The chickens had begun to take to their roosts as the sun gradually effaced to twilight and the bleating goats meandered through the yards to settle in the dusk of the day. We trudged along the bush paths back home. We had had a tiresome day as we tilled the soil endlessly to uproot cassava. It was a sunny season and the soil wasn’t so easy on our machetes and hoes. We would walk miles away from home as early as the first cock crow, when mothers busied to fetch fire wood and others chattering in hushed tones amidst mortars preparing their husband’s wee meals. Dusk was the ticking time which reminded us of our journey back home after a listless adventure.
Mama was in the kitchen having a chit chat with Nene, her only daughter. Poor mama! Ever since papa died, she barely went a day without having to talk about him with Nene who most times, endured the weight of the sermons on impregnable ears.
“Ah, When Papa Ade was alive, he wouldn’t spare Okene for insulting me the other day,” she’d lament whenever she saw Okene.
Okene was our neighbour; a well-known hunter who was at daggers’ drawn with mama over the easement that separated our house from his. Okene had always claimed he owned the land and would do anything to have it culled to him.
Ade and I were the only boys at home. Ade was Mama’s first child and I was a foundling. I was adopted at 4 and till now, I have no idea who my mum really is. Mama said I was found bare at a crossroad crying softly for help. Bedevilled by the fate of having no male child after Ade, she raised me as her own. Mama sought frantically to have another son but it seemed Ade was her lot. She had 4 girls all of which died tragically, one after the other, but Nene. Rumours have it that Mama lost her girls to the “ogbanje” goddess that beset her loins with frail children who pushed up the daisies barely before they attained five.
Ade is 4 years older than I am. At ten, I could do virtually all Ade’s strength could avail him because we did all chores at home in unison. Ade and I usually didn’t see eye to eye on many issues. Ade was – that testy boy with a surly attitude.
“Ade, you’d allow another man take care of your wife because you can’t stay a day without picking on her every word and beating her for the neighbourhood,” Mama would tease when Ade’s grouchy temperament was on the onslaught.
With a naturally ingenuous look, I usually weaseled out of every mischief I committed while Ade stood to bear the brunt even when he had no idea what happened. What could be said of his surly look was that he got to be impinged with several misdeeds. He soon got used to it. He soon developed the thick skin, accepting that he was villainous without having to cry like a whimpering dog.
Because Mama was feeble, Ade and I did all the farm work to provide for the family while Nene deputized for mama when she was unable to kitchen up. I had not the opportunity to attend the local primary school in the village, nor did Ade. When I was 12, the local catechist warmed the ears of Mama with tales of my stellar exhibitions in church.
“Your son is such a brilliant boy. He could recite the Sunday hymns without having to hold out the bulletin. He should go to school,” the catechist would suggest with a smug smile.
After several hearty meetings of suasion, Mama gave in to the catechist’s pithy remarks. But for him, I would have remained uneducated; reclined to the farmyard. Ade saw no need for formal education as farming was his forte. He took a pride in fishing and hunting alongside. Indeed, he soon grew into a stalwart young man who won the heart of Ateni, one of the diadems that sprinkled brightness on an otherwise gloom of ladies in the village. She stood out outstandingly beautiful and what more, she found Ade a worthy consort.
I started school from standard 3, a pedestal none but the catechist found me proficient enough to kick-start with and at sixteen, I had rounded off secondary school which stopped at standard 5. I left for the city to be encountered with the tutelage of better teachers, and a more refined secondary school. Fortnightly, I’d write to Mama in the village usually through the commuters at the park boarding a bus to my village. Mama usually employed the headmaster to reel out my epistle to her. Enheartened, she’d sing, dance and eulogise me. Mama would tie up food condiments in a small bag, prepare a little morsel of coconut rice, my favourite, and then bring out some money from her “oza” all for me. She’d give it to any of the travellers to send her good tidings. Mama was particularly proud of me because I wasn’t doing badly academically. Without profound knowledge of western education, she knew that anyone who could reel out “Onyinbo” as she called it, without having to be born in the white man’s land was a demi god, one to be respected. I was her demi-god so you can imagine how much delight she fetched.
Intermittently, I’d visit Mama in the village when I was not so flat chat with school activities.
“Mama, Mr Okafor has not paid my school fees for this term and I’m forced to skip classes to fetch money,” I’d complain to her on one of my necessary visits.
She would rally round to fetch me money and warn sternly that I must never disrespect the bicycle repairer, Mr. Okafor who, though on the breadline, was unrelenting in eking out a living for himself and family. Mr. Okafor was Mama’s younger brother who deserted the village to be domiciled in the city. He lived in Benin with his wife and children. With two incommodious rooms, Mr. Okafor was hesitant to allow me in his house but after much plea from mama, he accepted me.
My secondary school days were a bumpy ride; I strove most times to break off the shackles of shame that patted my back each time I was lacking in school. Tuition fees and other logistics soon became unbearable for Mr. Okafor who was an altogether unhappy man. His nocturnal dealings soon caught up with him as he grappled to cater for his 8 children. Whenever he was infuriated, he usually remarked overbearingly that he could only account for four out of his eight children as the others resisted his sexual skills and swam into the world, uninvited. The silver lining in his cloud was that the lot of his children had no liking for schooling. While some took to apprenticeship in menial jobs, some others advanced for some fraudulent merchandises. Given these palavers, I had to fend for myself the little way I could. I gambled, did hard labour and even hawked to aid myself in the hope that come what may, I’d rise from my ashes.
On several occasions, I regretted my humble beginnings. Why hadn’t I a mother to cater for me? What happened to my father also? Did I fall from the sky, or was I an omen to be estranged? Looking at my peers, I’d wonder what possibly could be their problems when mine at every point was a sad story to tell. While others bellyached that their parents beat them up, my broodings were that I had none to direct me even though it meant corporal punishment. But that’s not to say that I didn’t have my times with mama. I owe so many scars in my body to the sugar cane she frequently used to club me when I did wrong, especially when I was disrespectful. She claimed sugar cane was her sweet cane for stubborn children. Shrugs.
Whenever I spoke to Mama about my pangs of pain, she usually buoyed me up by saying, “Someday, you won’t remember this suffering. You will be too blessed to be worried.”
I found peace, solace and succour in her invigorating encouragements. On a particular occasion during one of my visits to the village, I noticed that Mama would wake up at the dead of the night to pray for me. I’d stare from my end of the room, through the thatched paddocks that demarcated hers from Ade’s and mine. She supplications were pertinacious yet pithy – that her “God” should not allow me die untimely and that even though she won’t live to reap the fruits of her labour, I should someday find my mother and treat her as I would, mama. Oh mama! My paradigm of a mother!
I finished secondary school in the city at my early twenties. Mama was overwhelmed with joy. I remember she came to the city to felicitate with me. She wouldn’t miss bringing my coconut rice; she had always believed that the liquid inside the coconut could make one intelligent.
“Don’t forget to drink the water o,” she’d stress each time she brought me an intemerate coconut. Oh, did I tell you about Ade? Ade had procured for himself, two sons at the village with Ateni. He had however driven Ateni away from the home on perfidious grounds.
“Beautiful girls are usually married for all to share and tap from. Tufia!” He’d retort whenever the issue was brought up in his before.
His sons were already given the pride of place in his large acres. Nene had married a long time ago but unfortunately, the husband died in an accident. He fell from a tree into a slope while harvesting palm fronts, and he fractured his legs. Still undergoing treatments from Oke, his medicine man, he obstinately ventured on his enterprise again and this time, he fell down the slope and walloped into a nearby stream where he drowned with excruciating pains. Poor Nene!
Mama had always complained about Okene, her neighbour in the village. With several dysfunctional pains and difficulties in moving, she suspected that Okene had responded with malintent to the long-standing animosity over the right of way between the both houses. Ade and I have always warned Mama to resist the urge to fight over that easement but Mama would always call us cowards.
“Papa Ade would not give up on what is rightfully his,” she’d remark audaciously.
I was in my second year in the University when the new reached me that Mama was dead. Yes. After many years of struggling with stroke, she went the way of her fathers. For years, I tried to take mama’s death in stride. I was unable to suck it up; the guilt that I could not restore her happiness. I felt the pangs of reprieve. I could not elevate Mama from obscurity to affluence. It haunted me for years. I stopped my 5 year program for two years because Mama was my only back bone, my mainstay and kingpin in life’s journey to better strides. Ade soon moved to the village house with his children and no sooner had he stayed a year there than he had a bloody fight with Okene. He hacked his hands off in a duel still over the easement. That was Ade’s way of reprising the foreboding that Okene schemed mama’s dramatic death.
It’s been 25 years now since I bagged my first degree. I’m now a lawyer and this is the second time I’m telling this story. The first time I did, I was in jail just like Ade for assaulting a fellow who claimed to be my father. After many years of ploughing a lonely furrow, I could not stomach the idea of one presumptuous man posing as my father on the basis of biology? No. I mutilated his body without compunction and I served time in jail. My fellow inmates were let in on this story for the first time.
Now, I’m telling this story the second time but now to my son. My first son. I came home to find him speaking rudely, shouting and bawling out at my amiable wife, his mum. He’s a grown up now. The vicissitudes of life are no longer unintelligible to him. Now is the time he has to know, that life is a small world. That Life is a journey with many hurdles only wisdom and right living can beat. The good things must not be reserved for later. He must learn to do what is right at all times. He must learn to respect his mother because lucky is he who has one. He must learn to be civil with his family and the society. He must learn to receive others not minding their history. Till date, I haven’t seen my mother but I’m happy I had Mama. She nurtured me in the way of life and taught me to be strong, to live in my world knowing that it’s me against the whole world. So, my son must learn to be a good man; with integrity, with respect with the strength of a man and the heart of Mama – a good heart. Like Mama, my son my must learn to be altruistic; doing for others without expectations, helping the needy even when they cannot help in return. He must learn and realise that Life is hopeless when one has not imparted on others. He must learn that his father, in lack and in abundance, never stopped imparting the lives of others the way he could. He must also learn that a man will treat his wife just the way he treated his mother; that the happiness of his family will depend on how he treated people before he had them. Mama… She raised me as a foster child. I had not the chance to pay her back but she didn’t mind. All she sought was that I grew accomplished. Now, I’m a big lawyer with all the accomplishments but I weep each time I tell this story because I have it all yet I have nothing… I have no Mama.
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