The Taking

We bury her in a white dress. Her mother insisted. It was one of those dresses women buy and never…


August 17, 2016

We bury her in a white dress. Her mother insisted. It was one of those dresses women buy and never end up wearing. If I close my eyes long enough, I can imagine her in it alive.  

“Isn’t it perfect?” She had asked one too many times as she modeled it for me after bringing the dress home from the store. 

I was a great husband so I had said yes even though I preferred her in colors that were not the starkness of white or black. I hadn’t seen the dress after that day until her mother showed up at the house I can no longer call home, to choose a dress for her daughter’s funeral.

I don’t ask Mama Sade why she chose this dress of all the other beautiful clothes her daughter had. I don’t ask her many things I should because it is too late for questions anyway. I just let her have her way.

Mama Sade picks out my clothes for the funeral too. A white Marks and Spencer’s shirt from back when I worked in the bank, a dark suit I don’t recognize, and a dark purple tie because purple was Sade’s favorite color. Again, I let my mother-in-law have her way.

The funeral is a show of nothing. I could have buried her quietly all by myself. I don’t need all these people with dry handkerchiefs and dark sunglasses that hide the questions in their eyes. I don’t need the condolences they have come to give. I don’t need anything they can give. I need Sade.

After the interment, my brothers somehow manage to maneuver me from the clasps of the mourners that have gathered and drive me to the family house. I have been summoned by my grandfather I hear but I know it is also their way of saving me from my in-laws and I make a mental note to thank them someday.

Our parents were killed in a motor accident when I was 7.  Both my brothers were in college by then, already making their own way in life, and what was left of my upbringing had been left to Papa. We had grown close, I and my grandfather, closer than I had ever been with either parent I had lost. Still he is the last person I want to see today.

The house I grew up in is a shadow of itself. The light green color I painted it myself three years ago has dulled into an off-white. The flower hedges are overgrown and I wonder about the whereabouts of Gbolahan, the ancient gardener that has tended to them since as far back as I could remember. I am still wondering when I hear Papa’s voice as if from the end of a tunnel.

“Olufela,” My grandfather says, as he walks slowly towards the car my brothers have just managed to coerce me from.

I prostrate full length before him. It was supposed to be a few seconds greeting but then I try to get back up and my gaze land on the two red mounds with headstones that hold my parents’ skeletons. I decide there and then that there is no need to keep on living.

I stay that way for I don’t know how long. My brothers try to pick me up but Papa rebukes them. He sends them home and takes his seat on the red clay ground, beside my prone body. I imagine what we must look like to the rest of the world but I don’t really care either. I just want to die too.

“She took so much with her Papa,” I tell him when I have run out of tears to cry.

“Hmmm,” He nods, as if in agreement.

Except for the crickets singing for love, it is eerily silent around us. I remember the hedges and ask:

“Where is Pa Gbolahan?”

“That one too. That one took plenty with him when he left, including my favorite shears. Your grandmother got me those shears you know. Now I don’t know where Gbolahan kept them and there is no one to ask.”

“When?” I ask.

“Two months ago. Right here in the garden while raking. He had a song on his lips. He was one of those Christian people, you know, so he told me as I held him that he was seeing Jesus. Those were his last words. Foolish man! Why couldn’t he have just told me where the shears were instead?”

I start to laugh then. I laugh and laugh until Papa joins in. When our laughter subsides, I tell him some of the things she took with her when she left.

“We found out about the baby a month ago. We were supposed to go to Yankari to celebrate that and our anniversary next week. She left me with air tickets and hotel room reservations no one will never use now, a wardrobe filled with clothes that still smell like her, her recorded voice on my phone, and memories that haunt my sleep and wakefulness… Yesterday, a crib she had ordered two weeks before arrived at the house. Those are the things she left behind; she took everything else, all the things that really mattered with her. “

Two years ago I had brought Sade home to meet Papa. Everything had gone well until the end of the visit when my grandfather had followed us to the car to say goodbye. I still remember that evening like it was yesterday. The sun had just begun to set.

“Folasade” Papa had begun in a sing-song way, “Omo aigbagbe, it has been so many years and yet you won’t forgive or forget.”

All of a sudden what had been a clear evening sky had turned cloudy and it had begun to thunder.

“You cannot have this one Folasade, not like you did his father.” My grandfather had said with a tone of finality and then limped back into the house. It was the last time I had seen him till today. I had never tried to ask the meaning of that exchange between the two people I loved most in the world. There was no need. I had chosen Sade over him just as he knew I would.

“You knew that this would happen, you tried to warn me,” I say now.

“Ah Olufela, you give me too much credit. The only thing I knew was that I had seen Folasade before. In the face of your mother, in the face of my first wife.”

He pauses before continuing.

“The men of our family have carried this curse for so long. I had thought that when they took your father, it was over. You see, the death of our men had never been part of the curse but when your father died with your mother, I had thought that was it. It had hurt but if the sacrifice of my only son meant his sons and their sons would never know the sorrow of burying the women they loved, then it was worth it, I thought.  When Bolu and Bayode got married, I held my breath but as the years passed and everything seemed perfect, I rejoiced. Then you met Folasade“.

“As for me, I cannot help but be thankful. You talk about the things she took with her; my son, I am thankful that today you are not numbered amongst them. It might sound selfish right now but you are the only thing that matters to me of all the things she has, and could have taken with her. I am glad she left you behind”.

“You will find joy, love and even babies again. Just like I did. But in order to do so, you must keep on living, shon gbo mi Fela? You must carry on living. Leave the dead and the things they take with them alone.”

I place my head on his lap and let him gather me to himself then. It is pitch dark when I finally speak.

“I am glad you too were left behind,” I tell him.

His laughter shatters the calm of the night and gives me the courage to rise and help him up. We lean on each other as we make our way back to living.


Song of the day: Todd Dulaney – Victory belongs to Jesus

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