My grandmother is a very strict person. She spent her life cooking, cleaning and nursing and raising her child and grandchild but never with tenderness or genuine motherly love. With her scarf around her thin face she merely looked like a general, but we felt like soldiers constantly waiting for her orders.
These actions were not severe or nearly as important for survival, but we never tasted family life in a tranquil atmosphere for the severity assumed by her in everything we do would freeze all the warmth of a family.
I never knew how to wash dishes if you ask her. It was a task beyond my unhandy hands and my day dreamer spirit. Her voice would echo from her room whenever she sensed (she actually sensed my attempts in the kitchen) that I want to do tasks for women, as she called them.
-Useless you are, useless!
My mother would cast away her words. She learned to ignore her criticism and blue spirit. But whenever she called me useless I would be inspired to think of things I am actually good at. Maybe drawing could be my specialty, I would think to myself. Then I would take a pencil and sharp it. It is hard to find a motive. I refused to follow the ideas in my head to draw a portrait of Nana in her rocking chair.
-What are you doing, what? – for some reason Nana would appear at my room’s door and look at me as if I betrayed her.
-I am drawing Nana, do you need me to do something?
She would frown and press her lips together. Her face would change several colors, mostly those associated with anger. Nothing, she would answer closing the door passive-aggressively. Then trough the thin walls I could hear her high-pitched voice as she repeats the word useless through the hallway into the kitchen.
Nana married young. My mother told me that she was not even fit for marriage as she had not matured as a woman. She was fourteen and her period came late. Nevertheless, her marriage was consumed. She toiled at my grandfathers farm and did everything a black slave had to do. Sometimes I compare her to a toiler for nothing, an insane person that was free but shackled by her duties she performed for love. She had never felt hardship with him as her spouse, although she had to work herself to exhaustion.
She did not bear a male child, and for the ignorant village it was her fault. She gave birth to my mother and every infant after was a still born. The rumors had it that Nana was cursed by women who were hopelessly in love with my grandfather. The village hated Nana, but no one had ever seen her crying, not even grandfather.
Nana was twenty when he died. I’ve heard stories about that day. The wind would clear the landscapes and no bird would sing. Nana kept my mother in her lap and rocked back and front as if she went mad. No screaming, nothing would escape her sore throat but quite prayers.
A year after she started to work as a dresser never leaving the sanctuary of the kitchen or farm to someone else. She never forgave us for moving her into the city because of her poor health.
-Useless is what you read, what you hear, what you say.
-Why Nana?- I ask her as I close my book.
-Why?! You are being fed but you never cook. You have a clean room but never clean it yourself. You have a roof above your stubborn head but never mind to be grateful. Useless you are, useless.
-Leave her be Mama, she is still a kid. – my mother would try to reason with her.
-I had you when I was her age, I had skills, I had a home and a living. What is she doing here? Marry her, she has come of age!
My mother winks at me and the tension is lest. Nana sits in her rocking chair, rocking back and front and singing a sad song.
I look at her pensively and start thinking over again of something I could be good at.