Mother rubs her flawless skin, then rubs her big belly. Blessed with a girl child, she whispers.
Mother ties the last pink bow on a head of pompoms, seeing herself in the eyes of the girl she birthed. Heart swells with pride.
Mother says go play outside, I have guests, child.
Mother says don’t be so loud, you are a girl, child.
Mother says don’t play outside, supper needs cooking and the dishes will not make themselves clean.
Mother says get on your knees and practice humility not knowing that those hours spent on my knees prepare me for a different sort of humiliation.
Mother says keep your legs shut girl, don’t let the air in. For once the air gets in, you’re open for another kind of sin.
Mother says close your eyes when you pray child, or the demons you are exorcising will call their friends and they will dance in you as they did in Legion.
Mother says wipe your face, Jezebel. Don’t you know that your red lips will help you steal the heads from many households? And the heavens will not hear you when you pray for forgiveness because your prayers will be trapped by the chain of men who watch your mouth move when you smile and strip you as giggles escape your throat.
Mother says hide your breasts beneath looseness. Don’t you know that there is more than food at their tips? There are things that those on their way to hell beg for as their last earthly indulgence.
Mother grunts and swallows her pain when I offer her ice for the bruises on her face. Be obedient my child, or you will be at odds with your husband. No good wife will have to skip church on Sunday to hide the evidence of her transgressions from her peers.
Mother says lower your gaze, girl, and calls my eyes wanton. The windows to the soul she ignores as she metes out punishment for curiosity described as impetuosity.
Mother slaps my belly and warns of children than are caught like balls from loitering with the neighbour boys on street corners after dark. Or at high noon.
Mother pulls at the hair on my head as she chops off the locks one by one, to punish me for letters from strangers who imagine what the softness in the middle feels like. And cries tears when she stares at the mirror to find that she has only made me more of a prize for those with wandering hands and eyes.
Mother mutters about patience and resilience being the foundations of marriage and sends me back for the ninth time, after pressing frozen water to my face and drying my eyes. How the tables have turned.
Mother weeps the loudest as they peer in at my lifeless body dressed in respectability and his relatives are nowhere to be found. She plays the strains of regret over and over in her heart as the product of her hands and mouth and body is lowered into the ground.
These days Mother washes and cares for the babies who ask often, after their mother. She tells them stories of when she danced outside and wore lipstick and held her head high.