I’m not a mother. Yet I marvel at the peace I feel as her small, dark brown hands lay atop my white ones. Occasionally we silently clap to the rhythm of the song that surrounds us, examining the contrasting colors of our palms before we bring them together.
She is not my own. Yet in this instance I imagine that <em>together</em>, we feel most comfortable. Surrounded by women holding a sort of vigil, singing song after song, harmonizing in parts well rehearsed from years of church-going. For me, I am in a village, in a land, that is not my own. For Happiness, she is too young, only around 2 years old, to understand the road ahead of her—but not these women, these wives, these mothers.
Some join the group as others leave, there is a sense of constant support and shared sorrow. The beautiful colors of all the varying clothes and wrappers somehow keep the grief buoyant, hold it up to the wind moving through the tree leaves, scatter it about the dirt yards and fields reminding me what the women already know all too well—that nothing is ever static, not even moments of grief.
Her weight on my lap is slight and I worry that she has appeared weak and listless these past weeks. Is it my imagination or is she indeed thinner, her stomach more distended? I think about being a mother here. How would I continue to love, to keep my heart open, with the constant specter of death? Here, anywhere.
I am not a mother, though here they would laugh at me and say this is wrong. You are a woman. You sit with us in our rest. Your eyes sting with ours as we cook over the fire. You go to our children when they are in need. You are their mama too.
I will cook Happiness lentils and offer her some of the protein she lacks. I will honor her bravery as we walk across the dirt compound for our daily stroll, her hand only able to wrap around one of my fingers—I will remember that she no longer cries when she sees me, as she did for the first three months, my color so foreign to her. And after coming so far, I will know that eventually I will leave her world and say good-bye to her forever.
But even still, I will try to be a good mother. I will try to ensure that when her magnificent brown eyes look into mine, they will somehow see a reflection of her extraordinariness—and I will wonder, can that reflection remain, no matter what lays ahead of her as a woman, a mother, a daughter of the soil of Africa?