Note from the author:
This is a true story told by way of fiction in order to mask people’s identity and to cover for forgotten details. The language is also different.
Disclaimer: I know it should have said “burnt” instead of “burned,” just in case you wondered.
Curious little me just couldn’t stop wondering about Djene. I had many questions that I wanted to ask neighbors, my mother, and hopefully, even Djene herself. I somehow thought that I could help, even without knowing what I could do to help or without knowing exactly what was going on. But now, I had to focus on what was going on at the moment.
Right after slapping Djene, Khadia held her baby’s foot with her right hand as she fumed out of anger towards Djene.
“You burned my son’s foot!” she exclaimed. “You burned Boubacar’s foot!” she shouted as she extended her left hand to pull Djene’s ears towards the ground, as hard as she could.
“His foot …” before she could even complete her sentence, Djene received another hard slap from Khadia. “Crack!”
Again, her head swung from side to side, but this time, it was clear that she must have been in pain. I was sure that I could see her eyes full of tears, about to flow down her cheeks. Her face didn’t seem as indifferent as it usually did.
My heart was filled with more pain and sorrow. I was angry and wished I could grab Khadia myself to put some sense into her. But again, what could I have done? I was just a kid.
Despite cutting Djene off when she tried to talk, Khadia angrily said, “I’m talking to you! Can’t you hear me?” as if she was expecting an explanation.
“His …” Djene continued. “His foot touched the hot pot of rice by mistake after I took it down from the fire.”
“And where were you?” Khadia angrily shouted.
“I put him a little further from me, but he crawled fast and I didn’t see him fast enough when he got closer.”
Djene used a little traditional stove, almost the size of two small stools, one on top of the other. She used ignited burnt wood to cook on the stove. As if cooking with big pots on a low stove wasn’t dangerous enough, Djene had to always be with Khadia’s son. She was barely seen with her own son because Djene was the ’24/7′ nanny despite being a kid herself; at least I thought she was a kid.
Khadia’s shouting and ear pulling continued.
All the loud noise was making little Boubakar cry hysterically. He was probably scared, worried, or simply bothered by his mother’s loud shouts. But interestingly enough, Boubacar’s cries seemed to pump Khadia even more. At least that’s how it seemed to me. It seemed as if she interpreted his cries to be out of the pain of what happened to him hours earlier. As far as I remember, he wasn’t crying when she arrived.
As expected, Djene’s reply to Khadia’ question didn’t seem satisfying to Khadia. “Crack!” she slapped Djene for the third time! Was this the hardest slap? I wondered. By then, I’m pretty sure I either cried or was eagerly waiting for someone to step in. But no; no one did. At least that’s how it was for a while.
This scene happened in plain daylight, in the middle of the neighborhood. It was in a tropical country in West Africa. Because of the pleasant weather, people spent most of their time in front of their houses instead of inside. Some of the neighbors who witnessed this scene were cooking in their outside kitchens, some were chatting, and there were children playing. They all tried hard to focus on what they were doing. Some of them did seem to feel troubled by what they saw, but it was part of the culture for people to mind their own business, but this scene seemed too troublesome for most people.
“Because you burned my son’s foot, I will pay it back by burning your foot too!” Khadia suddenly said, as she angrily pulled her son out of Djene’s hands to hand him to her closest neighbor. She walked back towards Djene with a large spoon as fast as she could, took a little piece of ignited charcoal from the stove, dropped it on the grown, and what happened next completely shattered my heart!