Jane enters the bleak high-rise, goes up to the 17th floor and walks along a windswept corridor to number 174. She knocks and waits. There are a few, furtive flurries from the far side of the door, followed by it opening an inch. A weary face peaks out.
“My name is Jane from the service across the road. May I come in and talk? It is about your child.” Solo opens the door and stands aside as Jane walks through the dark passage and into the grey, sparsely furnished living space.
“What is it? Sunshine is here with me. She okay.”
Solo chokes down her terror. Are the stories true? Is this woman from Child Protection? Should she grab Sunshine and run? How can she still her hammering heart and listen?
Jane offers her hand. “Hi, I’m Jane. May I sit down?” “I … Oh, sorry, I forget. Please sit. Can I get you tea, water?”
“Thank you, no. I have just come for a chat but I would like us to sit.”
Jane sits and Solo stands, still close to the door and calls Sunshine to her side. Sunshine toddles into the room and looks solemnly up at her mum. She offers her hand and waits for instruction. She barely reaches above her mother’s knee.
“Is this your daughter? She is lovely. How old is she?”
“She is two and half and very good child. What you want?”
Jane settles into her seat. She is here at the request of the kindergarten Sunshine attends. They believe Sunshine is possibly “a child at risk”. She shows no signs of distress and is a healthy child who plays and mixes well with others but the concern is that no one has seen her smile. Another is that Sunshine often approaches staff, grabs them around their legs and asks to be picked up for a cuddle. No one has seen her cuddle her mum. “Solo, the kindergarten has asked me to visit you because they are worried. They never see Sunshine smile.”
“But she happy child. She love people.”
“Yes, but does she cuddle you? Do you know how important it is for mothers to hold and love their children? That is why I am here. I have come to teach you about your child. Like now – why do you not pick her up?”
Sunshine looks up at her mother and then runs across to Jane, scrambles onto her lap and snuggles into her. “Me good,” she chirps. Jane smiles at Sunshine and then puts her on the floor.
“Now Solo, did you breast feed?”
“Yes! I love my child. I look after her. Why the school not tell me they worry? Why you here? This not good. I do not hit. I good mother. I love Sunshine.”
Tears begin to trickle of Solo’s chin and Sunshine looks up touches her mother’s hand and runs back to Jane and again scrambles onto her knee. Jane holds the child close and Sunshine snuggles in. Jane says to mum. “Do you see how to cuddle? You must hold your child like this. It is important. Just watch what I do.”
They sit a while and then Jane takes her leave.
Back at work Jane wonders with her colleagues about this mother who cannot love. “It is so simple, how can she not know how? These people. Were they never taught? Is it not instinct? Is this not part of being human?”
In her high-rise flat across the street Solo now sits with Sunshine whom she has hoisted onto her lap. Sunshine looks into her mother’s face, stretches out her hand and gently touches Solo’s cheek and in an instant Solo has pushed Sunshine away and rushed for the bathroom where she vomits her sorrow and anger into the bowl. Then exhausted she returns to sit again with Sunshine at her side.
Many weeks pass and Jane comes again and again. There are so many lessons for Solo to learn. Then one day as Jane begins to teach, Solo leans forward and with trembling voice says, “No! Stop, please. Me tell you today.”
“Three years before, in my land Africa I live in a village with my people. We work and laugh and sing together until the soldiers come. They come and burn down our house and our ground. Many people run and hide in the forest but my mother has bad leg and my father is old so me the youngest daughter stop look after them.”
“The boy soldiers carry big guns. When they come our house, they see my father old and say he not real man. In front him eye they rape my mother and they rape me. Not one but lot and when they finish my mother is dead, my father fall down and I all blood and not move.”
“For long time I look my father sad eyes and I cry. I try move but no. The pain. I feel bad and want die. I know he want die and me not strong to make him want live.”
“For many night after he pass I lie quiet and cold and very pain and then a young girl come and we move slow to a place where more see me and came help. In refugee camp we wait for save from my wild Africa.”
“Nine months after my mother and father die Sunshine born and I love her my whole heart because she all I have left. She know my sad and she smile give me strong and me feed and hold her my heart. I sing her sleep and morning swim in her beautiful eye. With her my life I want live.”
“Now Sunshine big and strong, beautiful girl and I love but when she stand on my knee and look my face and touch my body know again her father’s wild hit and run toilet and vomit. My body sick when I see father face he rape me. I want but not cuddle Sunshine. God, me sorry.”
Now Jane sits dumb and her tears run free. Then slowly she stretches out her hand and strokes Sunshine’s head.
You, Your Story and the World
You, Your Story and the World: Writing the Refugee Experience was a collaboration between Writers Victoria and the Ecumenical Migration Centre made possible thanks to the generous support of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.