A young woman writes a letter to her mother on her graduation day
Your name on my lips today brings back the countless days when we spent on our knees and elbows singing country music while scrubbing floors till they shone and our knuckles bled. No one could understand your craze for music from a country oceans away, when Amakye Dede and Kojo Antwi ruled the day. And I never understood your tears, whenever you sang Kenny Rogers’ Lucille.
You told me that my very first word was Ma-ma, and for twenty-five years, I have never called you anything else. Today, I am permitted to use your first name, like the sister and best friend that you are. You never knew, but many cold nights while lying on the hard floor on some shop’s verandah, I listened to you snore beside me and softly your name fell on my lips, Amanda, like something sacred. Too precious to be called out loud.
I was just five when the news of Da came. I was sitting at your feet in the sitting room, while you tried to plait my hair; it kept knotting and you kept undoing it. I remember how you kept getting up to look through the window although it was not yet dark. I asked you why, and you told me not to worry, it was just a feeling you were having. I remember that knock on the door, and how you hurried to answer it. I don’t remember anything else. All I remember were your screams Mama…Amanda.
I asked you why you had stopped wearing your beautiful clothes with happy colours. Why, you always wore black and wrapped your hair in scarf. I asked why Da wasn’t coming home. You never answered, but instead, you kissed me on the head and sang Dolly Parton’s Jolene to yourself. I wondered who she was, that Jolene, and hated her for taking Da from us.
You understood names Mama, you believed that names can make or unmake a person. You also believed that names could form a person’s character, so you named me Joanna, meaning, God is gracious. You never shed a tear, you didn’t fight when strangers filled our home. They said they were uncles and aunties from Da’s side. They said that you were not a woman because you had not borne a son. They took everything away; the house, the cars… everything. Even your clothes, and left you with what was on your back.
We couldn’t let people see our shame, so we hid. We slept on verandahs and I helped you scrub shops for coins that we could use to buy food to eat. At night while we waited for the shops to close so that we could sleep on their verandahs, we sat behind bars and listened to Chuck Berry’s, Beautiful Deliah float from the sound systems. Even adversity could not kill your love for music.
How did you do it Mama? How did you put me through secondary school through to university?
The first time my friends saw you, they laughed. They called you names and threw rubbish on the ground for you to pick. That was the day they stopped being my friends.
Today, I may not be the best student, I may not have won laurels, but we have fought Mama. Me and you. I walk this podium with pride, and even if the other parents shift away from you so that you look like an island, remember, you are my island!