When you read one man like you read no one else, you will soon start to sound like him. At least, I hope. This is a tribute to John Irving’s The Cider House Rules. This is also inspired by the Bible- Psalm 68:6. Let me know when you find it. 😉
When someone you love dies, you go through a cocktail of emotions. For some, their cocktails are named after that famous Russian and are better compared to seas storms than anything sweet. Wave after wave of emotion hits you, sweeps the rug from underneath your feet, leaves you gasping for breath and uncertain of who you are. For some, it takes only a few weeks, a month or two at most and they get the hang of their grief and are surfing the waves like experts. For others, it takes much longer, unending months that graduate into years. And then there are a few others, for which it doesn’t take at all and so they drown before they ever had a chance to be saved.
Of all the emotions the bereaved are faced with, the most surprising is anger. Anger at God even if and especially when you don’t believe, anger at the universe, at fate, at doctors in their white garments stained with promises they can’t keep, at yourself for being helpless, at the person that left for not trying harder, for not fighting, for not staying a little longer. Even one day longer.
The sadness comes as no surprise; we expect it, welcome it even with open arms. It is a sturdy, trusted friend, unlike the anger. We are sad because the happiness they once brought us by living is gone and we must replace the emptiness with something. We most always choose to replace it with sadness.
The anger takes the place of nothing and when it leaves, nothing can take its place either so it leaves behind these horrible, horrible scars.
Being a psychology major meant Omono was prepared for all of these. She had always loved the human mind and so it was no surprise to anyone, least of all herself that she chose to devote 4 years to its study.
On the day they buried their mother, her siblings had huddled in a group like chicks missing the wings of their mother. All three of them except Omono. She stood a little bit off so that it was not noticeable to anyone except the mother hen who would have known one chick was missing the comfort of her wings. But mother hen was gone and so no one else noticed. Omono stood to one side and studied the waves of her siblings’ grief, unable to participate in their outpouring of pain because she felt nothing.
Later when they went through her things, each of them picking out mementoes from their mother’s life they would like to hold onto, there had even been more waves, packing loads of water and grit, and yet Omono stood aloof from it all.
It was not that she had not loved her mother or had loved her any less than the others. It was not that she was cold or unemotional either. As a child, she had cried at the movie, Champ while her siblings snickered at her babyish ways even though she was supposed to be the big sister. She was the one who acquiesced most easily to their parents’ silent requests for hugs, the one who offered up herself to act as an emotional shield for her brother and sisters when their parents’ divorce had turned into a thing of acrimony. She was also the one closest to their mother.
So if there was anyone that should have drowned in the wave of emotions following her death, it should have been her
On her flight back to New York after the will had been read and the goodbyes said, she fell asleep immediately she sat in her seat, worn out from it all. When she woke up, it was to find herself, seated beside the woman she had just buried.
“Maami?” She whispered.
Maami was wearing the multicolored pashmina Omono had bought her from a street vendor the last time she had visited NYC.
“But you are dead,” she said softly to the woman, afraid that if it came out any stronger, it might be truer than it already was and the woman she loved more than any 0ther person in the world would disappear. Again.
While Maami lived, her favorite thing to complete any outfit was red lipstick and now even in death, it blazed across her lips like a living thing.
She smiled and reached out her hand to take Omono’s.
“Am I? Why is it then that you do not grieve? Why is it then that you still speak about me in present tense, like there is a future somewhere with me in it?”
For the first time since she got the news of her mother’s passing, Omono’s eyes filled with unwelcome tears and they stung. She wanted to wipe them away before her mother could see but her hands belonged to another for the time being.
“Don’t cry Nono,” the woman said using the fond name that was their secret.
An air hostess walked by then, seeking ways to prove to the passengers that the airline was indeed the five star it claimed.
Maami waited till she had gone past their seats before reaching for her child’s face. She of all people knew how much Omono hated for people to see her cry. Even that time when she had cried at the movie, The Champ, she had done it in underneath the stairs of their old house and had only been discovered by the troublesome Adejo who at four had no idea what privacy meant. For a long time, Maami had wondered if Omono’s distaste for the act of crying in public had come from all those nights she had spent sharing the limited attention of a few house mothers with the tens of crying babies at the motherless home she had spent the first year of her life.
“This is my final lap Omono, my last trip and its destination is you at peace with my leaving. I know it is much harder for you than any one else. You are the one going back to a, cold, empty apartment with only the photos of our vacation in Paris to warm you. You are the solitary one whose home was me. You are the one who once was lost and then found. The child I chose. And now that I am gone, you think you are lost again. ”
“People talk about how mothers can’t help but love their children, whether good or bad. They say it like we have no choice in the matter. Blood is thicker than water and all those old wives’ tales. But we have a choice Omono and someday you will find out just how limitless the choice that is a mother’s love can be.”
“Maami…” Omono started to say.
“Sshhhh, you are not lost without me, you were never lost, I never had to find you. It was the other way round. You found me. Don’t ever forget that; you found me and finders…”
“Keepers…” Omono completed, leaning her face into the warn wrinkled palm that had reached to cup it.
Another of their many mother-daughter secrets, secrets Maami had taken with her to her grave, secrets that were now just Omono’s and so no longer secret because secrets were things shared.
“We share a bond beyond blood, my child. You saved me and brought me such good fortune. Ori omo lo pe omo wa…you came into our lives and paved the way for your little ones. You found me Omono, you found the mother that was hidden in me all along.”
Omono started to cry then, a deluge of tears that heralded the beginning of her mourning. Wave after wave of emotions that she thought for sure that she would drown but the warm hand didn’t let go till she was all cried out and fell back asleep.
She awakened to find her cheek on the shoulder of the man on the seat next to hers and Maami, long gone.
“I am sorry, ” she told the man when she saw him rotate his shoulder.
He smiled, “You kept saying ‘Mama’ in your sleep. Good dream then? He asked.
She hesitated for a few moments, as she felt the tears sting her eyes from all the sadness and then she caught the wave like an expert, rode it and said “Good dream.”
Song of the day: Hoobastank – The Reason