My mother named me. In protest.
My mother was a charcoal-seller. When she met my father, she was a charcoal seller. When she is about to meet her death, I will not be surprised if she asks to be cremated, charcoal is all there is to her life.
My mother’s name was Sarah and she was the third wife to Musa, my father and the local butcher. She was conveniently named to pass as Muslim, even though she was a staunch Catholic till her death. After marrying Musa and giving him five children including me, she became a bigger Catholic than the Pope himself, though looking at the way this new Pope is, it seems not to be a stiff competition today.
My mother was in favour for a few years because she produced three sons in a row, while wife number one and wife number two popped girls in a devastating sequence. So my three brothers were welcomed into this world as kings and my mother was showered with gifts of land and houses for the boys. Then, she gave birth to a daughter and the situation chilled.
Wife number one soon died in childbirth, giving birth to her seventh daughter and Musa found consolation in twin daughters of a fellow butcher from a village nearby. And I was a sort-of goodbye event, conceived on the last night my father ever spent with my mother.
So mother named me Vincent. Just to spite my father, who insisted on proper Muslim names and upbringing for all his children. He got so angry that he came to my mother’s house and picked Irfan, Adnan, Imran and Hadija and left me behind, still a question-mark of life, clinging onto my mother’s breast and fighting for dear life as I was born so small and hopeless that there was little chance I was going to make it.
Mother was promptly kicked out with me in her arms and a few personal belongings she was allowed to take with her to her charcoal shop. Life fell back to her old ways of making a living in the blackness of the small room and the bleakness of our joint future.
I was growing up on the street in front of our charcoal shop. By the age of five I was perfectly capable of selling the charcoal myself, as mother needed more and more time to rest, due to her freshly developing lung illness that will eventually take her ten years later.
I saw some school in those years, in fact I managed to do the primary school with reasonably good grades and just when I was hoping to be sent off to a boarding school as I could see mother suffering and me unable to help, she died. I was left alone on this world since my father and siblings decided to deny me completely, even though we resemble so much I get called their names on occasion by some senile village elders.
So I sat with mother, dead on her bed, in our charred room so near to my father’s butcher shop, and I did not know what to do. I just sat there for a very long time. Until our neighbour woke me up from that feeling of loss by barging in, wanting to buy charcoal and ending up wailing and calling the whole village to come for an impromptu vigil.
Everyone came. I listened to the stories about my mother, how kind she was, how eager to help others, how devoted in church… I was probably for the first time understanding the depth of her faith and struggle, the scope of her rebellion against my father and the pain of being rejected, abandoned, disowned, alone. I began seeing how much she expected of me, how she put all her love and resources into me, all her beliefs and dreams. I received her praise, I received donations, I collected so much money from the mourners, money I never saw before in one place was now actually in my pocket, and it kept pouring in.
I was told that mother will be buried by the church since everyone knew we had no burial ground anywhere. I wasn’t even able to think that far but the villagers had already agreed with the parish priest and she was given a decent place in the far corner of the churchyard, and villagers planted flowers on the grave.
I survived her death and many attempts by the older boys and men to get the money out of me in the name of investing it for my future. I bought a bike. I decided to become a boda-boda. I was fifteen but a bit taller then my agemates, and a bit stronger from offloading all those bags of charcoal. I was quickly taken through the basics of riding by the boda-boda who sold the bike to me, and I was stupid enough and lucky enough to ride the bike all the way home, some thirty kilometres from town where I had gone to buy it.
Following day, I was ready to start my new life. The whole village was in utter shock seeing me at the stage. Everyone was full of admiration for my brave and bold move. I was soon taking my first ride, then the other, and another. by the end of the day my pockets were full. I have arrived.
Five years down the road, I have seen it all, done it all. Life had started way too early for me. Innocence gone way too early. Too much money and too little wisdom is a bad combination. I wish mother lived longer, no matter how poor we were because with all the money I am making I have remained green and stupid. Mother would have saved me from what I’m going through now.
My two girlfriends are pregnant. I know life will go on but when they find out, I’m in real trouble. But mother used to say that I am Vincent, the invincible, and no matter what obstacles Satan puts in my way, I shall conquer and carry on. So let me see how this one goes for me.