The first time I ever noticed airplanes or even thought about being somewhere outside of my home in Accra was when I watched my mother leave. Since then, airplanes have had a strange significance for me: growth. Not growth I intended to have at six years old, but, growth nonetheless.
I write about that experience here:
A mother’s love sees no fault in her babies. It flows as the Niger River does, without end, ad infinitum. When she holds them in her arms at night, their worries fade into the darkness as their fears subside. Her soothing tongue and harmonious voice settles each and every nerve as the calming waves caress the shore. Eventually, the baby girl grows into a queen, ready to be someone else’s mother. But what happens to the child who doesn’t grow up with the harmonious voice soothing her nerves or comforting arms to run into? That child becomes me.
I was a little over six, my sister two and my brother, towering over us, eight as we watched my mother climb aboard the biggest, whitest, plane I had ever seen to seek a land I had dreamt of all my short life. She didn’t leave because she wanted to see the White House or because she wanted to see the towers in New York, I know that now. She left Ghana to the United States in search of a promise, financial sustenance, leaving us in the care of my auntie–a complete stranger at the time. Looking back now, it seems as though my siblings and I were so very young. Too young to be without our mother.
So, my brother raised me. He taught me to run, run fast enough to get away from the bullies in our neighborhood. He taught me to ride bicycles. He taught me to kill the ants that crawled up my legs in the sand, and he taught me to fear mice because they can bite and bite hard. He didn’t teach me, however, that at nine, it was okay to have hips. He didn’t teach me that I didn’t have to plaster down my breasts so the boys in the class wouldn’t notice. He didn’t teach me that it was okay to tell a boy I liked him because such affection was only natural, and I too was a daughter of nature. It wasn’t his fault, no one had taught him either.
My auntie taught me how to cook and clean–how to be a Ghanaian wife. But I didn’t want to be a Ghanaian wife. I wanted to be like my brother who had raised me. I wanted to climb mountains literally and figuratively, without stopping to catch a breath. I couldn’t call my mother on the phone and voice my wants as most children get to do because she wanted me to be a daughter of the church. I did not want to be a daughter of the church. I wanted to be like my brother who could dance whenever and to whatever song he wanted. I may have been a confused six year old for nine years after my mother left, but at the same time, I knew what I wanted. I still do.
I want to run faster than all the bullies in the world and hide from mice with attitudes. I want to dance to my own music and follow my dreams–the way my brother does, the way my mother did. I was six when I watched that plane take my mother away, and at six I watched my childhood leave with her. There hasn’t been a time in my life I felt more of a woman than when I was six years old, standing at the airport, with my brother, holding my two year old sister as we waved at the big white airplane leaving us behind.
Should I define myself, I am damned to limitation.