The Final Decade (71-80) by ‘Pemi Aguda (Betty)
“Iya ni wura iye biye…”
I think the band’s lead singer is dressed too shabbily. What business does a man have wearing such fitted clothes? I grunt and shift my head a few degrees to the left. I can see everyone from this ridiculous throne made of cane that they have put me on. The linen they have thrown over it does nothing to prevent this abrasive lace from scraping against my skin. I long for my well-worn Ankara wrapper that rests easily on my flattened bosom. But I couldn’t wear that here. I am after all, not mad.
But do they know this? They don’t. They believe me loony. I do nothing to dispel this notion. I am quiet. Because they do not understand my words, I am quiet. The soup does not move around in the elder’s belly.
“Maamaa is eighty! Eight to the zero! Eight to the zero!”
What is this child singing? They also think my hearing is poor; but it is better this way. It was my ‘poor hearing’ that helped me overhear Busola and Funlola plotting to sell my house from under my withered bottom. I got Razak’s son to scrawl ‘This House Is Not for Sale’ on the wall in black paint. They had scolded him when they saw it but Razak is fiercely loyal. Unlike them, my own brood.
“I want to give this toast to the best grandma in the world…”
I squint to see Nike, omo Olakunle, speaking. I grunt again. Lies. Her large body is filled with lies. For she hates me. It is the gift of sight I have that caused this. Five years ago, on my 75th birthday, she had come with her fiancé. It was my first time seeing him because the family only gathers on my doorstep when there is a birth, death or anniversary.
“Don’t marry him. For his eyes are shifty.” I had whispered to her. “If you don’t pay attention to the pot, the contents will spill and quench the fire.” She reacted strongly, stomping out of the house with the boy in tow. Two years later, they’d split, and she was fatter yet. He had another wife in Ibadan. She called me a witch.
I have given up on them. They look at me strangely when I burst into laughter at will. They do not know it is their foolishness that amuses me. The great-grandson, just seven years on earth, is already rude like his mother; walking around with those wires dangling from his ears.
“I hate grandma’s house! It smells!” I’ve heard him say. How would he know that it is the herbs I have mixed and prayed over so he doesn’t fall ill that fouls the air?
I often wonder if the twins I gave up before I was a woman would have turned out this way. What could a 16 year old give not one but two babies? I do not regret that choice. The woman vowed she would take them to good homes. I burn two sacrifices every year for them.
Perhaps, if Fola was here, they’d be more respectful. Afolabi, my soulmate, olowoorimi, my husband. He has been gone twenty two years now. Stolen from me, wrenched from my arms by the ruthless diabetes. But he left me well off, with a fat account and memories of a good marriage.
“Mama, come and cut your cake!” My first son, Olamide bellows. He is a man of the spirits; I hear he spends all his ill-earned money on green bottles and little girls that rub his distended belly. He surely did not take after his father; the gods forbid it!
I stand and walk slowly to the tall cake with the big 80 standing atop. Razak rushes forward to help me, I grin at him. I see my daughters laughing with their society friends, Olakunle is on the phone, and Olamide is ogling one of the scrawny waitresses. The grandchildren are nowhere to be found.
My 80th. This is all for show. They don’t really care either way.
“Let’s spell eighty!” He booms again and some people stand.
They’ve forgotten the hours of labour and breastfeeding.
They’ve forgotten the work I did to feed them before their father came into money; why my hands are scarred. They can’t know, afterall, a child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which his mother puts into his palm.
They’ve forgotten my prayers, my vigils by their sick beds; my sacrifices to the gods.
They’ve forgotten my intercessions, when they wronged their father; the plots to win back his affection. My mother used to say- “We should talk while we are still alive.”
They’ve forgotten my long journeys to their homes, to welcome their own children to the earth; to teach them how to teach their young ones. Or can the young teach traditions to the old?
They’ve forgotten. Or maybe they never noticed.
It is why I’ve decided that when I die tomorrow night – yes, I’ve seen it! – it is Razak, my husband’s loyal driver turned housekeeper, that will have all that money I never spent.
The knife goes down. They have turned to look at me now. The idiots.
The vantage point, of crystal clarity,
damning wisdom, foresight earned
I hear what they hear not
See what they cannot imagine
The truth emerges
Jutting across the landscapes
Of memory itself.
Decades – Revisited is finished.
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And thanks to all the contributors who made it what it was all those years ago.
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