Refugee Mother and Child

 

No Madonna and Child could touch

that picture of a mother’s tenderness

for a son she soon would have to forget.

 

The air was heavy with odours

of diarrhoea of unwashed children

with washed-out ribs and dried-up

bottoms struggling in laboured

steps behind blown empty bellies. Most

mothers there had long ceased

to care but not this one; she held

a ghost smile between her teeth

and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s

pride as she combed the rust-coloured

hair left on his skull and then –

singing in her eyes – began carefully

to part it… In another life this

would have been a little daily

act of no consequence before his

breakfast and school; now she

did it like putting flowers

on a tiny grave.

 

-Chinua Achebe

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