The Grandmother

Mwamba Mulangula

This is my first attempt at a fictional piece for the internet. I haven’t done much editing. Or plot-planning. I wanted to focus on the language for this one. Allow it to tell the story. Feedback would be awesome. 

The Grandmother was standing in the doorway. Her fists were planted on her hips whose girth forced her elbows to jut out in an awkward manner. From where she was seated, The Niece could see the slow up-and-down of her chest — could imagine the old woman’s lungs expanding hungrily as she took huge gulps of the room’s musty air. For some moments The Grandmother did not speak. Instead her eyes were all over the room. First they darted from wall to floor then from the night-stands to ceiling. Then they crawled slowly over the inanimate inhabitants of the room – for they were so many, piled up in corners, flung over headboards, crowded on every above-ground surface, hanging over closet doors. Her eyes drank in the layer of desperation that seemed to cling to each of them. The Niece had imagined that The Grandmother had planned to speak as soon as she arrived. She imagined that the opening of the door, the positioning of hands on hips and the darting of eyes around the room had been actions that were scripted by The Grandmother as she walked up the steps to The Niece’s room. Actions that would be immediately followed by some words. But she instinctively got the feeling that this part had not been on the itinerary. The slow sweep through the room carried out completely by her eyes had resulted in something neither of them expected. With every part of the room that The Grandmother’s eyes went over her face changed.

When she had first arrived, and The Niece suspected even before that, she had had the face of a fighter. An expression that made it clear she had little patience for foolishness. The Niece’s hand had instinctively flown to her back as she recalled the childhood beatings that often followed such a look from The Grandmother. But the look on The Grandmother’s face was no longer that of The Grandmother that had beaten her all those years ago for stealing sweets from a tuck-shop. This expression was one The Niece had seen only once before. At The Grandfather’s funeral three years ago. Hopelessness. It dawned on The Niece that The Grandmother may have underestimated the gravity of the situation. She may have been told details by The Step-Mother but clearly she had needed to see it for herself to truly understand what it had done to The Niece lose everything. When The Grandmother finally spoke her voice was raspy and quiet — decibels below the level both women were accustomed to. To the room, she whispered,

“How long have you been living like this?”

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