Black Suspenders

It was raining when Osizemete was born. It was only fitting it would rain the day he went home. No,…

Damilola

August 11, 2010

It was raining when Osizemete was born. It was only fitting it would rain the day he went home. No, that can’t be right; Bandele thought to herself, home was with her. Not in that cold, lonely gaping sore in the earth she was burying her only child.

But the priest performing the burial rites begged to differ, intoning over and over again a homily about going home and painting pictures of the wonderful welcome people who died in the Lord were sure to receive in heaven. The angels would sing a chorus, he said. Trumpets would blow out a worthy welcome. On and on, the priest went. What a load of crock, Bandele thought. Osi was hers, and he belonged here with her, alive; not in heaven, not in purgatory, not singing kumbaya with angels. Her son belonged with her.

The rains poured even harder on the day she decided to give his things away. She gave away all his clothes, his shoes, even the suitcases he had brought home. She only kept the black suspenders he had worn as a child. She remembered the phase he had of wearing them every and anywhere.

She took up smoking again; doing it secretly so no one could smell or see the cigarette smoke or the smell of sorrow it helped to hide. Nana found her out one day but she had said nothing. The old witch had just stared sadly at her and shook her head till Bandele crushed the rest of the cigarette with the heel of her sneakers.

She stopped paying attention too. She stopped noticing even the most noticeable things and her job as an interior designer started to suffer. If she noticed anything at all, it was the silence Osi’s departure brought. The emptiness that substituted his presence. Yes, he had lived thousand of miles away these past few years but he was always just an email or phone call away. Not anymore. The absence was complete now. The silence so thick she could cut through it.

She feared if she began to notice anything else, it would mean the end. She would drown.

They had murdered her first born son. The warrior that forced his way into her life after she had resigned herself to barrenness.He had opened her womb and left it incapable of birthing another. As if he knew she possessed the ability to love only one.

An Abiku they had called him but what did they know? Did they wake up at night to hear him gasping for air, refusing to give up his hold on life? Did they see his eyes brim with tears every time he woke up in a hospital? His father left them for another woman, one who could bear him healthy and less demanding children. But even that was OK. They had each other.

Against all odds, he blossomed. he fought death and won time and time again.

He had been returning home to her from his sojourn in Europe for his 35th birthday.

‘I can’t wait to see you’ Osi said over the phone and her heart had soared.

She had sent Akon, the driver to pick him from the airport. She had prepared his favorite meal and worn a dress in his favorite color to await his arrival. Her son, her warrior; he had been coming home to her after three years.

He never made it.

The irony of it all. The newspapers and media were in pure ecstasy . ‘The Son of the Minister of Works dies from a road accident’! ‘Roads kill Minister’s First Son’ Headline after headline had screamed out her pain in joy. Once again, it was all about the father, the man who had deserted them both.

Everyone forgot to mention that a light, her light had left the world.

She buried her heart with him and went home to wait for death. She opened her arms to it, welcomed it, tried to smoke her way to it even but like her son before her, death teased and eluded her. She implored it to take its satisfaction with her but it ignored her pleas and sought other lucrative ventures.

It has been a year. She continues to design people’s homes but contracts are few and far between and not many people appreciate the only colors she has to offer- black and gray. It is Osi’s anniversary in a few days. An email message his father sent earlier in the morning informs her about a memorial he has planned. Another circus, Bandele thinks to herself. She knows she is only hearing about it because he has no pictures of his first child and he wants her to send some his way. She finds the trash button a little too quickly and deletes her ex-husband’s email.

She is about to shut down the computer when another email finds its way into her inbox. She hesitates a moment and opens it. Maybe it is a job offer. She could use one of those.

Nana is downstairs making lunch when she hears the first scream. By the third scream, her arthritic knees have pushed their way to Bandele’s office where she finds the younger woman on the floor.  The sobs are racking her small frame so hard and Nana can hardly believe her eyes. It cannot be. This woman who shed no tear even during the worst of times. This mountain that stood head up high as she was paraded in that circus show they called a funeral. She who stared in defiance at the cameras and so-called ‘mourners’ that had never even met Osi but had shown up to curry one political favor or the other from his father.

‘What is it? What happened eh?’ Nana bellows in alarm, her own heart going faster than a Ferrari pushed to its limits.

It takes a while before Bandele can speak. The two women are cuddled up together by then. Two women who lost the center of their world in one day. One his mother, the other his nanny. Two women who thought they would never have a reason to be happy again.

Osi had left them a gift, you see.

There are pictures in the email Bandele just received. A little boy features in all the pictures. His eyes are light brown and he has unruly brown hair. In some of the pictures, a white woman is holding his hand or tickling him to get him to laugh for the camera even though his eyes clearly show that finding reasons to laugh will never be a problem with this one.

In almost all the photos, the boy wears suspenders. The email says it is a rare day when he agrees to leave the house without his suspenders. He is almost two years old. He has Bandele’s smile. He also has her name.

She is sorry, the boy’s mother says in the email. She had let grief turn her into an insensitive woman. All she had wanted after Osi’s death was to shield their son from the world. But she was wrong to do that. Osi had loved his mother very much and would have wanted her to know the joy of having a grandson now that he was gone.

There are so many questions in Bandele’s and Nana’s minds as they go over the email again and again. Why Osi never said anything? Why the woman had waited so long to let his people know she had borne their son? So many questions and yet no doubt. The boy wears suspenders after all.

Bandele finds her heart is easily exhumed from the grave. She tells death she is no longer interested. There is something to live for now, she lets him know. She finds the suspenders she never gave away, buys tickets for herself and Nana. They are one way tickets, heading in the direction of home.

 

Song of the Day: Morning After Dark-Timbaland

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