“Where is mummy?” my younger sister enquired. “Why is she not eating?”
I looked up from my breakfast of watery tea and a nearly spoilt loaf of bread to mum’s seat.
“Recently, she has been skipping breakfast and lunch,” she continued. “Why are we even eating spoilt bread?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe, there’s no money to buy a new one.”
“How can she not have money? It’s only six weeks of staying at home!”
“As a private school teacher, she doesn’t earn much!”
I stood up and strode to her room. She was not there.
Where is mum?
Her hushed voice answered me. Leading by the voice, I hurried to the backyard, stopping short to eavesdrop on her conversation, my heart throbbing.

“…Any amount, please. I’m running low on food supplies. I don’t want my children to starve…” She paused.
I saw her restraining sobs as she listened to the person on the other end of the call.
“Please, I don’t want to sleep with you…” she whimpered. “Please, just lend me some money. I will pay back. My kitchen is almost empty. If I starve my children, I would probably have a mental breakdown. It even hurts me to give them a miserable meal now.”
Mum listened again and finally gave a frustrated sigh. “If that’s what it takes, I will do it. My kids will be napping by 3 PM. I’m expecting you.”

I tiptoed back to the dining table before her call ended, feeling the throb of my heart transforming into a prickling sting.
Irritated, I couldn’t continue eating—my appetite was shredded.
How could mum agree to sleep with a man in exchange for money? Even though she was sacrificing her body for her kids, even though she was starving to feed us, somehow, I felt she stooped too low.

During nap, sleep eluded me. The thought of what would happen haunted me.
When mum’s visitor came, I tiptoed to her room, opening the door a smidgen, peering inside. My heart shattered as I beheld my mother pants down in her matrimonial bed with dad’s best friend happily performing his coitus to her.

She lay still when our eyes met. I could feel a mountain of shame suffocating her.
I turned the way I’d come, sprinting to our room, crying myself to sleep.

When I awakened, she had stocked up the house and was preparing dinner. I joined her in the kitchen, avoiding eye contact.
“I’m sorry for what you saw earlier. I never wanted to do it, but I had no other choice,” she said, her eyes teary.

At once, I understood more than her apology. I understood her love and the sacrifice she made for her kids. Even though my hug was rigid, she understood that I didn’t begrudge her. Coronavirus was to blame.

By the way, dinner was delicious, yet it tasted terrible in my mouth. But I ate it, feeling grateful.

© UCHENNA NDUKWE H., June 2020.

Image Credit@PIXABAY