I haven’t got a penchant
For words like tough or rough
I haven’t got the energy
To give bad times
A solemn name or an act of tame
I only have the will
To smile for a while
And to dance away the night, for a worthy stance. . .
Mama looked on gleefully as I recited my little poem with such irrepressible joy. I had fallen in love with poetry after Rev. Sister Anna, one of the village Catholic sisters, gifted me a book of many poems. I went about prancing as though I was the village’s Maya Angelou anytime I wrote a new poem.
I loved to write, but most importantly I was always ecstatic to read it – theatrically, it goes without saying – to my audience consisting of Mama, tweeting birds and my imaginary kith and kin.
With all this zest, Mama like on all other days nodded and said ‘sweet fanny adams’ – nothing!
Regardless, I was as pleased as punch to have woken up to a new day; which looked and smelt like a fresh daisy. I scampered out of my room to greet the day! I tilted my head heavenward. I was thankful for life, thankful for Mama’s little smile and my spiffy little legs which would carry me to the village square, where I played with other children.
As I strode on the dusty path toward the village square, I chewed cud like I had never done before. Mama had never spoken; all she did was to smile—frailly, I must add. In my home, it was a dinky room with bedraggled pots, three clothes and our worn-out mat. This is the home, where my mother could be found in situ. It was an outlandish house, far away from the main village. Thus, no neighbors, no allies, no family. Today, startlingly, I question so many things.
As I swam deeper into my thoughts, the rambunctious play of children distracted me. My corpulent friend Aisha screeched, “Hurry and join us”. Thus, I quickened my steps to joy.
Oh, how I loved this place! The atmosphere was boisterous. The branches of the huge trees had created a canopy of warmth. It was a place with little conversant children sharing in fantasies and unequivocal brags. The atmosphere was saturated with aromas of delicious delicacies and a sense of liveliness.
As I soaked it all in, Little Kwame – a stout little boy with dozy brows and incredibly small lips, scampered to where all the children were gathered with a piece of paper and a sunny disposition. “My father sent me a letter from abroad, let’s read it together,” he said joyfully.
Aku, the most expansive and quick-witted child among us, took the piece of paper and began reading it out loud.
“Dear Little Kwame,
Oh! How I miss you my precious son. With certitude, I trust you are well and growing into a young responsible man – Aku mispronounced responsible though—As you know, I am out here seeking greener pastures and toiling to give you and your mother all that you may need. Hopefully, I’ll come home soon. I shall bring with me, many lovely gifts and toys for you and all your little friends. Be well my son! I love you!
After Aku read the letter, all the children went ballistic. They were happy to know Big Kwame would be bringing them toys and gifts. I knew I was going to receive none, because the children accepted me but their mothers didn’t. As a matter of fact, they didn’t want me around their children. But as you may know, the heart of a child is like a temple. All manners of persons are accepted, and the most important thing is unity embedded in fellowship.
I walked away slowly with quiet sobs. I wasn’t sad about the toys and gifts; I was misting over the sweet words of a father. I fervidly wanted to be like Kwame. However, I didn’t have a father. As I brooded over my thoughts, I was so captivated by feeling bereft I feigned a headache and headed home thereafter.
As the days went by, Mama’s smile faded little by little. Yet she had an acuity which was inexplicable. This gloom percolated into our lives. The silence was eerie and unbearable for a teenager like me, who wanted to walk into days, weeks and years ahead like fury.
The words of the village Catholic sister were a saving grace. Her prayers were my pearls of great price.
One night, Mama got struck with a fever, I presumed. She grew pallid and appeared scrawnier than she had ever been. In the morning, I hurried to the mission house to inform Rev. Sister Anna about my mother. She drove with me in her white Hyundai car to my home. Together, we lifted Mama to the car and we drove to the village clinic.
We waited patiently for a while, and the doctor appeared. From his countenance, I deduced torrid times were nigh. “Your mother is suffering from what we call ‘Epilepsy’,” he said. “Epiklesky . . .?” I inquired quickly. “Epilepsy my dear, Epilepsy,” he interjected. He then explained what Epilepsy was all about painstakingly to us. He explained that Epilepsy is a human neurological disease causing seizures.
He said the main causes of the disease are unknown; however, some causes may be brain injury, stroke, brain tumors, or infections of the brain. He further explained by saying the seizures are the result of excessive and abnormal neuronal activity in the cortex of the brain. I was so bemused by the language, but I nodded accordingly alongside Sister Anna.
With his adumbration, I understood why Mama was so thin and couldn’t talk or eat properly. I had come to understand why she had periodic seizures ,too. Without ifs and ands, I was crestfallen; however, I reckoned I needed to be my mother’s swashbuckler! I had to pluck upcourage to take care of my sick mother.
One afternoon, filled with quietude, I was on my way to the village stream to fetch water. I was walking before two women, and I eavesdropped on their conversation. “Look at that girl, do you know her?’’ one inquired from the other. The other answered, “No, I don’t”.
“She is the daughter of the woman who was banished because of her ignominious ailment. Hmm. . . she did it! She slept with a married man. I think the wife of the man cursed her!” she told her friend judgmentally.
Thereupon, I quickened my steps and sat beneath a big oak tree. I couldn’t hold back my tears. I asked myself several questions indignantly. Was Mama cursed, were we suffering by reason of Mama’s ignoble lifestyle in the past? Was I the daughter of an adulterer? Clearly, there were more questions than answers.
After this incident I didn’t love my mother any less. Seeing her life slain right before my eyes was byzantine; however, I strained every nerve to make sure my mother smiled once again. One morning as I was getting ready to go and play, Mama patted me on the shoulder solemnly and pointed to the hem of my dress. It was stained with blood. I shuddered, but Mama smiled.
I went to Sister Anna, and explained to her the strange occurrence. She gave me new clothes, towels and prayed with me. Thereafter, she looked me in the eye and called me ‘Woman’. Albeit I was an outcast, I was not a weakling. I increasingly became interested in Mama’s ailment and decided how she could be helped. The village children would guffaw anytime I told them I would be a doctor and treat persons living with Epilepsy in the future.
One afternoon around 5:30 pm, I went home to see my mother in a deep sleep. A sleep from which she never woke up. Her body was so cold and heavy, and a part of me died with her. Mama had shuffled off this mortal coil.
As I watched some of the village men lower her unattractive coffin into the grave, I said solemnly; “Mama, you were the odd air that blew across the earth. But I shall long for you, every step of the way till we meet again”. The End.
>>> the author is the Project Lead of The REP Foundation (Rural Elevation Project). An avid believer in the use of human design methodology in ironing out the wrinkles in our societies with particular focus on rural communities. She can be reached on [email protected]