I remember the angry shouts when my granny got home; my grandfather yelling: "She left the child", writes Maria Pillay.
Growing up, I would hear this question often. Some distant relative or friend from another town would visit and sooner or later the attention would turn to me. My grandmother would then answer the question, and the usual response would be: "Ah, shame, poor child."
Their pity stemmed not only from the fact that I was a child born out of wedlock, but also from learning that a few years later my mother had eloped with my stepdad, leaving me with my grandparents. I was four at time.
I remember the day my mother left. She let me wear one of my prettiest dresses, the one reserved for special occasions. I remember her plaiting my hair. My grandmother was out and my grandfather was asleep. His health was poor so he slept a lot.
I remember my mother packing her bags. She didn't have proper suitcases so her clothes were loaded into plastic packets. A car pulled up and a man got out. "I'm taking your mother away", he said, laughing. I didn't think much of it. My mother then loaded her bags into his car, hugged me and left.
I remember the tears in her eyes. I remember standing there for the longest time, watching the car pull away, until it was just a blur in the distance. I remember crying out for her.
Our neighbours suddenly appeared out of nowhere. There was a lady named Ruth who scooped me up in her arms and took me to her house. She prayed for me, then gave me some tea and Marie biscuits. I guess that's why Marie biscuits have now become one of my comfort foods.
I remember the angry shouts when my granny got home; my grandfather yelling: "She left the child! She left the child!”
I attended my mother's wedding the following year. She was all dressed up in her bridal sari. I ran after her, calling: "Mummy."
She turned around and said: "Don't call me mummy."
Years later, as an adult, I realised that she probably meant: "Don't bother me now, I'm busy." But at that moment, all five-year-old me heard was: "I'm not your mummy." I never called her mummy ever again.
My grandparents raised me, and when I did visit my mother, I was the child that was spoken about in whispers. When my mom gave birth to my half-sisters and brother, they just assumed that I was their cousin. And I went along with it.
I watched my mother raise her other children, while I stood on the outside, looking in. I remember being so angry with her that I would scream at her and throw her bags out when she came to visit me. As a teenager, I also remember wanting so desperately to feel loved by her that I would sometimes put my hands on her shoulders affectionately, and she would brush my hands away.
Now, make no mistake, my mother was not a horrible woman. She just found herself in an unfortunate situation and she dealt with it the best she could. I'm sure it was not easy being an unmarried, pregnant woman in the Indian community at that time.
She probably thought it was in my best interests to leave me behind with grandparents who would take good care of me. I've learnt that it's easy to judge when you haven't walked a mile in a person's shoes.
And over the years I learnt to forgive my mother and our relationship healed. She married a good, kind man who still maintains a relationship with me, years after her passing. He always calls me on my birthday and I return the favour on Father's Day. My siblings eventually realised I was not their cousin and it brought us closer.
Despite everything, I would not change a thing about my life. I have a strong faith in God and I believe that He always sees the bigger picture. His Word constantly reminds me that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I was also raised by an incredibly strong woman – my grandmother. And over the years, I've had so many women – cousins, aunts, neighbours, friends – teach me so much about love, heartbreak and resilience. It really does take a village.
- Maria Pillay is the Office Manager at News24 and lives in Lenasia South, Johannesburg.