18th Thread: When daughters are taken from their mothers
My mother was born in another country on the northern side of the sea, over there. I wish I could have visited, but she never wanted to go back, she did not even like to be asked. She said she did not remember, it was cold and the streets were dirty. But I have been told that the city is beautiful, the citizens educated and refined. They discuss, write books, stage theater. Now it’s too late, I’ll never go, I will not know our land. You, perhaps, will have that chance.
My mother knew many languages, she read treaties, she wrote. She would rage if there was too much noise when she worked. She stamped her foot and broke vases. My aunt, who lived with us after the death of Papa, rebuked her: In our city, you could never have behaved in such a fashion. It’s not becoming. In addition, you do not sleep enough. You’re going to grow old too fast and will not remarry.
But Mama did not care. Every evening, her lantern burned late into the night. If I woke up, I would see her bent over a book with her magnifying glass. I would approach, and she would not hear me until I touched her shoulder. She would smile and take me on her knees. I would cuddle on her lap, inhaling deeply the hibiscus smell of her neck.
– What are you doing here, instead of sleeping? Here, read this sentence.
I tried, but it was too difficult.
– How did you become so learned, Mama?
– I stole, I spied, I lied. It’s so far now. What does it matter, anyway?
– Tell me a story, a beautiful story about our world.
– A story! At this time? There was a mother whose daughter was abducted by a monster emerged from the depths of the oceans. He made her his wife. Can you imagine how sad her mother was? With pitiful groans, she looked everywhere for her daughter she loved so much. She asked the small wild animals: have you, have you seen my daughter? She caressed the rushes that hum their songs along the river: I beg you, I beg you, where is my daughter, beautiful as a golden flower? While she was wandering the earth in despair, she forsook her work, the plants she had always grown did not germinate, the animals stopped breeding.
The ground was hard and cold and naked, gods and men and animals went hungry. They begged her to return life to the earth, but she missed her daughter so much that their suffering did not seem to matter. Her long hair that she tore formed the only vegetation, the tears she shed the only rain, her uprooted nails grew legs to become cockroaches which scattered everywhere, eating any food left over. At last, the gods interceded with the abductor and the girl was returned. Ever since, she remains with her mother nine months a year during which, thanks to the pleasure they give each other, they provide abundance to the land, the nine months of all women’s fertility. Then the girl joins her husband deep down under the sea. Her mother gives her a large bunch of poppies that take three months to wilt, letting her know it is time to go back.
When she sojourns on the seabed, plants grow no more, and it is cold on earth as it is cold in the heart of a mother from whom her daughter has been taken. But you, my joy, no one will take you from me. We will marry you in our city, and I can visit you and advise you and caress your children, whether men approve it or not. I would fall asleep, my head nestled in her shoulder, and wake up in my bed. But you, what are you doing still up? You ask me to tell you about my mother, and the love of mothers for their daughters, just so I forget about bedtime!