If there is a second time I should have fainted in my life it should have been that moment when my husband said, ‘I think they found her.” I thought, found what, her her or her the body. But then he said, “She’s alive.” We sped to the cop station. It was an afternoon with thick, dark grey clouds hanging precariously over us. It threatened to rain any moment and motorists were somehow all out on the roads, climbing over each other to get home faster. We were silent in the car. I don’t know what he was thinking but I was wondering if my baby had changed, where she had spent the previous night, if she was scarred, if she would still be the same.
At the cops’, I literally jumped out of the car before it stopped. I was in house sandals and track bottoms. I didn’t have a bra on and if you have big boobs like I do and you run without a bra, you know how your boobs bounce all over, like they are on a trampoline. I was led into the inner sanctum of the police station to the OCS’s cramped office with old files stacked over old steel file cabinets.
And there was my baby – feet suspended from the floor, sitting on a wooden chair, drinking a soda. The soda bottle looked bigger than her. She was in a different dress, an oversized dress, a dress that I would not have dressed her in. She had no red ribbon on her head. She looked older or maybe the dress made her look older. I wanted to wash her face with water and soap. Soak her in a bathtub. Scrub her hair, towel her with the cleanest white towel I could get my hands on. I wanted to hold her and wear her skin, to make her and myself one so that she would never ever have to wander off like that again. I wanted to imprison her in my body, in my heart. I wanted to return her to my womb where she would be safe. I’d feed her whatever I ate, she’d sleep wherever I slept.
When she saw me, her face barely registered recognition. For a moment I was afraid she’d forgotten me. After looking at me for a moment her eyes finally lit up and she wanted to jump off the chair but realised that she was too short to get off it herself. With one hand trying to hold the soda, she lifted the other hand up, like she wanted to be lifted. I was on her, knocking down the soda, holding her, squeezing her, and crying. She smelled like something that had stayed in the cupboard for too long without use. Her hair smelled of bar soap. She started crying because I was crying but also because I was squeezing her too much and too long. I lifted her up and walked out of the room with her and on the way I met my husband and I walked past him to a small square with a bench. He followed us and stood aside, wiping tears with the back of his hand, trying to be a man now. I inspected her body. Inch by inch. Looking for cuts. Looking for bruises. Looking for hurt. I looked at her fingers and behind her ears and her toes and I cried as I felt her scalp and touched her cheeks. She was unperturbed.
We took her home, then we took her to the doctor. I don’t know why, it was my idea. I’m extra. The doctor said she was okay. I don’t know how she ended up in the hands of the lady who found her. I don’t know how she ended up in her home and how she took care of her and took her to the nearest police station. I don’t know because I didn’t want to ask her questions. I don’t want to piece together her movement from the mall to her place and to the police. I didn’t want that narrative. I wanted to forget it. My husband on the other hand did. I told him not to tell me.
The woman who took her to the cops is an angel. That’s how God works, through men and women. I called her a week after the ordeal to thank her. She said she was a mother too, a single mother with three children of her own. She was from a modest background, and worked as a Help. Her eldest, she said, had just completed primary school and was getting into high school the following year. Our paths crossed for a reason. I suspected that God had negotiated the return of my daughter by giving me a chance to also help this woman.
So we paid for her daughter’s high school education right through university. She’s now working. She gave me my daughter and I gave her daughter an education. I didn’t have to lose my eyesight or offer a kidney in exchange. I think God let me off easy in this trade-off. My daughter is now fifteen years old. We fight all the time because I’m the mother who wants to know where she is, who she is with, when she will be back home, who she is talking to. I stifle her. She likes to say, “Mom, you are too much!” I’m not too much, I’m afraid of losing her. But the strangest thing is that I might not lose her in the mall again but now I’m losing her to life. She’s no longer my baby who wore a red ribbon on her head, she’s a child of the world, she was never mine in the first place.
I’m still selling books. Here, buy it on this link.