12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
ON THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, TNC GAVE TO ME…
“Gosh, your mum was so posh!”
“I wonder how she maintained wearing white all the time. Even when she used to cook?”
“Yeah.” No. Your mother never cooked.
“Na wa oh. You are like the opposite.” She laughs. It is loud and out of place in your dead mother’s room; the heavy curtains seem to still in affront and the dusty mirrors look dimmer.
“Yeah,” you repeat.
Your friend is moving again; touching things, moving things, staring at the little personifications of a life that was mysterious to her; and you. Once more, you wonder how this was a good idea; bringing a friend along to go over your dead mother’s belongings. But you know why. You could never explain the apprehension that overwhelmed you when your mother pressed the rusty key into your palm that night when she was headed to the hospital; the tick-tick above your ear when your fist smothered the key with sweat. You couldn’t decide if there was significance in her suddenly granting access to a restricted part of her life or if it was just sentiments of a woman who knew she was dying.
“She was so pretty sha…”
The invisible ‘Do Not Enter’ sign in front of this part of the house had suddenly blinked out and the last thing you wanted to do was enter. The ten year old version of yourself would have broken down the door with unbridled curiosity; eyes flitting and searching and absorbing who your mother was behind closed doors. But the twenty six year old you had lost interest; become jaded by the woman who seemed to indulge you in the distant manner attributed to royalty. It is why you have waited six months after her passing before doing this.
“I want to marry a man like your dad, last last.”
Your hands glide over the books on the bedside; you are looking for a journal, a diary, an old letter; something to reward you for the anxiety- something to explain away your mother’s frosty love.
“He treated her like a queen, ba? I remember how he would open doors and get her water and stuff. Guys these days sha… God forbid.”
She is moving again. She peers into the only photo in the room; a group picture of your mother and three other women. Your mother is smiling in it. It is a smile you have never seen before: uncontained and wide. You have never seen the women before either. Your mother never had friends over.
You grunt at your friend’s diatribe against ‘modern’ men as you frown at the gold beads lying under a flattened pillow. You pick them up and contemplate a mother who buys jewelry and never wears them. The beads are of heavy gold and round, they gleam despite the room’s darkness.
“Ooh, look at all these hats! Ah, so nice. Your mum was a proper English lady oh; remaining silk gloves to complete it!” You look up to see your friend fingering a wide brim hat. She raises it to try it on and you suddenly realize that this is an exercise you should have been brave enough to face alone.
“Oh, I wish you’d just stand still and be quiet!” You feel bad immediately the words leave you; bad enough that your tongue seems to throb in your mouth.
You look up to apologize immediately; except your friend is standing still and is quiet. “Leila?” Her eyes are wide and dark and frightened. She seems incapable of movement and your heart’s tempo goes wild. “Leila?” She appears frozen, save her eyes; not a twitch or breath happens.
Her eyes seem to shift behind you and your head spins around; fear is clutching your arm and squeezing your belly.
There, are the three other women in your mother’s photograph. The really tall and dark one, the fat one and the one with the huge nose and tribal marks. They are in various reclining poses; one is draped over your mother’s armchair, another is sprawled on the bed a few inches from you and the last one sits cross-legged on the Persian rug while. They look exactly as they are in the photo; from white dresses to animated faces.
You would scream but your tongue feels so heavy; so heavy.
“Happy holidays!” The fat lady’s cheeks jiggle with her boisterous greeting.
The tall one rolls her eyes; “You don’t have to be so merry all the damn time!”
The one with the huge nose snorts loudly. “Pay attention, Women of the East, we don’t have so much time.”
“What.. who..” You finally manage to stammer.
“Long or short version?” The fat one asks you, still smiling wide.
“Brief, I think;” the tall one says. “Only two finite breaths and a chicken’s crow before we can no longer alter that one’s memory.” She gestures at Leila.
The one with the huge nose rises off the floor. “We are priestesses from the East. Oroifa’s messengers. By we, that includes you.”
You feel as frozen as Leila. Your mind is an ice block incapable of thought or assimilation.
“Your mother was one too. She was happy with us until well… your father came along.”
“Everyone thinks love is great. Until, well… it isn’t.”
“She tried to be a normal woman; normal wife, mother…”
“But once a priestess; always a priestess. And no matter how normal your parents wanted your family to be; a priestess will always be worshipped.”
“Your mother tried to push away His voice in her head; she tried to unsee the visions he sent. She even distanced herself from you so that same fate wouldn’t become yours.”
“But what has been decided cannot be changed.”
“What we are saying, simply is – Oroifa chose your mother, and then you, to be able to hear from him. We will give you time to accept it; then we will come back so you can start your training.”
They all pause now; waiting for your response. Your mind is now a splintered ice block; no- a storm, complete with thunder and hail and stones raining down.
“Huh?” You eventually say.
“Very eloquent!” The tall one laughs and her brown eyes crinkle in the corners; she is looking at you the way one one smiles fondly at a dog chasing its tail. “You’ll be fine.”
“Yes.” The other three chorus.
“We’ll leave you now. But first, we came bearing gifts.”
They all stand in a straight line. You take a step back and you are rationalizing. Grief does things to people. Why else has your father retired to his father’s village and left you alone in the city? Yes. This is your own method of dealing with your mother’s death- delayed as it might be. A hallucination; a very vivid hallucination. But then the fat one flicks you on your wrist and nope, there they still are.
She stares at the beads you notice you are still holding. “I bring to you Gold. Which you have already found… Your mother earned those after her first year with Mmamaifa. Shine, my dear.”
The one with the huge nose steps forward and places a brown paper package at your feet. “I’ve brought you some incense. As you burn the incense, may the passion for Oroifa be fanned within you. May the ambience of a place turn for good where you place your anointed feet and may your prayers rise sweetly as clear smoke to Oroifa’s ears.”
“And I, have brought you some oils,” the tall one speaks last. “For your beautiful dark skin. Men will come and go but do not awaken love until it is time. You have inherited your mother’s beauty; it is time her grace and poise follow you.”
Then they are gone and you are looking at an empty room. You are staring at the mirror frame; at the carvings that had seemed abstract to you until now. At the open wardrobe filled with pristine white clothing. At the memories of your subservient father. At the heavy oak door that you had never opened till today.
“Is it okay?”
You turn around slowly; afraid that Leila will look at you different – with fear and wariness. But she is patting your mother’s hat on your head, preening at herself in a mirror; seemingly oblivious to the past twenty minutes.
“I said is it weird to ask you for something that belonged to your mum… I’m really digging this hat.”
“Yes, Leila. Yes. That’s a really odd thing to ask.” Today is the first time you have spoken to Leila with any semblance of authority; you are surprised at the confidence that seems to be straightening your back – kink after kink.
“Oh,” she says, shocked. Then she continues to turn her head this way and that.
You peer at the only photograph hanging in your mother’s room. You move closer. You squint. Because asides the three women and your mother grinning at the camera, you can see a fifth person. A little girl looking uncertain but happy. Just to the left of the hem of your mum’s white dress.
And you can swear she looks like you.
To the next writer, I bestow an embellished terracotta indoor pot housing a cactus. And to you readers, wishes of magic and confidence and amazing things that make your eyes spin and boggle your mind this holiday. Merry Christmas!