Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women.*

I used to think it was the darkness
That put you in a bad place
I’ve only now come to realize
It’s the lights that flood your existence
That seem to haunt you

As soon as they come on
You look for the spots the lights don’t reach
So you can crawl there, covered by the warmth and cover of darkness

While most crave movement and sound,
You are  satiated by the emptiness and fullness of silences

Alone, you negotiate between the different women that make you

You filter the orchestra of thoughts
Into varying octaves

Allowing each to sing her tune


Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women.  That the different women housed within are the only ones that can unlock those doors. That you must be patient. That you must sit with each of them, one at a time. Speak their tongues. Hear their stories. Braid their hair. Feel their skins – rough, smooth, textured. Dress their wounds. Laugh with them. Catch their tears. Massage their feet. Converse with them. Acknowledge them. Be present to their fears. Be present with them.  Be  with them.

Mother says some you summon and some summon you. That one brings with her rage,   another delirium. That you must never ignore the quietest,   the one who never knocks. She’s the most potent.   You must seek her out, coax her out of the room with kindness. Mother says you mustn’t indulge the one who pounds until her knuckles bleed and her hands ache. She is not one you should worry about because she wears all her emotions and you’ll know when trouble comes. One broke down the door the other day – mother says that’s because she was suffocated by her angst – it had sucked up all the air in the room, leaving her gasping for air she couldn’t manufacture. She’s the one you don’t feed worries to. She’ll farm them until they grow like weeds, leaving no room for beauty.   Or breath.

Each has her place and her purpose. They make you. Without them, you would be empty. A shell. They give you color, character, panache. Even the angry one gives you edge. Leave them be.

Mother says it’s only then that they’ll give you the keys. Only then that you’ll be able to unlock all the doors and make peace, gather them together so they can sing their dreams and speak their memories to each other. And to you. Only then that their pains will be woven into the fabrics of the stories they tell, the dreams they dare, the secrets they whisper, releasing them, and you to breathe.

* The title and piece was inspired by  Afreada’s flash fiction competition  prompted by Warsan Shire.


Nebila Abdulmelik is a pan-African and feminist storyteller who uses the creative arts to speak her peace and archive stories of daily existence for coming generations. Born and bred in Addis Ababa, she has since criss-crossed the earth but found her way home again. She is a photographer, poet, writer and editor.

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