Hello, home away from home! At this point the slogan “there’s no place like home” did not apply to me. I was finally free and my joy knew no bounds. Most importantly, I was away from that woman I called Mother.
Studying in a foreign land wasn’t as easy for me at all as I had to cope with a totally new environment from what I was accustomed to. There were days I had to go to bed hungry because I was low on funds but one thing kept me going- I was away from home; away from Maale. Schoolwork took a toll on me because I had to make good my scholarship so I studied my butt off with the hope of building a good life for myself. I also had to move between jobs to keep myself going. There were times I had to give up the fun side of life just so I don’t derail, I had a plan- never to return home and the extent to which my mind was made up shocked even me.
You may be wondering if I never missed Maale, oh well, I did sometimes. Not her per say, it was her cooking I missed. I remember how I’d scrap the pot of ikokore, you know that part they call bottom belle, when she wasn’t looking while Nana, my dear Nana of blessed memory would keep watch for me. As I allowed myself to miss her, I would remember how cruel she was and how she took Nana from me and I’d snap right back. I did not contact her, I would rather call Uncle Sumbo (my maternal uncle) and I suppose he reported my well-being to Maale in a third person narrative. He often would say in a cajoling manner:
“Jeji, why don’t you speak with Maale ehn? She is your mother o! No matter what happens. Wetin dey worry this pikin sef?”
My reply to this often times, was that the phone operator was about to cut me off and I’d hurriedly say my goodbye and run off. There were other times he would hand the phone over to Maale and I would freeze. I had spoken to her just once or twice in a year since I arrived. When I realized I couldn’t convince my Uncle about not speaking with her, I stopped calling all together. Thankfully, her witchcraft couldn’t get to me now. You know, I used to wonder why she hadn’t or didn’t kill me. Maybe it’s because I was strong-willed at least that is what I thought. I prayed when I could and wished I wouldn’t see her in my dreams like I used to some nights when I was back home.
After my first degree, I applied for my Master’s Degree and life continued. It was now about ten years. Ten years of freedom mixed with struggle, thrills and self-discovery. I was now a MAN and I was proud of where I was and what I had accomplished. Then I remembered Nana, she would have been a pretty young lady by now and would have been so proud of her big brother too! The thoughts of it almost made me emotional so I snapped out of it as quickly as it had crossed my mind.
Love and all the other frivolities was out of the question for me up until when I was about rounding off my Master’s Degree. I had just stepped out of a Professor’s office when I set my eyes on her. Boy oh boy was she beautiful! She was quiet petite and her smile was what set my head spinning. She was with a group of girls and being as shy as I was I decided that was not the time to speak with her. Then I saw her again at the university’s car pack and I rushed up to her. Our first conversation was smooth although I stuttered a couple of times. I looked forward to meeting her again.
Nneoma, that was the name of my precious. We started a relationship that bloomed into something beautiful. Her father was a professor of Neuro-surgery at the university where I studied and her mother was a caretaker in one of the old people’s homes. Thankfully, her parents were residents in Melbourne, Australia.
Yes, I know you have some questions and I’ll answer them. Of course they asked after my family and well, I told them I was an orphan. I lied (uncomfortably so, I have some conscience) that my mom was late-at least to me she was. I couldn’t bare taking my wife to almighty Maale. The Iwujis were so proud of an orphan who had made something of his life. The family got very fond of me and soon enough I was walking down the aisle with their microbiologist daughter. All I did was call my uncle and inform him I was getting married and of course, he didn’t buy the idea:
“Jeji! You this boy! You have decided to marry an oyinbo woman abi? I said it?!”
“Uncle, she’s not oyinbo, her name is Nneoma and she…”
“And so?! Is that why you decided to abandon your aging mother and stay abroad? What is wrong with you?”
“Uncle, I just thought to let you know, I have to go now…bye”
And that was it. I had developed a thick skin.
Three years after our marriage, we were blessed with a beautiful daughter and something about her kept reminding me of Nana. She was so bubbly and barely gave her mother issues unlike what other children did during the parenting classes I attended with my wife. This oyinbo people sef! Classes on how to raise children? Inasmuch as I had stayed for over a decade here, I still couldn’t understand the reason behind some of the things they did. I learnt that spanking a child for being naughty would mean child services taking the child away from such an “erring” parent. Ha! Can you imagine that? Where were those laws kept back home when my mother (and other mothers) would spank us endlessly? Anyways, back to me.
A call from home made me do the unthinkable- I had to travel home. Uncle Sumbo said Maale had passed on and like I said earlier, I wasn’t sad that she had died, just a part of me felt guilty that I hadn’t cared for her but then did she not deserve it? I cooked up a story to tell Nneoma as an excuse to travel home. Then my journey started.
This probably was the longest journey I had ever taken and so many thoughts went through my mind as time passed. I got home and I was amazed at how well I could trace home. Civilization had gotten to my home town but our house still looked the same although a bit dilapidated now. The walls had cracked and some part of the roofing had caved in.
I had expected that I would meet mourners outside the house like the day Nana died but I met no one and for the first time, I genuinely felt bad for my mother. I sigh as I looked around and then walked slowly towards the the compound. Just then I saw a little boy, about ten years old walking by. I called out to him and said in our dialect:
“Do you know where Mr. Sumbo Dada lives?”
“Yels sa!” he replied.
“Ok, please tell him Jeji is around and needs to see him”
He ran off sprinter style managing to hold still the torn shorts that was almost falling off his waist.
After waiting outside for what seemed to be ages for my uncle, I decided to go to Maale’s room. It still had that eerie feeling like when I had to approach it when I had done something wrong and had to be disciplined. I opened the door and you will not believe what I saw!
I don’t know if you guessed right but seated on her wooden, raffia covered bed was Maale! I didn’t wait to find out if it was her ghost I let the little boy in me scamper for safety.
“Jeji! Don’t run, it’s me not a ghost”
I paused; outside that is, and she repeated herself. I moved slowly again towards her door.
“But what? You thought I was dead?”
I was too terrified to give a reply.
“I told your uncle to tell you I was dead because I knew that was the only thing that would bring you back home”
“But why my son, do you really hate me that much?” she said, almost in tears. i was seeing this soft side of her for the first time and still could not reply. I was trying to come to terms with what had just hit me.
“Come in, I need to show you something” she said.
I moved in slowly, consciously keeping my distance. She was pointing to a weird looking mirror that hung on her wall.
“Who are those people you see in the mirror Jeji?”
I had to wipe my eyes just in case I was hallucinating. In the mirror was my wife and little daughter- live! I could see what they were doing at the moment. Maale could see the bewilderment in my eyes.
“So you see son, if I wanted to kill you I would have. I have been monitoring you since the day you left. You can’t hide from me. Fulfill your responsibilities as a son, I bore you.”
The term “astounded” does not begin to cover the way I felt. And I don’t know if this resolve came out of conviction or fear- she was a “witch” but she was my mother and now more than ever, I am certain that strange things do happen. My life has just begun…