With her mother in the hospital, Gifty went to live in Pastor John’s bright yellow house, three blocks from the church. Their sons were in college, and they sent their daughter to stay with an aunt, so Gifty was alone with Pastor John and his wife, who cooked American foods like spaghetti and meatballs and encouraged her to come to church and pray for her mother’s healing. Gifty avoided them as much as possible. Although her mother looks the same when she picks Gifty up, she also says, “I’m sorry.” The unusual occurrence of her mother’s apology makes her feel like a stranger to Gifty.
When Gifty’s mother is in recovery from her depression, Gifty experiences caretaking within the context of two other families. The first is Pastor John’s, where her physical needs are taken care of. But instead of addressing Gifty’s unspoken emotional needs (for love, for support), Pastor John and his wife focus on spiritual activities, like praying. Their inability to truly love Gifty is symbolized by the food they make for her, which fulfills her nutritional needs but doesn’t make her feel welcomed. Moreover, sending their daughter away suggests an ongoing belief that Nana’s addiction, Gifty’s mother’s depression, or even just Gifty’s race are somehow contaminating. This reminds readers of the ongoing traumas Gifty experienced growing up in a community that had racist views of her family. And it continues to display the hypocritical contradictions between the commandments to love their neighbors as themselves and the way that people in Gifty’s church behaved. To make matters worse, when her mother comes home, she feels like a stranger to Gifty.
At home, Gifty watched her mother warily, refusing to find herself “falling for” her recovery. But she was still upset when her mother told her she had bought a ticket to send Gifty to Ghana for the summer while she recovered at home. Gifty promised to be good, to go to church. But her mother, saying she needed a spiritual warrior, told her that she could go to church in Ghana.
Although Gifty’s wariness suggests the growing distance between her and her mother, she’s still upset when she is sent away, as if she’s being punished for her inability to prevent her mother’s suicide attempt. Her mother’s request for a spiritual warrior, rather than an earthly caretaker, seems to emphasize Gifty’s failure.
In Ghana, Gifty met her Aunt Joyce. Before she arrived, she didn’t even know she had an aunt. Joyce was buxom and chatty, and suspicious of Gifty’s thinness. She immediately bought koko from a vendor to feed her. As they sat outside the airport, Joyce told Gifty stories about her mother, but all Gifty could see was the sloping curve of her mother’s back in bed.
In an earlier chapter, Gifty mentioned that koko is one of her favorite foods. Because it’s connected with the first time she met her kind and maternal aunt, in this context the food is once again suggestive of intimacy. The contrast between the mother Aunt Joyce knew and the mother Gifty knows suggests how important external factors are in causing (or resolving) depression. It’s not just, as childhood Gifty often believed, a question of having adequate self-control.