As the days go by he finds he mourns the passing of the time more than her. For this he bears such crushing guilt he is tormented through his every waking moment, sometimes even in his dreams. She was not, he recognises, an easy or a pleasant woman. Many a time he’d heard her referred to as formidable, cantankerous, nasty and mean.
But for all her numerous faults, she had been his mother; dark-skinned, curly-haired, thick-ankled Doris. No nonsense, take-dat-spoon-on-da-back-of-yar-legs-and-dat-be-a-lesson-to-ya Doris. He’d lived his life in a combination of fear and awe; fear of her anger at the world, which all too often manifested itself as anger towards him, and awe at her ability to cope after all she had been through.
It’s what she’d been through that made it hard for him to turn away. The people who gossiped in the street didn’t know, they took her at face value and never bothered to look beneath the surface. But he knew everything. Not that she knew he knew. He was only a small boy when he’d crawled under her bed, found the box with the photographs – and the letters.
In her native Jamaica, at the age of seventeen, Doris had been gang raped and beaten so badly that she miscarried her firstborn – his brother. Two years later, when she was heavily pregnant, her husband was murdered by the very same gang. It was all there in the letters, the heavy black scrawl of the condemned asking – no, begging – Doris for forgiveness. He never could bring himself to ask if she had granted her rapist – also her husband’s killer – the absolution he so desired.
He had simply allowed her to exert her grief on him.
Thinking about a mother’s love for her son reminded me of my time living in a remote orphanage in Kisii, Kenya, in 2007. It was run by this lovely lady, Rebecca, and her husband Amos. They were the most wonderful hosts for the six weeks I spent there, and despite them speaking limited English we struck up a very warm relationship. Even though I sometimes found it so hard being there, I look back fondly on their family and the hospitality they showed me.