I imagined death as a woman. An ample bosomed woman with a generous derriere. If her victim is one, she would carry him or her in her arms. If her victims are many she would conveniently carry them on her back, well ensconced in the crevices of her buttocks. In my minds eye, she looked just like my step mother.
My only parent, my father brought her into our home when I was nine. I was the oldest of two children. My mother had abandoned my father shortly after my third birthday,my brother was still in diapers. I heard she absconded with the photographer who came to take pictures at my birthday party. And so, my birthday became a landmark- the day my mother ran away. My father was an unusual fellow. He made a modest living as a clerk in a state parastatal. He would wear a grey french suit and awkwardly a bow tie on his shirt, his tie always skewered. He was of average height and walked with a slight stoop. I have no recollection of a formal ceremony to herald her addition into our household. My younger brother and I found her in the kitchen one day after school. My father did not have the finesse to make proper introductions. I did not know who she was for several weeks.
My father’s grey dull sheets were exchanged for flowery creations that were a stark contrast to the dull paint covering the walls of his bedroom. She changed our sheets and put rose colored blinds on the windows. I didn’t like the change but my opinion was of no relevance. She added a pink toothbrush to the stand that previously held only three. She also spent an eternity doing her toiletries, which Anuka and I found laughable: she still came out looking unattractive. She would polish her nails, paint her eyes, paint her lips and spend long minutes brushing her weave or wig. She would encase my father’s head in her bosoms when he returned from work and scatter loud kisses all over his face, leaving a trail of lipstick marks. My brother and I would peep at them from our little corner, snickering and laughing. They were amusing to watch.
She would make grand gestures of helping him undress, usher him into the room, draw his bath water while her great back side heaved with her giant strides. My brother and I would mock her; stuff our pillows in our shorts and spend long hours mocking their relationship. She was never unkind to us. She would walk us to school every morning, always made our meals on time and encouraged us to do our chores. She was firm, and if I really want to be honest…. she was kind. I guess my dislike for her stemmed from the way she was stuffed down my throat.There was no consideration as to how I would feel having a stranger in my home, in my life. It was not her fault, though. The fault was my father’s.
When I returned home from boarding house on holiday, I found Anuka fully ensnared by her. He smiled at her, sat with her, had long deep conversations with her. In a way, I knew deep down his dislike was not genuine but was feigned in loyalty. He wanted so much to have a mother. His own birthday wasn’t marred by a family scandal and I could see she genuinely adored my brother. He had adapted and was thriving. My father, step mother and Anuka had become a unit, a strong one, at that. I was on the outside, looking in. I felt no resentment towards my brother but my father and stepmother, I still eyed with resentment. My birthday was approaching and I had steeled myself on the impending silence that it always brought with it. For as long as I could remember, my father would detail that day, so long ago-when my mother ran off with the photographer. I had planned to leave for school before my birthday but was met with a firm nay from my father.
I awoke from my slumber. It was a little after 9 am. I decided resolutely to not allow the silence to bother me. It was my thirteenth birthday and for a brief moment felt hot tears smart my eyes. When I ventured out of the room I shared with my brother. I met my father, brother and step mother decorating the house for celebration. I gawked. My father waved me over- I approached cautiously.’Anozie, I have wronged you. For so long, I have unconsciously made you suffer for your mother leaving’. And that was the closest thing to an apology I ever got from my father. My step mother ordered a beautiful rose colored cake, she made my favorite dish of pounded yam and egusi soup. That day, as I hit my teens and became a man, I began to understand why they loved her.