It’s a different kind of grief when you cease to exist in the mind of someone you love; when your existence is reduced to a shadow, to elusive grains of sand constantly sifting between the fingers that once held you. The stab of loss hits different when you look into the eyes that spoke to you all through your life, eyes that cautioned you, threatened you, teased and conspired with you, and you only find vacancy. Now those eyes dart from your face to your torso and recognition doesn’t dilate her pupils, warmth doesn’t shine forth from them.
You grew in your mother’s shadow; her shadow, dark with the intensity of her disciplinarian tendencies, adrift with the grace of her kindness. There in her shadow you stayed in step with her till you became wise enough to fall in step with her, then you came to her side. She was to you a rock and you a confidante to her.
You twirl the silk scarf tied attached to your bag hoping that her face will crack open with a smile and she’d say your name. It becomes obvious that it’s not going to happen.
“Mummy, it’s me.” You say eventually and the words are bland on your tongue, bland and humiliating like Bayonle’s hair all those years ago.
Finally, the smile. “Oh, oh, oh,” your mum adjusts in her seat. “Tomi!”
You deflate. On another day, you’d have told her that Tomi died fifteen years before, that Tomi was not her daughter, not biologically at least. You’d have reminded her that her school daughter died shortly after she had a second child. But not today. Today you’re too weak to talk. It’s enervating to think that your mother will mistake you for someone who died when you were just ten.
“How is your husband, Phillip?” She takes a pause. “Is his name Phillip? No, it’s Timothy.” She smiles, pleased with herself. “How is Timothy?”
Aunty Tomi’s husband was neither Phillip nor Timothy, he was a beautiful Fulani man called Mucede. The stalwart Uncle Mucede who never remarried.
“Fine,” You reply. This is what conversation with your mother has become. Lies told in innocence, lies returned in resignation to fate.
She coughs. “I need to drink water. I don’t think I’ve taken water this week.”
You stand up and walk through the dining area adjoined to the living room to the kitchen. You grab a bottle of water from the fridge, rinse a cup at the sink and put both on a tray. Holding a tray in the kitchen of this old house makes you remember the time in your teenage years when you used to fan the smell of Bayonle’s smoking out of the air with a tray because you didn’t want your mum to return from work and catch a whiff of cigarette in the air. This kitchen was your hideout with Bayonle. Bayonle of the clean-shaven bifid chin and smooth talk. Bayonle who was skilled in puffing perfect smoke rings and once he puffed a heart for you. Bayonle with his precariously thin waist and sick fetishes. Bayonle who might have had a curious case of Rapunzel syndrome. You recall all the things he made you do, gallantly topping the list was coaxing you to bite off tufts of hair from his head when you made out in the kitchen. You think to yourself that Bayonle’s head must have started balding from the centre, where he liked his hair to be chewed from. You don’t loathe yourself anymore and the wrench of anger doesn’t twist your innards. Those emotions controlled your life when Bayonle took off for the university without saying goodbye. You believed God hated you for falling so low. You were already born again at the time and you knew better. You imagined God staring you down with a scowl like your mother’s. You imagined him writing you off as a disappointment. When you were fourteen, you had not yet learned enough of God’s grace for your mind to extricate your mother’s humanity from God’s nature.
So, you ran from God. You stopped praying, you stopped expecting to hear from God and all your church attendance and activities were perfunctory. You were dying inside. Thank God for Pastor Eteka who was transferred into your parish and posted to the teen’s church. Pastor Eteka taught more accurately about God’s love and his willingness to forgive and restore. Under his watchful guidance, you started to grow again, to glow again. With your restoration came a tangible sense of peace. You knew that you had peace with God through faith in Christ and you began to enjoy the peace of God that defies understanding. The change in you was apparent to all especially your mum. Your mother told everyone of the Pastor from Akwa Ibom who changed her daughter’s life. She took it upon herself to sponsor his children’s education. She took provisions from her supermarket to his family from time to time and whenever Sister Emediong, his lithe wife said your mother had done enough, your mother would threaten to flare up. ‘Sister Emediong, don’t let me fight you oh. Do I come to collect microphone from you or your husband when you are preaching? Do I say you’ve preached enough? Eh eh, don’t stop me from doing my ministry. Don’t stop me from getting my blessings.’
You hear the front door slam and only then do you realize you’ve been standing in the kitchen, holding the tray and crying. Does your mother remember Pastor Eteka? You wonder as you walk to the living room.
You drop the tray in front of your mother and her ecstatic squeal makes you start.
“I’m not Moji. It’s me Adunni.”
“Adunni? Adunni?” She exhales. “Ta’l’Adunni?”
Who is Adunni?
You hunker in front of her and hold her hand a little too tightly. “Your daughter, Mummy. Can you see me?”
She nods but her face remains deadpan. You delve into your small bag and rummage through. You pull out the pictures.
“See? That’s us when I was a child. Mummy you baked this cake for my ninth birthday.”
You hold out the next picture. “Can you remember my graduation from secondary school? Omo Ologo High School… No?”
You hiss in exasperation and stand up. You see Eli, the help standing there in the living room, a rueful smile plastered on her face. She’s holding a bagco sac containing the things she bought from the market.
You go to hug Eli. You sob on her back. She rubs your back and tells you its fine. Together, you head into the kitchen to prepare lunch.
You’re grating rodo and onions when Eli starts talking.
“Before I start omo odo work with your Mama, I run from three house. The agent wen connect me to your Mama tell am say e no go pass four months before I run comot.”
You smile. Eli has been with your mum for over six years.
“The first house, the madam na winch. Small woman like this, but na real winch she be. See,” Eli raises the back of her blouse. You see black arrow head scars all over. “na pressing iron tip she use do mosaic for my back. E no get name wey she no call me. Second house, na the children be the Devil. That their last born, wetin be hin name again oh? Isita. Isita. See,” she holds out the heel of her palm. A linear scar this time. “Na knife that boy use cut me for hand.”
“For where? Isita talk say he wan become surgeon for future. Na hin he use knife cut my hand come use needle and thread sew am.”
You flinch. “How old was this boy?”
“I no remember oh, but he never fit pass seven.”
“Why didn’t you tell anybody what he did to you?”
Eli scoffs. “Hin Mama just laugh tell am say no be tailor needle surgeon dey use.”
You shake your head and think to yourself that this is how psychos are bred. They are made when the foolish proclivities of a child are left unchecked; when the sinister tendencies of the natural man are encouraged by enablers like this Isita’s mother.
“For the third house, na the madam husband.”
You exhale. “Eli, you don see oh,”
“My sister, the scars wen person no fit see, na those ones bad pass. But your mother,” Eli shakes her head. “I never see person wey treat me like human being before. Your Mama never beat me, she fit shout o, but she treat me like person. She treat me like her own pikin. I never see madam wey ask me of my family, but your mother know all my brothers and she dey send dem something for Christmas.” Eli shakes her head. “Since I start dey take her go hospital, I no fit count the people wey don come see your Mama. Na different people dey pay the hospital money. All of them get different stories of wetin your Mama don do for them, how your Mama take help their life. See, this sickness fit make your Mama forget oh, but we no fit forget your Mama. We no fit forget all the things she don do.”
You inhale deeply, savoring Eli’s words. Your mother may forget, but she will never be forgotten.
“Na every day different people dey call me, about your Mama. See,” you look to the direction Eli is pointing. “Na one farm boy bring am come yesterday.”
“All these for mummy?”
“You never see anything. When we been dey hospital, na different people dey bring food come. Even as economy tight reach, people just wan give Mama Adunni. Shebi you go still dey house tomorrow?”
You nod. “I’m travelling back on Sunday.”
“Perfect. Tomorrow, special guest dey come.” This Eli says with childish gusto.
“I will not tell you.” She singsongs and it makes you smile.
Your phone’s screen lights up with a text from your fiancé. You suck air through your teeth because you’d promised to let him know when you arrived Ejigbo. You reply his text, apologizing for your forgetfulness.
‘it’s okay… how’s your mum?’
‘*sad emoji I’ve not been able to get her to remember me.’
‘even if her brain can’t immediately place your face, I’m sure you’re always in her heart.’
You smile. ‘that’s a bit comforting but practically ridiculous. All that’s in her heart is blood. Lol’
‘lmaooo… nice. Guess who’s in Abj?’
‘Deolu. She told me she’s coming. I can’t wait to see that fish.’ You reply. Your mind goes to the argument you had with Deolu at the time he was still trying to court you. She wanted to know why you were not giving him face and your response was, ‘there’s something about him that I don’t like.’
“What’s that something?” Your cousin, Deolu had always been the type to push and push.
You’d shrugged and said, “For one, his name is Bayo. Don’t give me that look. You know what Bayonle did to myself self-esteem that year.”
“Right… I’m waiting.”
“For the next reason you don’t like him.”
It was at that point you saw that all you had against Adebayo was the name he shared with your ex. But there was no way you were going to admit that to Deolu.
“My spirit doesn’t just agree with him.”
Deolu had burst into laughter. “Have you even prayed about him? You’ve not even had any real interaction with him outside media unit meetings.”
Adebayo turned out to be nothing like Bayonle. One of the proverbs your mother loved was a Yoruba one that is translated literally to mean, if we decide to close our eyes for the evil man to pass, we won’t know when the good man would have passed. But you still maintain that Bayos are to be feared, Adebayo was only an exception. And because of this, Adebayo teases you about naming one of your children Bayo.
The next day, you are on your bed resting and thinking about how you’d manage a wedding with a senile mother when Eli raps on your door. She doesn’t wait for your response before she lets herself in.
“Our special guests don land.”
“How many are these guests? What are you up to Eli? Frankly I’m not in the mood to see all those mummies from church.”
Eli hisses and exhales sharply. “You go like this one, I promise. Just come.”
“I hope for your sake that I’m truly delighted to meet these guests.” You roll your eyes and stand up from the bed. You put on your bonnet and follow Eli’s to the living room.
When you see them, the force of shock stops you dead in your tracks. Eli’s smile is as wide as her forehead. “I no tell you?”
“Pastor Eteka,” You whisper carefully, not wanting to puncture this moment that you suspect is a dream. “Sister Emediong?”
“Adunni, it’s good to see you.” Siter Emediong gives you a side hug and you genuflect.
They say they had to travel down from Benin, where the church had transferred them to again, the moment Eli reached out to them.
“You didn’t have to.” You say.
Sister Emediong feigns a frown. “Don’t let me fight you, sister Adunni.” You immediately know she’s imitating your mother. You laugh, wiping tears from your eyes.
“Let’s see her.”
You lead them to her room. She stares blankly at them. Pastor Etake and his wife hold hands and lay their free hand on your mother’s shoulders. They pray for her. The prayer is still on when your mum starts talking.
“Pastor Eteka! Sister Emediong! When did you come into town? Adunni, have you offered our guests something? I’m coming let me get you something to drink.” She’s up on her feet hustling to the door. Sister Emediong stops her.
Bible stories tumble into your mind. The way your mum hurries to get her guests something to drink makes you think of Peter’s mother-in-law who got up in similar fashion right after Jesus healed her of a fever. The part of Pastor Eteka’s prayer where he mentioned all the sacrifices your mother made to minister to the saints and everything Eli said the previous day make you think of Tabitha. You can picture the scene with your mind’s eye. You can imagine the wailing widows with the clothes Tabitha made for them in hand as they wait for Peter to show up.
You stand there in the daze of this sublime reality: your mother just called you by name.
Especially in an age like this when selfishness is heightened to the point of making people brutish, it’s important that we are reminded that good works still matter.
I know we are not saved by good works. We are saved by grace through faith. Good works are not a pedestal to stand upon for justification in the sight of God. Agreed. But we have been saved unto God works. In Titus 2, the Bible makes us understand that Jesus gave himself for us, to redeem us from lawless deeds and purify for himself a people ZEALOUS for good works.
We cannot afford to have a passive disposition to doing the works of Jesus. We must be zealous about good works. Zealous about preaching the gospel, about meeting the needs of saints, about easing the burdens of others.
In this age where every one is seeking to take, receive, gain at the expense of others, the word of God remains the same. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus is our example. Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive. We must devote our time and lives to serving God and humanity. Because when the chips are down, the imprints we’ll leave in the sands of time are the sacrifices we make for worthy causes. There’s a hymn I’ve loved since I was a child, one that inspires introspection and an evaluation of what truly matters. I’ll end this article with the lyrics of this hymn so beautifully penned by Horatius Bonar of Edinburgh.
1. Fading away like the stars of the morning,
Losing their light in the glorious sun–
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling,
Only remembered by what we have done.
Only remembered, only remembered,
Only remembered by what we have done;
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling,
Only remembered by what we have done.
2. Shall we be miss’d though by others succeeded,
Reaping the fields we in springtime have sown?
No, for the sowers may pass from their labors,
Only remembered by what they have done.
3. Only the truth that in life we have spoken,
Only the seed that on earth we have sown;
These shall pass onward when we are forgotten,
Fruits of the harvest and what we have done.
4. Oh, when the Saviour shall make up His jewels,
When the bright crowns of rejoicing are won,
Then shall His weary and faithful disciples,
All be remembered by what they have done.