“J’irai à Kébémer embrasser ma mère”, “I will go to Kébémer to kiss my mother” My mother? Which one? I haven’t told you yet, but I have two mothers and three fathers. I know, it’s a bit much for one person. In any case, this is what Pandora’s box told me when I opened it. Even if African families are large, this one is rather exceptional.
Until recently my mother had always been Yaay Khady, the one I’ve always known. The one that covered with love and kind attention the happy siblings we were, my brothers, my sister, and me. I wasn’t the oldest nor the youngest, but, paradoxically, the favorite child, the one whose whims were always tolerated.
When Yaay Khady considered me strong enough to know, she freed herself from the lie’s heavy weight and broke the silent conspiracy that everyone had respected: I was the only daughter she hadn’t given birth to. I will always remember the solemnity of that moment, that special evening under the veranda of our deserted house. She was holding my hands while she wept uncontrollably. Between two sobs, she put her veil back into place and began telling me about my life since the day I was born. Well, to be more accurate, one should say since I was discovered…
It was on Yoff beach. A group of teenagers were training their wrestling moves early one morning when one of them stumbled over a crumpled bundle half-buried in the sand. Attracted by the hoarse wails, they first thought it was a litter of kittens thrown away by an angry housewife. But as they looked closer…
Yaay Khady was frightened when the excited group of teenagers banged on her door. She ended her Fadj prayer with the traditional salute and literally flew to her door. Their words made no sense, their eyes were full of panic but they all pointed at the sea. Had Leuk Daour made a new victim? Without a question she put on her sandals, held her rosary a little tighter, and ran to the beach, following her most peculiar guides.
Yaay Khady invoked God and all his prophets when she was handed a bundle of wriggling nappies. She asked for the divine protection against the shaytané rajim when she discovered that I was still bathed in amniotic fluid. She smiled through her tears at this divine miracle which, like Moses three thousand years ago, saved this little life from the rising morning tide, from the voracious appetite of wild dogs, from hunger and from cold.
And here I am as an adult today. I deserved to know the truth, which, in any case, didn’t change her love for me in any way. Even better, in my eyes this confession was yet another proof of her love. Because neither she nor Tidiane, my father, had made any real difference between me and her real children, I felt like I was as much their daughter as the ones before and after me.
But I didn’t expect these revelations. I took it all in. Rather well at the beginning. Then, little by little, I began to feel incomplete. I decided I should know the person I couldn’t call mother: my progenitor. It was difficult for me to call her anything other than Oumou. Ironically, Oumou means mother in Arabic. To me, she will always remain a few shouts lodged in my eardrums. Those she produced when I confronted her a few months later, following up the Ariadne’s thread in my life’s labyrinth. Shouts of surprise, but also of remorse, and maybe even shame, supplications inspired by the fear of being revealed to everybody’s eyes, especially Badara’s, her husband. More than of loosing the perfect varnish of her new life that she enjoyed displaying now that she lived as a perfect Bourgeoise on top of a mountain of goods and certainties, she was afraid that her husband, who had emigrated, would learn that she had ‘strayed’, as we say around here, and that the sin of her youth was made of flesh and bones. She knew her child had survived, She could have taken its life like may desperate women had done before her, but what little maternal instinct that remained inspired her to place the bulky package on Yoff beach and take refuge behind the grove to make sure it was found safe and sound. She had then cried all the tears of her body and had gone back with an empty stomach to wait for Badara, her jekeru bataaxal, whom she had only seen as a photograph for the last three years.
Oumou introduced herself a few years later to Yaay Khady to quiet her demons and find sleep again. She had matured, regretted her action, and thanked my mother for her noble action. Yaay Khady got afraid, afraid that this happy, endearing little girl would be taken away from her. Afraid that I would hear the truth. She protected herself by dryly dismissing her. When she later understood that Oumou had no intention of taking me back, she went to see her to appease her consciousness. My mother and her generous soul.
The train’s rumbling accompanies my thoughts. Its hypnotic effect makes all heads nod. In this half-asleep wagon, my life unravels at the speed of the Express: in slow motion. I breathe in air to free my lungs, letting the oxygen unfurl in every fold in my chest. Then I exhale very, very slowly. All the air laden with anxiety, doubt and fear must be expelled to purify my body. I must become dizzy to stop thinking. The evocation of this part of my life is still painful.
We will leave Kébémer and its stables behind. These horses trotting freely while the nursery rhyme keeps galloping in my head like in a cursed carousel.
 Morning prayer.  Water spirit of Dakar.  Satan and its accomplices.  A fiancé one has only met through letters.