Happy To Lose
It was a pleasant surprise indeed. Marriot’s children, all four of them entered with smiling face. They looked very happy. I felt very good too.
It was a Saturday morning and I always enjoy especially the first day of two week end days. It has a different taste like call of cuckoo at the beginning of long spring. Mostly I enjoy being of myself totally.
After having breakfast, I was taking a quick run-down of the newspaper headlines before reading the details.
Reluctantly, I opened the door for their knock.
Ushering them to be seated, I called my attendant boy to arrange some snacks and drinks for the guests.
Children, so far the appearance goes, all of them got almost everything from their father, a Portuguese white man. They could pass as apparent European very easily. None of them got anything from Marriot, black Mozambican woman.
Eldest of all, Eva, looked very pretty with her white complexion, long silky hair with golden hue. Youngest sister also looked mostly the same. Boys also had white skin but hair was light black with some curl. All were neatly dressed.
They came to wish me ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ and with a request of playing a cassette in a VCR kept in my drawing room.
Actually, VCR belonged to them like all other materials and the villa itself but it was left in my drawing room as per rent policy.
I rented the villa owned by Marriott, their mother. After long civil war, economic condition in Mozambique was on the lowest ebb, where all bare necessities had almost gone out of reach for commoners. Marriot let out the main villa to me and shifted her family to the servant annex behind the house, having done bare minimum touch up.
I served in UN peace keeping mission in Nampula, a northern Provincial capital of Mozambique. Small town, planned but then dilapidated due to absence of maintenance for the last over two decades of civil war, which left its mark, exhibited in broken buildings with doors and windows shattered and innumerable pot holes on the streets etc.
-‘Ok take the set as you wish’. I agreed without missing the beat.
It was the marriage anniversary of their mother and they wished to enjoy the cassette of the ceremony in the VCR.
But they asked for bit more. They wanted to enjoy the cassette sitting in my drawing room in the evening. I nodded positive and assured them my full support.
-‘I am sure, you have visited Portugal, how is it?’. Eva asked while sipping her tea.
I had indeed visited couple of European countries but never been to Portugal. Having let them know the same, I said, “Indeed, Europe is a beautiful Continent and Portugal is no exception, I am sure.”
Happiness welled up in their eyes, why not, that’s their country from father’s side. I thought.
-‘We all shall go to Portugal, our father lives there’, Miguel, their elder brother announced with a distinct air of panache.
-‘When do you plan to go’? I asked just to continue with the issue. Miguel seemed to be a bit hesitant.
-‘Mom is there….you understand, until some arrangement is made for her…’
I didn’t really understand, what Miguel smattered to mean. But I did not ask anything further lest he was embarrassed more.
A spell of silence fell on us.
-‘Mom is black’. The 12 years youngest girl commented candidly.
I was totally startled by her comment and especially for her esoteric smile. But I was shell-shocked seeing that none of the elder siblings said anything on her comment.
-Marriot is black but her children are all white!
-‘What does it stand out, in the plain calculation of lineage, I am not very sure. But apparently none of them looks like their mother. Marriot is indeed a lonely black member in her own family’. I thought.
Marriot was a post middle aged sickly unadulterated black woman. Every early morning, I saw her walking to her hospital duty having a tiffin carrier in her hand. She walked down to her work place. She carried her lunch as by the time she came back it was almost dark. She always wore a gloomy pale face. By chance, whenever I met her face to face, I never saw her smiling while exchanging pleasantry.
Marriot belonged to, Nacala, a sea port which is little over 150 km NE of Nampula. She got acquaintance with her white man husband there. Her husband came to Mozambique for business, as it was a Portuguese colony. He did good business and became resident. His container ship used to dock at Nacala sea port.
Marriot came to Nampula for the first time with her husband. It was a distant and unknown place to Marriot, she had no one known there. She became detached from her kith and kin ever since.
Security condition lapsed into worst on the eve of signing a peace treaty between the warring parties. Her husband had to leave Mozambique hurriedly giving all his properties to Marriot. Marriot was the owner of the villa and a farm from her husband.
By the time the children left, it was almost mid-day. Normally I don’t take a walk at that time of the day. But since I missed morning walk. I went out to have a stroll on the deserted Saturday street of Nampula.
The town sits in the undulated valley of small hills with towering mountains around. Roads seemed wet, it possibly rained last night. No pedestrian or vehicles were seen on the road.
It looked deserted and I felt very lonely.
-‘Marriot is a very lonely human even among her family members’. The thought persisted in me.
Marriot was serving as nurse in a local hospital. Besides, I heard that she had some income from her agriculture farm. Her husband went back to Portugal in a hurry, towards the end of civil war, leaving Marriot as only earning member for the family.
Her eldest daughter studied in a university, next one, a boy preparing for his high school graduation, third boy was in ninth grade and the last girl in seventh grade.
You would find many young guys like Eva or Miguel on the street of Nampula. They were called mixed generation. You would find these mixed generation children in great number in banks, offices, court etc. any soft nature jobs and posh places. Was it by dint of capability or mere look, they represented the elite and influential Mozambican.
Indeed, this generation did not have anything original, they lost every aspect of their ethnic identity. They took their language, culture, food habit and even their religion from their Colonial Masters. Above all, they had been made visual alien on their own land by cross fertilization. Only in some cases, ever whimsical nature had left some streak of original identity on someone’s hair, nose or complexion.
Alas, it was not difficult to understand that they were up and doing to hide those works of whimsical nature by applying many stratagems.
Indeed, they thought themselves lucky for what they lost and even boastful of that. They even seem to consider themselves unlucky for the portion where they could not lose from their originality.
-‘But what Marriot would do’! I thought.
A band of crow cawed loudly in way side trees, sounded very harsh. But that’s their way of making some fun among themselves, I thought.
Marriot’s children invited me on behalf of their mother to remain present in their evening function. It would be a very simple occasion, where they would cut a small cake and watch the video clip, none else would be invited, they informed.
I thought of buying a bouquet of flower.
They arrived in time along with their mother. I received Marriot with the bouquet and wished her. She became happy, I guessed. But her inherent poker face did not betray anything.
Having done the small formalities of cake cutting etc. all sat for watching the video clip. I sat next to Marriot. I never saw her from this close. They ran the cassette. In the hide and seek of ambient light and shade, I tried to avail all the chance to steal a close look of Marriot. Marriot in beautiful bride’s dress was seen on TV screen, flanked by her white man husband. Her eyes were sparkling with sweet dream.
Children watching the video were hilarious, busting with laughter, passing a lot of candid comments ‘their father is so handsome, guests belong to elite class, they are all big business tycoon, etc. etc.’
Marriot was sitting stark silent without any expression whatsoever. It appeared that the children forgot the presence of their mother.
It also appeared to me that Marriot was not enjoying the video. She was elsewhere, thinking something else.
-She was sitting only to give pleasure to her children! I wondered.
Next day was a holiday. I came out in track suit, thinking of taking a morning jog. Marriot was revving up the engine of her old pick up van on the road in front.
Taking the beat from last night’s party, I wished her ‘Hi, good morning’. She also bade me good morning and looked at me, very unlike of her. Today she looked more lively than usual.
-‘I’m going to my farm, you may accompany, if you are not committed’. I loved her proposal. Boarded beside Marriot on the wheel.
-‘She has become pretty old to her age’, I thought. I never saw her in day light so close. She looked very thin. Bones at different places were peeking out of her rough black skin, jaws were sunken. She had comparatively small skull with kinky wire like hair. She was putting on brown T Shirt over a white skirt.
It was a rough drive through graveled hilly road, took about an hour to reach her farm.
Hilly area, rocky hills. Farms were built on the clearings between the hills.
It was an agricultural farm. Dairy, poultry, fish and some vegetables were harvested there.
Few people were at work. Marriot kept passing instructions in the process of guiding me through the farm. She looked quite different and lively of course.
Marriot went inside a tin shed hut, keeping me seated on the bank of a water hole. Workers might be living in the hut, I guessed.
A white king stork was standing still in water on one leg on the other side of the water hole totally focusing on its prey. Water was dead still, mirroring the blue sky above.
Marriot came out with two cups of tea and some biscuits on a tray and sat beside me. ‘I have decided to sell off the farm’. Marriot sighed out softly, while gesturing at me to take the tea from the tray.
She sipped with a stifled breath.
I looked at her, tried to see her eyes.
-‘I had to put in a lot of labor, a lot of money had also been spent to bring it to this pass. It was full of jungle and stones.’
I thought of asking – ‘Why do you want to sell it then’.
-‘Once they leave, what I am going to do with this, beside, they will need the money’.
She heaved a sigh. ‘The health condition I have’… A spell of silence fell upon us.
‘What is the exact state of your health, what’s wrong? See a doctor. Don’t think that ahead, nobody can foretell about life’. I thought of asking her.
-‘I don’t have anybody in Nampula, who were at Nacala had been out of touch ever since I came to this place. No one accepted our marriage’.
All who can be called her relations abandoned her as she married a white man. Her kids also didn’t look like her. Marriot were raising them just to help grow wings for flying to their father.
-‘What has she got from life’! I wondered myself.
-‘No parents raise their children to get any return – it’s true. But Marriot is not bird or beast that the memory will automatically erase when the kids are grown up and gone. I don’t know how the birds and beasts lead their lives once they are old, but how would old Marriot spend her life can be discerned’. I was totally lost in my thought.
-‘Her children have their father there in Portugal and they also look one of them’. She gulped a sob, making soft noise disrupting my thought.
-‘This country is fraught with so much of problems, no future for the kids’.
She paused a bit, took a short breath and continued – ‘If I had an arrangement’!
I totally got lost.
-‘What arrangement she is talking about’! I thought.
Marriot kept looking at the sky and to the hills around while talking. So I missed the expression on her face.
-Marriot does not know me in real sense, I am also not one of her own kind. But she chose me to give vent to her pent-up emotion.
-Her children are happy and feel lucky for what all they have lost. And they are almost impatient to exploit those by going to their dreamland.
-But unlike her children, Marriot didn’t have the luck of losing to make her look befitting for the dreamland.
-But for what she is losing, she can withstand as a fond mother in view of happy life for her children. Marriot is also happy to lose her children. But as a common human being, how Marriot is going to bear with!
-She is not only a mother, but a human in flesh and blood. Motherhood is contained in her human body.