Mother for 24 Hours

By Moseka Phiona

The extremely hot sun hit my bald head as I ran to look for a tree shade to cool off. I would have walked but the earth beneath me was so hot it felt like walking on hell’s grounds, I’d presume. I wanted to get some mangoes from the nice old man’s compound. They were the sweetest mangoes I’d ever had.

Rumbling and screams came from behind me. My soul literally left my body, fear ran through my body like a marathon, and I started to run as fast as my eight year old tiny legs could carry me. With tears in my eyes I started thinking of my family, if they were safe or running behind me in that crowd. What if they are not ? How will I find them? Are we going to run to another unknown place again? At this point I didn’t know if I should turn back for mama and the rest or if I should just keep on running.

As I was lost in my thoughts, I fell to the ground all of a sudden. I was so confused and there was a sting on my knee, as I looked to my knees I started crying so loudly after I saw the blood. Does pain come only when the eyes have seen the injury? Well that’s a question for another day… So back to what I was saying, I kept crying until I heard a woman shouting “I hope my son and husband are there.”

That’s when it hit me like dejavu: this was just like the time my mama and I arrived at this refugee camp when I was four. Families were running to the buses that dropped us off at the camp sites, new refugee arrivals. I remember sitting in one of those buses for what seemed like an eternity. Mama prayed the entire time until we reached this “promised land.”

I got a little strength and pulled myself up from the human stampede and started running again to the bus stop area since I got so curious to see the new arrivals. I halted when I saw the several buses and all the people coming out, families reuniting with tears in their eyes. For some reason I was smiling and tearing up as well when a little boy caught my attention. He was about five to six years old. He sat by the bus, sobbing and looking so confused and hungry. He barely had anything on aside from a torn red T-shirt. Well, that wasn’t shocking since I had just a big T-shirt on myself as well. I found my way through the crowd of crying families to him, sat next to him and smiled. He smiled through the tears in his eyes. “Sango,” I said. “Malamu,” he replied. I asked where his mama was and he said he didn’t know. My heart sank, I couldn’t imagine life without my mama. He was just a little child all alone in this new place.

The bus hooted signaling that it was getting ready to leave. I held his hand and got to the roadside and said, “I’m called Seka and you ?”

“Brian” he said softly.

“Do you want to come home and eat food and play with me and my friends ? Today we are eating sombe at home. Do you like sombe?”

He nodded and we started walking back to our tent. “The ground here is so hot we should run so that it doesn’t burn so much,” I said to him. He nodded again and we started skipping and running as I showed him where some of my friends lived,the school we all go to and the shop with the best sweets. I stopped all of a sudden and asked him if I could be his mama. He nodded again and laughed. I was so happy I took out my 50 shilling coin from where I had tied it to my shirt. Mama had given it to me a while back for having good results in school. I had been saving it for when school opened and I always moved with it everywhere I went to show my friends, but today was the day I was going to use it. I skipped to the other side of the road with my son right behind me, and we stopped at a shop. I passed the shopkeeper the coin and pointed at the pink sweets, they were four for 50 shillings. He passed over the sweets and I handed over two to my son. He smiled and thanked me. I will be the best mom ever, I thought to myself with a wide smile on my face as we continued with our run home. We approached our tent and I saw Dede picking some sticks for firewood. Well if you were thinking who Dede was? That’s the term we use for grandmother.

“Dede, Dede look I have a son,” I screamed as we approached the tent. Dede stood up to see us ,not sure she had heard what I said so I kept repeating. “Dede Dede look I have a son, I found him at the bus drop off.” Her jaw dropped as her eyes grew wide with shock.

“Gutru,” she called out for mama as we approached her.

I turned to Brian: “This is your big Dede now,” and I introduced him to her. Mum came out from the kitchen area which was a plastic carpet that divided the compound. Every family at the camp was allocated a square portion of land and mama divided our square into three parts. On one side we had the bathroom and latrine, the other side had the tents we slept in and the third section was the kitchen all divided by this white and blue plastic carpet that was used for mainly constructing the living spaces. Confused, Mama asked who my friend was and with so much excitement I told her what had happened and how he became my son. Her eyes grew just like Dede’s did as she looked over from Brian to Dede. We stood in silence for a second until Mama said, “But Seka, it’s not right to pick up someone from the bus drop off without them being registered, we have to take him back, maybe his family might be looking for him.”

“But I am his mama now, I don’t want him to leave, he will not have a bed if he goes back, what if he gets cold and alone and scared?” I started sobbing while Brian stood behind me holding my hands as his face was planted on my back.

“Okay okay, he can sleep here tonight and keep warm but tomorrow we shall have to take him back to the registration offices and ask for his family, if there is no family then he can become your new brother but not your son my dear,” Dede said with a warm smile as she held both me and Brian’s hands and led us to the tent.

That night we played hide and seek with our friends before supper and after supper we sat by the fire like we always did every night. But tonight I had my son with me and he was happy, he never spoke much but with the cute wide smile he had and his tiny fingers wrapped around my little fingers I knew deep down in my heart that he was happy. Mama covered us with a blanket as we listened to the folk stories grandma told us. We mostly had stories about the brave Mr Hare and the bad wolf. I had always wanted to be as brave as Mr Hare and as quick as him. Finally we went to bed and my son was happy, I could see it—in fact I could feel it, that really made my heart warm and happy. We slept peacefully.

The next morning we woke up as early as 6 am and went to the neighbor’s compound to play dodgeball before breakfast. Later, Mama bathed both me and Brian and had him wear one of my T-shirts and church shoes. I was too small for an eight year old so the clothes fit him perfectly. The sun was not as hot yet so mama carried Brian on her back as Dede carried me. When I reached the registration office, there were so many people already there.

“How are we going to be able to find Brian’s parents or family?” Mama said to Dede.

“Mummy,” Brian shouted as he struggled to get off mama’s back. A tall thin dark woman turned around. She had been crying, it was clear, her eyes were puffy like she had not slept or eaten the entire night. As soon as she saw Brian she screamed for joy and ran to us. Mama untied Brian and the two hugged so tightly. We all stood with smiles on our faces as we watched the two reunite. I on the other hand had tears in my eyes, happy and sad at the same time. He was finally with his mama and I had to let him go. They were so happy together and I’d never been happier…Mama pulled me to her arms and gave me a tight hug and whispered “It’s alright Seka, he is going to be safe and happy now, you made sure he was okay yesterday. I’m proud of you for helping someone when you felt he had no one.”

On that day seeing Brian reunite with his Mama and seeing how happy they both were, I understood how important it is to care for others. They don’t have to be your family by blood but they can be your family by choice and heart. I learned to give and care not because I have so much to give but because I’ve known from an early stage of my life what it means to have nothing and pray for help that never comes.


22 December, 2022