Date released:
September 15, 2021
October 2, 2021
Category:
Short story
Photo credit:
Jeison Higuita

The New Normal

Mohammed went to bed before the fowls. No person cried, not even his immediate family members. It was just one of those things the people had wished to talk about in their faraway tones, but they allowed the unsaid waste away as fast as the urge to say them had come. They trusted no one, not even the walls, which are said to have ears.

A woman sat by his corps. Her eyes held something almost impossible to read. Hesitantly, she cast a quick glance at the mangled remains of her son. She could now hear her dead mother's voice splitting her head with the old tunes she knew. Then, subconsciously, she joined her, and both their thin, sonorous voices became an inseparable orchestra as they belted out the lyrics of, "cloud has become the part of the sky."

Mohammed was returned to the dust as the sun peeked out from the hills, and life moved on without him. As the sun beamed all over her clay-coloured body, the woman felt a new sense of loss. The sun had smiled on her yesterday as a mother, but today it burned her as a woman stripped of everything. In the space of a single day, her motherhood was gone with the wind.

She raised her bland face to meet the lavish beam of the sun, grinning at it, a quick, dry, mirthless, knowing look. She knew she was alone now. The sun used to mean life to her. When the sun grinned widely and slanted across her now fallen but dignified, child-bearing bossoms, she felt it penetrating and warming her chest, making them heave with life, her own immortality. She would excitedly, almost singing, tell her children that God was in the sun, smiling lavishly to the assurance of her motherhood. A proud mother of four boys.

Today, the sun didn't have its old, familiar feel. She could feel the sun laughing at her with all its teeth. How could one explain why it shone more harshly today? She felt something heavy down her waist. She shook her body to shake off the weight, but whatever it was still hung on to her stubbornly. She stretched out her long legs, which reminded her of her first son. People said he would never stumble because he had his mother's legs, but he actually did stumble, never to rise again.

Her gaze shifted from her legs and settled on an earthworm slithering across the dry ground. She lifted one of her legs, firm and determined, eyes closed, to smash it to pieces, like those bandits had done to her four boys, but something stopped her. Watching it now slither innocently way, oblivious of any danger, she felt a strain in her neck. She found herself smiling upon the realisation that she had not stripped a mother somewhere of its precious child.  She saw the earthworm clearly now before it faded out of her sight. It was her third child, the one with a soft smooth brown skin like a brown body dipped in oil. She knew her bitter self still had something the blood-thirsty bandits didn't have; the warmth of humanity.

A palm wine taper waddled past; his countenance fixed on the face of the fresh grave. She huffed loudly. That was exactly what the villagers had become; professional wine tapers who don't say all that they saw on the top of palm trees. But unlike the tapers who kept mute out of professionalism, the villagers didn't say all they knew out of fear. Not fear of death, but the fear of living. Her children's stories were not theirs to tell. The news of their murder by the bandits was doctored, even 'nursed'. The government believed it sounded better that way.

She took her eyes off the palm wine taper and was stunned by her second son, Malik, who stood smiling at her. She wondered how long she had kept him standing. She rushed at him like the wind, and reached out to feel the softness of his creased smile, the bristle of his curly black hair, and the warmth of his chest that trusted easily like a child. Her little child, scared of this battered woman, scampered off crying. She knew she would not cry, but she didn't know exactly why.

She resumed her probe on the void before her. It had once again taken something from her. Her four boys were brought home from the farm gruesomely murdered. The space before her would vomit what it stole from her when the sun turned red. He would be here to smile and kiss them home as a dog would wait for its owner's return from work by the compound at dusk.

The sun was now red, but there were no cackles of the larger than life voice and laughter of Mohammed anywhere, only a hawk hovering about. She remembered that as children, they always hunted this creature. A wry smile escaped her drooping lips, and she staggered to her hut and emerged with a nail and hammer. Quick and swift, she drove the nail through her own shadow. She fell to the floor, visionless, thoughtless and breathless

—a minute after, she pinched her arm and winced. Jarred by the pain, she realised that she was still that old, battered woman, stripped of everything but life and memories.

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