Your mother is dead now. It is a good thing, I tell you. Before she died, it seemed her blindness affected her brains because she started behaving like Suliyat, the mad woman who lived in the heap of rubbish across our street. She was feasting on her defecation, can you imagine? Please don’t imagine such horrible thing. The blindness must have made her brains go to rot. But she was a good woman.
In the name of Allah the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, I pray she finds peace. I believe she must have passed her test of faith in the grave and should be in Illiyin now. And the two angels – Munkar and Nakir – must be proud of such a righteous person. My worry was why she went through all that sufferings if she was a good woman. I know death is inevitable, the Holy Book says so, it will visit everyone no matter what. She should have died quite easily but are we not just humans?
I cringe in embarrassment now when I think of how your mother’s eyes worked; one eye working to provide for you and your siblings, the other trained to make sense of the swiftness of my fists. Thinking of it now, I marvel at how my heart had been hardened, like the after effect of water and clay. But there were many reasons I made your mother’s eyes swell like sponge, chief among them was she talked too much about my womanizing; about how different my smiles and cadence were to other women. Those talks peeled my heart, especially as I couldn’t defend myself with anything other than my clenched fists. And she never for once tried to steel herself against my precise punches, nor did she fight back or tried to leave. Your mother had such an infinite patience. I really did not know why I despised her so much, she was to my eyes what pepper is to the eyes; we couldn’t see things without confrontation. There was no love between us, I am sure. Our house was smaller than other houses in the compound, yet kept expanding between us every morning and night, like rubber losing its elasticity. I am not the worst person on earth, after all my only crime against your mother – to my knowledge – was adultery, one she had no proof of too, and I could even count how many women and girls I slept with. How many of my friends can do this? None, I tell you. It is quite shocking how those things strike me as frivolous now that I look back at them.
I remember the day you were a month old or two, I had hit your mother for accusing me of infidelity and she was crying. You had joined her too. I think it was the first time my heart moved with pity or something superior to pity for her, although hesitantly. But it moved. You were enveloped in both innocence and oblivion as she clutched you in her arms trying to quench your sobs, yet acted like you knew what violence was. My regret is not making her feel an ounce of happiness till she met her death, happiness I had promised to give her. And even the days I pretended to show affection towards her, most of which rang false, she welcomed it albeit with jaundiced eyes. You can’t fully trust one who has shown he can kill you. This regret clings to me like the little hands of a child not willing to let a mother go. I feel like I murdered her and wish I was stronger and younger to make things different, but wishes are what they are; mere wishes. I think my life has been one long unanswered question. She did all she could especially for me; always in the kitchen, eyes narrowed against the steam of whatever she was cooking. She wasn’t even among those women who did all they could to get this new clothe or that latest shoe that was the new craze in the market. She had no eye sickness for new luxuries. It wasn’t just her, it wasn’t.
But it used to be your mother. I met her about thirty years ago at a restaurant where she sat with friends gossiping like a sewing circle of old women over a table of drinks. Her laughter had caught my attention. I think they saw something and broke into laughter, she had clutched her enormous breasts as if they would fall off. When I approached her later, she didn’t even look at my face. I am busy, she said, walking away in measured rhythms. Her voice was low, like a sea. I watched her leave that day like an unwelcomed thought and felt bad but one doesn’t give up on good things easily. And did I tell you your mother walked with bewitching grace? Prior to meeting her, I had met with really beautiful women but her beauty was just of another magnitude; she glittered like a jewel. Her gaze enthralled me, engulfed me. There was something about her startling eyes that made you wonder what hid there.
One time you may think it is lust, another time you think it is anger or mischief, like that. They were all the same, Allah bear me witness. See, when her eyes met mine another day, they locked. That was when I started harbouring some hope of a happily-ever-after, I was good looking too. I tell you, Ibrahim, during those days, I was a pebble in your mother’s hands. She tossed me in the air whenever it pleased her. I didn’t mind. She finally decided to see me the way I saw her. Well, who wouldn’t? I had been present in her life like air since the day I saw her, always having this piercing urge to talk to her and let her fill me in on her day’s tidbits. I remember we spoke till the sky darkened that day she agreed. Our early days of marriage was all rosy and suant, it seemed the both of us were two missing dots that found each other. There was never a lull in our conversations, jokes and stories came pouring out in heavy torrent like water escape in a basket. You know the first night together as man and wife thrilled me, it made me think of a lush and green lawn, dotted with bed of flowers I couldn’t exactly name. Jasmine? Sweetbriar? Geraniums? Tulips? Roses? Ah, yes Roses. They must be have been Roses. I almost forgot to observe my Ghusl Janabat.
I don’t know when but things changed, discoloured. I weep at how many times I answered her with belts and closed fists those times. You know what they say about someone becoming the shadow of their old selves, I made your mother just that. Her once glistening eyes became a river as they sank into the precipice of their sockets, eyes that became permanently sad. I used to envy how your mother found comfort and happiness in your weak arms, the way you both became each other’s reprieve. But before she died, it was the hole of bottles that replaced your arms when bawling on her prayer mat seemed to fail her. I regret how I made her feel like a stranger, an aimless wanderer in a place she should be calling home, how my screams made her fret like a scared prey and hushed her into silence, made her pace around the house with sweat dribbling down the tendrils of her hairlines, tensed with expectancy of what would happen next. This thing we call heart, Ibrahim, can be treacherous most times. How can something be so strong and elastic to accommodate both love and hate? This is one question that has, like my life, remained unanswered.
Sometimes I came home smelling of another woman’s body yet she welcomed me as if her nostrils had barricades. She deserved better, she did. I strongly believe that her breaths became sour with sadness during our marriage and remained so till she was no more. See, there was no night I didn’t find a reason to fill her eyes with tears. It was that bad. When you live with someone as a significant other, at least a moment of peace or stillness should hang in the air even when love isn’t present. There was a time she began to talk like she was asking questions or making a wish, like she was so unsure of how I would receive her words. Oko mi, ekabo?, I just prepared amala and ewedu?, your son, Ibrahim, is sick and needs to be taken to the hospital?….. The marriage melted too quickly, I think, like ice cubes set out in the sun. It wasn’t always like that, something happened and I don’t know what.
I am an old man now, frail as a decayed leaf and can die today, tomorrow or the day after, whenever Allah wills it, He is the Greatest. I feel levitated in confusion now and, if I may add, stripped of my bearings and something essential because I am torn between what I think I was and what I think I was going to be. It is difficult sometimes to believe our lives are stories, but the truth is our pasts have led us to what we can call present and what we will eventually call future. I plead you do not treat your partner this way, irrespective of who you decide to settle with, I have no problems with that now as life has taught me a lot of things and one of those is to fetch happiness from any well that do not make attempt to swallow you. I have also lived enough in this life to know about people and what I can tell you is that people can never be known. People wear secrets and deceptions as second skins, carefully threaded into their first and do not come to us with their true intentions crested on their chest like a badge. But make your partner happy whichever way you can, you will get peace that way.
You won’t understand totally but I pray my situation do not find you because if I would lay a curse on someone now, it would be: may you live the life I lived. It is of no use running from the soft moans of your mother inside my head. They call me continuously, like an alarm beep. Sometimes it is her face I see in other people as if my eyes are faulty. The other day, I had called Iya Salimot the name I called your mother and she gave me a rueful shake of head as if to say I was a fool. The way the other women in the compound looked at me later that day, like someone whose brain is missing made me know she must have gossiped about that incident, that little mistake. And you know how women exaggerate things. But I cannot just forget your mother, especially when I newly married her; the shine of her high forehead, her fine painted toes, the crease of her body that was tender and cool as the after effect of Dettol and water, and even the smell of her soap. Ah, Aishat was everything good to me.
The doctor said you haven’t opened your eyes for months now and that your response to treatment is slow. He said you could hear people but not respond, that you needed a relative and not Bayo who has been visiting since you got here. I am sorry that this is my first time here to see you, it is not my intention to be away from you. Which sane father would be happy with the decision you took? I should probably tell you about your siblings; Rukayat and Faruq. Well, you know Faruq decided to drop out of school. He said his head wasn’t one made for school, you were there that evening as we sat to listen to his revelations. You must have recalled how silence hung in the room like a dark impenetrable cloud when he was done talking. I didn’t allow him drop out because I felt he was right, no. I only allowed him because his eyes burned with purpose, like a steady flame, as he spoke. I sent him to learn tailoring at Baba Afeez’s shop but after some weeks his face lost the glow that had been present, his demeanour barren of enthusiasm. He left. The same way he left Tunde, who sold building materials and Tope, who was a carpenter. He simply had other plans.
It will break your heart to know he is a burnt body now. He started gambling and stealing. I don’t know when but when I found out, it really was late because like moss around a rock, the habit had encrusted itself around the walls of his mind. It was my fault. I wasn’t attentive enough. He stopped learning a trade and I didn’t even asked why. He started and stopped another, I still gave deaf ears. But I think Allah has punished me enough. Your sister Kafayat is nowhere to be found. I heard he fled with one boy, an Igbo boy and I haven’t heard from her. It is almost six months now, I think. Maybe Allah wants to console me with you, your being alive. So I am here to seek forgiveness. First, for not being a good father and husband. Second, for putting you in this state.
Your sixteenth birthday was supposed to be a happy one for but when it was the same day I saw you kissing Bayo, your classmate like his lips were some kind of saccharine, I didn’t think you ought to be happy. I even prayed you denied it, but the way you held his hands, dragged him behind you and looked at me with eyes that resembled that of an angry lion, made my heart sink.
Baba mi, I love Bayo. I love him so much. If you remembered, you’d know I staggered onto a couch. Those words of yours felt heavy. You glared at me with scrutiny as I erupted into gales of laughter that rose and stayed up for a little while, as if floating, before settling down like motes of dust. We could have talked if such thing had happened now but those days when violence was my only means of communicating, you should have lied to me about your sexuality. I remember what followed in the next relaxed minutes the house was ventilated with breeze of anxiety: the slaps to your eyes, the heavy blows to your head, blows that pushed you to the wall then to the tiled floor, blood curling down your head, head I kept raising and hitting hard on the floor till I couldn’t hear you breathe. I had swatted Bayo when he came to your rescue. See, Ibrahim, you must know it wasn’t my intention to hurt you and put you in this state, just that I never included it in my prayers to see you marry a fellow man like yourself. But you can go ahead now and I won’t give any troubles, I promise. I wish you knew you had been my favourite child, the one whose smiles lit my world. To all the things I wished I said, I love you. Oh, Bayo is here.
Why are you vibrating? Ibrahim?!
Bayo, go get the doctor now.
Welcome doctor. What? He is responding fine now? Allahu akbar!