When I was younger, I was a lot smaller than normal, even smaller than Eno was at that age. When I was maybe like nine, I remember getting sick all the time, my chest feeling like it would burst open. We went to all the hospitals we knew, all the doctors, even native ones said they didn’t know what was wrong with me. Years later and I still can’t forget the way she looked at me as she stayed by my side with my father, both of them watching, praying to God that this wouldn’t be my last night.
I woke up groggily on the couch as my mother was on the other side of the room, examining my father’s neck, observing the gold necklace. I blinked a couple times, trying to see if maybe the image would disappear. My mother was dead, she died in a car crash.
Then how was she now in our living room?
“Mummy?” I said as I sat up. “Is it really you?”
I saw her body stiffen when I called her and she turned around, pushing a lock out of her face as her eyes met mine, I saw that she had been crying.
I stood up and ran to her and hugged her as tightly as I could, crying tears of joy, or maybe sadness. She held me close and for a moment, it was like it was just us and I felt happy again, somehow. Like I was complete. And then I stared at my father who was out cold on the ground shirtless with his back on the wall. The gold necklace was in the shape of a spider and it hung around his neck, glimmering even in the dim light with additional gemstones on it.
I stepped back from her and stared at her face, trying to memorise her features. “Mummy, but how, how is this possible? They said you died, we even went to your…”
I remember her funeral so easily, it could have happened that morning. I remember the way the day had passed like a mirage, the cruel realisation waiting at the corner to set in.
My mother was dead. Eno was too young to know exactly what was happening, but he felt her absence, crying and screaming. Even he knew something was wrong. I had never seen my father cry before that day, I had never seen him so broken and lost. When we got back home that day, I saw it dim, the light in his eyes, the smile on his face. He wouldn’t even look at me, walking instead like a ghost to the kitchen to cook us a meal.
“My flower,” she said, touching my cheek with her hands, tears flowing from her eyes. “Gods, you’ve grown so big and strong. I have a lot to explain, my son, but I’m not sure now is the time.” She said, looking my father.
Something she said though, something clicked in my head.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
“Oh, Essien,” she said quietly. “Your father has gotten mixed up in some dark magic, something is trying to control him and he is fighting, quite literally for his dear life. I felt it, down to my very soul and I knew I had to come back.” She bent down and held his cheek in her eyes, her voice raw with pain and sadness. “Come back and save his life, even though I’m the one who damned it.”
“Mummy,” I said, kneeling down. “I don’t understand, how are you here? How did you…”
I let the question hang in the air, it all just seemed too impossible, yet I didn’t panic or scream, it was like something inside of me was opening, shifting and widening to accommodate this… And more than anything, it scared me.
“I didn’t come back to life, Uyai.” She said, her eyes lingering on the gold spider necklace. “I never died.”
“What?” I said, standing up, my voice rising. “So, it was a lie?”
“Uyai, please understand.” She said, standing too, her hand outstretched, “Let me show you.”
I looked at her hands, the same kind hands the helped me learn how to ride a bicycle or make practically every Nigerian soup known to man or even how to tie my shoelaces. Those same hands looked the same and yet so different now and I just, I just didn’t know what to do.
But I looked at her eyes again, those large eyes, and I knew somehow, deep inside of me, that this was my mother.
I took her hand. My hand clasping hers was the last thing I remember seeing before the world descended into a kind of blackness.
I saw her again, and this time her whole being was glowing, her skin was tinged with blue and her eyes crackled with power, in the darkness, she looked beautiful in her light.
“To understand the story,” She said, her voice reverberating through my very soul. “We have to start from the beginning.”
The scene changed and I saw a younger version of my parents laughing and staring into each other’s eyes as they sat down in a restaurant. My father looked a lot younger, the lines in his face were gone and his eyes had the light again, his hair was even more, edging towards an afro. My mother on the other hand…looked exactly the same.
“He knew that I wasn’t human, that I was something else.” My mother’s voice said. “But he still loved me, despite it all.” As the image shifted, I saw my mother coo a swathe of blankets. I looked closer and saw a little baby.
“And, he loved you.” She said.
“He’s not my biological father.” I said, the weight of my words dawning on me.
My mother was beside me now as we looked at the younger versions, both of us silently wishing we could go back to the simpler time.
“No, Uyai, he’s not.” She said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my long life, Uyai, but you were never one of them. I had to escape with you, I had to keep running, because I knew clearly what I was running from.”
The scene shifted and then we were in my room, late in the night, but I was much younger, my mother was soothing me as she rubbed my head, her face crestfallen, bags under her eyes.
“But then you fell very sick, so very sick.” She said, her voice shaking, as if reliving the image we were seeing. The image of my mother suddenly straightened after the younger me had slept, and she headed out the door.
“I knew I had to do something, and so, I consulted the Iyalawo, the great mother of secrets, for guidance.”
The scene shifted and I saw my mother conversing with a woman with white swirling markings on her face and body. She wore only a wrapper but the authority she held was still clear. Her eyes were wide and intelligent as she shook the palm nuts and as the Iyalawo revealed the truths to the younger version of my mother, I saw her break down, and that tore my heart.
“She said the gods had been very angry with me, and that there were only two things I could do to save you, my child.”
“What?” I asked quietly, my heart thumping.
“The first was that I had to dedicate you to Sango as one of his sacred priests.” She said, her head down.
“And the second?” I asked.
Her eyes rose to meet me and I saw they were bloodshot from crying so hard.
“She—they said, I must go back to my matrimonial home.” She said and the images melted before us as we were back in the living room.
“You faked your death…” I said, my voice shaky. All this time, I thought my mother was dead, gone forever.
But this, wasn’t this so much worse?
“Because I wanted to protect you and Eno from the truth.” She said, cleaning the tears. “What I’ve just told you is enough to put you in grave danger, they may even come for you. But I had to come back, because my love was in danger, I can’t stay for very long, soon they’ll know what I have done.”
“Who is my actual father?” I said, asking the question that had been on my mind since my father uttered those poisonous words.
My mother didn’t answer me, she just looked behind me, her mouth open, at the spot where my father should have been. I looked behind me too.
And then, for the first time since we got back, I realised something important.
He wasn’t there anymore.