The cobwebs brushed against her smooth copper fingers which were welded by years of weekly dilka scrubbing. The emptiness inside her resonated too loudly for her to pull them off her hands in the fear that she usually would respond with in such a situation. Complying to her fiery nature, she continued sifting through the box for old letters and photographs with an unexplained anger. Every photograph looked so painfully redundant, nothing looked too unusual: her mother wore a flimsy headscarf, barely displaying her kinked locks twisted together to form two neat plaits on either side of her head. Despite the bi-coloring and resultant monotony of the picture, the richness of her mother’s brown skin emanated intensely to the observer, her protruding eyes showed a peculiar depth that alluded unconditional kindness, and her long jar-jar appeared to reflect the sunlight that was shining on it in different hues of its otherwise coal-black color.
Why did her mother have to be the opposite of what she was, and punish her for it? The photographs screamed at her what her mother consistently told her during the peak of her rebellion:
“Do not set foot inside my house with that nose ring and box of cigarettes ever again!”
“Ya biti, how many times do I have to tell you to not express your political views so openly to your disapproving minister uncles?”
“What are you doing with your life? Thirty-one with a foreign husband and no child?”
Annah shrieked in frustration; her mother spent a lifetime tormenting her only daughter and now, she couldn’t shed a single tear at her own mother’s funeral. And how dare her mother tell her she’s proud of her on her deathbed?
“Ah-nna, are you alright?” A familiar voice asked from behind. The anglicized pronunciation of her name always bothered her but at the moment, she preferred to be Anna over being a girl given a name that meant mother in her native tongue when her own mother despised her.
“Uh, yeah, I’m just looking for something that I doubt exists.” She scoffed to herself, angling her face slightly in her husband’s direction, displaying only half her face and a faint smile. The hostility painted across her face would seem despicable to outsiders not directly experiencing her struggle.
“Alright, we’ll be waiting for you downstairs.” He told her before closing the attic’s door, carefully tip-toeing around his wife to avoid upsetting her in this volatile state.
Hearing his footsteps as he walked away from the door incited a sense of urgency in her. She needed to know what her father meant before anyone got suspicious.
“Your mother was a lot like you: a rebel and revolutionary defying social constructs. She behaved and dressed however she pleased, and spoke whatever and however she pleased. Your grandparents, who you know were freedom fighters, couldn’t be prouder of their little independent thinker. She was both a biological and intellectual product of their union, a masterpiece that they valued above all else. I met her in college in 1970 in a protest. I was not only mesmerized by the sharpness of her beauty, I was in awe of her burning passion. I fell in love with your mother so deeply that it would hurt me to tell you what happened to her when you were only a year old. It changed her immensely. You’ll find your answers in the box labelled the 1980s to 2000.”
The ambiguity in the ending of the short tale her father told her earlier this morning fueled her even more. She decided she would only look for letters, they’ll explain in greater detail than the pictures would. Annah continued ravaging through the box so violently until it toppled over. A loosely sealed envelope with the words “BURN AS SOON AS READ” slipped onto her lap. Curiosity whisked her away as she tore through the envelope and gripped the letter placed in it.
I wish I could start with the niceties I would usually use when I begin my letters but all kindness has been drained out of me. I’m sorry I haven’t been home yet but I can’t let you and Annah see me like this.
It’s been a month and my recovery is slower than I thought. Seeing you wouldn’t speed it up, it would only slow it down. I still have dreams of the torture chamber they threw me into, only they remembered to seal the window shut in the dream. I was a fool to believe in guerrilla intersectionality, I should’ve have listened to you.
I need to cleanse my mind, body and soul. I need to change my ways and find my way back into the light. They threatened to kill you and Annah if I didn’t cooperate with their cause. I can’t keep challenging them and have you both alive.
The letter fell out of Annah’s hand as her eyes trailed the last sentence over and over again. An understanding of her mother’s behavior slowly sunk into Annah’s brain.
Ummi didn’t want me to go through what she went through.
“WAAAAAAAAAAAY!” A symphony of booming voices suddenly engulfed Annah’s subconscious into realization: her mother’s corpse was ready for burial.
Annah hurriedly tucked the letter into her pocket and stormed to the bottom floor. She was met by a parade of shrieking women running after four boys carrying the bed supporting the wrapped body.
“LET ME THROUGH!” Annah pushed through until she reached her mother. “Put her down, NOW!”
The boys obliged instantly. Annah dropped to her knees beside the bed, her head falling forward and grazing the body covered in white cloth.
“I’m so sorry, Ummi.” Her broken voice whispered. “Now I understand. Please forgive me. I love you.”
Annah slowly raised her head in perfect synchronization with the boys lifting the bed once again. As the bed ascended to its designated position, the wetness of the cloth where Annah’s head rested brushed against her goose-bump-covered bare arm.