I have no idea where this one jumped out from but it is a story that is evolving…I have edited like 5o times and I am still not satisfied.
I believe in second, third, fourth chances…
I believe there is nothing you cannot move on from.
I believe that there are people that are put on this earth specifically to guide us to our second chances. Teachers are some of those people. Doctors are another. Lovers too. (Are you guys confused yet?)
This is written in letter style…It is different and I hope it maybe resonates with someone…
I found an old photo of you and your sisters today. It is one of those photos that I know I have seen before but don’t remember seeing. It is in black and white and I can tell from the paper stock that it is really good quality. I wonder who paid for it. Your Ijebu-Ijesha father? On one of those days he was feeling unusually magnanimous? Or your mother, Ajike Ade, Omo Aromolaran, Omo Abeni the palm oil seller?
She is in the photo too; Ajike is, only she doesn’t look like your mother or like any one’s mother for that matter. She is standing between Kofo and you. Her slim arms reach out like the wings of a hen gathering her chicks to her. Adunni stands at your right side and manages to fold into your mother’s embrace as well.
Ajike’s girls, Ajike’s life; captured in black and white.
In the photo, Ajike looks like the eldest sister. There is a slight hesitance to her smile but it doesn’t stop her from laughing in the face of life, in the face of the cameraman. Her gele was hastily adjusted for the photo and you can see she was caught unawares by the flash.
I miss your mother but in that way where missing someone doesn’t hurt. It is a soft longing to see them again, a quiet assurance that the day is coming when you will see them again, an anticipation of the day when you will again hold them and then the missing will be over.
She was my biology teacher before she was my mother-in-law. I remember sitting in her class as she taught lessons on amoeba and the reproductive systems of worms. I remember the tittering of teenagers behind me. I remember Ajike trying to keep a straight face and failing as she described reproductive organs of various types of organisms. It was a hard lesson for your strait-laced mother to teach but she did it impeccably.
I also remember how she kept glancing worriedly at me throughout the lesson. How I looked away quickly each time her eyes found mine, afraid she had seen in my eyes the nightmares I still had, the bedclothes stained with shame I still woke up to…
Ajike Ade, Omo Abeni, what a woman, what a mother, what a human being. She saved me from myself and from things I didn’t even know were dangers.
‘Oluwaponmile!’ She called to me after class that day.
She was sitting at her desk in front of the room, looking through homework of the day before.
‘Ma!’ I answered.
Everyone at school knew she looked out for me even though they didn’t understand why. The other children called me the ‘Mrs Ajike’s pet’ but I didn’t mind. It was rare that I was someone’s anything and this association with someone so important was one that I enjoyed.
‘Sex and sexual desire is nothing to be ashamed of, Ponmile,’ She began as soon as I was seated in front of her desk.
‘Yes, Ma,’ I said quietly, as my gaze suddenly found the blackboard very interesting.
‘But it isn’t time yet.’
‘Yes Ma,’ I agreed.
‘There will be plenty of time for you to love and be loved. Enjoy growing up first.’
‘Yes Ma!’I said again.
It was an awkward conversation between two people with a secret they wished they never shared in the first place.
It felt like she was going to say more but then thought better of it as she took my hand instead and squeezed it a little.
‘How are things at home now?’ She asked after she had let go of my hand.
And just like that, the lesson on sexual education was over.
She was a woman of few words, your mother but no one’s words ever meant more to me.
Even back then she was looking out for you. She must have known what form my desire now took. She must have seen how I sought redemption every Saturday by showing up at your house with the excuse of helping you with your homework when all I was really doing was letting the light you shined chase out the darkness that eclipsed my soul. She must have known in whose arms my nightmares would someday end.
The night I officially became Ajike’s ‘pet’ was a night like any other. I was thirteen and my parents were away on some trip to another exotic location. My parents; the travelers, the business tycoons, the adventurers. They had no need for a child, they had their business, but the storks had somehow missed the memo and chosen their doorstep to drop me. They continued to travel and follow the money even after I was born and I was often left in the care of any available relative or friend.
There was no way Ajike could have known this back then. All she was, was my nice teacher and all I was, was a kid who loved school, appeared normal and never missed a class.
One day, I didn’t show up at school so your mother came knocking at our door to inquire why. Before then, I had no idea we were neighbors and lived within a twenty minute walk of each other. I can almost imagine her that warm April evening. She must have been tired from school but I imagine she must have helped you and your sisters with homework still. Maybe she started preparations for dinner before starting out. Maybe she opened the door to welcome your father as he got home for work.
She must have marveled at the beautiful flowers that colored Festac Town as she began the walk to my house. She would have called out a greeting to people in the neighborhood as she walked past them.
No one answered Ajike’s first knock and so she tried again. No one answered the second knock either.
It was 1982 in Lagos, Nigeria, Africa; people really didn’t knock before barging their way in to other people’s homes. But Ajike had gotten her teacher’s training in the UK and had the manners our other nosy neighbors did not posses. Still after two knocks, she did what any other good Lagos neighbor would have done and walked in on the scene of my shame.
I had blocked out the memory of most of that day until today when I stumbled upon this black and white photo of you all. What little memory I had was shrouded in black and white, just like this photo. But I looked at this photo today and color returned to that memory of years ago.
In the photo, she looks exactly like how I will always remember her; happy, unafraid, her eyes filled with the promise of second chances. The photo is in black and white but all I see is the rainbow that was your mother.
Seeing her like this again today reminded me of the look in her eyes that day so many years ago when she walked in to find me naked in the arms of the woman in whose care my parents had left me.
I remember Ajike handing me my clothes and saying nothing as I broke down and wept. I remember trying to keep up with her as we walked back to your house. She was walking really fast this time and didn’t seem to notice the flowers or people on our path. I had wondered if she was taking me to the police. My sin had been found out after all; the way my body shook with pleasure every time my father’s cousin took me in her mouth. The way my eyes clouded with a mixture of shame and desire as she walked into my room naked every day as soon as I got back from school. The way my cries of ‘No’ quickly thawed into moans of pleasure.
I was afraid and relieved at the same time when she took my hand in hers as soon as we reached the front door of your house even though she had not been holding it all along. I remember feeling safer than I had ever felt.
Together with your father, she cleaned me up and prepared me for bed. I recollect your father asking if I wanted anything to eat and Ajike saying:
‘Not now Gbenro, food is the last thing on this child’s mind.’
She tucked me in gently that night and I wondered if that was something all mothers did. It was barely 6pm but I fell asleep immediately and didn’t awaken until the next day. I don’t remember seeing you or any of your sisters till the next morning when I woke up to find three faces staring at me in wonder.
‘What do you think it is?’ Adunni the youngest asked as her big brown eyes took every inch of me in.
‘What you mean by it? Can’t you see he is a boy?’ Kofo the eldest at ten answered.
‘I can see that. But why is there a boy in Keji’s bed?
‘Because he is my husband. Because I am going to marry him. Daddy sleeps in Mummy’s bed because he is her husband. So that means this boy must be my husband.’
No one said anything after that. Our silence agreed with you. I remember looking in your eyes and thinking to myself that they were exactly like Ajike’s, brimming with second chances. I spent the rest of the day holding onto your hand as you showed me around the house and the garden where your mother planted joy in form of roses and hope in form of lilies. Your tiny 8 year old hand guided my soul for those five days I spent with your family before my parents showed up.
It was hard to let go of your hand as I sat in the car my parents had brought along for the less than 20 minute distance from my house to yours. My parents, the pretentious showoffs! My mother crying like life as she knew it had ended and beating her chest like the world had failed her when it was her that had failed the one person she never should have. I remember my father with his head bowed and his eyes bereft of second chances. I wanted to beg your mother not to let me go home with these strangers. I remember wanting to never let go of your hand.
‘I will see you again,’ you said to me as you stood by the window of the car.
‘Yes.’ I agreed knowing even then that everything was going to be alright because I was holding my second chance in my hand.
So many years ago and yet it feels just like yesterday when you and Ajike saved me.
We have been married for fifteen years now and you have never heard the story of how your mother saved me.
I only tell you this now to try and take your mind off the grayness that surrounds your memories of the woman that lies dead in a fresh grave. No one knows more than I how close you were to Ajike. These past few months you have become a shadow of yourself and it is frightening. You fall asleep with tears streaming down your face. You wake up and those eyes that have always brimmed with second chances now stare at nothingness.
I know it is hard to see beyond the pain, the disappointment, the memories that are shrouded in black and white like this photo but believe me my love when I say the time will come when you will close your eyes and the gray would have given way to color.
Morenikejimi, life is about second chances. Or did you forget my love that you, yourself are a second chance?
Don’t you know my love, that you were Ajike’s second chance at a mother’s love, her chance to do it all over again, to make up for whatever failures she might have had with Kofo, her chance to perfect love before Adunni showed up?
Mourn for as long as you want my love but don’t let the gray you now see be the way you always see your mother. It would be unfair to her to remember her only in black and white.
I will be waiting to catch you whenever you are ready to stop falling. When you are ready, we will till her garden together and plant roses, lilies and bright colors.
I love you Keji, and it will get easier.
Song of the day: Evanescence – My immortal