Decades II – very much like the original Decade project – explores the wholesomeness of womanhood as lived in ten-year intervals; Girls; Ladies; Women; Mothers; grand and great-grand mothers all. They live the same life we live, experience the same joys and pains unique to their decades and maybe we can learn a thing or two from them. Find the subtle connections that link their lives together and get lost in stories told. Decades II.
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Given away. Separated at birth. Unaware of the other. The twins.
The night was young. The aroma of our freshly eaten onugbu soup still hung heavy in the air, and the darkness around was being punctuated with overfed crickets and fireflies. Anansewa sat between my legs, watching the ants around scurry away with our left over bits of pounded yam. I applied more baby oil to her fine hair, rubbing the thick mass. She had her mother’s hair, this one. The thought brought a small smile to my face.
“Sewa, hold the lamp up. I need to see what I’m doing.”
She did as she was bid. The shadows shifted as the light moved, and the child giggled mischievously. “Aunty Mamao, see… my shadow is longer than yours. I’m bigger than you.”
I smiled. Aunty Mamao’. Her mother and uncles always called me Mamao, a corrupted version of the generic ‘Mama’. The child thought ‘Mamao’ was my name, hence she spiced hers with a dash of respect. Aunty Mamao, every day, every time. It tickled everyone who heard it, and the child hung her head in shame each time they corrected her. I didn’t. Let her give me the respect that her mother wouldn’t…
“Do you think my shadow would be longer than my mother’s own when she comes?” The child’s look was questioning and troubled. I took my time before answering. “I think your mother’s shadow would be bearing all the gifts she has for you on its head. I don’t see how it can be shorter than you then.”
The answer seemed to agree with her. She smiled and ran her fingers over her braids again, assuring herself that it was smooth and beautiful. She wanted to look her best for her mother tomorrow. It had been so long since she saw her. Ewa hadn’t been back to see her daughter since the day she dropped her with me, and that was four years ago. The child was six now.
I remember like it was yesterday. It wasn’t because she left her baby for me, no. This was not the first time a woman abandoned her baby in my arms. I myself was unceremoniously dropped on my mother’s lap. No. It was the things she said to me. The words my daughter spoke that day, seared the memories into my brain. She had jammed the door open with her travelling box, and wagged her fingers up and down my face in that imperious way that was only too Ewa, rattling her gold bangles so much I thought my ears were going to break. “It’s all your fault o, mamao! It is all your fault! Have you tied my destiny down with the dibia that tied yours? Are we all not to have men in our lives, ehn, mamao? Are we not?? Who is my father, Mamao? Where is he?” With that, she jerked the box off the door with such force, that it slammed in my face. I opened it just in time to see her jam the trunk down and drive off, her orange jeep leaving a swirl of dust in her wake. I was left standing alone with the little child.
That evening, I sat with the baby outside the house. I could not sleep, the smell of my daughter’s expensive perfume still lingered. The words that my daughter spoke hung heavy in the air. The child I had fed. The child I had nurtured. The child I had given up my whole life for. That child and this child that had slammed the door in my face did not seem like the same person. I rocked my grand daughter back and forth to stop her from crying, but I was not too far from tears myself. Who could blame her? I was filled afresh with guilt and accusation, feelings that had been my companion for years. The question that was all too familiar came ringing back in my ears.
Who was her father?
I was young then. My father had made a poor harvest that year, and we needed money to pay off our debts. I was sent over to the church house to work with Father Okoli, a new priest who had just moved in from another diocese. He needed a house help to help him with chores and to cook, and in turn he paid my wages to my father. I wasn’t averse to the arrangement. I liked Father Okoli, and I got to sleep in a bed all by myself. Moreso, when he caught me looking at long paper with unintelligible symbols on it, he promised to teach me how to read. I wasn’t afraid of work and was pleased that I could be of help to my family. I did all I could do to satisfy the new priest…even when he started asking for other ‘services.’
There was nothing I could do. There was no one to talk to. Even when I eventually got pregnant, I couldn’t say the truth. No one would believe me. I stuck with my story of being with child for the holy spirit until my father threw me out of his house eventually, screaming that a child that was not of his blood would not smear his name, and that…. “the fruit does not fall far from the tree.” It wasn’t until then that I found out that my father wasn’t my father, and my mother had picked me up from a young sixteen year old woman who did not know what to do with the twins she just birthed. I didn’t know which haunted me more; the fact that I had a twin sister I would never know, or the fear that ‘fatherlessness’ ran in my blood. My mother wept as I was flogged out of the compound, but she didn’t do anything about it. She couldn’t. Worse still, nobody would house me. I was the talk of the town every where I went. My friends were few and far between, and even the ones that snuck food away from their mother’s kitchens for me whispered in my ears daily the wonders a bent iron hanger could do. No. I bore through it. I picked up my burden and walked on ahead in my path of self-exilation. By afternoon I had reached the next village, and that is where I have lived ever since. When the time came, I delivered my child just like the holy mother Mary, only my horses were cows and my barn was another man’s farm.
I gained a little of my self-respect here. I made a living from picking left over harvest from freshly gleaned farms and selling them. I also learnt how to braid different hairstyles, and soon lived off that too. When I had made enough money, I entered the cooking business. I was a very good cook at Father Okoli’s. Early in the morning I would fry dodo and make beans, warm my bread over hot coal and keep cool water in my obodo-oyibo cooler.
One day, a woman came to my stall. She was richly dressed and carried a baby in her arms. She seemed in a great hurry. “Mama, please help me hold this child, I’m coming!” She ran off before I could say or do anything. I gathered the child, and kept it on a bench next to me. Strangely, it did not cry. Sewa stared at it and played with it, and the baby just looked blankly at her.
By afternoon, the woman wasn’t back and I fed the child with a little eba. When the sun started to go down and there was no sign of the woman, I packed up my shed and carried the child to the elders. They shook their heads and chewed their lips, and I could see that they could do nothing to help me. I thanked them and took the baby home. When Sewa and Ayanfe (the baby) grew up, I sent them off to school. They did not need to suffer their mother’s fate too.
Ayanfe came out now, bringing me back to the present. She was carrying Sewa’s favourite wrapper. “Mosquitoes are starting to bite, Mamao.” She wrapped the nearly sleeping child up, and sat down in front of me, holding up the lamp. I smiled despite myself. Ayanfe. Who knew that she would be such a blessing to me? I looked at her and wondered, was it the same me that raised this child and Ewa up? How can these two people, different as night and day, sit and call me mother? While Ewa grew up and went off to the city, abandoning her own mother, Ayanfe stayed back. She was not less pretty, or less smart. She sat with me at my stall, which has grown into a small restaurant now, cooking and serving the young demanding customers who came everyday. She had a fiancée who respected her mother, who did not buy her expensive gifts nor give her the leave to spit words back into her mother’s face. And most of all, she gave me the greatest gift I could ever ask for. Lying down on a mat I set outside, she asked me. “Have you read the letter Mama Ejinma’s son sent to her? She brought it this morning for you to interprete. I told her to come back tomorrow.” Ayanfe did not keep the secrets of the white man’s magic to herself alone. Out of all the women my age in the whole village, I was the only one who could read and write.
I shook my head no. I would read it later, after my daughter has come and gone. A mosquito buzzed next to my ear and Ayanfe quickly darted out and killed it. “I hear that Ewa is coming tomorrow with her third fiancee” she said. I nodded slowly. “I hope it all goes well this time.” She looked at me and looked ahead, at the path leading to our little house, and muttered darkly. “They say that the child who does not let her mother rest, would not rest also.” A cricket chirped loudly at her words. I bent down and concentrated on the braiding, hoping that she did not see the tear drop that rolled off my face and landed on the thick, fine mass of hair.
My hair tinted with regrets
I scream a thousand unheard words
Amidst my blessings, I remain fallow
I am broken, yet healed
A heart burdened, covered by a smile
Hoping my voice is heard from my solitary silence
SO THANKS FOR READING. DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH THIS WOMAN? DO YOU THINK SHE’S A SATISFIED WOMAN? ARE THERE ANY REGRETS IN YOUR LIFE YOU FEAR ARE ‘INHERITED’?
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?
FIND THE ART OF @Aeda_ here
N.B. The project still goes on tomorrow. Watch out for The Final Decade by @UberBetty.
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