“Nnam, you’ve done well coming to see your wife. You can see how happy your presence here has made her.” Ezeamaka reached out to pat her son and he grinned.
“Don’t tell her this but it’s been very quiet in the flat without her; I never realized how much Ada livens up the place. Even our neighbor Mama Tinu was commenting about her this week. You know, they often go to church together – one thing we’ve all missed is her singing. Apparently the choir is feeling her absence.”
“You too should be going to church every now and then, my son.” Her voice took a softer tone but that was not enough.
“Mama leave me alone with this church business. You’ve always known how I feel about that topic.”
Ezeamaka cast her eyes to the sky and shook her head, deciding to let the matter drop.
It was late Saturday evening and they were enjoying the cool breeze that blew out on the veranda. Dancing fireflies winked in and out of existence in the grass around them, mimicking the frosted glitter of stars in the darkening blue sky above. The still night air was intermittently punctuated with staccato bursts of singing by crickets hidden in the dark undergrowth.
Chike took a deep breath of air and released it in a long sigh, relaxing even deeper on the cane chair. Moments like this always made him want to turn his back on life in Lagos and just settle down home once and for all. An ironic smile touched his lips at the thought of him calling a place so far from Owerri home but in truth, there was nothing left for him back there. As the eldest son Chike was obligated to watch over his late father’s compound and he dutifully sent money every now and then. The only other tie he had to that past sat next to him, holding his hand.
Ezeamaka couldn’t help the contented smile that formed on her face as she glanced sideways on her son. Who would have told her then, so many years ago, that the ailing runt of a child her husband and his family scorned would become such a successful man?
Everyone, including herself, had been surprised by her pregnancy.
With fifteen years into her marriage and two junior wives behind her, everyone considered Ezeamaka barren and well past the possibility of childbirth. Her husband only occasionally visited her bedroom on his way to his other wives; that was why it had been very easy to deny the pregnancy. He kept on denying it even when she gave birth a male child, the only one in the family at that time. Even from birth Chike had been dark skinned, not like her or his father, and apparently no one in the Onwudike household had such features.
Ezeamaka closed her eyes to the surge of old hurts that arose as she remembered being kicked out of her husband’s house, child in hand and tears in her eyes, by his people. At least her mother had been sympathetic to her plight. And then came the rumors that her son was an Ogbanje. The very day Chike was born, no one expected him to survive the night; the sickly boy had nearly driven her mad, running from clinic to clinic on an almost daily basis. When it seemed that western medicines were ineffective, her mother insisted that they sought out other solutions.
The three of them undertook a harrowing journey to find this solution at the shrine of a medicine man in Onitsha reputed to have fearsome skills. The dibia had reassured them that her son was not an Ogbanje; he was being troubled by wicked powers from sources close to them. He predicted a bright future for the boy, one that aroused the jealousy of someone who was now determined to derail his destiny but that his Chi had been fighting fiercely to defend him.
Ezeamaka had to leave her son in the spiritualist’s hands for three days while the man made propitiations to the gods on his behalf. When they returned, the dibia guaranteed them that the boy would not ail again but advised them to put as much distance as possible between him and his father’s house. That was how Ezeamaka and her son ended up in Ibadan – they left and never turned back.
“Actually, there is something I wanted to discuss with Adanma but I’d also like your opinion on it.”
His sudden seriousness broke through her reverie and she sat upright, a tiny frown beginning over her brow. “Nnam I’m all ears – what is the matter? I hope nothing is wrong.”
“Nothing’s wrong mama. It’s just that the place where I work they want me to go for a course in the U.S – America.”
“Ehen? They want you to go back to America.” She paused and considered the situation. “But that is a good thing nah.”
Chike grunted in assent and sank lower, resting his head on his elbow. “I suppose.. . They are opening a some new positions in my company. There’s one in my department and my oga has picked me for it.”
Ezeamaka’s face stretched into a happy smile as she leaned over to hug her son. “Another promotion? My son, that is good news, congratulations!”
“ Thank you mama…But they say although I have the experience to assume this position, my qualifications are not up to par – I don’t have the certificate. So they want me to go for one program in America to get that certificate. You know the people I work for are a foreign company, well they want me to be reporting in their office in America while I’m doing the course. They want me to leave as soon as possible, within this quarter…three months.”
She hesitated, searching for her son’s face in the growing darkness with confusion. The tone of his voice carried none of the excitement that should normally come with such elevation. Something was wrong about this. Ezeamaka knew her son well enough to know when he was guarding his words from her.
“Why isn’t this making you happy?”
Chike shut his eyes against the unease and worry that had dogged his mind ever since the letter and office meeting. “Mama this course is a two year program. I’ll be in the States for at least eighteen months.”
That hit her like a blow to the chest and she froze for a moment. He felt her reaction and held his breath, knowing another whammy was on its way. “Mama, they are also telling me to bring my partner with me. They’ll give me an allowance for housing while I’m taking this course…”
Now Ezeamaka understood his hesitation. She took a deep breath and turned aside, staring into the open dark space beyond while silence reigned between them. She had always been close with her son. Ever since he was born it had been two of them practically against the rest of the world. Chike was her only child, her pride and joy; the single sapling in her backyard that she had so carefully and tenderly nurtured, knowing that someday it would become a mighty Iroko that would cover her entire house and give her shade.
When he was younger, the Yoruba people they lived amidst used to say that he was one but would grow up to be worth two hundred sons to her. Already Chike had began fulfilling this promise – she had a comfortable home, two children to take care of and many grand children on the way. Plus her son was a responsible child who always kept one ear to home, no matter how far he travelled. What more could she ask for?
A good mother will always have the best interests of her child at heart. Ezeamaka was certain that this certificate and position was a stepping stone to even greater things for her son. All the same, two years without seeing his face, and without her daughter in law to look upon? Not to mention her grandchild, whose arrival filled her with so much anticipation…
“Nnam it will be just me in this place for two years. America is not a place where you can just come and visit me for a weekend.”
Chike groaned under the pangs of guilt that shot through his system. “I know mama, that’s why I’ve been hesitating with this position. I don’t want to leave you here alone but at the same time it would be good if Ada can give birth in the U.S, where the hospitals are better and she’ll get excellent care.” He scratched his newly shorn head. “Maybe I should let her wait until after the child is born, ehn mama? That way, both of them can stay with you for a while.”
Ezeamaka firmly shook her head. “You’re right about the hospital part, Adanma should get the best care possible. She should go with you and have the baby in America.” A soft sigh escaped her lips and she shrugged. “Two years is a short time my son, very soon you’ll all be back and I’ll have you to myself again.”
Her words brought sweet relief to his heart and he turned to her with a small smile. “Thank you mama, for understanding. I know this is difficult for you.”
One thing Ezeamaka had come to realize was that the true difficulties of motherhood began and continued well after the labor pains. It was a constant cycle of hopes and expectations, sacrifices and rewards. A mother never gets off the birthing stool. Her mother once said this to her years and years ago; it was a truth enduring, with so many ramifications.
And so she forced a smile on her face and rubbed her son’s head. “Nnam, you are a good son and you have best wishes for your family. It is good for a man to work hard while he is still young, so he can rest when he is old. When it is time for harvest, we will all sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labor. What you have brought home today is a good thing – I’m sure Adanma won’t object when you tell her.”
Chike nodded softly, feeling a little bit more confident about the prospects of selling another relocation to his wife now that he had his mother’s support. Besides, it was like she said, two years would come and go in a heartbeat.