Barbara Werchota

My Father the Shoemaker and his Young Wife

( This story I wrote in Burkina Faso while living there. Every morning after dropping my children off at school, I would meet a friend in a Café and have “Coffee” for a couple of hours. This story reminds me of these “coffee” times.

I’m bored! So bored that I feel I can now find time, not only to recount the lives of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, but also to actually live the lives of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. My recollection of my mother is certainly more vivid than that of my grandmother and her mother. Very painful, repulsive memories. How I yearned always to be with her, especially during her yearnings to be alone. She seemed to blossom in her solitude with me drowning in that same solitude of hers.
My ardent need of her only seemed to chase her deeper into the chasm of her blossoming solitude where there was space only for her. She tolerated my yearnings only to a certain degree, when they overwhelmed her I would immediately be carted off to my father. There always seemed to be a train ticket ready for me at any time of day and night.
My father never failed to welcome me, he loved having me around him, but I had no need for his welcome. I had hardly left my mother and I missed her as though my mind knew of no other existence besides hers. My father still tried to make me feel welcome and offered and requested that I remain with him and his new wife, who was twenty years his junior. She turned out to be an excellent companion to me and my father. Her obvious devotion to him lightened his spirits. Although she was just over 10 years my senior, she still managed to appreciate my world, which was so much more different to that of my ancient father’s.

In living with my father and his new wife, my joy at being with my father and his new wife was cruelly overshadowed by my obvious addiction to my mother. In living with my father and his young wife I was never really able to share their lives, nor was I capable of living my life with my mother.

At my father’s, my mornings would be spent lazily in bed. I’d have breakfast with my father and his new young wife, before they left together to spend their day in his shoemaker shop. He’d employed her, his new wife, as his apprentice, and kept her on as his wife. So they spent their days mostly repairing shoes together.

What a contrast living with my father. We each had specific bath times, and normally all of us met in the kitchen to drink coffee and smile and chat till we’d all reunite in the kitchenette, Then we’d all have our breakfast together and chat more. I could never really recall our conversation topics, but I could always remember how pleasant a time it was. They’d leave telling me to come and visit them in their one-roomed shop in the Center of town. In living with my father, I was never really able to recall their lives, nor was I capable of not living my life with my mother. She filled every moment of my life, in sleep and broad daylight, whereas I would easily forget that I had ever had a father the moment he stepped out of my sight.

Every Friday they’d invite me to share the grilled chicken they bought and grilled at their neighbors papeterie, a woman my father’s age, with whom he behaved as though she too was his wife, what a strange trio. This woman my father’s age with whom he’d shared his shop since 30 years, his young wife, a good 20 years younger than both of them, my father and the woman of his age, preparing the meal, while his young wife repaired the shoes and there was always merry chatting and laughter. My father, his older companion and his young wife had bought a grill together so that they could grill their Friday chicken and just chat and laugh and work. I’d accept their invitation from time to time. What a strangely mixed company, I always contemplated, while I shared their lunch. My father, the Papeterie woman, as old as my father, my father’s wife, who could easily have been his daughter and me, who could have been my father’s wife’s daughter. Three generations, pleasantly eating grilled chicken and bread rolls, conversing about subjects never remembered, prolonging this one-hour lunch break into the later afternoon. And the presence of my unseen mother hovering above me, sometimes I would invite her to join us, and my father would say laughingly :don’t start talking to yourself, like your mother” and I would ask myself, If I was not my mother and if my mother was not me. Since I missed her cruelly every second of my life when I could neither see her presence nor feel it. This feeling would always evaded me, when she was not directly in view of my sight.


All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Barbara Werchota.
Published on on 29.04.2004.


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