Good Bye A’nnassia

Good Bye A’nnassia

A’nnassia passed away on April 11, 2015. She was 91. Her real name was Aïsha. A’nnassia (her nickname) was my mother. I did not have a chance to say good bye to her because I was away at the time of her death and because no on informed me of her quick deterioration which led to her end. There has been a rift in the family. My brother and/or sisters and I have not been on good terms for a while.
A’nnassia had a rare form of hepatitis which devoured her liver. She suffered terribly. By the time she passed away, her weight was reduced to a mere 25 kilograms. She lived alone for about six years. My father had died in 2009 leaving her to fend for herself and she did so until the end. She moved out of her little house only when she could no longer manage personal matters and/or things on her own. She lived with one of the sisters until her extinction. She was a daring person. No one in the family had the boldness or courage to mess up with her.
Strong-willed and fair-minded, A’nnassia gave birth to many children, most of them did not survive. She lived through World War Two and the social upheavals that followed. She came from a wealthy family. Her family owned land, a lot of land. But she kept away from her brothers and sisters after she had married my father in 1944.
My father died in my arms. I was at his side up to the end. I also saw to his burial and the farewell ceremony that followed. I could not do the same for my mother. Displacement prevented me from being there for her. When I visited her newly made grave, still fresh with the smell of death, I was not emotional. I felt a certain coldness going through my blood as if I had frost bites all over my body. I sat on the ground by her grave and did not move for hours thinking to myself where she was and whether she could hear me if I called her name. But I did not call her name for fear she might hear me and feel angry at my absence. I was for a long time her eye ball. My being away for most of my life and her closeness to her other children gave me the sentiment of a stranger every time I saw her. She would complain to me and blame them for my estrangement. I always felt alienated in feeling and affection and so did she.
I said a prayer and left. I have not returned to her grave ever since that first visit. Somehow, something tells me that she does not want me to be there, too close to her even after her death.
Our (that is my mother and I) odyssey is a long one. It goes back to the time when I was a little boy. I went away when I was four to go to school and would return to be with her and my sisters and later my brother during the holidays only to leave her again when I embarked on another school year. Year after year after year of schooling led to my leaving home for good to head for France to study. It was the thing to do at the time. Every aspiring child was sent to La Métropole to taste the milk of the La Grande Fouance. When I look back now I realize that I spent most of my life away from ‘home’ where my mother and the rest of my family resided. On sporadic visits, I felt a stranger in my own house. Modernity has a price, you might say. In order to be educated in the language of the Master, one had to leave home, travel to a foreign land in order to learn and be educated in the fashion set for us by our ancestors from Gallia! That way was the only way to ascend, to rise in thought and station, to become an évolué of sorts. Going to school in France at that time was and still is an expensive commodity every family from the colony must be able to afford so that their children could better themselves and mine was no different. I have always had the feeling that the tearing apart of my family has nurtured in me what I have called the ‘immigrant syndrome’ i.e. because I left my homeland and adopted more than one, I could never be who I really am, so I have ended living in fear all my life—the fear of losing my passport, the fear of failing, the fear falling seriously ill, the fear of schizophrenia. ‘I contain multitudes,” the poet says. Then the fear was transformed into an attitude. I would go out of my way to please, not offend, my hosts who are at ‘home.’ Needless to add that one suffers another alienation when and if one goes back to one’s ‘homeland,’ which is no longer my homeland. Neither here nor there, I have led half a life.
To come back to A’nnassia is be reminded of the human condition that forces one to feel marginalized no matter where one finds oneself on the planet. A line from the tenth century poet Abu al-ala Al-Marri fits the bill and conveys what I have in mind: ‘I sought to live anywhere / but nowhere would take me as a dweller.’ Al-Marri was blind, poor, and lonely most of his life. He led a solitary life devoted to reading and writing. He lived to be 84 and had no children. He even blamed his father for having had him. A rare find in the world, except perhaps for a Sartre.
In the end, we tend to live a little life that had been planned for us and not a life we plan for ourselves. I am not being fatalist when I utter these words. Far from it. I come to think that A’nnassia also lived off the center. After all, she was a victim too, a victim of her time—patriarchy, colonialism, motherhood. Maybe her parents had made a mistake in giving her life, maybe she made a mistake in giving me life, who knows. At any rate, she is dead now. May she rest in eternal repose!
With love, much love as always, A’nnassia.