You wake up in your Warri flat to 4 missed calls on your phone, it’s from Isiuwa, your maternal cousin that stays with your mother as a help. You plan to call her back on your way to store later. You call your sales girl in the branch store of your textile business in Effurun Roundabout, you tell her that you called a technician to come over later in the day to fix the computer they used for cataloguing and issuing of receipts. You are about to tell her you will not be there until Friday because of your new store opening in Express Junction when a call came in, you check it was a number, no name. You rush the call with your girl so you can call the number back. A familiar voice answers, it’s your father. You hang up immediately, you don’t talk to your father. You are wondering if he is finally taken a break from using his thing to search in-between the legs of other women in search of a son who will carry his name or from bashing your meek mother first for her ‘bareness’ and later for ‘refusing’ to give him omokpia son. You are still wondering when your iPhone chimes, an SMS from your dad. He writes your name in full, Evbagharu, a lamentation that means what shall we now do”, one he gave to you when you disappointed him and didn’t come out as a boy. You read that your mother died last night from what the doctors are calling cerebral haemorrhage, you are staring at your phone looking for “just kidding kiddo” or “April fool” somewhere, anywhere in the message even though you know your father is not one to joke and that it is already September but you hope anyway.
Nothing has prepared you for this message. You think of your mother, her hard-beaten life and her now sudden death. You think of your relationship with her, of how laboured it was. You try to remember ever seeing her smile, but you don’t. So you try to imagine her smile with that her face like an over ripe pawpaw and gum like the pawpaw seed, your imagination is laden with tinctures of pain, you hate yourself for imagining but you do it again. But you do remember her always blue face, one that used to be beautiful but has now seen too much sun and has the defective mark of endurance etched in the black blush on her high cheek bones. You remember how much on-the-blink her steps were and how her sloppy her shoulders always seemed wavy as she swayed away as if she carried troubled oceans on either one.
You also remember when you and your mother first had any real form of mother-daughter tête-à-tête, it was 15years ago. You were only 14years old. Your mother sat you down and told you about things she said were ‘adult women thing’ and you should be armed with since you were coming into your own. What she didn’t know was that you had had the lecture with your friend Uwaila, the one friend your mother warned to stay away from because like her mother, Madam Chop One Chop Two, she will not get to the river before she will start to the fetch water-you knew she said this only to mildly refer to sex. But still, you sat there shimmering with rapt concentration listening to her as she carefully navigated the adult topic in that sombre evening as the sun slowly changed from its snowy dress to a bright red dinner gown.
You remember her telling you about the blood that will comes every month and how it will stop if you played ‘rough play’ followed by a swollen tummy like a bloated ewe, then a child or children. She talked about boys, virginity, the things on your chest and in-between your legs, and the others things everywhere else. She told you that it was important for people to see you as a ‘good girl’ so that suitors will come knocking in their dozens. You wanted to tell her how much you preferred Uwaila’s version because she did not call sex ‘touch’, or referred to your private part as ‘thing’, or pointed to your chest area instead of saying breasts thereby obscuring the very thing she was trying to make clear. You wanted to exclaim a faith-filled God forbid when she first mentioned marriage to you because of her and your father.
You wanted to ask if she was joking when she said got the best husband in the whole of Oredo because she was a good girl. You wanted to ask not because you doubted she was indeed a good girl, no! You wanted to ask because you knew your father. You knew your mother was lying and that your father was not a good husband. You wanted to tell her that good husbands don’t come home to their wives smelling like the eau de cologne of other women, that good husbands did not come home 2 months later wasted only to force themselves on their worried wives because said no to the man when he wanted to enter her through the back. You wanted to bellow that good husbands did not weave their fragile esteem and puny ego into blows and plaster it all over faces of their wives and that good men loved, cared, missed and played with their children whether they are boys or not, but you said nothing. You did not tell your mother that with Uwaila’s help you already had a boyfriend, Yomi and that he has used his thing to touch your thing three times. But instead, you sat there wearing the earnest face of an ignorant child because you are a good girl. You sat there also because for the first time, you have your mother alone to yourself.
You read the message again, still with incredulity but like the memory of your mother it begins to wane too. You call your senior girl, Adora, the one in the store in the headquarter at Jakpa Junction to manage all operations but to call you in case of emergencies because you’re travelling. You pack a bag, get into your Toyota Rav 4 SUV and you head to you drive to your family house in Benin. Your journey form Warri to Benin is a quiet one, you don’t play on repeat your favourite song Flawless by Beyonce and Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie as you always do when you drive, you don’t stop at Amukpe Sapele roundabout to buy edible worm and pork that Isiuwa likes, you just drive as you feel the nippy breeze on your face while your tongue go dry from the things that were never said between you and your mother.
You get to what was once your family house in Ogida, the single story building reeks of neglect. You see many unfamiliar and teary faces. You see Isiuwa from the mass, his mother, Iye your maternal grandmother and your mother’s siblings there in the crowd, crying. You don’t see your father, or his sister or any of his friends there. It is Isiuwa that first see you, it is from her you get a wind of things your father left out in the message he sent. She says your father came home yesterday afternoon after a long time way but aunty, your mother would not allow him in. Your father would have none of it, so he barged in and started to beat at her all the while shouting that this was his house and she had no right to lock him out of it. She says he continued to hit her until she fell to the ground like a log and didn’t not move but only whimpered and only then did he let her be and went outside. She says after a while when your mother would not stand, your father together with some neighbours rushed your mother to the hospital where she later died. She says your father was detained moments about an hour ago by the men of the Ogida police station and that his sister, your aunt is there with trying to work out bail. You don’t go to the police station, you don’t cry instead you sit there as you watch everyone cry and mourn.
After a while of sitting, you go to your mother’s room, one she was supposed to share with her husband but couldn’t for she was always alone in the marriage. You lie on her bed, your eyes nostalgically tracing the watermarks on the ceiling as you did as a child. You start to look through your mother’s things looking for something that can assure you that pieces of herself, of her love for you are alive in here somewhere. You opened her ukpokiti prized box where she keeps her beads, the hollandaise you gave when you opened your first store, the gold necklace you got back from your first Dubai trip, and all you report cards from since primary one. You also find the first crayon painting you made, the one where you drew only you and your mother but not your father. You remember your answer was ‘I forgot’ when she asked why you didn’t draw your father.
You know now beyond your long palpable doubt that your mother loved you. Now you start to cry, you cry not because she’s dead but because you are ashamed of yourself. You are ashamed because while your mother felt pure love for you, all you felt for her was pity and obligation. You are ashamed because you realise now that daughters shouldn’t try to repay their mother for the debt of raising them, because it is in fact an insult to call it a debt instead of the duty of love. You feel ashamed because you understand now that you are not different from your father, you both hurt the woman who showed you nothing but love and loyalty. You lie down again on your mother’s bed clutching intently to your heart her the crayon painting for it is the only thing that reminds you that once again like that melancholic evening from many years ago, you are alone with your mother, something that will never happen again.
It is morning of a new of the following day, you called pastor Ibrahim of the Holiness Christian Centre, your mother’s home church to request an open casket Christian funeral service on Friday by 3pm. He says he, his wife and the leadership of the church came to the house that night as soon as they heard but nobody was at home. He sends you his condolences and asks if it is not still too soon for a burial since she only died yesterday—Tuesday and also because people are still mourning. You want to say it is not his concern, you want to remind him that mourning is a privilege reserved only for the loved ones of the deceased and that all of you fell short but you remember your mother told you that pastors are messengers of God, so you don’t say anything. But instead you politely say, ”no sir, it’s not too soon sir, my family desire to proceed this way and thank you for the visit”. You lie as you say family because it is solely you plan one that no family member knows yet save Isiuwa. And Aramide, your event planner friend that you hired to plan what you told him should be a very small funeral, for only 50 people. The pastor says he will inform the brethren at the service in today’s evening service but you say no need because only 10 people are invited in the church—only those that knew your mother, Isiuwa knows them. It takes much explaining, but the pastor Ibrahim agreed.
You sent invitations to your mother’s five siblings, Iye, your father’s younger sister, a few close family members, some brethren from church, some of your mum’s friend, and a few neighbours. There is a lot of blow back, but you expected it. The oka-egbe oldest male in your mother’s family says this is not how things are done in Bini and that there will repercussion to this decision should you be hell-bent to proceed, but you call his bluff. You hear that people are not happy, the ones who wants colourful canopy, the ones who were looking forward to the crimson burial jollof rice and the obito social dance, the people who did know your mother or cared that she died, you hear these people are not happy with how you choose to bury your mother.
It is Friday, the sky is gloomy as if it is in collaboration with the mourning too, today is the funeral service. Your father has been charged and transferred to white house prison where he awaits trial, you still don’t go to visit him or think about it. Iye texts you that she and your mother’s immediate elder sister, Aunty Iriagbomwen are not coming because it is a taboo in Bini tradition for the elder to witness as the younger is made to journey to the land of enikaro ancestors.
Aramide planned a perfect funeral, if funeral can be said to be perfect. It’s two minutes before 3pm, most of the guest are seated. You tell Isiuwa that you don’t see your father’s people yet and she says they will eventually come for they are always in the habit of coming late to family functions, even sometimes when auntie invited them. You tell Isiuwa that an habit is when one wakes up at 2am to go piss and one still knocks before one enters one’s own bathroom even though one lives alone, but this is not habit, this is arrant disrespect. You and Isiuwa go to seat down.
You clutch your crimson leather diary where you wrote your eulogy, it is you and your mother’s youngest sister, your aunt Aghemwinru that will eulogize your mother today—she will go first then pastor Ibrahim will give a brief exaltation, then you’ll follow. As Pastor Ibrahim is speaking, you remember 6 years ago when you were in the hospital with your mother after one of your father’s battery episodes when pastor Ibrahim came in with his wife to visit. He told your mother that no marriage is perfect, he then opened the Bible to show her that God hates divorce and told your mother to have what he called longsuffering. The more you remember, the more you blame him, the angrier you get.
Aunt Aghemwinru was very brief, almost too brief but you don’t remember a time she was not brief. Back during your mother’s long and short visit to the hospital after one of your father’s rain of fire, all your mother’s sisters will come to shriek their displeasure of my father and told my mother to go live with Iye at home but not your aunt Aghemwinru. She said very little usually only to comfort her hurting sister, because only she and my mother knew that Iye forbade her to return. Iye said a mother does not send her daughter into marriage only to tell her go and come back home. Iye said a woman should patient in marriage. Your Aunt Aghemwinru is walking to her seat, her eyes reddened like the colour of your diary and her gait tottering as if she will fall if nobody caught her, so you hug her.
The pulpit is on the floor, not the altar because you are not allowed on the altar. Women are not allowed on the altar, the same altar women they were allowed to donate money for to build. You walk to the front and lay down your diary on the pulpit but you don’t read it. You can’t read it, so you speak by heart instead. You start to tell how good a life your mother led. You know like everyone sitting in the pew that you are lying because like everyone you saw how life was so cruelly and gradually sifted from your mother’s eyes while everyone watched, still you lie. You tell how strong she was, words that you know have come to be used to describe women too afraid to disobey choking traditional sticking point, limiting social construct or popular—not necessarily true religious dogma—a word you have now come to so hate, but you use it anyway. You ended it by telling how she was simply the best mum, something you didn’t believe until three days ago.
At this time there’s a mood hovering in the church, the kind people wear at funeral. But the people sited and looking at you will never get to hear the eulogy note you really wrote, the one you did not read for if they did they will hear that they were invited because you blame yourself and them for your mother’s death, that you wanted them, including yourself to see in the opened coffin in front of them the end result of justified inaction. They will hear you say that you’ve realised that pain is never lonely, grief is not only shared but lived, and that some losses change everything and are eternal. They will hear you end with a sad personal note, “my mother loved me but I pitied her, and I’m sorry”. But they will never hear the eulogy because you don’t read it.
The ceremony has ended, the body is escorted to your Iye’s compound. Iye did not agree at first because she told you a wife belong to her husband. But you told her you disagree, you told her you think the body of a person should be laid to rest where the person felt peace when she was alive. You picked a cool spot at the back of the house for the grave because you didn’t want sun to beat your mother for once. The body is lowered into the grave, family members throw a handful of hand as custom requires but you don’t throw in sand, but instead you opened your diary and bring out the crayon picture and you drop it in the coffin. You drop the crayon painting because crayons was the first gift your mother gave you as a girl and the crayon painting you dropped in coffin is the first picture from those crayons and it your last gift to her. You dropped it because even though your mother believed in a colourful heaven, your people believe in a not-so-colour ehimwin afterlife, so in case it goes your people’s way, she shouldn’t have to walk ehimwin without some colour and gay. You dropped it because you are sorry. You strangely feel a joy resound all over your body. You realise you feel joy because for the first time without pity or obligation. Different shovel race hips of sand into the grave while everyone wept, but you don’t weep. You leave. You don’t go to see your father. You go to your father’s house, you carry your mother’s ukpokiti and you drive to Warri.