The journey home is surprisingly quiet amidst the street bustle from pedestrians and drivers. My father’s eyes are fixated on the road, body stiff and upright like he is permanently attached to the steering. I and my sister sit at the back with the elephant in the car squeezing our faces against the window. My mom is looking out her window. I can see her reflection in the rear view mirror from where I sit, tears gathering in her eyes. She is holding a lot of things; her chin up, herself from crying, the crumbling marriage; a whole lot.
My dad barks at the driver on his left. It startles us for a bit and my mom stirs in her seat. She is doing so well; I’d have burst out crying aeons ago if I were in her shoes.
She speaks to us in the silence that followed. I don’t know how but we hear her pray we don’t marry husbands that are like our father. She speaks of how she wishes she had run away while she had the chance. She tells us she is staying because of us, because she has nowhere to go.
Home. A misplaced destination. I like to think it is just a house where I can trade my peace in exchange for a bed and food. Sometimes it takes more, sometimes it gives more; you take what you get and keep breathing regardless. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I stopped breathing. Maybe my mom would take the blame. Maybe they’ll cry and say nice things about me that aren’t true, like how I was a good child and how I made them proud; lies like that. It would be nice. But today I’m a disappointment. Tomorrow I won’t listen to simple instructions. The day after, I might get a new bruise on my arm. I have stopped counting. The marks have stopped fading. I have gotten good at making sure I get hit in places I can cover so I don’t have to tell Ms. Ayo that I fell down the school stairs again.
She is a nosy woman; she wants to know everything. I don’t like how she looks at my mom – eyes glittering with contempt – like she’s happy she didn’t burden herself with marriage. I like to think she was doing yanga and age caught up with her. You can tell she was beautiful in her youth. I stretch her skin out in my head sometimes, placing curves and edges where they might have been. I would find out later that she lost interest in men after her fiance beat her to a pulp two days before their wedding. She never made it to the altar.
Ms. Ayo is weak. Just one beating and she ran away. I see how the other women in the staff room look at her, how the single women mumble prayers when she walks by, how she didn’t get invited to our vice principal’s wedding. My mom is stronger than her then. Nobody really cares about your state of mind and the quality of your relationships as long as you have a husband and children to show for your years of bondage or endurance, rather. She says love strengthens her. Love.
She is still looking out the window. We are close to the family house now. She reaches into her bag to grab her handkerchief. She wipes the tears off and dabs Vaseline onto her cheeks as my dad pulls into the driveway. I watch her laugh and hug her in-laws, greeting them in their native tongue, one I do not yet understand. She is so good at language learning and pretending to be happy. It must be exhausting.
I do not think I can be strong enough to love someone who makes me cry and still expects me to act happy. Will I forget the resentment when the tears dry? I wonder if he would scold her if she gave anyone the impression that her life was unravelling at the seams.
I don’t want her kind of strength.
I do not want to be strong at all.
I do not want love.