…. written & sent in by OMA4U
Jolomi never knew or had a foresight that the bizarre bright yellow sun that peered out behind the evening cloud had a great message to tell. There were moments she wished she was a soothsayer, so that she could look into the future, to know what the progressive hand of the wall clock in her father’s palour would declare, and to see the dead-end of grandma. And this was one of those moments, when she longed to be a seer. Jolomi had buried impracticable thoughts in her mind that grandma was immortal, and that she would live forever until she found her feet at the door steps of the facade of her father’s house.
Her father’s eyes were swollen and red and at the instance her eyes suddenly met his, she beheld the tears streaming down his cheeks. It was the first time she would see him shed tears and she sensed that a time bomb, which would soon render her deaf with a massive explosion, was solemnly ticking around the corner. Jolomi’s father’s friend, Baba John, as fondly called, a gentle-looking man of about her father’s age, but whose face boasted of deeply grooved tribal marks, was lifting away her father’s hand from his head as soon as he returned them. Jolomi’s father’s head had become a carriage that lifted his hands above shoulder. This was an act her father would rebuke, saying it wasn’t a good omen. Her father was sitting on the floor and leaning against the couch, spreading his legs, putting his hands on the head as he shed tears profusely. Seated on the right arm of the couch was Baba John, patting and consoling him. At the moment her eyes met her father’s she swerved her look at Baba John and she invariably looked at the two of them for a moment, puzzled. Her school bag dropped and she ran and simultaneously crawled towards her father on the unkempt carpet in the untidy room.
Jolomi’s father sobbed harder and she could hear the nauseating sound as he sucked up his running nose. She could still smell the saturated fear that had accumulated in the house over the years. If her household were dreaded by anything, it was her father. Jolomi’s father was fears himself. If he was coming back home, the news would have spread like wildfire beforehand.
“Your daddy is coming…..Your daddy is coming.” Her street friends would tell her and her brother, so that they could elude the evening lashes that would be administered on their backs. Especially, when her brother was playing football, he would flee like a marauding pest that came across a scarecrow when it had come to steal on the farm.
Jolomi’s gaze clambered up at Baba John to ask him what went wrong, but she couldn’t find her voice. Baba John’s eyes were speaking a language she was yet to understand. She went to the door on the right side of the living room, peeping to see if her step mother was at home. She wasn’t, Jolomi guessed as there was no sign of breath in that room. She drove her tiny legs back to father’s spot. Then, she noticed the curtain of mother’s room drifting, and grotesquely, a figure reeled in. It was her mother and facing her squarely when the sun had not gone to sleep was like seeing the moon in a broad daylight. It was a rare occurrence, rare like her father’s smiles. She fixed an astounded look toward her. She was bewildered, and her mother seemed to be too. Jolomi reluctantly fell into mother’s arms, laying her head on her bosoms. Mother was a bit taller. She patted her on the back as Jolomi leaned closer.
“Mummy, I miss you,” these words muddled up in a space between her throat and her tongue. She could only mutter her burdened question. What was wrong with father? She asked
“Grandma died this afternoon.” She said indifferently, “They called him from hometown.”
“Grandma! Died!” Jolomi exclaimed.
Mother turned to father’s friend. “Thank you so much, Baba John.” He was now on his feet and he was about vacating the mournful home.
“Take care of him.” Baba John told mother, “I will join you when you are going to Abeokuta tomorrow”. He faced her father too,” You are a man. So sum up your body as a whole. Thank God, mama was very old before she joined her ancestors. ”
Truly, grandma was very old before she passed on, but Jolomi’s father would never wish her dead someday or any day. Like a needle showing ways to the thread, mama had been the sailor directing her son’s ship as far as he had known what it was to be a man. The bond that existed between this mother and her son was so strong that the only force that was powerful enough to cut short the bond was this angel that took away breath unaware. Death, it came like rapture, intruded, broke the bond, and took away mama’s soul, but not the blemish her footprint had left on the sanctuary of her son’s home. Her son’s home was like a child. When a child is abused, the effect is eternal, unlike when the child is young, innocent, pure, filled with love and joy, and has no worries. His home had been abused. Grandma had truncated the joy Jolomi and her brother experienced in the earlier years and had broken their home that was initially a cocoon, a protective shed, a place of peace. If Jolomi had told anyone that there was fire on the surface of an ocean, she would have preferred them not to be skeptical about its credibility. She would just need to be asked to get them the ashes.
Home had become a dreadful place, home of terror, when grandma seemed not to fathom the camaraderie, the deep love and understanding between her son and his wife. Grandma had complained bitterly that Jolomi’s mother had taken away her son’s heart from her and soon she would find a solution to that.
Grandma could not find a way to disrupt the marital bliss, but was able to perpetrate her brutal plans through her maid to whom she persuaded father to get married. She had advised her son how wicked women were. Women could kill their husbands to enjoy their wealth alone and to enjoy the children’s cares when the time arose. Grandma was able to brainwash her son, flush away love and cares, and infuse the opposite. And now she was gone!
Jolomi began to put in places the torn mental picture of grandma, to remember what she looked like when she was alive, how she would lie to father how much Jolomi and her brother had been hurling insults on the new wife, and how her face would turn fiercer than a raging fire when she began with mother. It was exactly a month after Jolomi’s eleventh birthday, when grandma brought home her maid. Although the maid was not new to the family, the least they expected this time when she came with grandma was pregnancy. Grandma’s maid was pregnant and it was Jolomi’s father who was responsible. Grandma summoned Jolomi’s mother and her children, Jolomi and her brother. Grandma sat on the only couch the room occupied. Beside her were father and the maid. Grandma’s maid was short, anorexic, with a brutal 11 marked face. Her oversized buba pronounced vividly the two wells below her neck that could reserve water to use for years, and that made her outfit unwelcoming. Grandma raised her eye-brows to talk; her dark, fissured eyes deepened. Her sparse grey hair lay in wispy ringlets against her scalp. Her arms were frail, but her tongue was thunderous. Words were shooting out of her mouth and strikingly piercing into mother’s heart.
Grandma began, “See, this is your new wife. Your husband has gone to market and has brought home a beautiful maiden.”
Jolomi wondered what kind of market it was where they sold wives to men. She shifted on the wooden table she shared with her brother. Then stole a glance at mother to see her countenance, and to see what it felt like. Jolomi’s mother sank into a stupefied and drab moment. The news sharpened the ugly expression that peered out behind her beautiful face. Creases were forming on her forehead, as she squinted squarely into her husband’s eyes. She wondered if their eyes would ever speak the same language again. Father rested his head on his folded arms, facing down as though he was remorseful.
Grandma shot another bullet, “You will begin to live together as one,” Grandma called out as if they were far away and she warned sternly, “Jolomi, Bode, she must not report any of you to me, or else….” She swallowed her spittle.
Jolomi and her brother kept mute as if all were happening while in a trance. This time mother was jolted back to reality. It was real. Tears welled up in her eyes, like the heavy water hung onto the cloud, threatening to rain. Then the rain fell when Grandma shot her deadliest arrow.
“Mama Jolomi, your wife is pregnant.” The old woman said spitefully.
Jolomi’s mother sat stock still. Silence smothered the room, as though Grandma’s bullet had murdered the words in her belly. The silence was so thick until Grandma sliced it, “Nothing must happen to her and her unborn child.” She said with juxtaposition between threats and advice.
Grandma dragged her maid, the new pregnant wife, to kneel before mother. It all came hitting her unaware like a spray of bullets. Mother felt a stab of betrayal. Her countenance seeming to be carved out of granite, as grandma’s words hovered over her like a savage bird of prey. Mother shuddered and tried to speak, but the words vanished somewhere within her lungs.
She cleared her throat, and tried again, “Ade, tell me it’s not true.” Mother passionately called father’s name. Father had the world-weary look as though he was coaxed into it. He said something with a nasal voice as if he had spoken with his nose.
“Get up and beg your wife.” Grandma yelled, feigning concern.”Tell her you will take care of her.”
Father stood tall, “Sorry,” He said as though sorry could give back life to the murdered heart and if sorry could be a resort for crime, court would have no jobs.
Father begged and Grandma did the same, as if it had all been a coincidence. Like a caged dog that was about to be used for sacrifice by his decade owner, mother felt betrayed. She wept bitterly. More than a decade. Her face was acrimonious. Jolomi looked around the single room. This one room of love would soon be divided. She went over to the shelf and tuned off the Panasonic TV. She drifted towards the only window. Beside it was a calendar hung onto a screwed nail. She blinked at the date on the calendar. It would be marked in her mind forever. She sat back on the wooden four-legged table, folded her arms and miserably beheld the wall clock as it ticked farther and farther into the future.
Grandma glided her maid’s Ghana-must-go bag under the bed. Four pipes supported the bed with a spring on it which accommodated the mattress. It had occurred to Jolomi that the love would be divided, but she had not anticipated the future of the matrimonial bed.
The day that followed was like dust had just settled on the battlefield, but the night that followed had resurrected the dust. It was time for bed and the bell of asunder began to ring. Mother would never allow the new wife to share her matrimonial bed with her. Mother sprung vehemently into dispute, and all grandma’s effort to cow her into submission were availed. Father transformed into a different man that night. His fickleness was like the sunny weather that suddenly rained. A rain of merciless blows battered mother. Father beat the hell out of the helpless mother and ultimately threw her out of the house. Jolomi’s mother clung to her children. In the dead of the night, they went to Baba John’s house. Week went after week before Jolomi’s father came for them and took them back home. Grandma had travelled back to hometown, only to return and live with her son. An epiphany painted itself before Jolomi’s very eyes, she saw a sharp edge of knife piercing the love at home, truncating the peace, and murdering what was a home. It was really a home!
Father caught the sight of the blemished scars on mother’s body. He felt her pains, but not her broken spirit and confidence; not her lost prestige, neither the burning wound on her heart inflicted by the man she loved when he scolded and abused her, and beat her almost to stupor. Father was no longer father!
Back home, Jolomi gazed into mother’s eyes, she imagined how she would feel whenever she recalled one of their lovey-dovey days she was always happy to narrate. Those days when father would whistle at mother’s window to call her out, and tell her how much he missed and cared about her. The night they returned home mother slept at one corner of the bed, father in the middle and the new wife on the other side. Jolomi and her brother dragged the table to one side and slept on the mat. That night, and many nights after, mother had succumbed to fate, and endurance to bear the loud moaning and screaming of the new wife, as though she was being given pepper to eat and caramel to savour at the same time whenever father was making love to her. Nauseating, disgusting, and a scandalous act!
The incessant fights between father and mother had aggravated. Sometimes over food; other times, bed. And most times, accusing mother and her children of insulting his wife. It was one of those fights in the dead of the night, that Jolomi heard the blows and the shouts emanating from father, the rotten words hurled at mother. Jolomi looked at her brother who was wide awake, perhaps they should go and plead with father. Mother screamed and at first they thought breath had been punched out of her. Father kicked her in the groin and she fell writhingly to the floor in agony. She couldn’t defend herself as she coiled on the ground. Jolomi threw herself over mother while her brother’s feeble hands restrained father, trying to subdue him. They couldn’t stop the raging bull. Father flung Jolomi’s brother away and he hit his head against the wall. He went over to Jolomi to kick her out of the house with her mother. Grandma and her maid stood, feigning to impede the unleashed violence, until the door was locked. Jolomi’s abandoned brother had collapsed inside. Jolomi dragged her mother out into the street. That night, totally unclad, Jolomi’s mother launched into a tirade of curses against father’s destiny. The curse of a woman is greater than a weapon, any weapon capable of destroying lives; and such a curse is eternal, leaping from one generation to next. A prejudice to posterity!
Jolomi’s mother no longer stayed at home. She had become a recluse. She woke up with the dews and went to market very early and came back home in the late hours. She had lost her role as a wife at home and nobody cared, unless they wanted to accuse her of infidelity. Mother became the husband of herself and a father to her children, providing materials needs only. Parental cares had become forbidden water not meant for drinking to Jolomi, neither her brother. The pregnant wife gloated at mother’s misfortune. Grandma lived with them for four years before she was struck seriously ill and went back to hometown. Father had renovated the house. They now lived in different rooms.
Jolomi’s accumulated myriad of resentment and anger for the male folks gained skepticism for a minute. Jolomi had seen all men as birds of similar plumage, but one flower bloomed amidst the thousand thorns. It was baba John. The day she saw him, after a tough quarrel with his wife, wearing a shirt of pride.
He confidently said to his son, “See, your mother locked up my cloth and almost tore it to pieces. I knew it was anger and I did not raise my hand to beat her, so that I can be proud to tell you that I never for once beat your mother and I will also be proud to bequeath this to you.” Those words clanged inside Jolomi’s head and she wondered, perhaps her father didn’t have such dignity. A dignity to respect the female folks.
Jolomi rested against mother. She smelled different. Jolomi could perceive aloofness, like a marooned sheep abandoned by a shepherd. Mother noticed Jolomi had changed a lot. She had grown maturely. Jolomi was now sixteen, beautiful like her mother with dazzling white eye balls, an hourglass shape, attractive, and vivacious, but bitterness resided in the depth of her heart.
By the time the yellow taxi with two black stripes arrived at the edifice of grandma’s storey building in the hometown, every head available in the family had been present at the burial. Baba John had gone to pick Jolomi and her brother from school down to Abeokuta. Baba John and Jolomi’s brother had surged forward after paying the taxi man. Jolomi stood, watching the smoke emanating from the silencer pipe float up, and the dissipating humming sound of the engine as the taxi receded away. The building was now different, faded and drab, unlike when Jolomi and her brother used to come for a visit. The green paint had begun to peel away and the iron was rusty. Every beautiful thing will become less beautiful either by experience or by the passage of time.
Jolomi walked in. She saw everyone moved steps to steps like wall clock. Her vision blurred as she searched the crowd streaming about a single spot. Mother separated herself from the group, and came out to welcome her. She hugged her tightly.
“You can see the crowd hovering over there?” Mother turned to the direction she was referring to. Jolomi turned after her. “The earth refuses to accept mama’s corpse.”
Jolomi could not decipher this, “I don’t get it.” She strained her neck, as if that could increase her comprehension. They gaited forward.
“That is the fourth ground they will dig, but water keeps welling up.” Mother concluded.
Water was gushing out of the ground as if there was a reservoir beneath. In a perfectly dry season like this, it was bizarre. Only once had Jolomi heard something similar. It was when a corpse of a famous priest was exhumed many years after his death. His body was as fresh as it was when he was buried. Some people had said the ground rejected him, but Jolomi was bewildered. Who truly knew if it was good or bad? or If it was heavenly or hell? Whether rejected or accepted, grandma was dead. She was dead! The progressive hand of wall clock that seemed to be very sluggish as Jolomi wished to escape the fury of grandma had gradually arrived at the future and Jolomi had seen what the future held now. But if Jolomi was to judge by grandma’s attitude while she was alive; how she had put asunder in the peaceful home, how she had tainted the clean linens of matrimony, and how she authorised confusion, she would trust her judgment well enough to choose right. When she heard that grandma was dead, she thought it was over, but as long as there was flame in the seams of the garment, there must be bloodstains on the fingernails.