Hayyyy…Happy happy Sunday folks. It is mother’s day in Nigeria. What a coincidence that this story is about a mother, albeit a not so good one.
Jite gave me the idea for this one so I would like to shout out to her. In my head, this a collaboration; I couldn’t have done it without her. So thank you Jite…I loved writing this. It is a kind of sequel to ‘The Other Woman’.
Here is to those who never got to experience the love of a human mother; the world says you missed out on something critical. I say you had and have God; the One who even if your father and mother forsake you, will never leave you. Count it all joy!
It was Segosime who found her. He was always the one finding her; he was always the one rescuing our mother, each time, all the time, no matter how many times she got lost in the maze that was her life.
He called me around 1 am to say they were at the emergency room. He didn’t have to say anymore before I trudged out of bed and got in my car. I called Oiza because I knew Sego wouldn’t. My brother and sister couldn’t stand each other. Worse still, Oiza couldn’t stand our mother.
‘Hello’ she answered quietly, sleep softening her voice and I missed her more in that moment than I had done since the last time we spoke.
‘Oiza, am so sorry to wake you but mum is in the hospital and I thought you would like to know.’
She said nothing for a while and I pictured her getting up silently from the bed she shared with her husband, Caleb and finding her way to another room where she could react, Oiza-style.
‘Let me guess; Sego found her drunk or passed out and panicked so he called you, right? You guys are so gullible to that woman’s ways. She just loves attention,’ My sister said.
‘I think it is serious this time, Oiza. Sego mentioned something about a specialist.’
‘I really don’t care Aida. It is always the same old thing. Just don’t let any of this get to you. That woman will suck the joy dry out of anyone. Call me when you know more,’ She said before ending the conversation with a yawn and a goodnight kiss.
Oiza was the oldest of us three and it was she that had practically brought I and Sego up. My mother had a penchant for forgetting she was a mother and on those occasions, it was Oiza that took up her motherly duties. Sego ended up resenting Oiza for trying to be both mother and sister to him. I was born last and maybe that was what gave me a vantage point from which to overlook every other person’s failings.
I had some memory of the man we called ‘Father’ but it was mostly what my siblings had passed on. He had died when I was five, too young to grieve properly so I made up for it by mourning for the rest of my life.
I found Sego by the small coffee dispenser at the hospital. I let him hold me and breathe out his frustration.
‘How is she?’ I asked.
‘Alive,’ He replied.
‘Where is she?’
‘Seeing the specialist.’
He took a sip from the cup of coffee and made a face before relegating it to the tiny table that sat between us. I wondered if it was the coffee or our mother that left a bitter taste in his soul.
‘Remember Dr Mbanefo?’
I nodded my head in answer.
‘He passed away.’
I wanted to feel some kind of blinding sorrow for the man my mother had loved but all I had was numbness. I hadn’t seen or heard from Dr Mbanefo since I moved out of my mother’s house.
‘Mum tried to kill herself after she heard the news. She took some pills and then drank a lot,’ Sego continued. ‘They are keeping her under observation. I was just waiting for you to get here so I could be the one to tell you. I also need to be at work early this morning so can you stay with her till I come back?’ He asked.
‘Of course; I will call to let my professors know there was a family emergency,’ I said.
‘Thanks sis. You are a gem.’ My brother said, reaching out to hold me again. ‘I will be back soon.’ He whispered in my ears before walking away, his head bowed.
I threw away the still full cup of coffee he had left behind before going to the nurses station to announce myself and my reason for being there.
The nurses were kind and showed me to a waiting room that was empty except for a woman and a man who looked like her brother but could have been her husband as well. I could tell from their eyes that they were both fighting a losing battle against sleep. I returned their smiles but made for the furthest seat from them. My mother had once referred to me as a recluse; Oiza had corrected her sharply, insisting that I was an introvert and not a recluse. But I was just Aida, a girl surrounded by people that talked too much, people that didn’t listen enough.
It was one of the reasons I had been drawn to Dr. Mbanefo; more than any of the men that had come into my mother’s life after my father’s death, he was the one I liked most. He was quiet and you could always see that he thought carefully before speaking. I was a junior in high school when my mother first introduced us. By then Oiza had moved out and Sego was mostly away at the university. We all expected this lover to last a year or two before my mother drove him away with her sadness. But he proved us wrong.
We saw ‘Uncle Chris’ as my mother told us to call Dr. Mbanefo, twice every year; in February and September. September was my mother’s birth month but I had never understood February. He never stayed more than two weeks each time but those were always the best four weeks of my mother’s year.
Oiza and Sego hated him and didn’t try to hide it. They expected me to do same but I was just Aida; the only thing I knew was that when Uncle Chris was around, my mother had love enough to send some my way.
Over the years, we would find ourselves alone in a room or some space together, I and Uncle Chris, shrouded by an uncomfortable silence that was born of his guilt and my silent accusations. He would make small talk and ask about my school work. If it had been Sego or Oiza, they would have told him where to go with his questions but I was just Aida so I answered dutifully. Soon we went beyond school work and I learned about my mother’s lover. He was a doctor and had three children back in Nigeria. He told me about the tribe my father came from, how they were known for their tenacity.
‘My wife is from that tribe too. In fact, you share the same first name,’ he told me one day in September.
By the time I was a senior and had made up my mind to study medicine, our infrequent conversations had steered their way to his art.
‘Surgeons believe that the heart and brain are key. If you can save those, then the rest is easy. For me though, it is the heart that I believe we doctors must pay closest attention to. If the heart wants a go at life, then the rest of the body will find a way but once the heart is done, once it no longer sees any point in wanting to be whole, that is when our hands are tied.’
‘I want to save lives someday’ I said, thinking about my father.
‘Isn’t that why we are all here Aida; to save each other?’ Uncle Chris had asked just before my mother walked in to kiss his balding head and I walked out before the distaste I felt could find its way to my face.
Back then, I wondered if he had been talking about my mother’s heart. Now, I wondered if I had always known the answer to that question and if that was what led me to medical school where I was specializing in cardiac surgery.
‘Aeeeeda,’ a woman in white was calling my name, holding out a stethoscope for my thoughts, rather than a penny.
‘Yes,’ I answered, banishing thoughts of Uncle Chris.
I saw the shock on her face as I walked to her and smiled to myself. It was always interesting to see the way people reacted to know I was a white woman’s black child. Even here, within these walls where the insides were all that should matter, the color of my skin still got a reaction.
I didn’t wait for her surprise to pass before asking ‘How is my mother?’
I listened to all the things she had to say and then asked to be led to my mother’s room.
It wasn’t the first time I would see my mother in hospital garb but I could immediately see that this time was going to be very different. This time she seemed so much smaller, like she was diminishing right before my eyes…
Was this what love did to people? Diminish them so there is nothing left for the other people in their lives? Was this what it did to the other Aida, the woman in Nigeria that had loved him too or was it just my mother that love always left a little less?
‘Aida,’ she called out to me when her unfocused eyes set its sights on my face.
‘Maman!’ I said to her in French, the language of her heart.
‘Ma petite bijou… Come, come; come sit by Mummy and let her kiss your ‘boo-boos’ away. Come let me make your beautiful hair into plaits and get you ready for pre-school tomorrow. Your da-da will drive us…’
As I walked towards her, I heard the man who my mother had loved with the last whole piece of her heart say ‘the heart and the brain are key…’
I let her put my hair into plaits and together, we grieved for him.
Song of the day: Asa – So Beautiful