Oh Selina! – Pearl Matsebula

The animated young boys and girls on the posters welcomed her to a new day as she rubbed her eyes open. She searched for her doll like she did almost every morning before getting out of bed and walked over to the wardrobe where mommy was sniffing and doing the final additions to her suitcase. She pulled her pyjama pants around her groin and the routine for the day began.

Mommy took her to the bathroom for a pee and waited as she peed in drops and giggled at the sounds. Unlike most days when she’d hold and force her to pee and stop playing, she waited, sniffing. As she looked away, Selina got off the sitting bowl and rushed to flush. That being her favourite part about the toilet. Mommy turned to her at the sound of the rushing water, and for the first time Selina had pulled back on her underwear and pants without her help. She stopped sniffing. Maybe this was a sign to not send her away.

She watched her play with her doll, repeating the same word over and over again while swinging from side to side. Her heart sank. A moment ago in the bathroom she thought twice about sending her away, but nothing had changed. Selina was still her child who was growing up but was still a baby and would always remain a baby. Despite the doctors observations, their true thoughts about Selina’s condition were hidden behind ‘They all develop at their own pace, be patient.’ It had been five years and she was still waiting for Selina to say ‘mommy’, just once, to take her to kindergarten without waiting for a phone call to come pick her up because she’s afraid of socialising, or not cooperating like the other kids, or being aggressive, or not responding to instructions.

As she tidied the bedroom and shelves she came across one of Selina’s baby pictures. She was the perfect baby. Everywhere she went people wanted to hold her, everything was fine with her until she turned two. That’s when she suspected that something was not right with her. She would repeat the same actions and sounds over and over again and never responded to facial expressions or affection, she would look confused. Most doctors she took her to said more or less the same things; she was still developing, other children took longer than others. Until one day when she took her to a paediatrician and was told she had autism. She had never heard of it before.

Selina walked over to her and saw the picture. She stared at it and then back at mommy. “Do you know who this is?” mommy asked. She responded by humming and nibbling the tip of her index finger while she placed her head on mommy’s thigh and waved her doll. Suddenly, mommy remembered how warm she felt when she had accepted seven months later that there was a little human in her stomach, growing every day. She had brushed her stomach and spoke to the baby and it kicked. It was like someone saying I love you too. For those last two months everything was about her precious human doll. It truly was a gift from God, she and many others had said, though for many it was the appropriate thing to say to cover up their judgements and disappointments over how she fell pregnant out of wedlock and had no real relationship with the father of the chid.

She hated herself for the kind of mother she was. A mother should love her child unconditionally, the words of her colleague echoed. So what was wrong with her? She wondered when she saw herself in the mirror as she gathered some of Selina’s toys. What kind of a mother was she to send her child to a home for ‘special’ kids? What would people say? Will she be fine with not seeing her anytime soon or ever? What if she got better and later resented her for sending her away after she got adopted-it was her secret desire that she gets adopted by a family that would love and take care of her better than she did. But deep within she knew she would be considered last by anyone who would have wanted to adopt a child. The thoughts raced through her mind as she prepared and bathed her. Selina’s innocent stare pierced her. But no, she had given this a lot of thought and she was not going to change her mind.

Selina was a burden, she thought secretly. She had stopped living because of Selina, three nannies had come and gone without notice. She had spent thousands of Rands on different types of medication; traditional, Chinese, therapists and the one said to cure all diseases, love. But they had all failed. Some days she reprimanded her so harshly for not understanding little things, like wearing her shoes right. She didn’t know what more to give to understand Selina. She had stopped living because of her. She stopped going out to public places because Selina would get so overwhelmed by people, sounds, lights… The walls of their bachelor flat was covered with posters of shapes, colours, animals, but they were not helping. She grew cold towards her each day. So much that Selina grew a little scared of her. Before she touched her, she would stare in her eyes for approval and timidly try to touch her mommy.

She struggled to dress her up as she couldn’t keep still. “Selina,” she pulled the face that would normally get her to cooperate but she ignored it and began crying. She forced her arms in the floral dress with matching ribbons on her pigtails. But Selina threw her doll on the floor when she tried to calm her down. This angered mommy and it was almost like a confirmation that she had to send her away. That feeling she had in the first six months of her pregnancy, that what was in her was simply the results of a deed once done with no strings attached-but one string secretly attached itself- came back again, and she was not going to go through it again. Rather another torture than this one. She needed a break from this one.

She rushed to the bathroom and cried. She quickly washed her face at the sound of the doorbell. It was Selina’s therapist. When Selina saw her she threw her arms around her. She spoke to her like she was going to respond then led her to her building blocks. “The young lady has been missing sessions, is everything okay?”  Mommy nodded and her eyes landed on the suitcase.

Selina on the far end of the room was struggling to join the pieces of a five piece building block. Instead of joining them according to size, she placed them on top of each other but they kept falling. Frustrated, she banged the blocks on the floor and repeated the same word over and over again. The therapist walked over to her, “What a pretty dress you have on!” Selina stared, her long eyelashes highlighted the confusion on her face as she blinked and moved her head from side to side. The therapist saw the suitcases and looked at mommy. She gave a sad smile and walked back to her. “Before you go, please give me a ring…” she said with panic in her voice, mommy thought she could read her mind. Mommy knew she was going to try and change her mind, but nothing could.

As she made preparations for a cup of coffee to try and calm her emotions, she accidently dropped the cup, “Dammit,” she said, collected the broken pieces and went to throw them in the bin outside. She rushed back when she heard breaking sounds from the flat, “Dawit (dammit), dawit,” said Selina as she dropped plate after cup, sauce, bowl… Mommy hit her little hands until they turned red. In anger, she picked up the porcelain pieces with her fingers and cut herself. Selina watched as she bandaged her hands. She sat under a chair and cried while mommy plastered her bleeding fingers. After a while she got up from under the chair with a broad smile and proudly showed mommy her attempt at bandaging her fingers with her hair ribbons. Overwhelmed by Selina’s reaction towards her, she sobbed bitterly, especially when she saw the red bruises on her hands and her innocent smile that lit up her face when she proudly showed her how she also had what mommy had on her fingers. Mommy scooped her in her arms and kissed her.

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo









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