If you sleep with someone long enough, you start to look like them. Maybe even take on parts of their personality, their character without knowing.
For the first 11 years of my life I shared a bed with Iya Ropo. Every single day. At least that is what my parents tell me about the times I was too young to form memories.
‘She insisted those first few weeks of your life and then it just became easier, to let her take you from my tired arms every night,’ my mother said when I asked for the beginning.
She was always awake when I opened my eyes. Some times lying in bed next to me, humming gently in worship, other times praying so gently I couldn’t be sure she was speaking until I read the story of Eli and Hannah and knew I never wanted to be identified with the former.
I was an only child but not an only grandchild and sleeping with Iya Ropo made me feel only always. There were many opportunities to find another place to sleep, a plethora of rooms in the house we lived but I never wanted different.
She was my father’s mother; he was her Ropo, her firstborn, her Reuben, a child that knew the places of his mother’s heart most susceptible to pain. And even though she had three other children, she was still first and foremost Iya Ropo.
Adelaide was my mother. Her skin like milk and her hair had the reddish hue of the earth we lived on in Ibadan. She was a weed, a transplant. Something that could never fit in, however many Yoruba words she learned and spoke, how many ankara dresses she owned, how many Amala meals she turned on the hot stove…
The night I stopped sleeping with my grandmother had been planned days in advance and to prepare me, my mother had started sleeping in the room next to us. At least that is what she said. I know now that it was better than sleeping in that lonely bed she once shared with my father, imagining him in the arms of Aunty Risi, the woman who made Gbegiri just the way he liked.
Their divorce had taken its toll on all of us. Iya Ropo mostly. Again Ropo had failed her, again he was taking away something she loved. Those final few nights I spent sleeping next to her, she tossed and turned and so did I.
“Sleep Ariyike’, she commanded me one night.
I looked at her and she looked at me and we bought laughed at the notion of pots calling kettles black.
“Will you remain here with Baba mi?” I asked her when our chuckling had petered out into the night.
“Maybe Ariyike. I am an old woman. There are not many places I can go.”
“You are 64 Iya Ropo, a spry young chicken”
She wrinkled her nose at me and I laughed again.
“I should have not let your mother home school you” She murmured in Yoruba, ‘What 11 year old uses such sentences on an old woman?”
I laughed some more and that made her smile.
“Have you ever seen snow before?”
“I visited your father in university for Christmas and it snowed. It was very strange”
“Will you come and visit me too?” I asked.
“As soon as I can but not in winter. These old bones is not coming to see you in winter and you better shut up about young and old chickens.”
I laughed again but this time she joined me in a laugh that soon turned into weeping until I fell asleep.
I don’t remember how we said our goodbyes. I just remember that that was the beginning of my sleeplessness.
Ariyike turns to from the window to look at the man on the bed. He is beautiful in ways she didn’t think was ever possible. It is their first night together and the first time she slept soundly well without any aid since she saw Iya Ropo.
She wriggles her nose and smiles.
“It might be that or it might be because my grandmother is only a few doors down the hallway.”
The man watches as she makes her way back to bed. Her skin is the hue o her mother’s but her features are those of the older woman he met for the first time last week. They wriggle their noses the same exact way but it is the kindness of their eyes that made him fall in love twice over.
It was their wedding day yesterday and he had surprised Ariyike by flying in Iya Ropo for the wedding. It had taken very little convincing to get the old woman to Breckenridge even in the cold of March.
‘I have no one to walk me down the aisle’ Ariyike had worried since the day he asked her to marry him.
But yesterday she had looked resplendent as Iya Ropo had walked her to him.
The name ‘Ropo’ meant ‘to replace’. Ropo, Ariyike’s father had been replaced twice. By his mother who was all the father his daughter needed and by his daughter who was all the son his mother needed.