The God Mother

aKoma Media sponsored a writing competition with members of Oxford University's Writing Program. The winner, Natasha Parker, wrote a stirring fictional short piece about a god mother meeting her namesake for the first time. 

The winner, Natasha Parker
The winner, Natasha Parker
The God Mother

As Lupupa stood in the door of her red-mud home, which she had built herself, surroundedby her seven children and having just had another, Theresa thought she seemed to shine withthe light of a good wife. Theresa pulled her lips up like heavy washing and walked forwardsto greet her, hands outstretched.

‘Muli bwanji?’

Rituals are important. Theresa had been raised by this scaffolding. Politeness cost nothing.She concentrated on saying the right thing, on placing emphasis on the happy words, onasking about the children and about Arnold. She tried not to be distracted by the strangenessof her sudden invitation, but the seven-hour bus from Lusaka had given her a lot of time towonder.

Lupupa walked her into the house’s one room, showing her where to leave her shoes on theway in. A bundle of thatch, tied at one end with a red string, leant against the door, revealingthat the house and the ground outside had been swept in preparation for her arrival.

Separated into two sections by a string across the middle and the blue and red chitengeshanging from it, the visible half of the house was filled with all of the family’s possessions. Ametal frame formed a cupboard, holding neatly lined blue metal bowls and mugs, fadedplastic Tupperware, and a pile of cooking pots and pans. A photograph of the President sat onthe top shelf. A radio could be seen on the bottom one. To the right of the frame was atattered brown sofa.

Theresa saw in her inner eye the size of her own two-bedroom cement house with a verandaand a tin roof. She saw the space in her home where there was none here. Then she saw thebaby on the sofa. Her new niece was wrapped up in a pink, frilly blanket and was fast asleep.She had Arnold’s big nose. Her skin looked like it had been dipped in Vaseline. Theresawanted to reach out, to bring her Samsung out and snap a photo, wanted to print the girl andframe her in something sparkly.

Lupupa gently picked up the snoring baby.

‘Would you like to hold her?’

Theresa held the baby carefully, relishing the ache above her elbows and in her lower back.Her bones accepted the soft burden like an echo. An echo of the four siblings she had carried,one at a time, in a village not unlike this one but for the fact that the mud walls were square.Maybe. It is true that she could remember perfectly Chikondi’s stillness; the feel of her facehidden against Theresa’s back as she vanished into the chitenge cloth, avoiding the bakingsun. And yes, she would still know the exact moment in Gift’s wriggles that meant he wasabout to throw his weight backwards in an attempt to walk on the hot ground too early.Maybe her bones recognised the pain of the twins, Godfred and, yes, Arnold, which had onceburrowed through her shoulders every night like a putsi fly in her skin, even as the boys laytwitching happily in the bed beside her.

Possibly, however, her maternal bones were remembering the one child. The child who hadweighed down only her belly. The baby who had not been created by the three years ofprayers, the three years of numb knees and a sinking feeling in her breasts. Years when shestarted to believe that her body was as disappointed in her as Chimunya was. A baby that hadbeen created only when eventually, finally, she had visited the Rainbow Hospital in the mainpart of Livingstone, and a doctor in a dirty white coat had told her what to do. A blessingfrom outside of her church. A chance to carry a child.

She should have known better then, as she does now. ‘Mimba njosadzitamira.’ A pregnancyalone means nothing.

‘She is beautiful. So fat. She will be strong.’

‘She will have to be. She is the youngest. We have many children.’

Theresa wondered at the look on Lupupa’s face as she said this, at the narrowing of her eyestowards Theresa’s own, as if there was some vital ritual she had missed, like the thirdhandshake or a thanking.

‘Would you like to eat? There is a meal for you. Arnold is outside.’

They hadn’t just prepared a meal; they had killed their second last chicken. Arnold hadmoved the women’s reed mats closer to the fire so that they could sit with the men. Thechildren were nowhere to be seen. Theresa was invited to wash her hands in the water first.As they all ate together, scooping steaming balls of nshima up in their hands and hollowing itlike a bowl, filling it with a small amount of cabbage and finally scooping up the specialchicken relish, Arnold paid attention to her. He asked about her job and home and whethershe had had any trouble with Chimunya after the divorce. They were treating her like themost honoured of guests, and yet she had hardly seen her brother in four years.

‘What will you call her, brother? What about Lungowe? She is beautiful.’

Lupupa and Arnold flinched as if they had seen a mamba in their bowls. Arnold looked upbut stayed silent for a moment, rolling nshima like a thought between his fingers.

‘We were thinking of calling her Theresa. If you would do us this honour? You would begodmother.’

Theresa could have mistaken his intentions. A pity gesture, maybe, to the woman who hadleft her husband rather than be a first wife. A kindness. For the first time, however, shelooked closely at her brother and his wife. At her kin. She saw Lupupa’s shoulders, andArnold’s hands. She saw again the spotlessness of their home.

A godmother. This was not pity, it was need.

Theresa felt an echo of the heaviness of a child in her belly again, felt the swelling of a lifethat needed her to carry it over hot sand. She smiled.

‘I am honoured to be godmother. My name has not been good luck for me, though. Maybe you could call her Blessing?’

Natasha Parker receiving news she won the aKoma Writing Competition Prize


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