Sulaiman S.M.Y. Addonia’s story titled “The Sexless Life of My Mother” offers a fresh breath into the confines of marriage and the absence of physical love while growing up. Offered from the point of view of a bildungsroman character, the story accounts for a mother who leaves her daughter and her family in the aftermath of war-torn Sudan. More than that, the book is a quick commentary on patriarchy and the unending dominance of males in a society which defines the place of gender. The piece also accounts for a child decision in a story her mother where her mother is a revolutionary figure. She begins,
In in my teens, I vowed to abstain from sex, in solidarity with my mother.
As a young boy living in a Sudanese refugee camp, I first found out that, although physical love was important for my mother, patriarchy made it impossible for her to experience outside of marriage, a marriage she didn’t want since she decided to dedicate her life only to us, her three children, after the death of our father.
In the camp, my mother braided hair for a living. Then, she left for Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic servant, leaving me and my two siblings with our grandmother. I was not 4 yet. And so her face began to fade from my memory with the passage of time. It was then a delight to receive a picture she sent us from Jeddah years later. We hung the framed coloured photo of my mother sitting on a chair, as high as her cheekbones, on the mud wall of our hut.
Not her mother’s affairs alone, the story dovetails into the lives many women in the camp in Sudan and portray the inordinate sexual lives of men while they keep their women in camp and pursue other women outside to satisfy their sexual urge. Addonia adds,
I also registered the unfairness of society, that while these women were forced to entrap their desires, men pursued causal relationships outside of marriage, knowing that their wives wouldn’t reciprocate because society would police them back home. I discovered how tradition was the chain that enslaved these African women while giving men free rein. I detested it. I longed for its destruction.
But I also saw that when desire is forced to remain inside, migrating deeper into the soul, one’s bones begin to dance. Dancing, I’d gather, was the first step to freedom. And I took a lifetime lesson from the ways these women expressed love even when caged. Their sensuality was like a well from which I drank endlessly. With them, love whispered its tender side rather than pronouncing itself loudly. I could see it in the way they talked when men they liked visited, how passion masked their faces like make-up. I saw it in the way they varnished their nails, kholed their eyes, gathered their hair into buns before they retreated into the open-roof showers under the camp’s moon and the stars.
You can read the rest of her story here.