II

As the young boy slowly walked towards his mother, he wondered why she was sleeping with her eyes open; he also wondered why she didn’t wake up when he said he’d brought her some food. He knew his mother to be a light-sleeper. Normally, she’d have woken up as soon as he stepped in. something was wrong, Peter was too young to understand what was happening.

He reached beside his mother and called, “Mami.”

No reply.

He called again, his voice gentler, “Mami. I’ve brought some food.”

No reply still.

He tore out a piece from the loaf and attempted to feed his mother, but the food fell on the ground each time he tried to put it in her mouth.

“You have to eat something, Mami. Please eat.” He was weeping again. Every time he attempted to feed the corpse, the piece would drop.

Because he was too tired from running, Peter Black cried himself to sleep beside his deceased mother. When he came awake in the evening, he resumed his cry because his mother had not woken up yet. He spent the whole of the night calling on his mother. Something is terribly wrong with Mami, he thought as he wept in the darkness.

When morning approached , he still tried to feed his mother breakfast by putting another piece of the bread between her insensitive lips; each time he tried, the piece would fall off. He cried himself to sleep the whole day. He saw his mother in his dreams when he slept. She was always smiling at her. She always looked healthy and her complexion richly golden—like she was an angel. There was no sign of any suffering about her. This was the woman he had known in the days before. She always said the same sentence each time she appeared to him:

“Take them back, Peter.”

Peter woke up the next day feeling very hungry. He had not eaten anything since his mother had slept. His eyes were swollen from weeping too much, and his small body was shrunken with starvation; he looked like a child torn by war. The hunger was getting unbearable now. He picked up the loaf of bread his mother had refused to eat and began to feed himself. When he had consumed half of the bread he stopped, his mother might wake up soon. He would have to give her something to eat when she woke up.

After three hours, it suddenly dawned on Peter that his mother would not be waking up. She had gone to somewhere without pains; a place of no hunger. Mami would never be waking up. He cried anew because he knew that Mami had left him for a place of rest and peace without taking him along. He was now all alone in the world. He remembered being taught in school that a child without a mother or a father was called an orphan. Peter was an orphan. He wept helplessly.

He could not leave his mother lying there, he had to do something. He had watched what his mother had done when his father had slept and refused to wake up. He stood up and covered his mother with the only blanket they both shared. He went to the back of the house and found a shovel left behind by some labourers a long time earlier; he picked up the shovel and began to dig a section of the back yard. But because Peter was too young to dig a grave, it took a long time to dig a visible hole as every time he tried to dig the sand poured back in the hole in such ways that his efforts were nearly useless. The back of the building was quite a sandy place.

Peter had to rest a couple of times before resuming his diggings, and by the time he finished digging a hole big enough to accommodate his dead mother, he was soaked through and through with sweat. He was also nearly breathless with exhaustion.

He returned to the house and sat down to rest, he slept off there. When he woke up, he walked to where the corpse lay and pulled away the blanket. He stared at his mother’s fixed but unseeing hollow eyes and tears ran down his own cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Mami, for bringing your food too late.” He believed that his mother died because he’d spent too long to find her some food. He thought he might still be alive if he had returned earlier. But his mother had died the moment he stepped out of the doorway.

He would have to carry his mother to bury her in the back yard; that was how she had done to his father. He tried to lift her but the corpse was too heavy for the ten-year-old boy. There was no way he was going to carry his mother to the back yard. He thought about going out and begging some older people to help him carry his mother but he dismissed the thought when the remembrance of how he had been ignored by the people occurred to him. Nobody would listen to him; no one would even believe him if they listened. He was alone in the world.

He had to do this himself.

He stood up, held his mother’s hands and began to pull. With much efforts and hard breaths, he dragged his mother towards the back yard. He winced and wept each time his mother’s head hit something hard or her legs got caught in a corner. He felt like he was hurting her, but he had no choice.

He kept repeating “I’m sorry, Mami” each time her body hit something hard. When he finally dragged her to the back yard, he collapsed on the heaped sand, tired. After resting a bit, he pushed his mother into the hole. The grave was not very deep but it was enough to cover up his mother. When his mother landed in the hole, one of her legs was somehow twisted irregularly at an acute angle, so Peter had to enter the hole and adjust it right. He climbed out and looked at his mother for the final time. Her shrunken face was now bloated and her body was swollen. Rigor mortis had done its own part and left. Now the congealed fluid inside her had bubbled her up in a macabre portrayal of terrible death. But Peter didn’t understand. He wondered why his thin mother had suddenly become fat in death. He slowly said his good bye and picked up the shovel.

As he shovelled the sand back on his mother, he began to sing all the lullabies his mother had always sung to him in the nights when hunger deprived him of sleep. Most times, the songs were usually magical and they would soothe him to sleep. As he sang now, he hoped the song soothe her and give her peace wherever she was. He tried without success to stop the tears that rushed to her eyes. He did not pause to rest; he made sure his mother was entirely covered. He sang all the way and prayed her gentle soul rested in peace.

After successfully burying his mother and levelling the ground, he knelt on the grave and gave a short prayer. He didn’t pray for his mother; he prayed to his mother. He prayed for guidance; he asked his mother to guard his steps. He stood up five minutes later and looked down at the ground that clothed his mother—there was something missing yet. Then he remembered; he recalled that his mother had put a bouquet on his father’s grave after burying him. But Peter Black didn’t have a bunch of flowers to place on Mami’s grave, so he went into the house and returned with the half-eaten loaf of bread.

Instead of flowers, Peter placed crumbs of bread on his mother’s grave.

Then he cried for the last time.

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