Ode to Nne.

Her slender form was wrapped in a brightly colored Abada wrapper, tied in soft folds around her bosoms…it flowed in rippled layers around her shins. She was bent over the mortar- putting pieces of cassava into the dough made of yam. I watched her slender fingers kneed the dough, then, she lifted the pestle and continued to pound…the thud of the pestle on the mortar making a distinct sound..dum… dum….dum. I watched the bead of sweat drip from her brow..in sync with the pounding…her eyes firmly on the contents of the mortar.

Her hair closely cropped to her scalp, a blue black hue….a sharp contrast to her complexion. Her mouth was slightly agape; her feet shod in a pair of leather male slippers…several sizes too big for her slender feet. Slippers, I guessed belonged to my Beloved. I moved closer to the window lattice and watched the shadows play on the concrete floor of the kitchen. The lantern was dimmed low….if it was bright, it hurt my Beloved’s eyes. I could hear the low murmur from his lips as he slept, I smiled, he always spoke in his sleep. The mattress creaked under his weight as he turned on his side, I shied away careful not to wake him as he unconsciously reached for me-my eyes fixed on his mother.

She had stopped pounding and was sitting on a beautifully crafted wooden stool. A stool she used only in the kitchen. It had been a gift from her paternal uncle shortly before the birth of my Beloved. She pulled the mortar close, straddling it between her thighs….using a wooden spoon she scrapped the inside of the mortar of the last bit of dough into a porcelain plate. She dipped her wooden ladle into water and molded the dough into a glistening sphere. She stood on her tip toes to carry a big pot out of the alcove. She opened the big lid and stirred it’s contents…..it’s familiar spicy aroma hit my nostrils. She poured an assortment of meat and thick broth on the pounded yam. I saw the beginnings of a smile play on her lips. Her face was immersed in a bright glow, light from the lantern was playing tricks on me.

The door creaked open. Efe. She called softly without raising her voice. Nne. I responded.”Bia… come and feed my baby“. I swung my swollen torso off the bed I shared with my husband, grimacing as I felt a sharp nudge at my side. Everyone was asleep. It was almost midnight and my cravings did not follow a time table. While I ate, she cleaned out the mortar….humming a lullaby under her breath.

Kaleidoscope:Father’s Day Special.

I watch a quiet spectator as he carries his precious bundle strapped to his fore every Sunday. He sits usually in the second row of my beloved church. At the beginning, they were two. Both of them with hands intertwined. Later, her abdomen heralded a third would join their family. That they loved each other was evident for all to see.Her demise was heart breaking. We all prayed he would be okay. He still continued to come to church; seeking solace in the community that surrounded them with love. His precious bundle he rocked back and forth, at times he looking quite lost. As she grew older and bigger, his shoulders sagged under her weight. Someone remarked kindly, maybe, he should put her in a stroller. He smiled sadly and his response: Her heart beat assures me I will be fine.

My daily musings take me to the local library where I borrow books. On the table across from where I sat; I see him coloring with two toddlers, ages two and three. He tells me, he took a pay cut to enable him raise his two children by working part time. Sure the financial struggles are a daily challenge but he says these have helped him tap into his resourcefulness. His family rarely eats out and he has become a great cook. My kids’ needs are met and that’s all that matters.

He had three sons, I remember. His relationship with his wife, their mother was at best described as a troubled one. He says they married young. Both still discovering who they were and what they wanted. He says though their relationship did not go the direction he wanted, he purposed to stay because of his sons. When their relationship made their home difficult for their children’s upbringing, he decided to cut his losses and run; primarily because of his sons. He wanted to raise them in a warm and loving environment and he came to the conclusion he couldn’t do it while married to their mother. I salute his bravery.

He navigates between two continents trying to provide for his family. His spouse is the primary care giver of three prepubescent children, one of which is severely handicapped. His nights are riddled with Skype calls trying to keep up with his family: doctors updates, helping with the kids home works, encouraging while still dispensing of punishment when necessary. He wonders if its all worth it at times: the constant plane hopping, the sleepless nights, the constant tugging on his heart strings when he misses another musical recital; when his youngest asks again and again: ‘Daddy, when are you coming home?’ How does he explain the reason why he took this job was to provide for them; that the medical costs continued to increase while his income had stayed stagnant, that the recession bit hard and Mummy’s job was scrapped by the company in their need to stay afloat. How does he explain to a six years old, that, their mortgage would not have been affordable without this change? The choices that were foisted upon him.

Orphaned  in his teens, he has never been a sibling but a father to his brother. Their parents were taken when he was fifteen. His brother was still in diapers. Though he was doing well in school and could easily have gone on to a college of his choice, he knew he had to take care of his brother. He says the happiest day of his life was when his brother graduated from college. ‘He knows the price we paid to get him there’.

He mentors young men in his neighborhood. Those without positive male role models. He checks their homework ; tutors in courses they have challenges in; helps in building their character through a community center he volunteers in. He hates that he gets credit for helping the children. They are the ones giving his life meaning. My life without this program would be empty. I have found myself being a positive voice in a little brother’s head.

His daughter is my children’s pediatrician. A wonderful woman with a great heart. Over the course of my many visits we have forged a special bond. She was raised by a single parent, her mother passed very early. Her father raised herself and four siblings. She can not remember her father being absent for any program during their formative years.She once commented: He gave his all to us being our everything, there was nothing left to give to another. He never remarried.

My beloved is the voice of calm that helps soothe the tempestuous storm while navigating this journey we have embarked on. He is the voice of reason that helps calm my fears when I am overwhelmed. He is the strong arm of love that turns the rudder of our home-craft; with foresight as compass; with spiritual growth as sail.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men getting into the mud of life; willing to fight and wrestle for their seeds. For the great men who have said ‘yes’ to responsibility, who rise daily to face the fears, the joys, the triumphs of parenthood. I salute you.

A Father’s Day Special:Taxidermtopia

During the course of my daily walks I had passed her store window many times. In the cold of winter, through snow and slush I would still pause and peer through the ice encrusted glass to watch her bent over her work table. Her shelves held different kinds of animals in varying poses of life. Some looked asleep, some with paws raised, fangs bared, eyes strangely dilated-all life like. From her posture, hair and mottled skin I could tell she was elderly but her exact age I could not be sure. Her hair was wildly tussled, like she used her fingers instead of a traditional comb. From my vantage point-from her glass window I could see the spider veins that coursed her mottled hands. Nails chipped, fingernails a strange brown, possibly from the constant use of dyes of her trade.

She was always bent over her work bench. If it was winter she would be draped in loose cashmere sweaters, all ill fitting-an artist whose focus was on her trade and not her appearance. Now in warmer climate, she has switched her sweaters for colorful African prints. Today, I passed her store again and in habit, I stop and peer through her window. She looks up and waves me in. I look behind me, thinking me? She smiles and points at me mouthing “You..come in”. I only hesitated for a second. I take a deep breath and enter her shop. I had expected to be engulfed by some thing similar to the smell that pervades a morgue, or at least that deep disinfectant smell that pervades hospital corridors; instead I was awash by the sweet aroma of cinnamon.

She stood barely five feet tall, her eyes strangely out of focus, the left iris a milky hue-glaucoma, she told me, later. She spoke in halting English. An Eastern European country was her origin. Each product had a story. Some were once pets she had, some belonged to people she had known during the span of her over ten decades.

A cat she had as a little girl. A couple of dogs, one of which a lover had once given her, a sign of his undying love. The love was not ‘undying’ but the dog, she kept. A crocodile she brought home from a trip to the South Americas. She told me the horrors she faced at immigration but her cargo was precious. I was young and stupid back then, I wanted to be a modern day Noah. A cheetah, another gift from an old lover. She lay her head on the life-like head and took a deep breath…’..my love for him was great’-I wasn’t sure she meant the man. Two mongrels, an English spaniel and my favorite- a Newfoundland. A bear stood on its hind legs, its right paw raised, its teeth bared…a beautiful life like pose…its irises strangely dilated. A duck, an ostrich….a life time of collection. A beautiful bird caught my attention. It was mounted on a golden stand. Its plumage a gorgeous raiment.

The bird once belonged to her father. Her trade was once his legacy. She spent many hours in his shop watching, learning and growing. He was her only parent. A small man with a great personality. He taught her to live her life on her own terms and not to define herself by societal or cultural expectations. She was the product of a brief relationship he had with her mother. His only child. He raised her to see herself as her only resource, not to expect to find herself in marriage. In fact, her father told her several times during the course of her life if she never married and never bore children but was happy in service to humanity, then he would have raised her right. He believed a woman had to be complete first before finding success in any relationship. They lived a bohemian life traveling across Europe while he catered to his customers variety of needs. In the old country, his art was in high demand among-st his rich clientele.

When she desired to explore the world outside Europe, he gave her his blessing and enough money to live on for a year. She said she spent the last decade of his life with him. I can easily say, I returned to take care of him but the truth is I returned to dwell in his shadow. As her eyes lit up as she spoke of her father, I thought of mine. I think of his words of wisdom, our deep friendship and the landscape our relationship was. A landscape of deep greenery; tall strong oaks of trees giving shade in moments of down pour. Where misunderstandings have blighted the terrain in my youth but the manure of love had watered the rich ground to yield bountiful harvest, again. A landscape where I anticipate each sigh, where I interpret each frown and dwell in his shadow.

On my walk back home, my thoughts are still of my Dad and then my cell begins to ring. Without looking at my caller ID, I know its him. Happy Father’s Day Daddy.

Mother’s Day Special #3

*Andrea

I was born in the later 70s in the back of a towing truck. My parents had snuck off late in the night in my Grandpa’s Chevy. They were both seventeen and believed they were madly in love. Even after I was conceived, they still believed they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They were banned from seeing each other, which was laughable considering she was already pregnant. And so, that dark rainy night they were going to run away together to San Antonio. San Antonio was their choice because my Dad’s older brother was living there. Anyway, as they made their way in his father’s stolen vehicle…I decided it was time. In panic,Dad skidded of the road and I ended up being born at the back of the tow truck that was towing their vehicle to the garage.

I heard when both sets of grandparents saw me for the first time in the hospital, all ill feelings previously that soured their relations gave way. My mother was no longer the little whore who threw herself at my father and my father was no longer the little bastard that defiled my mother. My parents relationship continued to college, but, by the time they both hit their early twenties, they had outgrown each other. He wanted to go on to medical school….. she wanted to travel to Sub-Saharan Africa to teach English Language. They had me in common but that’s all that remained of their teenage indiscretion.

I was raised by both sets of grandparents. I did not grow up with hangups that came along with having teenage parents. I grew up seeing my parents more like older siblings, I mean, they were barely children themselves when they had me. We all grew together. My grandmothers were a force to be reckoned with. I was completely home-schooled till I was thirteen by my maternal grandmother and spent my weekends with my paternal grandparents. My birthdays were always a bit of a carnival in our town. My grandmothers always showed up in my high school with cookies for my teachers and class mates. I was the only one who felt the flame of embarrassment. They didn’t care.

At my high school prom, my parents and grandparents ferried my date and I in convoy to the dance. I thought I was going to die. They didn’t care. When I started dating, I would sneak around to avoid the barrage of questions. Our relationships were not without its tense moments, but, I knew I was loved spectacularly. When I broke up with my first boyfriend and thought the world was at the end, my two grandmas whipped my tears and took me shopping. Many years later, I found out they both slashed my ex’s tires that night after I had fallen asleep. They were feisty, fun and didn’t hesitate to test my butt when I stepped out of line.

When I decided to take a year off college to go on tour with my band, they encouraged me even though they were uncomfortable with the thought of a group of teenagers living rough for a year. They believed in me and that checked me. I only lasted six months before I ran back home into their waiting arms…and back to school.

I like to believe their love and investments in my life has made me a better person. I am extremely generous with my time when it comes to my family. I will drop anything and everything to be at their side, no matter what.

From time to time though, I wonder what would have happened if my parents had made it to San Antonio.

Mother’s Day Special #2

*Afeni

My mother’s first marriage was contracted when she was in her teens. I don’t know her exact age at the time. Back then, there were no voices for the girl-child. There were no social programs advocating for equality of the sexes. It was Africa in the forties. Where genital mutilation of the girl child was done in the cusp of her teens, or at birth…depending on your cultural leanings. My mother’s husband was a boy in a man’s body. He was raised to expect to be attended to by his wife. She was not to have a voice, a possession…an appendage. She had three children in quick successions; kept home and farmed his plot…a gift from his father as he attained ‘manhood’. I don’t know exactly when she decided she wanted to leave him. Her days were hard. The narrative, however, was not peculiar to her. She was surrounded by women who were doing the same thing.Her mother lived the same life, spurned forth nine children, farmed her fathers plot with her children while still fanning the flames of his ego. So, when she decided she wanted more from her existence, you can imagine the machinery that was unleashed to put her in her place.

She told me, she would have stayed married to her first husband if he allowed their children to have an education. The produce from the farm, she sold herself. She saw the economic empowerment she was giving a man who pissed it down the drain without investing in his seeds. Now, even though she could not read or write, she desired it for her children. She desired her son to do more than his father. She wanted her son’s perspectives not limited by the darkness of a lack of understanding and she desired for her daughters to have a future where they would not have to be sold into slavery on the platter of marriage. She knew better than to discuss her plans with her mother, or relatives for that matter. During the course of her farming his plots and selling the proceeds, she was able to amass a significant amount of money she used to liberate herself. She filed for a divorce in the traditional courts of their time. Did I mention she was the first woman to ever do such a thing in her village at that time? She did not care. I think it’s when a woman gets to a place where she stops concerning herself about what societal expectations are, what will people say, blah blah and blah will she truly be liberated. No one will liberate you. You must liberate yourself.

Her family ostracized her. Her mother was convinced her liberation was not self sustaining, after all, she had no money. Eye, which was what I called my mother was able to get a plot through a male cousin. Back then, she couldn’t even procure property on her own because she was a woman. She was hard working and her products were excellent. She enrolled my three older siblings in school and continued her trade. Now, older and wiser she knew whoever she decided to marry must be a man who would enrich her, not demean her progress. It took a a bit but he did come along. My father was an unusual man. He was confident. He didn’t pay attention to the side talks their relationship brought. He had kissed his own share of frogs masquerading as princesses. I was their first child together. Their relationship was not without it’s trials but they loved each other. They were 100% committed to not only themselves but their children. She spared no expense when it came to our education. When I climbed the podium on my graduation from college, she was besides herself in excitement.

When my oldest sister became a victim of domestic abuse, my mother was the first to encourage her to leave her marriage. She always advocates for strength in women.

It takes a strong man to marry a strong woman. It takes a wise man to recognize wisdom in his woman. She lived an exemplary life.

 

Mother’s Day Special

During this special weekend, I will be sharing a few stories. I have a few friends who have shared their stories with me. My friends and I have a lot in common, most importantly, we all had spectacular relationships with our respective mothers.

                                                                                 * Peter

I was born into a big family. The last of eight children. I have very little recollection of my father. He never came back from Vietnam. My maternal grandmother was our matriarch. For a woman who stood barely four feet five inches tall, she commanded such awe and respect. My mother with the assistance of her mother raised five daughters and three sons. She was a school teacher and her finances were spread thin catering for our household. We didn’t have much material wise but our home was awash with love. I excelled in athletics, especially in wrestling and was able to clinch a full scholarship to college. My mother was ecstatic. My two older brothers had both joined the army-our ‘mothers’ were not happy with their choices. My sisters had gone on to college and were all experiencing great things in their chosen careers. I had dabbled into the wrong company in high school and had made some wrong choices. Back in those days, in the late seventies-drugs had become a common feature in the social circuits. We were the generation sprung in the shadow of Woodstock. There was so much decadence…so much indulgence.

With my choosing to go to college, I had effectually turned my back on all the negative influences my mother worried had the potential to destroy my future. My choice was a small liberal arts college that had a vibrant African American community. I took long walks, wrote long letters to my grandma and mama. I spent my days fully engaged in my academics and athletics. My mother was my compass and I kept my eyes fully fixed on the prize. I left school within record time and was able to secure an appointment as a teacher in an elementary school. My feet were firmly planted in the direction of my beloved compass! I moved back home into my old room-across the corridor from Mama’s bedroom. I was enjoying the warmth of my mother and grandma’s constant love. Mama had retired but was a part time volunteer in the high school she had spent thirty five years of her forty years of public service. Many of her students had gone on to do great things, in fact, the current principal at my return was one of them.

Two years into my return home, my mother fell ill. In hindsight, I felt a nagging heaviness I could not shake. The constant hospital stays, the tests and the shadow that fell upon Mama’s face were a constant reminder a storm was gathering. My siblings and I kept a roaster. We all did our part: constantly encouraging, echoing bible scriptures our mother had taught us as children. My grandma seemed to shrink within herself…almost like she was fading away. I remember I woke up one night and found my Grandma sitting alone in the kitchen, staring into an empty tea cup. I pulled up a chair and sat beside her. My mother had undergone a procedure the day before, the prognosis wasn’t good. “I will not bury your mother”. She spoke in a raspy whisper, I almost didn’t hear. She died a week later, in her sleep. Grandma’s death crushed us but in light of Mama’s health we couldn’t fall apart.

My mother passed exactly a month after the surgery. I don’t think there are exact words to describe my life after my compass was broken. I took a couple of months off work. I remember the wake, the burial and weeks after that. I spent my days in my bedroom, blinds closed and completely turned my back on the world. My brothers went back to their posts, ,my sisters all lived out of state. We all grieved for our loss but in retrospect I think my loss was the most devastating. My brothers had their commissions, my sisters apart from their chosen carriers had spouses and children. I was the only one whose family, whose center had been completely obliterated. Remember the choices I had turned my back on when I said yes to college? Well, I fell head first down that dark hole. I was in so much pain, I snorted everything that took the pain away, even though they were temporary fixes. It seemed I stumbled into a dark room and some how, couldn’t find the door. Teaching during the day, shooting up or snorting cocaine at night.

I can’t remember exactly when it dawned on me, I was going to die. If I continued to make the wrong choices, these choices my Mama prayed against. These choices I promised my Grandma I would never make-I would eventually die. Alone. I couldn’t remember when last I slept properly in three years. I had lost almost forty pounds. And so, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and enrolled in a rehabilitation program. Failing was not an option for me. I went cold turkey. My body was racked in so much pain, my head felt like it was going to explode. My nights were plagued with dreams. I would find myself running down a dark corridor, ahead of me I could make out the familiar posture of my Grandma. And even though, I was running I never caught up with her. I would find myself getting tired and would slowly come to a stop. At times, I would hear my Mama’s voice calling from far away and would wake up drenched in sweat.

When I came out of rehab, I moved to another town and went back to school. My siblings and I sold the house and I was able to have a soft landing from my share of the proceeds. I eventually went back to teaching after a stint in the public relations industry. I found my compass again, it was etched in my heart. Though I went through fire, I came out singed but not destroyed. My Mother and Grandma were my center, my voice of reason, my compass. It’s been over twenty years and from time to time I still catch myself feeling deep sorrow. I don’t think one ever fully recovers from some losses.

My friends and I.

My friends and I had been a trio for as long as I could remember. We latched on to ourselves in the sand box many years ago, all three of us not yet school bound. I remember our mothers initially sat apart, watching nervously as their children hung on to each other, pouring sand into buckets, holding hands, singing songs we taught ourselves and speaking in a language unified in love. My mother was African. She braided my hair and added beads to the ends of my corn rows. She dressed me in brightly colored tie and dye dresses and adorned my neck with white cowrie necklaces and my feet shod in matching sandals. Her hair was full and more often than naught left to frame her round, lovely face. She wore long ankara skirts and thin strapped tops. My mother’s attire always matched mine. She show cased her heritage with brio and carried herself with such grace, people were always drawn to us. Like bees to honey, we had quite a following on the playground.

My friends were Lily and Anna. Lily’s mother was Japanese and we all called her Pearl, even her daughter. She was a tiny slip of a woman with hair the color of night. Her hair was long and full and hung like a curtain just below her bottom. She always wore dark colored pants and bright colored flip flops. Lily was a smaller version of her mother, her hair cut in a mullet. Anna’s parents were from some Scandinavian back water. They had migrated when she was a little over a year old. Her mother was a good head taller than mine, blue eyes, blonde hair, built like an athlete. She always wore trainers and sweat pants, her laugh was infectious. She was my favorite. I called her Mana, even though her name was Rose. Anna didn’t look anything like her mother though, her hair was dark, her nose a cute little button, her limbs were dimpled.

The mothers were united in their circumstances. My father worked long hours. My mother was satisfied being my primary care giver. Memories of my father back then was of a huge birth of a man who swung me into his arms while I teetered in between sleep and consciousness. He would hold me close to his chest, his stubby chin scratching my soft cheek. He would kiss me all over my face and whisper “Iya mi“. As the years plied on, my father’s hours were reduced and my mother took on work as a librarian in our district. I spent more time with him. When I spoke to him about those nights when I was younger, he blinked back tears and expressed such joy that I remembered. I had small crevices in my heart where I hid delightful memories of my childhood. We all lived in the same apartment building, which housed the play ground where we first became friends. We all attended the same school and always sought ourselves out during recess. No one could penetrate that bubble of love.

As we grew older and a wave of financial prosperity enveloped our parents, we saw a potential pulling away. My parents were talking about buying a home in the suburbs and leaving the city. Anna’s parents were eyeing property in another state, her father had taken a higher management position and had moved a year before. The back and forth between states over the weekends was taking its toll on his sensibilities. Lily’s parents were talking about going back to Japan. Her paternal grand father had passed away, leaving a tidy fortune behind-there was no need to struggle for the American dream; the Japanese dream had become a reality. It was possibly our last summer together, we were thirteen respectively. When my parents asked if I wanted to go to summer camp, I said no. I asked if I could take a trip with my friends knowing they were making similar requests. There was a lot of debate, the mothers speaking to themselves on the phone. A lot of whispering during car pool, with us three seated at the back. I felt a sense of panic as summer approached.

Eventually, our parents decided to take us to a family camp. The day I was told, I was ecstatic. I packed my bags and told my parents, I wanted to ride with Mana. My father chuckled and said if Mana didn’t mind, he didn’t care. The drive to Lake Huron was shrouded in a fog of sleep. I had been so giddy at the prospect of the journey, I hardly got any sleep the night before. And so, the minute I strapped on my seat belt, I fell into such a fitful slumber-I have no recollection of the beautiful landscape my friends captured on their cameras. They also mischievously made a short video of me snoring loudly with fries stuck in my corn rows.  We all stayed in log cabins, a cabin for each family. Lily’s father surprised us in the morning with fish and fries for breakfast, he knew it was our favorite. We ate all our meals outside facing the lake, on wooden benches, our paper plates cradled on our thighs. By evening we had forgotten about the benches and taken permanent residence on an old blanket Mana brought with her. We took long swims and chased ourselves around the cabins, played hopscotch and monopoly.

It was the first time in a long time all our parents were together. The quest to provide had ensured an incomplete circle. My friends and I stayed up long into the night, Mana had brought along a tent big enough for us three. The tent was pitched strategically from all three cabins; each parent had a view from their bedroom window. We talked about our past, spoke incessantly about the present and shied away from the future. At the end of the summer, Lily had started her period-another stamp on change. My parents also seemed to find something that summer. Long hours apart and the routine that befalls married couples had put a damper on their relationship. By the end of the summer, I noticed an awakening between them, a light in my mother’s eyes, a bounce in my father’s step. They lingered more in each others arms and seemed to see each other more clearly. The jaunt had brought a great gift to us all.

Our journey back was cloaked in silence. Each knowing, each accepting. I hit the ground running when I started high school in the fall. Lily and her family returned to Japan. Skype made the transition easier. Anna and I stayed united for longer. Our parents moved to the same suburb and we attended the same high school because her father was transferred back. We both did our happy dance to Pharrel’s song when we found out. Though we know change is inevitable and distance will eventually separate us, for now, we will bask in the euphoria of the added lease our bond has been given.

#15 Abada Street/Uche

Legend as it my father became a member of the elders guild of our illustrious village when he was ten years old. Our village was ensconced in the vast hill tops of the South eastern part of Nigeria. The main stay of our people was cassava. The elders guild was made up of a representative of each of the twelve families who owned the largest cassava farms. Each family usually put forward their most successful son, which of course translated to the most successful farmers. My grandfather, Aduba represented his family. My father was his first child, they were seven children in all. But his position was indisputably the most important, by virtue of his gender and position. In a world that was fiercely patriarchal, everything in their home revolved around Aduba and his first son, Azuka.

My father was a dynamic speaker. It was said just before his birth, my grandparents were visited by the village dibia. There was a prophesy. The baby would be a son, one whose words would be spooled like that of a masterful spider spinning a beautiful web. He would be a great leader.

He spoke so eloquently, with fire in his belly. His voice was strong; his speech precise, concise…beautifully crafted. His teachers called him the ‘master’, his parents called him their ‘gift,’ his peers always shouted ezeokwu k’aneku! at the delivery of any rendition. His father presented him before the guild after his tenth birthday. Many of the elders expressed their reservation but their objections were overruled by their king. When my father was given permission to address the guild, he spoke on the beauty of our great village, on its potential and its heart…the people. There was no sophistication in his presentation. He was after all a child. However, there was sincerity and a masterful looping of his words, the elders were completely bowled over.

The inclusion of my father started a trend. A member was only replaced at death. However, after Azuka joined, that rule was reviewed. My father was raised in an unusual family, for that time, that terrain. His father was a staunch ‘traditionalist’ who had absolute faith in his dibia. His mother a recent convert to a foreign religion. My father said he learned religious tolerance from his parents. Despite their different religions and modes of worship, he never saw any tensions between his parents. One day, he wondered out loud why his father allowed his mother practice a different religion. His father dismissed his concern with a wave of the hand, he stated: she is the same woman, she hasn’t changed. When she stops cooking my onugbu soup and refuses me entrance into her chambers, then I will torch that church she goes to. He never compared but celebrated each person for their creativity and individualism.

My father despite great success in the metropolis kept gravitating back to the village. He ran a printing business but couldn’t resist lending his voice to the political terrain. And it was that voice, that great voice that led to his murder, their murders. Mine was a charmed life. Or so I thought. I was an only child for so long I assumed there would not be another. I do remember a sense of loneliness for a short time but my mother’s commitment towards me was so absolute, I couldn’t imagine sharing her with another. Then, one day I overheard her saying a prayer. She was on her knees by her bed, her head on her pillow and though her voice was muffled, I heard her quite clearly. She was praying for another child. I was almost twelve. I tip toed back into my room and from that day on started praying also. I wanted her to be happy.

When I came home on vacation from college a few days short of my eighteenth birthday and noticed her extended abdomen, I remember picking her up and spinning her round in the garden. She screamed with laughter. My father had his glasses on the tip of his nose, sipping his Guinness. She was the most beautiful pregnant woman I had ever seen. She took me into her room and showed me the beautiful clothes she had bought for the baby. A baby. Finally, after so long. I took her into my arms again. And that was how my father found us. Her head was nestled on my chest, her arms around my waist, my arms wrapped around her….as much as her distended abdomen could allow. He laughed. Uche and his mother. We stayed in the same position. My sister was born a couple of weeks later. Adaeze.

When my grades were released that session and I did poorly in three courses, my father’s disappointment was disconcerting. I remember I sat with him in his study and I could see my mother breast feeding my little sister in the garden. Adaeze’s lips were firmly fastened on my mother’s right nipple, her beautiful dark head cradled in the nook of my mother’s arm. My mother’s eyes were firmly on my sister’s face. Such devotion, such intense devotion. Uche why are you not doing well in school? I told my dad in all honesty I was distracted. I was like a kid in a candy shop. First time I was having easy access to the opposite sex, parties, alcohol….I was loosing a sense of myself but at the same time, I felt I was discovering who I was. My father listened to me without interrupting.  When I was done, he said something I would never forget. What you lack my dear son is singularity of purpose. You are fixated on too many things. Focus on one thing and then you will excel.

Focus, I did. I focused and excelled in my academics. My parents were happy, I was happy. The world stopped spinning. I finished school and was able, through my father’s influence to get a much coveted internship with a successful minting company in Benin Republic. I returned to Benin, even after the mandatory NYSC. It was there, I got the news of my parents murder.

The loss left me a different man. My sun and moon were gone. I have gaps in my memory about that year. I believe I went into survival mode so as not to loose my mind. It is true that what doesn’t kill you, definitely will make you stronger and develop spiritual muscle. My sister became mine to care for. That responsibility I embraced with what was left of me. I truly believe Adaeze gave me singularity of purpose, again. My father and mother left enough in the bank for both of us apart from a vast wealth in real estate. However, by virtue of the way they died, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the Southeast. I continued to retain the same lawyer my father did but kept my distance. I moved to Lagos and secured a good job with the sister company that employed me in Benin Republic. Adaeze was my only stay. The first year was the roughest. She would wake up screaming:  fire! fire! fire! Her eyes open but not seeing. In the morning, she would have no recollection of the night before. It took a bit but gradually we both started to heal. It hasn’t been easy but we are both going to be fine, especially my sister.

I promised my father I would focus on one thing. I would focus on passing on the legacy my parents gave me to Adaeze. That, was and will, remain my singularity of purpose.

 

A tribute to my mother.

It was a routine procedure. The doctor had assured me, the night before. He told me not to worry.”Your mum will be out of surgery in no time”. That day was anything but routine.

The last quarter of that year had been blighted by series of hospital stays, health challenges you tried to shrug off; challenges that hung over us like a dark curtain. I didn’t see it coming, none of us did. You were our oak. The strong beautiful tree that cast her branches for our shelter. The one whose strong roots gave us stability, our quiet place of abode. And so, when my oak began to quake, in denial-I refused to see the signs.

The night before the surgery, I arrived late…..visiting time was almost over. We exchanged kisses and I started to tell you about my day. You seemed strangely disconnected, pensive, as if your mind was else where. After a bit of small talk, you handed me your bible and told me to read to you Psalm 109. My stomach started to knot with fear. The contents disturbed me. Funny thing though, when I was done you seemed more cheerful, more connected. When I bent over to kiss you goodnight, the strange disconnect had descended, again.

The following day, I had an important board meeting but all I thought about was getting to the hospital. Hoping I could shake the feeling of unease that had enveloped me from the night before. It was a miracle I made it there in one piece considering I drove like a bat out of hell. You were already in surgery, and so I stayed with Daddy; both of us not speaking. I was speaking to God, making deals attached to your safe and full recovery. ‘I will be a better person, I will……I will……’As if a person’s destiny cannot be truncated by vows. With each promise that left my lips, I felt a deeper sense of despondency. It’s been over a decade and I still remember that day like a disturbing sequence of events I have tried to banish from thought but still replays itself, in slow motion.Then, I saw two of my father’s colleagues in LUTH, neither meeting our eyes. They led him away, I followed closely behind, knowing but not accepting. I heard a deep, curling  scream and wondered who was yelling-then- realizing, it was me.

I have read stories of people describing their days in color: yellow depicts a sunny day; blue relating to visiting a body of water; white connotes a wintry horizon. A couple of people have asked me how I felt when my mum was taken. Black would be my color of choice. For until you have walked that path of loss, the deepest loss- where your heart feels like its been ripped from your chest , where tears stop and all that’s left is maddening screams; it’s indescribable. Pitch blackness, absolute blackness. I remember the following days in shades of grey: Receiving visitors; I was in auto pilot. I spoke, but have no recollection of what I said, or to whom. Rarely eating. Hardly sleeping.

I would lock myself in your closet, cramped in a corner immersing myself in the fading scent of your perfume. As your scent faded, I was reminded you were gone. My mind would drift back in time and I would remember snap shots of memories; vibrant colors that came to the fore, as the darkness threatened to engulf me. Our relationship, a beautiful tapestry woven by a strong bond of love and trust. As a child, you were a disciplinarian, never faltering in your responsibilities. As I hit my teens and the flash flood of friends hit the horizon, our relationship transitioned into one of friendship- a great friendship. A friendship that enriched me with a fountain of wisdom, one I still drink from. You were my confidante. There was nothing I didn’t and couldn’t tell you. You were my compass.

Over the years, l make myself anxious when I make a decision, second guessing myself, not having my compass has not been easy. However, when I get to a cross road I remember your words: A decision made from a place of love can never be wrong, irrespective of the outcome. Love is the litmus test.

As another year rolls around, another anniversary of your transition, I remember the last two verses of Psalm 109: With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the throng of worshipers I will praise Him. For He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them.