I have a singular memory of my mother laying a hand on me. One. It was a few days before I was to report to boarding school. I was excited. I had also belatedly discovered, to my horror that my mattress was dirty. See, one of my siblings was to start boarding school as well. She had been bought a new mattress, and unlike mine, hers came unsealed from Royal Form. My mattress from the year before had not been new. Momma had recycled one of the mattresses from the ‘boy’s quarter’ (I have never understood why they call it that) and decided it was better to subject it to boarding school. In fact, whenever I got back from school, it went right back to the ‘boy’s quarter’, probably because mom was afraid I would bring bed bugs home.
Anyway, so this new mattress was not sealed like mine was. It looked clean and the form inside it was a creamy white that resembled vanilla ice cream. I liked it. I could not get a new mattress though because apparently nothing was wrong with mine. So I decided to denude my mattress and wash the cover. That way, at least I had a reasonably pretty mattress too when I arrived at school. I clipped the stitching with as much precision an 8 year old can muster. Because I was using a razor blade, which was forbidden, I had my sister ‘banging ‘Five O’’ in the corridor. We were slightly out of breath with clammy foreheads after what must have been an hour, but we had accomplished the task at hand, and in the process, I had made a startling discovery. The color of my form was not like the new mattress! Mine was a brownish color. This would not do. We carried the mattress as well as its cover outside into the courtyard. I had decided we would wash it till it was presentable. Granted I was yet to see anyone at home wash a mattress, but how difficult could it be? I managed to convince the siblings to join me. It would be fun I said. Never mind that school was in a few days. I knew it would dry in time. Things were washed everyday…they always dried. I asked the maid to help me with the soapy water when she was done washing. Because I wanted the mattress clean, I scrubbed the surface of the courtyard on which the mattress was going to lay first. I went ahead, with help, to place my mattress on this surface and poured the rest of the soapy water on it. To this day, I wonder why the maid did not stop this foolhardy endeavor. It is likely she wanted to get back at me for something I had done.
My mom and dad were in their room, all the while, getting ready for what must have been a wedding given that it was Saturday. Also, I remember that she was wearing something either a sari or one of those ankole thingies that look like a sari when she walked into the courtyard from the house. They’d decided not to use the front door to leave.
I remember the livid look, being chased around my small onion garden and the resounding clap on my back. I was not wearing a top for the activity at hand so the lack of insulation meant that when her heavy hand met my bear wet skin, I felt the cold before the searing heat moments later. Her palm, my siblings kept assuring me was engraved in my back for eternity. At the time, it seemed plausible. I do not much remember what happened thereafter. Your aunties say I was bundled off to school with a dripping mattress though. I do not believe them.
NB: My your grandmother has never been the disciplining type, but I suspect that day, the fear of having spawned an idiot dropped her threshold of tolerance…with good reason, I would have beat me too.