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I am inclined to believe that my mother was never prepared for what was to come out of her initial conjugations with my father. Compared to the overly protective manner of many mothers over their sons, I understood very early in my life that I have a very special relationship with my mother. I’ve seen her watch me fall into the deep end more than once before, without her doing anything about it. Just watching, waiting to see how I’ll deal with it. I have never at any one point felt any sense of neglect though. There’s something about the look in my mother’s eyes, which has always given me Samson-like strength when it seems the darkness of the deep end is about to swallow me up completely. She is my first best friend, my number one confidant.

©Simon Chilembo, 2013

©Simon Chilembo, 2013

My mother has always openly declared her love and admiration for me. She adores me. I’ve heard her many times tell other fellow mothers how proud she is of me, “… this man who felled my breasts”, because of my generousity and kindness as a son, and big brother to my two younger siblings. Thoughts of my mother make me very strong always in this regard. She listens to me, even if she may not agree with what I have to say. I owe much of my strong sense of independence and self-reliance to her. She taught me very early to be proud of myself. Much of my need and love to excel in the things I do, and thrive in, I got from her. “O motle, ngana’ka! O a utlwa!/ You are beautiful, my child! You hear?” She tells me she used to sing these words to me when I was a baby. Not that she’s much of a singer, though.

The end of the academic year was ever such fun for those who had done well in the final exams. This was at my schools in Lesotho and South Africa in the 1960s/ 70s. The last day would be a day of song, dance, and other forms of cultural entertainment prior to the formal announcement of the results from all classes, Grades 1-7. Announcement of the results, accompanied by calling out those who had passed to parade themselves on stage, was one hell of a show on its own.

I remember the proceedings of end of year 1973 especially. For once, my mother had taken time to come and witness the event; this had previously been Ouma’s (Grandmother) job. I was so happy and proud because my mother would for the first time see me perform on stage, I playing one of the three wise men who followed the star of baby Jesus on Christmas eve. Of course, ours was the best performance of the day, receiving standing ovation and all! But my mother just sat there, staring at the stage with that special look of power in her eyes. I knew that, yes, I’m still on track.

Then came time for announcement of the results, calling out to take centre stage first, those who had scored the highest Grade Point Average in each class. There would be momentary mad jubilation each time the No. 1 was called. When my turn came, I recall the Principal saying something like, “And now, next is a young man we do not know what to do about. He has done it again, passing with distinction. Our future doctor, Simon Similo!!!” I catapulted onto the stage with tremendous joy and pride. When I looked down into the audience, though, I was met with a wall of dead silence for what felt like an eternity. Almost everyone’s mouth was agape, and their eyes were like marbles mosaicked onto this wall of silence. In a state of total confusion, I looked at my mother sitting in the front row. She was sitting more upright, on the edge of her chair.

Because I knew her, and perhaps because of our special connection, particularly in emotionally charged situations, her apparently stone-hard face radiated a special kind of light and warmth I have never experienced again since. Power Look of a rare kind. She smiled gently, tears poured down her face. She sat back onto her chair, wiping off the tears. Then all went crazy, dancing and singing songs of praise around my mother; and she just sat there, looking most pleased with herself. She could have been a Queen. But then again, to some close family friends in South Africa I’m called Morena/ King. That day, then, my mother looked like Mma Morena/ Queen Mother. When it was all over, the Queen Mother and I walked home in satisfied silence. Later in the evening we had a nice family celebratory dinner. And this chapter was closed. The road ahead is still so long, and bumpy.

I often wonder what kind of relationship I would have had with my mother, had she known that her initial conjugations with my father would bring out a boy child like me. Assuming that she would have allowed herself to get pregnant in the first place.

Although, she tells me, it did not occur to her immediately because she was just too engrossed in her awesome happiness to be mother of a healthy and robust cute little baby, it hit her like a bombshell when it first came forth. She says I must have been about 3 months old when she was baby-sitting in a then Whites Only park in my hometown, Welkom, another baby a few months older than me. An old White lady comes to greet my mother, asking to peek into the pram so as to greet the sleeping baby as well. Guess the old lady’s consternation upon finding not only two babies sleeping side-by-side in the pram, but that one of the babies was Black! My mother tells me that the old lady in no uncertain terms mentioned that it was okay to look after children, but Black children must never be brought close to White children in this manner. Could my mother return the Black baby to its mother right away, please, before the police are called? My mother tells the old lady that she, my mother, is the mother of the Black baby. Things begin to get even more confusing for the White old lady, “But how on earth can it be possible that a very pretty young girl like you can have such a black and ugly baby?” The old lady walked away in total frustration, leaving my mother with her own thorough bewilderment, and a set of new worries and challenges.

Queen Mother was not more than 20 years old when she gave birth to me. She was, indeed, a very, very pretty light-skinned South African Coloured girl. My father was a pitch Black, raw African; such are my people in Zambia. I have taken much after my father and our people on his side of the family: Black, beautiful, and proud.

It took my mother many months to come to terms with the reality that I was different from other normal light-skinned children on her side of the family in South Africa. I guess she at the same time saw that my differentness would create social problems for me later on in life. So, she started that early to sing to me about how beautiful, smart, and strong I was. This was reinforced by the fact that, fortunately, both my parents were resourceful, and so as a family we had a good life by South African standards going among Black people in the 1960s/ 70s. I grew up knowing that even if I was Black and different, no one could break me for that. It was also important for me to be, and stay, handsome, smart, and strong in order to protect my mother. It was one thing, I reasoned, to have a different Black child; and another if that child is dumb and weak as well. Until after my younger brothers and sisters were born, my mother had her own share of torments for having given birth to a strange child like me.

How then, I wonder, would my mother have answered the question, “What would you do if your children turned out to be Black?” before I was born? I never had a good reason for detesting talcum powder all my life until a few years ago. This is when the Queen Mother revealed that in her immediate anguish after being made aware of my differentness, she would empty bottle after bottle of Johnson’s Baby Powder all over my body, cover me up completely in my baby blankets, and wait a minute or two. She got shattered so many times when each time she uncovered me I’d still be Black and special. Poor Mother.

It infuriates me when half a century later I hear mothers being asked stuff like, “What would you do if your sons turned out to be gay?” Although in the last setting I saw this question being posed it was clear that it was with good intentions, the lady answered in a strained way that she’d of course love and support her children’s alternative lifestyles, etc.

I think it’s unfair and non-respectful to ask mothers defensive questions about their future progeny. Those children who get to be born shall be born as they are, be what and how they are, become what they become, and do what they do with their lives. Mothers and fathers are obliged to help, guide, and nurture these children to be decent and responsible value-adding citizens as grown-ups; acknowledging and respecting the children’s talents, abilities, skills, tastes and preferences within the confines of established social cohesion parameters in a modern and forward looking global society.

Through being compassionate themselves, parents can and will teach their children how to love. But they cannot teach the children whom to love. The sentiment and expression of love are just like my skin colour, they are a given. No one can do anything about them, they are as they are. Natural. In the name of love, my mother helped me grow up and thrive as I am. I have reason to believe that Queen Mother would still have been the same kind, loving, and supportive mother she has always been had I turned out to be gay as well.

Hello, Princess Bee, what will do if your children will turn out to be terrorists?
And, you, Honey Babe, what will you do if your daughters will turn out to be Oprah Winfreys?

For goodness’ sake, leave Mothers alone. Let the children be!

Simon Chilembo
April 05, 2013
Tel.: +47 97000488/ +27 717 454 115 (South Africa)


1 Comment

  1. […] to do big things without cash. I could not have done the work above without the support of my mother, and especially my younger sister, the latter who has, for all intents and purposes, looked after […]

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