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  • Desola Olaleye

Commuter Notes: Love Labour in Transit


Mother and Child, 1971 | Romare Bearden

It is the last Wednesday of January 2024. Rush hour sets in and home beckons. I meet a woman aboard the 17:26 train departing from London Euston to Birmingham. She is heading to Milton Keynes—the fourth stop on our journey toward the English Midlands. Desperate to save the diminishing life of her mobile phone, she requests my window seat to access the plug beside it. I happily swap seats. Within seconds I feel her shoulders sag with ease.


A children’s comic book emerges, and her eyes become glued to figurative drawings and speech balloons. With her left index finger pointing at the printed word “hypnotised,” she turns to face me. "What's the meaning?" she queries. I explain and she responds with gratitude encased in a story about her determination to read more books written in the English language. Intrigued by her choice of book, I ask if it is her favourite genre.

 

“My son,” she lets out with a smile that instantly lifts her cheeks. A ten-year-old bibliophile who, with unceasing questions about the books he consumes, keeps his mother on her toes. She wishes to bolster her relationship with him, answering accurately his questions of the things he reads and how they mark him.

 

An immigrant mother with a tongue most familiar with the Twi language, she is set on knowing the full meaning of English words to recognise the force of narratives that shape how young minds think and feel, demanding of mothers an unending journey of toil and preparation. This is love labour. The affective, hidden work that consumes a mother's life but retains warmth in the world.

 

As we inch closer to Milton Keynes Station, she tells me of an upcoming trip to Ghana, her first home. She is looking forward to seeing her mother and an adult daughter studying in one of Ghana’s leading universities. Her daughter, for reasons she does not disclose, was unable to join the family in starting a new life in the UK. From her strained facial muscles and wilting eyelids, I sense that this imminent trip is marked by bittersweet anticipation. But I do not probe.

 

It is 18:08 and we are in Milton Keynes.

 

“Maybe I’ll see you again,” she says as she vacates her seat.

 

Maybe.

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