Time fractures your memory like a kid in cast. Like the kid, you remember why you are in cast, but the incidences between your cast days and recuperation nights are blurred by time. You will remember it in hallucinations. The memories will come to you like a trader in the market, promising to be true and honest, but also leaving you doubting. You will settle for the memory that appeases your emotions the most, and the one you pick is the memory of your mother’s first tears.
You are walking on empty roads with your mother, seeking a tailor to sew your graduation clothes. Your mother is the villain trader who sells textiles to every other child in your class but forgets her son. Your anger and protestation will not go unnoticed, and your mother will burrow hastily in search of a tailor that will make your shirt ready for your graduation the next day. The stars will glisten on her tears, and instead of asking her why she cries, you will look away and remain angry. She is trying to make you feel bad for her mistake and you will have none of it. When she opens her mouth and starts talking to the wind, you’ll listen to her talk about the hardship of parenting, the fears of not being enough, and the challenges of being married. You are nine years old, only caring about your primary school graduation. You heart is the shell of a tortoise, but only because your mother made you that way. The graduation will hold later the next day, and you will do yours in a pair of buttoned up denim jacket; one of the few kids without the chosen graduation fabric. When your graduation clothes arrive a few days later, you hide them in your pile of abandoned clothes. That will be the last time you see them.
You spend your teen ages as a witch hunter trying to find evidence of your mother’s witchcraft. A woman is not allowed to be this fierce unless she is a witch; so you will occasionally tear through her room, trying to find the charms she uses in commanding respect from people and fear among her children. You will find very little; a black soap in a white container, pills in white paper, prayer points written in Yoruba, and lots of jewellery. But you will affirm she is a witch, certain you will catch up with her someday.
Happiness is the most fleeting concept in memory. It erases faster than grief. Grief is like grease on white linen; it lingers for long until you either wash it away or accept it as a fabric of your existence. Your mother’s mother triggers an early memory of grief for you. The woman’s firm lanky arms will trap you in a loop of your first pepper bath. It is because of the ₦200 she sneaks into your palm from which, after racing to your neighbour’s house, you buy ₦100 candy in order to deny your mother from taking all of your newly acquired wealth with a promise of saving it for you. When your mother asks you for the money, you will give her an old ₦50 note, and she will give you a slap in return. The stars will never align more perfectly than they did that afternoon. You run into your room to bring three more notes; ₦20, ₦20, ₦10. She will tell you that the note her mother gave you is new, and she will be right. You will crawl on your knees for lying, and have a pepper bath for being defiant about lying. You will hate her even more.
The next time you will have a pepper bath, it will be your mother’s 6ft 2” frame trapping you in the bathroom as she whoops your ass in the morning for losing a pair of sandals she bought for you, for losing a Samsung flip phone with Bluetooth connectivity in 2007, and for staying mute about the losses until your father discovers them. The lesson you will learn from that experience is to cover your tracks better, and that is what you do when a boulder tears your left leg, and you bleed non-stop for 6 hours. You will tie your socks around the mess; pretend you have a minor prickle, and spend twelve hours sleeping away your pain. The success of that covert op will encourage you to steal a few notes from your father’s purse, and your mother will sniff it out of your maths-set. The woman is definitely a witch; you just do not have evidence.
You do not remember in detail how many times your mother bought new sandals for you in secondary school because you won’t stop misplacing and damaging them. Memories of maternal love will be buried in a well of suppressed anger and, for every time she does something you value, you tell yourself it is reward for what you endure. They say your mother gives to people without thinking, but all she gives to you are slaps and hard labour. You are the orange tree that is beaten with sticks not for the errors of your siblings. Everybody is your responsibility; even your parents when they fight. Responsibility chokes you, and you run. You run to the crime-infested streets of Johnson Awe, Apata, where you become a notorious PS2 player, skipping school for a session, and still managing to get promoted. You run to the tiny bully laden streets of Challenge, where you gamble your transport fare away, and barely ever lose, even if you have to break a few bones while at it. Responsibility is the truth; it will catch up with your false personality someday.
It starts the day you grab a pair of electric wires from your mother, throw it away, and she would start shouting that you are about to kill her. When her noise subsides, she tells you to take a shower as she does after every beating, hands you two paracetamol tablets, then whispers to nobody in particular; kilode t’ofe p’ami? Your mother who has consistently made a veteran of you through multiple battle scars is asking why you want to kill her. What do you say?
It is dark, and your laughter sounds like a sniff. She does not pay attention. She goes ahead to ask why you are not like the other kids in the area who do not give their parents any trouble. When you point out that their parents do not attempt to murder them for every mistake they make, your mother will say she is doing it because of you. You wonder how trying to murder you will help you build character. The memory of that night blends with the dark room and will haunt you for a long time. Like Jesus, you carry the cross of your actions.
Goni, she will call you one morning, and ask what you want her to do better. Asides knowing that you have the same nose, and that she laughs with her mouth open, and her teeth clenched, you do not look at your mother in the eyes long enough to know what she looks like. Noticing your noses happened because you had measles and had to lie in a position until she tells you to turn, while she applies calamine lotion on your body. During your measles saga, she will sit in a corner of the room and look at you till you sleep. You sleep most of the time to avoid having to look at her. How then do you tell—teach—this woman how to be a better parent? The one thing you want her to stop doing is the one power she has over you; beating. You do not respond. You look away, pretending to think deeply about what she just said, accompanying it with a deep, faux philosophical sigh. The only thing you think about is how to get out of the room.
That morning, she will open her memory log and hit you with the number of times you could have died, starting from when she was pregnant to your last hospital admission, but carefully omitting how she could have killed you at least a thousand other times. It didn’t matter because you didn’t pass out. It was only the ones where you gained hospital admission, the time you had thirty injections in two days and a death sentence with Doctors saying diagnosis shows that you are healthy, even as you struggle to breathe. She will tell you how the neighbours call you Goni, after a former governor of a northern state, because everyone is in agreement that you will someday be great. You blur prophesies out of you memory because they bore you, but you enjoy the Goni talk. It is also on this day that she calls you Asiwaju, prophesising about leading a lot of people into success, beginning with your siblings. All the bloodshed was for you to be named leader? Cut the crap, woman. You pick your wings and run very far from home.
The next time she sits with you and talks in the same dour, calm, and emotion triggering tone, it will be at the hospital, after you have attempted suicide. She will cry and ask why you let things get out of hand before seeking for help. She will beg the doctors to keep you alive, and when they do, you will fly away. It would be one conference after the other. It did not matter before, but it does now. She wants to know where you are; you are suddenly a thief being monitored by cameras. One day she calls you to ask why you do not love her, and you will ask her how you are expected to show her love when you wear a body of damages. She will cry over the phone, telling you how she has always been afraid; wanting you to be way better than she is, than your father is. She will apologize for being too hard, and you will come back to her. You will tell her you love and forgive her. You will apologize for your 21-year-old anger.
For the first time, your memories of grief will be ironed by the months of joy and tucked in place by genuine laughter. She will tell you about her trade and ask you what to do with what customers. You will tell her how you think she should live, and she will call you a week later to tell you she has done as you told her. The images become wrinkles; you go to see her, she is happy. You leave, you return. She is sick. She is happy to see you. She is not getting better. She is getting better. It becomes a blur of starched grief—and laughter. She will talk about the woman who left you and how she cannot wait to hold your child. You will blush, and tell her she will, just a few more years. You say seven, she says two. You both laugh.
She will not see your son, not in person; maybe as a guardian angel watching above you in white wings spread across the sky to protect you from harm. But she will not be there. She will die on the day she was born. You will travel fast, but not fast enough to see her put into dust. You want to tell her one more time; I forgive you for everything, and I love you. Iya Goni will be remembered as a poem, an essay, a prayer, and a guardian; and it’ll be you—Goni—who will cover her memory in a white cloth. She will be remembered only for what she did right. She will become a dove.
Akinyemi, Muhammed Adedeji
Akinyemi, Muhammed Adedeji is a writer who sucks at writing his bio. Sometimes he’s working as an Editor at African Liberty, other times he’s practising how to fly. He lives in Nigeria and has a degree in Law, which he despises except for brags. He likes to think of himself as a centrist but is a liberal on paper.
This entry appeared in The Memory Issue