It has been 9 months since Siju died:
9 months; the same amount of time it took me to nurture him in my womb.
9 months; enough time for a mother’s tears to dry on their own but not enough for a father’s wounds to heal, not enough for any of us to be whole again.
Oba was the best father I knew. Until Siju died and my husband lost the part of him that was father.
Life has carried on since we lost our little boy. It has moved on like a river that never looks back. It has swept most of us along with its force. Most of us, but not all of us.
In 9 months, my husband has neither shaved nor lived. After Siju’s funeral, he stopped leaving the house. I listened as he handed over the reins of the company he built from ground up to his partners the day after we buried our son. I watched as he disappeared; each day, I lost a little more of the man I loved until I was mourning two instead of one.
He walks around like a ghost now, appearing in places and at times no one would expect. He stares through Eni and I like we do not exist. I have caught him staring at me a couple of times, his eyes filled with tears that never fall, tears that I now fear he will never shed.
In the early days, I was glad for tears that gathered like storm clouds but never rained. I thought it meant I had someone to fall back on, someone who could dry the ocean of tears that threatened to drown me. I was soon to learn that objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they really are.
The first few weeks after it happened, he would not eat. It had taken his mother’s determination not to lose her only son to get him to eat. After that, she had enlisted my support in getting him to bathe on the regular, and then in getting him out of the room he had walled himself in. We both gave up when we realized that it would take a higher power that we didn’t possess to get him out of the house, to shave, to return to being the man I fell in love with or the father our daughter once knew.
The other day, Eni asked me when Daddy would return. I had no answer for the child. She was right after all; surely the man who walked past her day after day without sparing her a glance could not be the Daddy she loved. Her Daddy would not ignore her ‘bye Daddy’ as she left for school or ‘I love you Daddy’ as she bade him good night.
I watch him now from the kitchen where I am making the only other thing he eats aside the peanut butter sandwiches Siju loved – boiled plantains and pepper soup. He likes the plantains really soft. He does not want to chew, he does not want to work at life, he is satisfied with just swallowing, he is content at taking whatever comes his way. He will not fight.
I place the pot of water on the stove to boil. The plantains are already cut up. I will place them in the pot once the water starts to boil. I made pepper soup earlier in the day. I will put some in the microwave when the plantains are cooked and place a meal in front of my husband.
‘Eni is doing so well at school,’ I say conversationally. He does not answer. He is sitting in our living room. There is a notepad in his hand and he is writing in it furiously.
‘Her teacher was telling me the other day that she is considering moving her up a class. She thinks she is too bright for Primary 2. I said I would speak to you and get back to her. So what do you think?’ I ask as I place the plantains in the pot.
‘Hmmm,’ He grunts. I have learned to work with what I get and a grunt is as good as a ‘yes’ for me.
He continues to write furiously. His brow is creased and my heart clenches as it does 5 times or so daily when I see the man our son could have been if death had not come like a thief in the night.
Eni is at a friend’s house for a sleep-over and my mother-in-law is at one of her many daughters’. I am alone with my husband. Scratch that. I am alone with ghosts- one of my son and one of the man I married.
But not for long. Tonight I have planned an exorcism. Tonight I plan to leave the past behind. Tonight I will fight for this man and he will watch my hands. He will see where I place my blows and learn to do same.
I place the plates on the dining table.
‘Dinner is ready,’ I call out and he grunts in reply. I sit at the table and wait. When he realizes my silence will not leave him in peace, he makes for where I am seated.
‘Thank you,’ he mutters and I smile.
He opens the first plate and finds it empty. There is surprise on his face. Good, I think to myself. He looks at me.
‘Go on’ my eyes encourage him so he opens the other plate. There is no food on that one either but my husband cannot stop staring at the fullness of it.
It takes sometimes but he finally raises his head to look at me.
‘How?’ he asks.
‘Same way; I just told Dr Amusan we were ready to try again.’ I answer
‘When?’ he asks
‘Two months ago,’ I tell him.
He pushes back his chair and makes as if to stand up from the table but he doesn’t.
‘Why? Because I am tired of mourning a living man. Why? Because Eni needs you. Because I need you. Because I need to feel life growing in me again. Because you need this more than any of us. We were always going to try again anyway. Remember? That was why we went through the trouble and cost of freezing your sperm, my eggs. Just because I failed to nurture one child to adulthood does not mean I have stopped wanting more children. Our son’s dying does not make me a terrible mother, it does not make you a terrible father either. So we are going to try again. With another little boy. You are going to be good for him. And for Eni’
The storm clouds have gathered in his eyes again and my heart leaps with hope for rain.
‘I don’t think I can.’ He says.
‘You can’ I tell him. ‘You can and you will. You did good with Eni all these years. You did good with Siju too for as long as he lived.’
‘It is different Adaeze and you know it. We should have just adopted again if you wanted another.’
‘Tell me what makes it so different Oba. Tell me why an adopted child is easier to lose than one that is our blood?’
‘Don’t say that’ He says quietly and I know I have struck a raw nerve.
‘I know you are afraid, afraid we lost Siju because you think something in our blood makes it hard for our children to outlive us, that same thing that never let me conceive normally, right? I am afraid too but ask yourself Oba, is that what really scares you? Or is it the fear of being without fear? Does the fear of loving your own child frighten you so much that you rather he not live at all? Is it just easier for you, Oba, to be a father to a dead child than to living ones?’
I am angry now and my husband turns his eyes away from my anger. He starts to shake with sobs. In the past I would have held him but I want to be a wife and mother to the living and not to ghosts so I let him cry.
When he is done, he picks up the scan photo and shakes his head incredulously.
‘My son,’ He says.
It is not a question, yet I chose to answer.
‘Yes,’ I reply.
We stay that way for a while; with my heart in my mouth and with the broken pieces of his in his eyes. I wonder if I have made a mistake. I wonder if I should have taken Dr Amusan’s advice and gone the way of adoption again.
Outside the wind howls and I can tell it is about to storm the only way Lagos knows how. Will it be the kind of rain that washes away our sadness and leaves our lives soft and ready to receive new seed or will it be the kind that leaves behind floods, that imprisons us in the arks of our past?
‘Omololu’ my husband says finally, taking my hand and giving it a little squeeze. ‘Omololu is a good name for a boy. We can call him Lolu for short and…’
I kiss him then.
It turns out to be good rain; the kind lovers everywhere crave, the kind children can play in, the kind that heals their fathers.
Song of the day: Tracy Chapman – Let It Rain