After all these years, it is funny that people still do not know how to deal with me. They try to hide the fact that I remind them. They go out of their way to be nice, like niceness is going to wipe it all away. It’s alright that they remember, I remember too. My memories are like my own private literature, a diary in my head. They say even God is denied the ability to undo the past, what is done is done but I choose to remember the past so I never repeat it.
The sound of the cocks crowing woke me up at first light like it does every morning. I always spend the early hours of the morning on my mat daydreaming, but I do not have that luxury today. There is a lot to be done. I envy my cousins still fast asleep; I wonder how they manage to sleep through the noise the chickens make. I would very much love to still be fast asleep, but I have a drum to fill with water.
I breathe in as deeply as I can the minute I step outside. The air is refreshing. I love the peace and calm of my village. I love the trees and the birds that house on them and the beautiful music they make and I love how beautiful the sky is at night when all the stars come out to play. I remember life in the city but I really do not miss it. My life is here now. All I have is in this small,beautiful village. For now, I am content here.
The road to the stream is filled with girls my age. They all seem to be speaking at once. You can almost touch their excitement. The long awaited day is finally here. Today marks the begining of the ‘ise’fa’ ceremony which serves as an initiation into womanhood for eighteen year old maidens. In preparation for the ceremony we spent three weeks in seclusion where we were taught everything there is to know about our culture and all that is needed to be a good wife and mother. I was reminded over and over again that my mother had learned all she was taught with lightening speed (which I seemed not to be doing). It is funny; my father still left. The ceremony proper starts today and lasts for three days. There is going to be a lot of dancing and music and eating. Every family in the village is going to be present or at least represented. It is always a memorable event.After several trips to the stream, I meet my aunt awake and waiting for me, I hurriedly bathe and meet her in her room. I am not surprised by the number of women I see there and I know that before this is over the number would triple. It takes a village to raise a child. I get on my knees in greeting and remain there as the oldest woman in my family begins to pray for me. My mind soon wonders as she calls on the gods and deities to grant me a safe and peaceful voyage through life. I am brought back down to earth by the periodic chorusing of “ase”. After about an hour the prayer ends and from nowhere a heated metal comb appears and my hair is straightened after which it is woven so beautifully. Every part of my body is rubbed with ori and honey and a white piece of cloth is tied over my breast and another around my waist. When I look in the mirror,I am stunned by my apppearance. I am beautiful. Finally, I begin to feel excited.
I wish my mother was here.
The sudden longing for her takes a hold of me and there is this tightness I cannot explain in my chest. It is hard to breathe. My mother should be here, weaving my hair and telling me how beautiful I look. She should be here. I remember her like I saw her yesterday. She was so beautiful and in my eyes she walked on water. I did all I could to make her laugh more often, won all the prizes available,cooked,cleaned. Occasionally, I was rewarded with a smile; I always wondered why she was not pleased with me, now I realize my father took her laughter with him when he left. From what I am told she caught my father’s eyes at her coming of age dance and in no time he had paid her bride price and taken her to Ibadan with him. They had being married for six years in which she had become a teacher and had given birth to me before the fever caught him. The overseas fever. He became obsessed with going overseas, going to the land of opportunities. It was all he talked about. Eventually, dream became reality. He went overseas when I was six years. I remember the departure day in bits and pieces. My mother was so happy. She kept on telling me my father was going to the white man’s country to make money for us to come and join him.
That probably was the plan initially but I guess things changed. In the beginning, the letters came weekly, then monthly, then once in three months, and then they stopped altogether. I learnt early on in life how powerful hoping is. My mother functioned on hope; hope kept her going those three years. She went to the post office everyday and even when she came back empty handed, she would say “I would go back tomorrow”. I cannot recall when I stopped hoping. At a point I just knew that we were not going to hear from my father.
I was nine when the envelope came. It was big and brown and the handwriting in front was really ugly. My mother danced and sang praises to God for his faithfulness. I sat quietly in a corner; waiting. When she read the letter that followed the documents in the envelope, I saw hope drain out of her. I know now that when a person becomes hopeless is when they really die. As long as you have a little faith, something to hope for, you go on pushing.
I wish she had shed some tears that day. I wish she had screamed and thrown things and cried, maybe I would still have my mother. Instead,she became still. She called me and sat me on her laps and told me my father is no more my father and he is no more her husband. I did not understand but I could not ask questions. I could not ask her what we did that he did now want us anymore. I later learned that he had to marry a white woman for a green card and when the white woman found out about us and told him to divorce us to remain a citizen.
Some days I am angry and I want to see my mother and ask her if I was not enough to keep her going, I want to ask her who she left me for. Other days, I am just a girl that needs her mother. I was ten when I came from school and met her on her bed. I knew she was not just sleeping. Then I saw the empty bottle of drugs on the floor. I picked it up and threw it in the dustbin then I lay beside her. She felt so cold when I touched her. I do not know how long I lay there; I just lay by her side. Time passed but it did not matter. I did not want to leave her side. My mother’s best friend found us like that. She alerted the neighbors and took me away from my mother. That singular act made me dislike her; I was where I wanted to be.
The doctor said she had a heart attack in her sleep. I know that is not true. She had just run out of reasons to live. I never mentioned the empty bottle of drugs. It never seemed right. It is our secret. I do not think of my father, I do not hate him. I come up empty whenever I try to connect him with any sort of emotion. I feel nothing. In a perfect world I would have the unconditional love of both my parents but in my world my father chose a green card over his family and my mother ended her life because she saw no reason to keep on living without my father. Where does that leave me? Who am I?.
According to the culture of my people, I come of age today but I know I came of age years before today.
I have an audience to dance for. If the dead see, I hope my mother sees me today.