Yes, I killed my mother with a gene weapon because she made my life so miserable with her own kind of weapon.
God blessed us with a special kind of mother who would go hungry to feed us, wear rags to clothe us and fight to protect us. It was sheer bliss to bask in such motherly love yet there was something about her that weirded us out. She had a temper that ignited like gasoline when we infuriated her. In that mood, she would lose control of her mouth and lash out at us with invectives.
As a child, I was very hyperactive, always drawn to dangerous games that involved climbing of furniture, doors, walls, trees and running. People called me ‘tire-legs’ because I only ever ran and barely walked no matter the distance. I always bumped into walls or sometimes my siblings, because I would make a quick turn without pausing to look. This once earned me a hot slap. Mother had wanted someone to run to the next compound to collect money from her friend. Of course, no one was equal to the task but Sochima. With glee and vigour I ran straight into Mama Chisom’s house and straight into their room where I found two naked adults in an awkward position. The blinding slap that followed couldn’t let me comprehend the scenario. I ran home with the money and a burning cheek.
My behavior was seen as normal (after all I was just a child) until I started breaking and dropping things out of habit. Then it became a matter of so much concern, that father suggested they take me to see Agodi the prayer woman. ‘She will outgrow it,’ was mother’s only response. Maybe I would have outgrown it but lost the chance when I carelessly touched a tiger’s tail.
Father always travelled to Anioma (mother’s village) every last week of the year to get her a concoction in an earthen calabash. We weren’t told the need for it but we knew it was becoming a tradition and the calabash with its content meant so much to our parents. We were in our room when we heard ‘one of you should get me my medicine!’ My excitement shifted into gear, I sprinted to my parents’ room. I balanced the calabash on my head and swung my flat buttocks from left to right. A sign of victory over my siblings who couldn’t outrun me. To maintain my display before my siblings, I walked over a stool without properly lifting my left leg. Too late to think, I forgot the precious pot on my head and stretched out my hands to cushion the fall.
Mother ran in and let out a shriek kneeling at the same time to scoop some of the fluid. A red pond formed on the floor and meandered in all directions with tiny feathers, tiny bones, tied beaks and tree barks floating on it. She was close to tears.
“ị gbuola m, you have killed me…come here,” she grabbed me by the head and started pounding air out of me, “you will never stop breaking things, never!”
I never stopped and as a teenager, I didn’t really give much thought to it until it became embarrassing as an adult. Wherever you find me, anticipate a breaking of something. Every day presented a fresh fear that I would ruin anything I touched hence; I became overly careful of whatever I did. I held onto my newborns as if they would slip off my grip and split their crania. Sometimes, the nurses at the maternity would ask if I was trying to stifle them. Apologizing when I stepped on people or dropped things even when it was the other way round became a part of me. Friends took it as an act of humility. They never knew I was trying to hide my flaw from them. Repeatedly it occurred in regular patterns that it began to upset my husband.
My siblings also had their fair share of her destructive words.
Buchi, my eldest brother, had a phobia for home since he became a teenager. To him, home was just a place for food and night sleep. He would get fodder for the goats, carry mother’s wares to the market and go to the farm. Right after that, he would disappear only to return at night. Sometimes mother would share all the food just to make sure he found an empty pot filled with coloured water when he came back. The night he couldn’t bear it, he steeped garri in water with a pinch of salt so that he could sate his hunger. She came into the kitchen and snatched the plate from him.
‘You have the guts, you Kite! You will continue to roam about, you will never learn to sit your buttocks at a place,’ she emptied the plate into a basin.
Nneka, my elder sister had a seraphic voice, which I envied. She joined the church choir and went for practice on Friday evenings. To meet up, she would make dinner immediately she returned from school. That was understandable but when she started staying back at school after classes, I became worried, not because of her constant plea for me to fill in for her in the kitchen but because I knew how it would end. Her own time bomb started ticking the night she served mother fufu with egusi soup.
“What did you put into this?”
“Stockfish, kanda and crayfish.”
Mother gave her a suspicious look and continued eating. I made the soup with only kanda and she knew there was neither stockfish nor crayfish in the house. Unknown to us, mother became her shadow. She discovered that she stayed back to rehearse with some of her friends who performed at ceremonies for money. She fell on her when she came back, slapped her around, tore her clothes and continued to shout attracting, neighbours to our compound.
“You want to follow boys so you end up in a brothel eh? You will continue to follow them until you get tired of them …”
As a boy, Chuka loved to play football that he often ignored his chores. He would follow his peers to the central school where they played with boys from other communities until nightfall only to return home soiled and spent. Sometimes he would make it home before mother and do his chores. Other times, Nneka or I would cover up for him. Mother knew all our pranks but chose to keep quiet. One day she came home before him and found empty drums. Without uttering a word, she went straight to her room. We knew trouble was brewing so Buchi and I took gallons and wheelbarrow and began fetching water hurriedly to fill the drums. As we approached our compound from our last trip to the borehole, we heard Chuka’s screams. A lash of cane against his flesh punctuated each scream.
He ran out of the house at full tilt, with mother right behind him. Amongst her remarkable traits was her strength. She had the energy of an eighteen-year-old and could outrun some of the young men in our village. We stood there watching the chase. She extended the cane, which connected with his left shoulder. She must have been enjoying her score that she didn’t notice him scale a short block. She tripped and fell on her knees. Wait for it.
“My leg! May death meet you on the road Chuka.”
I thought mothers have an inbuilt forbearance mechanism.
Father once blamed himself for marrying her, ‘She was beautiful, warm and soft spoken. Irresistible among the five daughters of her father who was a descendant of a great dibịa afa,’ he once told me when I could no longer pretend that all was well. Her pedigree had traces of the mystique. Those days in the then Eastern region there was a handful of dibịa afa. People travelled for days on foot in search of one. This one, her great grandfather, came into this world with a special gift. He got testaments from the dead and controlled the four elements of nature, for these reasons, men revered him.
Some of his descendants became more powerful and used their inheritance for good, some used theirs for evil, those who couldn’t control theirs roamed different cities and villages in rags and those who were lucky had part of him hidden somewhere and lived as carriers. Some tried to suppress it by drinking a concoction prepared in their family every last week of the year. That explained mother’s concoction but she wasn’t saved by it because her curses weren’t ordinary. They stick to the soul for eternity.
My siblings knew something was wrong with her but no one dared to broach the subject because we belong to a race where motherhood is sacred. A child does not talk back at his mother and calling her to order was akin to a slap on her face and disrespect to her breast. They silently resented her and after father’s death, they all abandoned her in the village. This I couldn’t bear so I took her into my home and cared for her until I witnessed a replay, this time in my home.
It all began in my boss’ office.
In Nigeria, especially in cities like Aba, employees are expected to multitask in order to justify their salaries so even as a cashier, preparing quarterly reports of our branch became part of my job. This particular month we were behind schedule because we were waiting to meet our quarterly target and the report had to be ready for my boss to take it to the head office in Lagos. That day, I worked non-stop to hand it in before the close of work. I admired a Channel’s TV presenter’s hairstyle while he perused it.
“Something is missing here, the broad-capital transaction?”
I bent over the table to point out the right page to him. As I straightened up, I knocked over a glass of water with my left elbow. We moved in unison to grab at it scattering papers and nudging a box of pen, which toppled over and emptied its contents. Pens and pencils rolled all over the table and onto the floor. By the time he eventually grabbed the glass, half of the report was already dripping cold water.
“You keep doing this; I could suspend you for this.”
I knew the rest of the staff heard him. I tried to soak it up with my handkerchief, which was a feeble attempt since the handkerchief wasn’t even cotton, “I will reprint it sir—”
“That’s your problem.”
I avoided the gazes of my colleagues who were dying for a gossip. I resubmitted a second copy and disappeared into my sparsely furnished office where I flopped onto a black swivel chair. The previous night I had poured a facial cleanser on Kalu’s driving permit, which I stowed away in the wardrobe in the hopes that he wouldn’t find it until it was dry enough. Immediately it was 5 pm, I gathered my things and headed for the exit without responding to the greetings of the security men.
Mosque junction was gradually turning into a Piccadilly Circus with civil servants, traders, hawkers and drivers hurrying to avoid traffic at some other busy roundabouts. Something that was typical of Aba town by that hour. I stood with other passengers who were also waiting for buses shuttling their various routes. Without warning, it started raining, an irritating light shower, which slightly increased the atmospheric temperature. Umbrellas of various colours were up, blocking out oncoming vehicles that I had to strain my neck to see. I endured the rain, a sweet penance. “Will this ever stop?” My thoughts rioted. I burned with fury.
The voice of a bus conductor interposed my thoughts. I joined the bus and took an empty seat beside a window. I have a penchant for such spots because it was one of my me times. A time I don’t concern myself with things around me. It was always a trance-like moment where I wrap my mind around the racing cars, the houses, trees, electric poles, and muse over personal issues and chores waiting for me at home. That day was just different because I couldn’t stop thinking of the storm-wrecked black sea I had been swimming in, the embarrassments I continually endured because I was cursed.
“Madam,” I turned towards the man sitting beside me, “your money, conductor is collecting money.”
I rummaged through my bag for money, which I couldn’t find. A woman’s bag especially my type of woman is like a scattered room with papers, pens, deposit slips, makeup bag, chewing gum, and extra sanitary pad. Money would always find where to hide. The frustrated conductor lost patience and started ranting. I kept searching, unprovoked.
“After wasting my time you give me 500 naira to look for change eh?’
“I thought I had small—”
“I am not selling foodstuffs here you hear me! I am not, in fact.”
A typical Aba conductor thrives on arguments, quarrels and fights. He hurled insults at me but I kept calm, totally unmoved, a virtue I always thanked God for.
“BTC!” the conductor shouted.
“Yes, I will come down here!”
I chose not to board a keke (tricycle) to my house. I trekked the long distance in the hope that the evening air and the bustling activities happening along the street would soothe me. I stopped at a shop to buy biscuits for my children whom I knew would scream their heads off if I came back with nothing. Although it was another way of bribing them to allow me some me time before we start talking about homework and the latest cartoons on Cartoon Network.
When the three storey building where my husband and I rented a three-bedroom apartment came into view, I felt some of the anger dissipate. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get into the sanctuary of my home, to feel the tight embrace of my children around my knees, to rest my aching back and to have a cold bath. Sometimes a cold bath was all I needed to wash away my shame and the stigma impinged on my clueless soul.
I climbed the stairs one at a time. On reaching the backdoor, I let myself in with a spare key. In the kitchen, I noticed a pot of beans on the fire and thanked God for house helps. As I approached the door that led to the passage, I heard shouts and footsteps racing towards the kitchen. My son ran towards me carrying a cup of water, which slopped onto the tiled floor with each movement. Right behind him was mother with a slipper in hand. She stepped on the water and fell, landing on her stomach. Please don’t. There was no stopping her.
Her words hit me like a pack of ice.
Buchi left for Lagos after his secondary education and that was the last time he ever came home. In a phone conversation, he told me he was in Gabon and was making plans to relocate to Belgium once his papers were ready. Like a Kite, he flew, never to perch and might continue to live that way.
Nneka got married to a rich Yoruba man after her National Diploma. Just as the sun ushers a new day so did her marriage usher a new life into my family. We had more than enough to eat and we all got monthly allowances especially me. Our blooming season ended after three years because the couple turned wrestlers in their own home. When he brought her back, he didn’t even ask for the dowry rather he was anxious to rid himself of her. After several persuasions by father, he told us of her shameful conducts that had made him a laughing stock in their neighbourhood.
“In-law, I would rather live with a fighter or even a terrible cook than to live with a prostitute, Ashawo!”
To hide her shame she relocated to Asaba where she moved in with a widower who was old enough to be her father.
Chuka never graduated from the university. Father was determined to see him through the university because amongst us all he demonstrated a rare intelligence. An unknown driver knocked him down. Out of fear of the Nigerian police and their unending allegations, no one came to his aid. My 20-year-old brother bled to death on that hot tarmac flanked on both sides by humans. His death was my father’s doom. He became a shadow of himself, and lived like that until he slipped into an endless sleep.
I imagined my son of barely four years becoming evil someday. Just as any mother would, I fought back.
“Mother may thunder strike you dead!”
The next day, she left before I returned from work. I called after two days but she didn’t pick my calls. Then we got news of her death. They said there was no sign of rain yet the sky rumbled—a thunder no man could defy. Like every other person, she scurried back home for shelter. It uprooted trees, tore the earth and ripped out her soul right in front of our house.
I stood at her graveside choking on the smell of fresh earth, fighting the urge to confess to my sister who came to stand beside me.
“Stop crying,” she said, “this is for good. We are free of her.’
Yes, we are free of her but she still lives in me, in all of us. I wondered what part of mother was inside of her.
“It’s too hot, we need a rain. Hope you are not with your phone?”
Just then, the sky emptied its drums in torrents. It was as if the sun was shedding tears. I looked at her. She smiled at me.