This is one of my favorite stories. It took me a long time too to write. But it was worth it. Like I mentioned in my last story, I think parenting has to be one of the hardest jobs anyone can undertake. Yet many do it willingly and sacrificially.
Show some love today to the men and women responsible for bringing you into this world or raising you. Even when they seem to be doing it all wrong, just think of all the horror stories you hear today and remember that they could have done much worse, much worse.
As my people say, ‘dupe ti e’ , ‘be thankful for your own’!
I ignored my mother’s wail. Other mothers called out, some screamed out; not my mother. With her, everything was a plea, a wail…
‘Akunna!’ she wailed again.
‘Ma!’ I finally responded. I had had enough of her voice for the moment. I prayed that she would say whatever it was she wanted in a few words and save me the pain of listening to a grown woman whine like a child.
‘Aku!’ she said again, looking up as I entered the room where she sat. ‘Have you made lunch? The little ones will soon be back from school. Please, my child, help me make them something to eat so my children will not starve this afternoon.’
I gave her a dirty look as soon as she bent her head to continue sorting out the beans for the evening meal. It was no surprise that my father had left her. Her voice alone could drive anyone crazy. It drove me crazy and I was her child. I took in deep breaths as I silently prayed to God with all of my heart.
‘Please let me grow up quick. Please let time pass quickly and lead me to the day when I won’t have to deal with this woman anymore.’
It was no secret that I blamed her for the misery our lives had become since Papa left.
I woke up one morning and my father was gone. There was no Papa to wake me up with his whistling, no Papa to run to and feel his safe hands lift me up the air, no Papa to kiss away the lingering memories of my nightmares, no Papa anywhere…
The morning my world changed, I had woken up and rushed to my father’s room as I did every other morning. Bu this morning was even more important than all those other mornings of the past. Papa had missed my Open Day at school the day before. He never missed any of my school events and I was worried. I wanted to know why he had not been at dinner either.
But there was no Papa to be found anywhere that morning or ever again. No scent of his aftershave. No whistling. No yelling at my unbearable mother. All I found in his room was my mother singing calmly.
‘Where is Papa?’ I asked her.
She ignored me as she kept singing and cleaning out my father’s side of the closet.
‘Where is my father?’ I screamed as I scanned the room for his watch, his ever present cologne bottle, his books. There was a note on his bedside table and I snatched it before my mother could stop me. The words were those of a stranger. Surely this could not be my father. The father I knew would have said goodbye to my face. My father was a prince, of the royal house of Ogwashiukwu. My father was no coward to slink away while his children slept. He wouldn’t need to write a letter to tell me he didn’t want to be with us any longer and had left the country to be with another woman.
‘What did you do to him?’ I said, hurling words of accusation at my mother as I finished reading the note.
I knew it couldn’t have been anything I or my siblings had done. It had to be her. She had driven him into another woman’s arms. My mother responded with a slap on my face and tears. It was like a dam had broken with my accusations. The woman that was singing calmly a few moments ago dissolved into a watery mess. She got on her knees and wept out loud. The beads that hung heavily on her neck were soon slippery with snot and tears. I was not sure what scared me more; the tears that seemed like they would end or the fact that my father was gone. I ran out of that room and into adulthood. I never looked back, not even to console or be kind to the woman who bore me.
She would cry many more times; when my father’s people brought the divorce papers, when the royal guards packed up one day and left without a word because no one had paid them in months, when she had to pawn her expensive wrappers and beads so that she could pay our school fees, the day we moved into the boys quarters and rented out the main house, the first time she was rejected at an interview for a role as secretary, when she finally landed a job as a cleaner at the private school I used to attend…
She would cry on so many occasions and each time, I would watch from afar, detesting her for being weak, for driving my father into the arms of another woman. I detested my father as well but I understood. He had to get away from my mother. If only he had thought to take me with him.
‘Akunna! Are you are still here? Your brother and sister will be back any minute now. Please go and make their lunch. I will join you when I finish the beans o,’ My mother’s voice shook me from my reverie. I eyed her bowed head one last time before walking away to do her bidding.
It felt like only yesterday since I watched my mother pick beans for our dinner. Only yesterday and yet it had been over ten years. My prayer had been answered. I was my own woman now and barely ever saw my mother, much less having to deal with her voice.
I picked up the phone by my bedside and dialed. She picked on the first ring and answered breathlessly as always.
‘Akunna! Kedu? It has been so long, Nwam. I am so happy you called. I was just about to call you but I didn’t know if you were at work and I would be disturbing. How are you, your husband, work?’ I let her carry on. The peace that flooded my soul at her voice mocked the memory of the young girl who wanted nothing but to block out the sounds of her mother’s love.
‘Mama! I want to come home,’ I said when she finally ran out of steam.
There was silence at the other end of the line. She started to answer and then stopped as if she changed her mind. I could see her in my mind’s eye. She would be on her feet, pacing back and forth, her brow creased with worry, her hand on her chest trying to calm a heart that was racing faster than light.
‘Is everything alright, Akunna?’ she asked.
‘We will talk when I get home, Mama,’ I answered.
My mother breathed deeply into the phone and sighed. ‘Alright my child, I will wait till then. Infact, I will go into the kitchen right now and make your best meal, Onugbu soup and some fufu. Everything will be fine as soon as you get home, Nwam! Ka e mesïa. Bye-bye o.’
‘Mama, wait! Before you drop the phone, wait. Wait and tell me that story.’ I said to my mother, my voice tremulous and heavy with tears.
I didn’t need to tell her which story. In the silence that followed my request, I could hear the questions, more importantly, I could hear the love. My mother sighed deeply before beginning her tale.
‘Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who loved the sea. She had been to see it only once. Her father, the king had taken her on a long journey to the north to meet with other kings. The sea was bigger than anything the little princess had ever seen and she immediately fell in love with it. Her father promised to take as often as he could but he died before he could fulfill his promise.
After her father died, wicked men had taken over the land where the princess lived. They exiled the little princess and her mother and sent them far far away from the home they had always known. The princess fell ill not too long after this exile and every day as she became weaker; she used whatever strength she had left to ask her mother to take her to the sea. Her mother promised that she would as soon as the princess got better.
One morning, the queen woke up to find the princess had stopped breathing. Her body was still warm so the queen knew that there was still hope. She put the little princess on her back and began the long journey to the north to find the sea. It took seven days but they made it. The queen put her child by the shore and waited for the waves to find their way to where they were. As soon as she was bathed with the waters of the sea, the little princess woke up and smiled. She said ‘Oh Mama! I had the best sleep ever. I dreamt you carried me all the way to the sea but I know that is not possible because the wicked men crippled you before sending us into exile.’
The queen was indeed crippled and had crawled all the way to the north just to save her princess. The princess grew strong and even more beautiful and soon married a prince who helped her regain her father’s kingdom. They all lived happily ever after.’
When I was a child, before I hated my mother, Mama would always end her story with the words ‘My princess, nowhere in the whole wide world is too far for me to go for you too.’
‘Even the North, Mama?’ I would ask the woman who tucked me in religiously, even on nights when she had been bruised and bloodied by the man I called ‘Father’.
‘Even to the North, Akunna, even to the North.’
Today, my mother ended the call with. ‘However long it takes you to get here, I will wait. I won’t sleep till I have held you o.’
I ended the call and let the tears flow. It had been a long time since anyone waited for me.
I had married a prince who was just like my father, and just like my father, he was a prince only in name. Eze moved his new wife into our home yesterday. My objections were met with a beating that had led me to the hospital. It would not be the first time. I looked in the mirror the nurse had so kindly provided and I wept. I wept for my mother and the force of the blows my father had dealt her night after night. I wept for my unborn child; I wept because I did not love her enough to stay with an abusive husband as my mother had done for her children. I wept for frightened princesses who judged their mothers harshly and mistook their love for weakness, their disability for powerlessness.
I gave the driver the directions as he helped me out of the hospital room. I closed my eyes as he drove. I dreamed of the sea.
Song of the day: Linkin Park – Numb