the other day my mother sent her three children - I have a younger brother and sister - an email; included were copies of two short stories she had written many, many years ago when we all lived together as a family in the U.K. in a small town called Brigg, Lincolnshire. None of us replied soon enough, as the email was followed by another in which she remarked a friend had been gracious enough to actually send a reply, commenting on the stories. I decided to dedicate a post to the stories after having reread them, as I think my readers here will enjoy them. I will send my mother an email with the post, of course. As both stories are about me, I happen to have copies of the original magazines in which they feature. I'll start with 'Mamai' published in Spring 1968 in the magazine as you can see below.
MAMAI! Lise van Dijk
‘Mamai!’ she is shouting, ‘mamai, mamai.’
She sometimes calls me by that funny name; it is not ‘mama’ and not ‘mami’, but both put together. It is her pet-name for me, when she is in a possessive mood and wants me to be her ‘mamai’ and nobody else’s .
‘I’m going to Grimsby tomorrow.’
This announcement does not surprise me. I know she is now going to tell me one of her favourite stories. The theme is always the same, but the variations are manifold. Mostly I am an intense and interested listener, and whenever she loses the thread of her story I help her along by asking leading questions. And she is easily distracted, for after all she is only four – by the sound of a helicopter, the sight of a bird on the roof of the garage, the fact that is has started raining again, and the wandering thought of when it will stop so that she can go out and play, by sudden needs for a piece of chocolate or something to drink, and similar small but significant stimuli to her sensitive organism.
‘I am going to visit my three sisters in Grimsby. There are two big ones and one small one. I’ll stay there for a long, long time, for ten days, I think. They live in a house all by themselves, they have no papa and no mama. They have only got one toilet and a small bath. Not a big one like in this house, but a small one like in Denmark.’
She has just been to visit her grandfather in Denmark. When she got there, she first enquired about the number of toilets; there were three of them, so she was quite satisfied, and then she went to inspect the bath, which turned out to be a small baby-bath made of blue plastic. No disappointment showed on her face, just surprise. She is trying to find out whether other people live like we, her own family of younger sister, baby-brother and parents. Do they have beds to sleep in, do they have tables and chairs, do they have a toilet and a bath, do they have a kitchen, and, one very important thing, do they have a television set? These are her most common questions. And when she is story-telling about her three imaginary sisters in Grimsby, she tries to make them as normal as can be – with some wishful thinking put in as well, like having a holiday from bossy and demanding parents on her fantasy visits.
‘My three sisters are called,’’ and then she hesitates for a few seconds, ‘Skida, Maguta and Boda.’
(these names are neither English, Dutch nor Danish but made up).
‘Skida and, eh….what did I say?’
‘I think you said Maguta.’
‘Oh yes, Skida and Maguta are the big ones and Boda is the small one. No, Boda and Skida are the big ones and, eh…..’
I help her again: ‘Maguta.’
‘Yes, Maguta is the small one.’
I feel that if we are to get along with her story we’d better leave the difficult names. If she gets stuck too often she will withdraw from any further story-telling by informing me that she is tired or that she has got tummy-ache, and I therefore ask her how she is going to get to Grimsby.
‘I’ll go by boat, and I’ll sleep in the top bed and I shan’t fall out, because I am big now, you know. My little sister, she can’t sleep in the top one, she is only a baby, so she would fall out.’
The disturbing noise of a helicopter makes her change her mind.
‘No, I won’t go by boat to Grimsby, I’ll go by aeroplane. Then I’ll fly high up in the sky. High, high in the sky. Mamai, heaven is in the sky, and God and Jesus are living there, Rosemarie told me so.’
Rosemarie is the young girl who is looking after our children. She is a keen Jehovah’s Witness.
‘God and Jesus are not mad with me. When I shall be dead, I’ll go up in the sky to heaven. We’ll all go there, you also Mamai’- and I dare not protest by telling her that I shall probably not belong to her heavenly company.
‘But you won’t go yet, will you? ‘she continues, ‘because then you will be dead and then you can’t walk and eat and if you are not here I shall be so shy.’
I thinks she means lonely, but never mind, as long as she cares. In order to get her back on the track I ask her how her three sisters can get food if they have no mama and papa to look after them.
‘The two big ones, they buy food in the shops.’
She does not seem to be concerned where the money comes from, so I ask her that.
‘I give them money, I always give them money, lots of money when I go there. We sleep in beds, but when it is too warm, we don’t sleep in the house, but outside. We can’t sleep inside when it is much too warm.’
This surely is wishful thinking. I know she likes to eat outside, but had no notion of this new indication.
‘They have not got a television, my three sisters, because the two big ones they won’t put it on, and it is too dangerous for the little one to put it on, you see and therefore they have no television. There are no spiders in my three sisters’ house. We are a bit afraid of spiders, not the baby ones but the big ones. Spiders have green blood you know. I am not afraid of dogs anymore, not very much afraid, perhaps a little afraid of big dogs. When I have been a long time to visit my sisters I’ll come back to this house and then I’ll go to oma and opa’- grandmother and grandfather – ‘in Holland. I think they will be pleased to see me, and I’ll never come back. Will you be mad at me if I never come back, mamai?’
‘I will not be mad, I’ll be very sad.’
‘Will you be mad with me if I jump out of the window?’
‘Oh no, but I’ll be very, very sad.’
‘But will you be mad, mad?’
‘No, sad, sad.’
‘Is it not naughty to jump out of the window?’
I give up and do not answer her. She changes the subject.
‘I think my baby is crying, I must go to her, she is ill. I have got many babies, ten babies and they are all very, very ill. I am not their doctor but their nurse. I’ll go and look after them now and give them some medicine – only pretending medicine. ‘She pauses, then, ‘Can I wash them with real water? ‘
‘No, not now.’
‘Oh, then I’ll wash them with pretending water and give them pretending medicine. Mamai, they are not really ill, I am only pretending. Bye, bye.’
And off she goes to look after her pretending babies.