Many years ago my family played host to a friend’s daughter for a couple of months. Her mother was critically ill and her father had his hands full nursing her. On the day her mother died, we took her home under the guise of going to visit her dad, as we often did while she was with us. My mum had called me aside earlier and asked me to secretly pack up her stuff and put them in the boot of the car. I will never forget the paranormal sounds that pierced the air when her dad broke the news to her. Till this day, I have never heard anything like it. I sat with her for hours while she wailed and I shed a few tears myself. My tears weren’t’ for her mother, they were for her. Her pain was palpable and I shared in it.
In the following weeks, we were constant visitors at their house; my mother, to help with the funeral arrangements, and myself, as a companion for my new friend. New because the few times I’d met her prior to her stay with us, I’d established that I didn’t like her. Her abrasive personality grated on my nerves. I groaned inwardly when I heard she was coming to stay but smiled and made her feel welcome. I knew better than to be ungracious. My mother expected nothing less from me, and rightly so. But seeing her breakdown and holding her in my arms as she wept inconsolably changed all that. Her shared pain drew us together. I had just turned 13, she was 17.
I remember being concerned about her. I knew what it was like to lose a parent and I worried constantly about how she was dealing with it. Having her turn up unannounced one afternoon was a surprise as she lived an hour’s drive away. I was in the middle of a piano lesson so I told her she had to wait a while before I’d be free to hang out with her. She said she couldn’t stay, she’d only come to collect a few things I’d forgotten to pack for her. I couldn’t remember seeing any of her stuff lying around but I told her to feel free to head up to my room and grab whatever she forgot. She left before my lesson was over.
The Sunday after her visit, I decided to wear a new dress my mum had bought me a couple of months before. I tore my room apart trying to find it. Running late for church, I decided to reach for my favourite cream brocade skirt with the black floral embroidery instead. That too was nowhere to be found. As I rummaged through my wardrobe perplexed, I realised there were quite a few items missing. I sat on the floor, confused, and it was there my mother found me. Before she could scream at me for not being dressed, I told her half my wardrobe was missing. At first, she thought I was being silly, surely, my clothes couldn’t have developed legs and done a runner?! Perhaps if I’d tidied up my wardrobe like she’d asked me to umpteen times, I’d be able to find things more easily? It wasn’t till I mentioned that my favourite skirt was missing that she took me seriously.
“The cream one with the black flowers? Didn’t you give it to Anita?! She was wearing it the last time I went to her house.”
I didn’t need to be a graduate of the police academy to realise what had happened to my missing clothes. Many of the clothes that were missing were new and I was determined to reclaim them. I needed to confirm my theory so my mum and I took a trip to her house. Under strict instruction not to utter a word, I sat quietly while my mum calmly asked if she’d helped herself to my clothes.
At first she vehemently denied it but after my mum gently reminded her she’d seen her wearing my skirt, she came clean. She went off to her room and returned with a suitcase full of my property. Underwear, clothes, jewellery, books, shoes and some random bits and bobs.
The look of furious shame on her father’s face is beyond description. He made several attempts to hit her but my mum stood in his way. After calming him down, she encouraged Anita to apologise to me and her father, which she did.
What happened next shocked me to my core.
As we made to leave, I reached for the suitcase of clothes but was halted by the sound of my mother’s voice saying, “leave it.”
Leave it?! How could I leave it?! Some of my favourite possessions were in that case! Besides, most of the clothes wouldn’t fit Anita (who was two sizes bigger) so what was the point?! I knew better than to argue though so tears running down my face I walked away from my belongings. I’ll never forget how hurt I was. I felt betrayed not only by Anita who in spite of my reservations, I had embraced, but also by my mother who had taken the side of a thief over her own daughter.
On the journey home, my mother tried, unsuccessfully, to console me. Whatever happened to justice? Didn’t I deserve to have the things that had been unlawfully taken from me returned? Surely that WAS the right thing to do?!
Understanding didn’t come till many years later. My mother’s actions were a lesson in mercy; compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.