I had imagined standing here in the front row, dressed in all black and watching as the machine lowered whatever remains of my mother into the earth, back where she came from. But I certainly didn’t think I would be standing so calm without as much as ripple effect on my emotions. It was as if I was attending the funeral of a neighbour who passed away the same day I’d moved in.
See, no interactions equals no memories and no closeness hence no pain. The first twenty years of my life that I had spent at my parents house, my mother never failed to remind of a daily basis how big of a disappointment I was to her. I was supposed to be a boy. But then I refused to be a born and even strangled my twin brother to death on our journey out the womb. She told me the heartbreaking tale between hiccups and tears of how she had held the young babe and he smiled at her before taking his last breath. As soon as he died, I opened my own lips and let out a wail which sounded closely like a cackle of delight, a celebration of my victory over my twin’s death. How mother came up with these ideas, I am sure you wonder but I am also just as confused.
After I was born, for ten years, I remained the only child and it didn’t matter how many more times mother conceived, I managed to eat them all. She’d grown so tired of having miscarriages and stillbirths that she sought for help at the closest place; a native doctor or rather, a juju man. Mother took me along on her first visit to him. I can still remember vividly, how weird the place smelt and how ugly the man was. He took one look at me and shrieked.
“She is the one. She had her first taste of blood in the womb and decided she wanted more.”
Mother believed him instantly, no room for doubts. Giving me a vicious glare and a heavy knock, she pulled me to join her on her knees and begged for help. She wanted to seek protection against the “witch” so her dearest son would be born into the world safely and if Baba could spare time, he should remove the “witchcraft” from me. The Baba most certainly took pleasure in making small cuts on my skin and applying some dry black powder which burned. Every time I winced, he would tell mother that the witchcraft was resisting. At a young age of ten, how could I resist so much pain? I gave in, my courage dwindled and bawled loudly, snot and tears all over my face. After what went on for hours, I was declared witch free and mother was assured a safe pregnancy and birth, as well as the son she had always wanted.
That year, mother had a son and my father died. It was the time I felt truly alone. Although hardly home, my father had loved me a lot and never once did he show dissatisfaction that I was a girl. Well, not to my face anyways. Father died and my life took a turn. Everything had to be kept for Junior; the pet name for my younger brother. Junior and I grew so differently and do distantly, the 10 years gap and mother’s blatant favouritism played a heavy role. He was mother’s pride and joy. The only reason she had to keep living, the only clothing God had provided while I… I was the other child.
At seventeen, I had grown into a woman. My curves were well placed and where ought to be full was full. I caught a lot of men’s attention and that was when mother realized I could be useful. She understood that age was catching up on her and having delivered junior on the brink of fifty, she needed to find him a secure position that would ensure he was taken care of if something happened to her. I was to be the secure place, she decided. A female child’s an investment, a very important piece of cheese. As I grew, so did the line of my suitors but mother wasn’t satisfied with any of them. What was I thinking? How could I get into a relationship with poor Emeka who was a mere student in his final year. It wasn’t like he was studying medicine or law or even engineering, it was a stupid public administration program, so how would he get instant employment? With a wave of her hand, mother squashed my romance even before it started to bud.
When I reached 21, a wealthy business man caught her eyes and she decided he was the one.
“Age is but a number Amaka. You need a man who can take care of you and your brother”
She waved my complaints of his age away. Twenty years gap was nothing to worry about. Bordering 22, I married Benson. See, even his name had a rich man’s ring to it, compared to Emeka.
To mother’s dismay, I was back at her doorsteps six years later with my two year old son and a photocopy of a signed divorce letter. I met Junior at the door, who had recently turned 18 and had even been given a nice car by my now ex-husband. He had grown to be quiet and tall, towering over me even when I wore heels, and had inherited our father’s personality. God be praised. He took one look at my tear stained face and swollen cheeks when he opened the door, and stepped aside to let me in, taking his nephew in his arms. Mother was livid to find out I pushed for the divorce. In her mind, she believed that I must’ve have done something stupid to annoy Benson, hence the reason he used his fists on me. Mama was prepared to call him and beg him to take me back. She was getting older, what would happen to Junior if she passed away in this country where connections mattered more than talent? To my surprise, the brother I wasn’t allowed to carry, the one for whom my head was heavily knocked whenever I peeped in his cot, stood up and set his foot down, and only then did mother let the idea of calling Benson go. She consoled herself with the fact that I had at least done one good thing in my life and that was giving birth to a son.
Perhaps she did love me but in her own weird way which I noticed only after I married a wealthy man, she wasn’t stingy with her compliments which started to rain the moment my son was born. She beat her chest confidently in the hospital room and told my husband I was her daughter, and so of course I had delivered a son. I often wondered if she would have disowned me if I delivered a girl.
“It was to be expected.” My brother said, abruptly interrupting my thoughts.
He stood in his fancy suit beside me without a shred of sympathy or pain and spoke in his monotonous tone as our mother’s grave was filled with sand. Ten years had passed since I returned home and he had grown to be my big brother, the bond we didn’t have as children formed quickly.
“Don’t be sad,” He took my hand in his and gave a light squeeze. “She wouldn’t stop smoking and her lungs just gave out.”
He didn’t sound like a son who was mourning his mother. Like me, he sounded like he was talking about a stranger and not the woman who spent her entire life putting him on a pedestal and worshipping him.
“It was to be expected.” He repeated with a shake of his head and added “What a pity.”
As we drove away from the cemetery, I came to a startling realization that I didn’t shed a single tear and neither did Junior. He didn’t even bring his family and asked why I brought my son. Mother had spent her entire life chasing one child far and hovering around the other but at the end, she was a stranger to the two.
I agreed with Junior’s words and softly muttered. “Such a pity”