I always watched her— each time my mother left for the farm with her dirty straw basket placed gingerly over her head, after giving me a stern warning not to step a foot out of the house—from our little window.
She was all sticks and bones. With a fragile neck that sported huge collar bones, deep enough to hold a bowl of water. Sometimes I feared her neck would snap from the weight of the head it had to carry. Her long hair, perpetually unmade, stood all over the place and I watched her flip it back in annoyance each time it came over her face. Her skin was unattractive; filled with marks and bites that she would scratch at harshly with long and thin fingers. She was always barefooted with a tattered and dirty looking wrapper tied loosely around her waist. She would sit under the mango tree very close to the open pavement where she slept in, waiting for the passing villagers to drop whatever they could into her little plastic bowl. My heart ached terribly each time I watched my mother walk pass her with nothing more than a glance in her direction.
Each night, I looked on as the young girl battled with the mosquitoes that confidently forced her to listen to their songs and pricked her skin for payments. Her wrapper, not wide enough to cover all of her, offered little protection against them.
When it rained, she would curl herself into a ball and rub her palms together to create heat while her teeth chattered uncontrollably. Sometimes, she would sit up and cry to herself, permitting the sound of her sobs to get lost admist the patter of the rain.
I would walk around to the mango tree after my mother had gone to bed and watch her from there, taking in each of her pain knowing I had it better. I would look on till my eyes felt heavy before making my way back into the warmth of my house.
I felt guilty each time I thought about her, knowing there was no way I could make her situation better. My mother and I had been living from hand to mouth since the demise of my father. Our only source of livelihood was the little farm my grandfather had passed on to her. She planted cassava, pepper and tomato on it and sold it at the market every harvest season.
One late afternoon, an idea struck me. I packed up all my clothes into the polythene bag I took from my mother’s basket and ran up to her with them. I smiled at her warmly as she stared up at me with tears threatening to spill from her eyes. I felt satisfied as she got up to hug me. I didn’t mind the dirt on her skin or the horrible smell of her clothes. I wasn’t so much better off.
I discovered I didn’t mind my mother’s scolding nor my going naked for a while because, unlike her, I had someone who kept me in her arms each time I was cold and made sure a roof stayed over my head.