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We Are Not Our Black Skin | Omolabake Salako

“Mama, why is my skin black?” The little girl spoke gently with the wind swirling upon her tongue, where the powerful storm within her question rose.

The little girl was her Mama’s eye where the beauty of the world was contained. Her bulgy brown eyes illuminated the room as they penetrated past her Mama’s loose eyelids, waiting in patience and adoration for the wise words of her Mama to satiate her worries with answers.

The little girl was a young African child, only a decade old, whose mother was a struggler toiling through the hardships of society to feed, clothe and shelter her. Her black afro hair shone amidst the impending darkness of the night, reflecting the little sunshine that was scattered along with the cloudless skies, lighting the room where she sat upon the soft thighs of her mother, whose hands were both dipped into her luscious hair, feeling the moisture and drowning in the sweetness of her daughter’s companionship.

“Nala, what brought this question to your mind?” The young mother asked with a worrying sigh, after filling the room with a wide silence. She pondered on how her daughter’s young mind enveloped the need for the answers she wanted. Her little daughter had never asked such a question that required her wonder and worry. She wanted more than anything else for her daughter to be safe and happy in the world. She strived through every challenge she encountered, some bigger than the other to fulfil the needs and desires of her charming child, and she will continue to do so, as long as it brings the smile that broadens her daughter’s cheeks.

She kept her hands moving through the thickness of her child’s finest strands of black hair, with her mind momentarily voyaging through a sequence of thoughts, unconscious of the silent sounds that followed the question to her daughter.

“Mama, why don’t I have a papa?” Nala finally spoke to her mother again; there was a mix of naivety and frustration within Nala’s voice. The little girl was confused as her heart felt heavy with unexplainable emotions. Her words divided the silent sounds, creating a melody within the echoes, and interrupting her mama’s voyage with a gigantic thud upon her heart.

“Junior has a papa who comes to pick him up from school every day.”

“Even Betty has a papa who drops her off at school every morning.”

“But I have no papa to play with in the evenings,” Nala shuddered in emotions she had never felt nor did she completely understand their source. She felt timid to look into her mother’s eyes, and so she dropped her gorgeous brown eyes which became dim at this moment, to her legs that dangled beside the chair her mother sat, upon whose thighs she was overlapped.

The young mother’s mind froze, her hands stiffened within her daughter’s hair, trapped between the past and the present. There was a freshly lit candle standing at the centre of the room, to carry them into the gloom of nightfall. The candle’s flame was placid and it was in this moment that she realised her daughter was no ordinary child; she possessed a curious and keen mind, a century in a decade. Her eyes began to swell like the croaking mouth of a frog, pushing through the sockets of her eyes, imagining how much sadness was consuming her daughter’s heart. Her lips became a withered leaf, unable to part, with bright colours departing the columns of her unfleshy cheeks and fading deep into the cave of her anxiety and fears. She wanted to draw into her, all of the sadness her daughter felt in an instant, devouring them to dust, regardless of how much of her might be broken.

The young mother’s name was Imene, only three decades old and living a life where her problems erupted from choices she never had the chance to choose or change. Nala will always be the only choice she was blessed with, the bundle of joy swimming within her endless pains, the only inspiration greater than all breaths of life.

“Imene,” her mind traced back in remembrance to how softly her mother called upon her.

“Imene,” how her name flowed through the moisture in her mother’s breath without turmoil.

“Imene!” She should have known her whole life was about to change, when her mother’s call that evening was laced with deep coldness.

“My child,” the old mother began in eulogy of the only fruit her womb conceived.

“You are of age and your father has decided to give your hand to your uncle’s friend,” the old mother announced while adjusting the wrapper that fell below her waist. Then, she stood and turned away from the despair that laid siege upon her daughter’s face, into the safety of her room.

Those were the last words of Imene’s mother, before she was taken to her husband’s house by her father the next morning with her mother anguishedly passing away three moons later.

She could never forget the shadow that hung above her dear mother’s face that evening, consuming all her affections. The emptiness in her eyes, the paleness of her chapped lips and the deep wounds her mother’s last words bore into her heart.

She would never know what misery bloomed within her mother’s heart till her demise. She could never understand.

Imene was only eighteen years of age when her African parents found her a suitor, a stranger who had visited their small town in search of a young wife. The stranger who wore the cloaks of her husband was a wealthy man whose riches bought her away from the love of her parents. The stranger was to be the man of her dreams, but became the man of her nightmares.

The first time Imene’s husband spoke to her was through the smiles in his teeth, he was ridiculously happy to finally have her in his home and devilishly excited to rip her body apart in the consummation of their union.

So, he did. He was the predator and her, the prey. Her body was lit like a matchstick only to burn time and again. Her husband snatched the glory he sought, without mercy for the brokenness of the lady who laid in the pool of her spilt blood and tears.

Imene was thrown into the waters of marriage, without a life-jacket. He wanted a traditional wife whose future he could possess; she cooked, cleaned and cried in bed every night, after being mounted like a horse without care. Imene’s days were filled with angst, sorrow and despair. Even in remembrance of her mother’s sudden death, her sorrow remained still.

At age twenty, she was accustomed to her new life in which her husband tore her to shreds, physically and emotionally. He grew tired of making love to a log of wood who never moaned to his touch, and so he would beat her till his macho chest was dripping in steaming sweat, and make love to her in her wounds and tears.

She became the African woman whose husband was a stranger who listened to the moans within her tears.

On a fateful night, Imene gathered the courage she needed to demand from her husband, the reason for her predicament.

“Why did you marry me?” Imene let the dreadful words leap out of her mouth, her insides curled in fear, but her mind was determined to understand how she ended up with her husband.

“Oh, Imene!” Her husband exclaimed with a loud roar of laughter that stifled the air.

Imene’s stomach grew queasy in fright; still, she put up a fierce look, masking her despair with bravery.

“I needed a young wife to please me, to respect and submit to me,” he finally answered after letting out a muffled grunt.

“Is that all I am to you?”

“Am I simply the pathetic young wife you got?” Imene’s eyeballs became two red suns, as tears filled the corridors of her eyelids. She squeezed her wrapper within her fist, unable to let go, and fighting the immense pain that garnished her heart.

“Your tears are unnecessary, Imene,” her husband consoled pathetically.

“I feed you, I clothe you, I perform all my responsibilities as an African man. You should be grateful I saved you from the wretchedness of your parents.”

“Stop!” Imene interjected in rage.

“I was happy with my parents before you barged into my life!” Her words were large and unsheltered by her tears.

“You never even loved me!” Imene screamed loudly at the highest pitch of her voice, vehemently rising to her feet.

“An African man does not love his woman, he only takes care of her,” her husband spoke, ending the conversation of the night with a certain calmness that spread throughout the room.

Imene could never love a man who treated her as an object to satisfy himself, and a means to retain his ego as a man in society. Her soul was torn from all the beatings, sexual slavery and emotional torture.

And finally, she made the choice she would never regret. She took the night train, abandoning his house that was no home to her unknowingly also with her unborn daughter.

She disappeared to a place far away from the place of her sufferings, and to this day, she never looked back for a second.

The candle had burnt itself in a short time, breaking its body into the cast of light that dispersed the darkness of the night. The white watery ashes converged around its root, providing sturdy support to the limb that still held the flame. The candle flame devoured the emotions that emitted from the mother and her child with a phoenix rising from the ashes of their pain.

“Oh Nala!” Imene called onto her sweet daughter, pulling her into her bosom, with tears raining down her eyes along the rough slope of her face.

“Yes mama,” the little girl answered with her heart brimming with affection for the only family she’s known all her life.

“Who called you black, my child?” The young mother asked, realising this was the right question she should have asked. She was unaware of the external factors waxing in her daughter’s life. Afterall, Nala was only a ten-year-old child.

“Mama…” Nala began in a childish tone, then paused.

“Mama, Gideon said my skin is too black and dark like an uncharred coal,” the little girl confessed with the pains in her heart erupting to her eyes. Her brown eyes grew dimmer as the luminescence of her eyes diminished.

“My sweet child!” The young mother couldn’t contain the storm of sadness that breached her heart; she began to wail in the sounds of crushing sorrow. She surrendered to the truth that life always brings love. Throughout her life, love had chosen to be unkind to her, just bringing anguish and suffering. Her parents traded their love for her to Nala’s father whom she dreaded ever mentioning to her child. Love will remain lost in the memories of her past.

“Why do you allow Gideon’s words cause you such pain, my dearest Nala?” Imene desired to peruse the aching heart of her daughter. She ought to understand the rivers of emotions that flow endlessly within the corridors of her daughter’s heart, to feel the soothing breeze, the crashing waves and the waxing storms as if they were hers.

Nala looked into the mirrors of her Mama’s eyes, watching her thoughts unveil in taunting mystery, for she didn’t understand why her Mama’s eyes grew darker in sadness. They were sunk in sorrow and she could see the edges of despair drawing closer to her temples. There was no smile left inside her Mama’s lean cheeks, now throned by frowns as her zygomatic bones stood high and mighty, barely suppressed by two thin layers of flesh. She was fatter than her Mama who fattened her. Nala had never looked so closely and watched so intensely her Mama’s gloomy face, and in this moment, Nala’s love for her Mama grew above the clouds foaming the skies, and stronger than timber fused with metal.

In truth, love and admiration, Nala’s voice rose then broke her innermost emotions.

“Mama, I like Gideon!” Nala screamed as she let out her budding love in a rush.

“Gideon is not so black and not so white,” Nala continued, slashing her mama’s words before they were spoken, as she desired to share herself to her mama without a filter.

“He has the most beautiful skin without stain or dirt, his hair is so soft and curly, unlike mine,” Nala paused and dragged large volume of air into her small lungs. She felt compressed by the emotions swelling within her words, but she knew she had more of herself to share.

“Gideon says his mama is an Egyptian goddess who fell in love with his Nigerian papa,” Nala continued to explain, dissecting her doleful thoughts meticulously.

“Mama, I have seen Gideon’s father through the small windows of our classroom”.

“Gideon teases me all the time for being so black, but his papa is black just like I am.”

“So, why is Gideon not black like I am?” Nala’s body squirmed. She shut her eyes like a jamming door to conceal the flood within, which eventually broke in the release of her uncontrollable pain.

A soundless wave finally reached shore, birthing an ominous echo with the hands of the wall clock hanging in the room, stamping like feet. Imene watched the tears break the dams of her daughter’s young heart without resistance. Her heart could no longer breathe, as she felt her oxygen burning faster than oil. She was consumed by a new pain, for Nala had inherited her heart that only breeds sadness.

Suddenly, the light in the room vanished. The candle had exhausted its limb and the night possessed the room. Imene’s eyes were protected in the dark; her red suns became two moons. She wanted to provide solace to her daughter who continued to weep like a rainy day. She smiled at the sadness that now hung above her daughter’s head, used three fingers to walk to her daughter’s left hand and squeezed her soft palm. Then, she reached to the bed drawer with her other hand, where a candle laid flat. She carried it inside her palm to the centre of the room where a wooden stool sat, and lit the fresh limb to carry them farther into the night. She returned to her daughter’s side whose eyes were now filled with the image of the candle’s flame she stared into.

She placed her two broad palms on both cheeks of her daughter’s face, raising Nala’s head to meet the direction of her eyes. She stared deep into the sadness wandering her daughter’s eyes, and her heart continued to melt like ice.

“Liking Gideon is a beautiful thing, my sweetest child,” Imene began to gently pour into her daughter’s unsealed mind, the truth Nala needed to know, for love must be found in her daughter, although lost in her.

“You believe Gideon is not black like you are, but…” Imene paused sharply like a ship hitting a rock in a storm.

The young mother swallowed her drying saliva, nourishing her voice and strength before she continued to speak.

“…but, he is. Gideon is a black man, regardless of his curly hair and light skin,” the young mother said, peering into the forming thoughts of her child.

“Mama, I do not understand,” Nala spoke and for the first time, her mama’s words felt like a magician’s spell.

“Nala, color is not what makes us black, rather our hearts,” Imene rendered sweetly, like an ode to the calming night.

“I still don’t understand Mama, aren’t our hearts colours, like blue is the sky and yellow is the sun?”

“No Nala, nothing truly possesses one colour, being black also comes in different shades. The sky can be orange on sunny days or grey on rainy days. As the sun can also be red on a bright sunset or white in the break of dawn.” Imene’s voice rose and clasped upon her daughter’s mind like a fishing hook to its lure.

“Just like the days we watch the skies, see different colours, shapes and create our own figments of illusion.”

Her Mama was bread-soft and sweet on the inside, yet tough and resilient on her edges. Still, Nala’s thoughts roamed the sea of her brooding mind. She felt confused by her Mama’s words and the aching of her young heart.

If our black skins are not just colours Mama, why does Gideon only see me through the color of my skin and escapes that of my heart?

“Is my heart truly different from my black skin?” Nala asked as she felt her heart split like the cracking of a nut.

“We do not wear our hearts on our skins, only our colours.”

“My child, wear your black boldly on your skin. The colour of your heart is past your surfaces, and is what you believe and make it to be,” Imene’s eyes broke into tears again, as she built in her daughter what was already destroyed in her.

Mama always provided comfort and care to her growing heart, Nala trusted in her Mama’s words like Jesus to the Christians. But, this was the first experience for her, when her Mama’s words felt insufficient and her heart continued to bleed.

“Mama,” Nala gasped as the pains in her heart shredded her innocence. She sniffled the fluid oozing out of her nose, as her eyes became the veins through which her heart bled.

“I love you, Mama,” Nala whispered against the shadows of the night.

At this moment, Nala’s eyelids closed like a clamshell, falling into the darkness, to where we are closer to death than we imagine.


About The Author:

Omolabake Salako is a human first, creative writer and university student with temeritous opinions about the reality of the world. She is passionate about developing humanity, writing fiction and poetry, with a phobia for being photographed. She enjoys reading and watching historical movies.
Published inFictionShort Stories

2 Comments

  1. Oluwatofunmi Ajibola Oluwatofunmi Ajibola

    Omolabake! If this isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what else is…beautifully crafted words that draw the mind into endless imaginations. I am proud to know yoy and I can’t wait to see you soar!

  2. Oluwatofunmi Ajibola Oluwatofunmi Ajibola

    Omolabake! If this isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is. Beautifully crafted words that draw the mind into endless imaginations. I’m proud to know you and I can’t wait to see you soar.

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