When the ad agency asked me to write twice a week about ‘My Mother and I’, I knew right away this wasn’t just about scrutinizing a lifelong relationship with her. This was about emotional recall. This was about putting to words 30 years of moments (and memories) between my Mum and I. It was about getting nakedly personal. And nostalgic. It was about love.
I got a framed photo of my Mum that I have placed to the right of me. I keep throwing a glance at it as I write this. It’s a studio photo with my Ol’Man. It’s in black and white. Those cuddly ones where he has his cheek nuzzled into her headscarf. He’s smiling. She isn’t. He’s in a jacket. She’s in a sweater. He’s 27, she’s 23. Neither of them wears any jewellery. Especially not him, hehee, thank Jesus. His patted ‘fro warns you that he worried more about how his hair pictured than she did.
The photo’s hardy frame is in yellow gold. It’s one that tells you this is Sotik, 1976. That it’s ‘April, after training’. That he asked her to meet in the town at 3PM – to wait for him infront of that sleazy speakeasy and to come wearing that little blue dress he likes. It’s one that tells you they were part of an era that appreciated the simplicity of capturing its moments in studio photos (not words. Ahem). I hear UB40 playing in the background.
Their pose and how they melt into each other, how they fill up the space bounded by that frame whispers at you. It says, ‘I got you, babe’.
I nicked the photo for inspiration, mostly. But I also nicked it because I’d been meaning to keep it for myself. Selfish move, I know. She loves that photo. Holds on to it too dearly than she cares to admit. I told her I’d return it. But it was lie.
I’ve seen how she looks it at it, those few times when she pauses to really look at it. Longingly. Beseechingly. A small smile softening her face. There’s sadness in her eyes; a yearning for a time when it was just she and he.
I suppose she holds on to it because it’s the only such photo I’ve ever seen of her and my Ol’Man. The photo of no space between them. Because that space, it widened as time devoured the years. And many things readily took up their place: Relocating for work first came (from Sotik to Nairobi. An engineer and his wife, a primary school teacher). Then came his family (brothers who were also relocating, although for reasons unlike theirs. Ours was their halfway house). Then came her family (women mostly who, I don’t know, just wanted to be around her). Then we came. Me and my six siblings. Four girls and two boys. And it’s as if we have since refused to leave that space.
My Ol’Man has been nuzzling into her neck through us ever since. 37 years of a distanced nuzzle. And counting. His whisper is still strong; ‘I got you, babe. I got you.’
My name is Florence Bett. I am a writer. And these, these are the stories of me and my Mum.