A Very ‘Relative’ Moment

Thursday morning last week I was getting ready for work when my phone rang, a strange number…and this conversation transpired:

NB: The other side of this conversation was happening in Bemba (vernacular) while my responses where in a terrible form of code-switching- Bemba to English, vice versa.

“Annie! Where are you? How long can it take you to come to town?” A woman’s voice from the other end said. She was speaking in Bemba yet the only word that sounded Bemba from everything she had just said was my name.

First thoughts through my mind were; what the hell? Who is this supposed to be? I had not made any plans with anyone to meet them in town.

I have a habit of ignoring calls from certain people, especially if they call me in the morning because they have a great potential to ruin the rest of what I always hope to be a great day. This was one of those cases; strange number, but familiar voice.

“Yes Auntie, how are you?” I replied in Bemba, the only words I can confidently speak in Bemba without feeling like I just got caught peeking through a shower room window. The woman I called aunt was someone I met not so long ago and was informed of our blood relations by one of my siblings, much to my dismay.

I still remember my sibling’s words after the introductions; “Grow up Ann, whether you like it or not she is your aunt and you have to respect and treat her as such.” Of course a lot of other things where said that day, suffice to say, I was not very receptive towards the new member of the family. However, she had come into my life at a point when her presence was considered necessary, or so I was told.

“I have a young lady with me here…your cousin,” the woman was saying. “Can you pick her up? She needs ‘piece work’. Maybe your company is looking for people like that, you can set her up with a job.” She was speaking so fast I could barely comprehend her words. I mean, I could take in this word and that…but all of them altogether? I suspect that I may have actually understood her, except I found everything she was saying absolutely impossible.

And so my response was, “er…?”

Thinking that it was the volume she needed to adjust and not her head, she screamed, “the young lady I am with wants to come to your work place so that you can give her a job!” She assaulted my poor delicate ears forcing me to slightly pull back the phone from my ear but I could still hear her talking. “I came all the way with her because she needs to do some jobs. Perhaps your company is looking for people to do some cleaning, dusting…or any such work.”

“Which young lady are you talking about and which job?” I asked, sounding very puzzled. I had not spoken to this woman in a while yet the conversation sounded as if it had a prelude.

“Your cousin,” she said the name. “Here, talk to her.” She handed the phone to the young lady in question. From her tone of voice I could tell she was somewhere in her mid to late twenties. I didn’t know who she was, but she sounded as if she knew me.

“Where is your work place?” The young lady asked, very matter-of-factly.

I gave her directions, against my better judgement. I was still confused. Nothing seemed to make sense.

“But what do you want with my work address?” I asked. “I only recently changed jobs and I am not in HR so I cannot give you any job. There is no need for you to come to my office.” I desperately tried to get my point across, switching from English to Bemba.

“Don’t you know any people that are looking to hire anyone?” The young lady asked.

“Like I said, I am new and I don’t know that many people here yet.” I answered.

“I can do all sorts of jobs…” The young lady was trying to explain before I cut her off.

“I am really sorry I can’t help you.”

“How many buses do I need to take from town to your office?” She asked.

My mouth fell wide open, my words stuck somewhere in my throat from the shock of it all. I felt like I was talking to a wall.

When I finally regained my senses, “I do not think there is any need for you to waste your transport money coming all the way to my workplace,” I said. “There is nothing I can do for you at this point.”

I could hear movement and when my aunt’s voice came back on, it had been the phone changing hands. “I came with this young lady all the way from…” she said the place, “…and I promised her that her relatives in Lusaka will give her a job. If you can’t pick her up from here at least give her directions to your workplace so she can come there.” I do not understand the gymnastics of the Bemba language but it was very clear someone was not pleased with me. I wondered what I did wrong.

She did not understand why despite having a car, I could not go to pick them up from wherever they were, and why I was refusing to give the young lady a job. I cannot even begin to explain the absurdity of it all.

When that conversation ended, I felt like I had lost a couple of pounds or so trying to contain my emotions. I wanted to lash out, I wanted to awaken the past and most of all, I wanted to let them know that my memory was working perfectly.

Coming from a family with a somewhat complicated extended family background, I would have never imagined having a conversation like this one. How is it that people who claim to be relatives like to show up in your life at times when you feel you do not necessarily need them? Where were they when you needed them the most? What right do they have to make demands and expect them to be carried out just like that?

I am a Christian yes but I still find letting go of certain things very difficult…especially things that scarred my life terribly. When that woman I call my aunt called me in that tone of voice and pressed her demands, was I wrong to feel so offended and wish that she would just leave me alone and disappear from my life?

Sadly, I am not the only one with complicated extended family issues. My friend Cornelius lost his parents when he was very little and none of his relatives would take him and his relatives in. They did however manage to get as much property as they could get their hands on and left the children to fend for themselves. Twenty years later Cornelius is has a good job and a family of his own and the very relatives that had abandoned him keep showing up on his door step.

Cornelius hates hosting his relatives because they are a constant reminder of the pain he and his siblings had to go through all those years. He hates watching his wife tend to them and do her best to make them feel at him. He does not wish for them to feel at home. He wants them to constantly be reminded of the damage they caused to him and his loved ones.

I understand Cornelius. I have heard people constantly say forgive and pray over it. There is always a part of me that turns whenever someone tells me ‘pray over it,’ because they are telling me in short, that no human solutions are enough to curb the hate that I am feeling and so I have to keep waiting for divine intervention. It’s a good solution, but one that also requires strength. And this begs another question, if I forgive them easily, will they ever learn that what they did was wrong? And what about their punishment?

I do not like the fact that when such people come back into the lives they injured, it’s not to seek forgiveness, but mostly to seek favours, expecting you to have forgotten everything. So before forgiving, would I be wrong to jolt their memories a bit? The temptation is just too loud to ignore….

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