting G.A.D has placed himself high on the top of my Aunty’s mahogany cabinet, the one that has the valuable ornaments. He is cunningly looking for the opportunity to disrupt everything
“No! We need to focus. F.O.C.U.S. Cooooome on! Use your ears, put the sounds together, what are they saying? ” Get- it Together raises her little hands in frustration. She is bringing my wondering mind back into the meeting. Like G.A.D, no one can hear or see Get-It-together.
Get-it-Together points at the adults in the room. The conversations and their faces pour through me like water in a cheap plastic bag full of pin holes. I have to try. I have to focus. I start by looking up at the wall, at a familiar crack I have seen so many times before, then I let my eyes wonder to where my Aunty is sitting, just for some comfort. Slowly I persuade my body to do what it was supposed to do. I can’t send too many instructions because my body gets easily confused now. So, I try to get my ears to pick anything, any of the voices, any of the sounds. I wait for the sound particles to bounce off my ear drum. Then I wait for my mind to recognize the order and make words. Hopefully we shall be able to make sentences. However, I only manage to get a few words though, “her will”, “Andrew”, two vehicles”, “a block of apartments”. The rest of the sounds lay discarded, broken and unused on floor of my mind. The pieces to a puzzle I have given up trying to put together.
We have these strange members of our family nicknamed The Relatives. When someone dies, they show up at the deceased’s house before the body has even reached the mortuary. They cry with the bereaved, while they eat and drink every morsel of food and drink in the fridge, and the kitchen cupboards. After a while, The Relatives got tired of my tears. They got irritated by my sadness, and they insisted that life had to start to move on. Every morning they would brush and comb my hair after I got dressed, then force me to sit at the dining table and eat. Several weeks after my mother’s death, when I became calmer and less acute to emotional outbursts from G.A.D’s influence, they started to ask me weird questions about my birth certificate, and my mother’s property. Then they started to frequently request our family albums, to compare my brother’s features against mine.
I found myself unable to cope, and that’s when Get-It-Together appeared. She’s a regular little miss perfect. She makes sure we go to work. She makes sure we attend classes. It’s a constant struggle between the three of us, but her job is to keep us focused. With her, we can convince everybody that I’m not falling apart. A flowery scent lingers in air when she around. And you can’t miss her Tiara or her perfectly ironed yellow frilly summer dress. Her hair is flawlessly styled, not a strand out place. It’s a shame no one can see her.
I wonder how my big brother copes, by himself. I wonder whether he has also split himself into three or four to help keep himself afloat. He barely says a word in our phone conversations, keeping his emotions locked up tight inside of him, maybe he thinks The Relatives are eavesdropping.
“Hi Cupcake.” he says when I answer the phone, he is brave for me, even though he is the one who is alone.
And on cue, once again, Get-it-Together starts coaxing me back in to this present moment, back into this very important meeting. I see bodies rising and hands meeting and colliding. Then they start to disappear, some in groups and some one by one. I think I see a briefcase with files of papers being closed and locked. It still seems hazy to me. As usual my stubborn body refused to co-ordinate it’s may parts . I have failed. I have failed my Aunty.
You can read part 1 of the story here