Once you let mama in, there’s no turning back. The poltergeist will feed your kids and chase away your dust mites. She’ll berate your husband for his vices and inspire new ones. Her evening cackles will travel through the pipes, making it difficult for the upstairs neighbour to bathe her baby. But she’s a nice lady with droopy eyes and twitchy fingers who won’t complain. Not like the downstairs neighbour, who mumbles curses under his breath every time he catches you smoking in the compound.
You’re a child again, waiting for your first kiss and dreading your first period. There’s paint on your face and you’ve chosen the wrong dress again. Mama will call you at work, every day, afraid you’ll forget your way home. All bed time stories will end with the same lesson — you don’t know better.
If you don’t pace yourself, you’ll unravel by the second grocery run of the day. Rainbow cars will race past, like flashes of light. The weight off your back isn’t God having mercy on your soul. The boxes fallen off a crazed taxi are your limbs, the cherry bus is dragging away your stomach. Your voice is stuck in the many potholes that have infected the road. You’re just a pair of eyes, watching the stray dog urinate at the spot you were standing in. If you don’t pace yourself, you never existed.
The poltergeist camouflages well. Never ignore the goosebumps on your arms or the sudden chill down your spine. Mama is in the walls, behind the curtains, in your bed. In the moonlit kitchen, a silhouette shimmers, quietly demanding penance for past sins — lost youth, punctured dreams, the husband you drove away, the life you snatched. The white flag above your head is ignored. You reek of gluttony. Daylight dissolves the house in dreams. Nights slap you awake.
Once you didn’t let mama in. She squatted on the roadside, begging for money. In her makeshift office outside the temple, she unveiled the destiny of lost souls by the lines on their palm. She carried a pile of brooms on her head, guaranteeing passersby that the bristles will last longer than their children. Sometimes, she sang for food; the restaurant owners shunning her filthy maxi and chiseled flesh. Like mud stuck to the back of your shoes, she’ll follow you wherever you go until you take her home.
Outside, they know when the poltergeist visits. They watch the clothesline heavy with the day’s laundry. The whites hung together, a large shirt pinned first with a tiny handkerchief ending the procession. It reminds them of ducklings blindly waddling behind their mother. It scares them away.
You cannot exorcise this ghost. One morning you’ll wake up to find her gone, as suddenly as she had come, off to haunt another home.
M.S. lives in India. Her work has been published here and there online. She’d like you to remember her with a smile if you do find any of it.