We haven’t seen Nana; not since the fire. I told friends at school it was a blaze, but I lied, like always. It was just a fire, spreading quickly and evenly throughout our kitchen. We inhaled smoke and the next day we weren’t allowed to eat breakfast. No more cornflakes or rice krispies or even the weetabix that I hated. Everything was just black shapes on a black table with black floors and black ceilings.
Black is beautiful. Never forget this.
Nana said this to me once, when she caught me scrubbing my skin raw in the bath in the middle of the night. Only she and I awake as she wrenched the ghana sponge from my hand.
Why would you do this?
Her eyes always asked questions when her mouth was silent. I told her about the girls at school, the way the boys were, the word dirty whispered to me during PE.
Am I dirty Nana?
She kissed her teeth and told me not to be stupid. Then she carried me to my bed and disclosed what I’ve never forgotten.
And then she began to forget. Once the woman who remembered every child’s birthday, all eleven of her grandchildren. She would bake you a cupcake and at 11.58pm you would make a wish you had been waiting all day to make.
This is when it’s most powerful. When the day is done and we all look forward to dreaming.
I didn’t realise this was not a thing all families did until I was ten years old, excitedly telling a friend about it. Her frown was the lesson I learned that day.
But Nana stopped giving lessons. Instead she misplaced her keys, her jacket, her shoes, and eventually all her clothes. She was a naked surprise in the house on a Saturday afternoon, skin like the sun-maid raisins she used to slip us during long church services. She would give you a sweet, naked smile and go on without a care until someone clothed her.
When she left the stove on, preparing to fry chicken, we were all in our rooms. She made her way into the garden, neck arched, her face towards the sky. It was 8pm and I was supposed to be having a bath. But I watched her from the window in fascination. I couldn’t see what she was looking at. And then the smoke came, surrounding her like a stage performer about to make a big reveal. Her final act.
She must have turned back to the kitchen then and I screamed her name through the window even though I could no longer see her.
Afterwards, the air tasted like ash and oil and my mother wept on the front step. The paramedics were prompt but unnecessary. The next day I stared out of my bedroom window, at the empty spot in the garden where she had stood last; Nana, transfixed by the black sky in all its beauty.
Maame Blue is a writer, blogger, poet, co-host of podcast Headscarves and Carry-ons, and previous Melbourne resident. She can be found blogging (see: ranting) at www.maamebluewrites.com and being dangerously honest with stories from her life, over at medium.com/@maamebluewrites. She finds llamas hilarious and does not enjoy coriander.
This story was published as the winner of the 2018 AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. Writers had to produce a 500-word response to a prompt from Warsan Shire’s poem, The House. It reads: “Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women.” The winner was selected by Warsan Shire and announced at Africa Writes 2018.
Related country: Ghana
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