Our mother was not the kind of woman you talked back at. You could not look her in the eye when she spoke, could not smile when she made a grammatical error. She was the mother, whom when you had malaria would tell you to tell father. She was the mother that would tell you to go the neighbor’s house to eat if you were feeling hungry after school and it was not eight pm yet.
So imagine my surprise when mother ceased to become all these things. It had begun after father’s death. Before father died, mother was all that, and more. She was strong, always looked at the men in the eye even when they were angry. This was father’s cause, the neighbors said. They called him the wife. Mother had always smiled whenever they said that. Father too. “I am the wife and you are the husband. These are just generic terms.”
I always listened to the neighbors. I had thought my father weak because in a way I disliked mother. She was mean and secluded and I needed father to do things my way the way Buchi’s father did to Buchi’s mother. Father said he was being progressive. He tried to teach us to become like that. Brother Arinze did for he loved father with all his heart. He would come back from school weary and have long discussions with father in the sitting room. I never understood what they spoke about but Kene, my elder brother, said Brother Arinze and father liked homo people.
Kene never listened. He was strong, stubborn, in ways I could never be. However, I was surprised when one day, Kene had come back home and told Brother Arinze that he had beaten up a girl. I had thought brother Arinze would beat him for touching a girl because our social studies teacher said it was wrong. Instead, brother had said, “Good. You’re learning.”
I understand now what Brother Arinze had meant. But I still think he had a wrong idea of it, him and his books. I agree partially, if not, I would have gone all Kene on mother. Mother did not change positively after father died. Sure, we still could not disturb her for hunger but we could for sickness. We could look her in the eye sometimes. Mother’s true change started almost a year after father died, when Brother Arinze went to the university and some months before Kene went to live with Uncle Emeka.
I had not understood it when Kene suddenly started having meat in his soups, started bringing his friends home. Kene no longer washed plates, never rushed run indoors once it was six like we used to. Kene made mother look weak. This made me furious because each time I tried to tell mother that Kene took my tiny meat, or ate my afternoon meal before I returned from school, she would tell me to go to Buchi’s house if I was hungry. Not to disturb her.
One day, returning from school with an eager gloominess, I had flung the door open and found her kissing her friend, Bianca, one hand on Bianca’s breasts and the other under her skirt. There had been no dramatic entrance- no dropping of my bag, no staring with the door open, my mouth hanging. I had walked in as though she was complaining about the increasing price of things while punching figures into her calculator. Almost five minutes later, she came into my room. “I want you to understand-“
“Did Kene know?” I asked. It all made sense, her eagerness to please him, because he knew her secret.
“No,” she said. “But he wouldn’t really have minded. You know what he thought about…”
Looking at her, I could tell she didn’t want me to hide her secret, she wanted me to accept the secret. I had never thought that one of them would be so close to me. I had always respected them from afar, never wanting to know any of them. Now my mother was one of them. Why then had she married? If she had not, I would not have been born. That thought made me shudder. Mother was not as progressive as she thought she was, marrying to hide her sexuality. It would be selfish of me to be glad she could not accept herself.
“If I had known then, I would not have exploited you.”
“I know,” she said. “That’s why you’re my favorite.”
I wondered if she would have told Brother Arinze the same thing. I still wonder. I knew she could never fully trust me to accept her but then, hearing that made my forgiving her easier.
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