My elder brother is a Bomboclark! I am the only one that should call him that, so be advised. But seriously, the man is a major pain to this earth and to me. There are many reasons for this, but the worst is that he is one of the evil people encouraging my grandmother to remain alive and constitute nuisance to the surroundings and deplete the ozone.
If you recall sometime ago I wrote a PhD thesis on my blog and here on Naijastories about a certain grandma of mine who has neither means nor health and has refused to die. Well, my brother read the post on my blog and decided to respond. No one told him that comments on blogs are supposed to be short and to the point. This is what he wrote, and please don’t forgive him.
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Drop dead? No way!
How shall I let that piece go unanswered? A piece that wished my grandma dead. And though none would read to you, mama, Kaycee’s diatribe, and though none would speak for you, mama, I would. I would mama. For I have come to love you. That love seems to grow every day and every year, as you go closer to the inevitable. It is to justify that emotion and to tell how it all began that I write this piece.
My earliest memories of mama fall around the time she came to live with us, two to three years before 1991. Our home, Flat E168 Tunga, Minna, was always impeccably clean especially around 8pm at nights. Mama was the first and only person I knew to sweep not just the floors but also the walls. Ants, cockroaches and their likes clung to the walls during the day and descended at night to sting those sleeping. Oh, how many sting-bites she must have suffered that made her not to miss that chore of her nightly cleanups? Back then mama was very neat and the whole house shown with her efforts at tidiness.
Often the Harmattan and dry seasons met us during school vacations, and so we had ample time to turn the house upside down. But mama was around. It was her style to flog us with dry shrubs which had lost their leaves to the relentless dryness and wind of the harmattan. And if you ever lived in Northern Nigeria, you get to know how easily whitened up you get in those dry conditions. For being too rough, mama would cane us with those dry shrubs and the canes left a million white lines on our bodies. It would seem as if one fought a toothless and blunt nailed tiger. Even though I do not remember her beating us often, the fear of her cane and knuckles kept us in tow and contributed to whatever good attitude one might still have today. Talk about knuckles, it was much later that I understood why mama’s fingers were so peculiar- crooked. It was arthritis. Mama’s knock on our heads with those fingers had an unequaled effect. I dreaded the knock. Decades later when I told her how her knocks had felt, she felt sad. She worried it must have been so bad that I could recall it as an adult. “Haw!” she had exclaimed in grief. I was quick to answer that it meant nothing, just memories, for we were rough, very rough.
Jackson Ohia, was a close childhood friend and mama’s enemy. Not having much to do at a home of nine children, and being good at sneaking out of their house, our house would have felt like a second home to him, but for mama. Our floors were very neat on Saturdays and that attracted a game – Table soccer. It was a football game of eleven bottle covers as players. I controlled my team and Jackson or kaycee controlled theirs respectively. We cleared the floors of our room or any spacious place, drew the pitch on the ground, and went deaf and dumb to the world. So that we don’t play always and forever, mama drove Jackson home. Jackson feared mama terribly.
To get mama to tell her stories, we cleaned the house and assembled on the floor in the kitchen. I still remember that kitchen, and its forbidden chimney. Covered with soot and cobwebs, the chimney for all kaycee and some of us knew hid evil spirits. So when mama told me that in the olden days wrestlers wore clothes which they never washed, but often hung over the fire place, my imaginations here, knew no bounds. I peered under this forbidden territory many times and got clods of cobwebs with which to chase my frightened siblings all around the house. For them the blackened cobwebs was ojuju. In time I was to accomplish the feat of getting into this chimney from the roof and descending down it into the kitchen. Here, mama told us lots of stories and sang lots of ancient songs. Two or three of these stories were to endear me to my pupils when I was a teacher. Much later mama would be unable to remember most of those stories and so did I. I wish I had written them down.
Of all physical things about mama, her teeth were most fascinating. Her incisors seemed carved-in at both sides, giving it a nearly X shaped look. My curiosity must have gotten the better part of me, for I eventually got mama to explain the strangeness. I learnt it was once fashionable to carve ones teeth. I wondered at this. Then they carved teeth, today we shave brows and extend eyelashes.
I remember vividly the day mama left us for the village. Mama needed to change her clothes and so drove my elder cousins out of the room. Being too young to recognize evil, I and Kaycee, were permitted to stay. Not that mama undressed without a wrapper tied around her body, all female grownups did, with whatever they wore under suddenly dropping to their ankles, she just took extra caution with my mischievous cousins. Yet I saw, maybe for the first time, a woman wearing shorts. I think it was red. Mama left us and our house hollow.
It would take another 12 to 15 years before I would live with mama again. This mama who came to our house, carrying a mortar on her head, this mama who lulled a chicken to sleep with the endless clit-clat of her fingers peeling Egusi, mama who had trekked miles to church and said the longest prayers, was to change in ways common to all men. It is these changes that kaycee could not stand and perhaps he is not to blame, because it’s not easy to stay with an aged one and because he lacked that peculiar closeness I was opportuned to enjoy with mama. For many reasons i ended up at mama’s hometown Ojoto for my Industrial Attachment as a student, and i had the opportunity to ask mama a lot of questions.
“Mama” I asked, “how did Oogha come to marry you?” If my grandfather’s name is difficult to pronounce, it’s even more difficult to spell. Whatever had often taken my grandfather to court? It was on one of those trips back, maybe when tensions had cooled somewhat, that he saw my grandmother, the then Monica Abazu Agbasi. I think her father’s house was by the road to a colonial court building.My grandmother to her lifelong misery chose to marry a man who already had a wife! Her reason was that the chores and demands on a second wife would be less. She was to learn otherwise in painful ways.
Six months with and old woman had its lows and highs. I was cook, laundry boy, glutton, and thief; and a companion, friend, and loved one. It was 2006 and mama no longer washed. Sometimes, a mysterious cloudy material blocked her pupil; at times she felt dizzy. Countless times she had sought to know if dizziness had a treatment. What could I say?
Mama often sat with me in the parlor, refusing to go to bed. Often she walked around tapping her walking stick on everything and poking fingers into all I left on the table. What she could not see clearly she felt with her hands. This spooked me, for her hands were the dirtiest I have known, yet I cherished her company and her beautiful, full, curly white hair. Mama is at least 94 years old.
Mama brushed and spat all over the balcony. Her manner was to sit in her chair, bare breasted, long chewing stick in hand and spit everywhere. I cleaned more often than every Saturday. I had to.
Today she knows nothing about money, but back then, she fed me. She often challenged me to tell which day I ever went without food in her house. I never complained about food. She sent me to the market, and insisted I trekked, and on that we disagreed. She would then tell me how she trekked to Onitsha, years ago with a pot of oil balanced on her head. Now I think it was because there were no vehicles. At a point, the raging debate was who dished the food I cooked. I repeat, the food I cooked. Her blind math had led her to suspect that meat vanished faster from soups and stews than they entered. I hate to imagine how the meat was counted after I would have left for work, or what names she would have called me. It took some time before such things stopped getting to me.
Mama, decades ago, danced with her troupe all round Igbo land. Uncle Okey thinks that’s why you can’t walk today. But, I know better. It was partly that accident you had and knocked a side of your knee too hard. You still remember many of your songs, some I had to record on that my MY X7 phone that was eventually stolen. Mama that made me laugh, that told me her father’s name, Eze Ugbobuaku, a carpenter of note. That told me her grandfather’s name, Ofoma Ibekwe. That told me her great grand grandfather’s name, Eze Ibekwe. When i asked too much questions she would snap,
“ajuzinam!” “kedi ife Iji ifenina eme?”
Finally mama, dear mama, though you don’t remember well, though you don’t see as clearly as a kid does, and though you can’t easily get yourself around anymore, I still love you. And when you go as all of us will one day go, I will mourn. Am happy you still remember Jesus, the one name that matters beyond here. I will be back at Christmas, if God wills it, I will see you and we will relive old memories. For now, don’t mind kaycee, jus no mind am at all.
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The worst thing is that he fancies himself a writer.