Just like that, I’d walked out of your house.
For 15 months, I’d called you mother and you’d called me your caat (“youngest child”). After giving birth to and raising 11 of your own, biological children, you found space in your home and your heart for another. But this caat had not a single thing – neither language nor culture nor religion – in common with you. A devout Muslim knowing I was a Christian, you took me in. Just like that, you’d taken me in, knowing that I’d surely eventually leave and without knowing how long I’d be in your home. And after 15 months of living under your roof, just like that, the day had come for me to leave.
I’d paid you monthly rent – and relatively generously at that. But rather than simply extending to me the rights of a tenant, you’d given me the privileges of both a guest and your child. We’d have our daily morning chats on your bed. I’d come downstairs after waking up, to greet you. You’d tell me to sit down, and unless I was in a hurry to go somewhere, I would because I could tell you wanted me to. We would chat. Maybe there was some news being talked about on the Wolof radio for you to talk about with me, or a Muslim practice for me to ask you about (“The bread with the black markings on it is for …”), or a cultural cue for you to discreetly give me (“If you have time someday this week, you should go visit _____”). Occasionally I’d accompanied you to the market and you’d proudly introduce me as your caat to your friends there.
You’d had no reason to understand me or where I’d come from. Sometimes you obviously didn’t. Sometimes your lack of understanding had driven me to tears. But other times, you seemed to understand completely that I wouldn’t know something and would need you to tell me. When I’d told you what day the following week I’d have to move out, you’d caught me off guard by giving me a piece of cloth and set of jewelry. You’d bought them ahead of time without knowing exactly when I’d leave. As I looked at the gifts and marveled at how beautifully tasteful they were, and how I might have picked them out myself unlike many of the styles of your country, I’d had to fight back the tears. After 15 months of seeing your caat from a different country, you’d managed to figure something out about my taste. And maybe you could see my tears or hear them in my words of thanks, because you changed the subject and we talked about something else.
Your family and friends had been telling me that you’d especially miss me because there wouldn’t be anyone to chat with you and keep you company. Just like that, it was past 6AM and I needed to get on the road. I went downstairs to find your door closed; you hadn’t woken up yet. I felt torn; on one hand I wanted to wait for you to wake up so we could have one more morning chat. But I also wanted to slip out unnoticed while I had the chance, avoiding yet another goodbye. And so just like that, I continued past your room and to the door. I told the house help to tell you I’d gone, and just like that, your caat walked out of your house.