Conversations With My Mom!

For the past couple of days, I was away to Lagos on official trip and didn’t have the time to spend with mum and my only sister who have been around for nearly a week. We had planned to have some quality family time for they have been the two most important women in my life, since am not yet married. By the way, mum had declined earlier invitations to visit me in Abuja on the grounds that a ‘chronic’ bachelor like me wouldn’t be able to take care of her, like a wife would. It took a lot of diplomacy and scheming on my part, and strong persuasion through my sister and uncle at the home front, before mum agreed to leave villa for a while to visit me here in Abuja. It was a long journey for her, and the longest she’d undertaken in decades having lived with dad in Sapele and Warri in the 50s. He was a trader then who traded in rubber sap which was tapped from plantations in Sapele and Warri.

So here is mum sleeping and waking each morning under the same roof with her ‘little son’ of yesterday. She would watch me wake up, shower and dress up in suits and head off to work. Then for the rest of the day, she’s stuck at home, wondering why I’d leave her at home alone and not come back early enough to spend time talking with her. So I felt obligated to spend more time with her like I never have done and decided to head back home once I closed from work one Thursday evening. My sister, whose husband was clamoring for her early return back to Aba, had just gone for prayer meeting that evening. Though Family Worship Centre is a Pentecostal church in my Wuye neighborhood, she didn’t even mind that she’s a staunch Catholic Charismatic member. Somehow, she and mum have over the years accepted that churches don’t generally save one, and have built their relationship with God individually. This provided the perfect backdrop for the most memorable time I have ever had with mom, which I’d relish as long as I live.

As I arrived from work, I placed a gentle knock on the living room’s door, and a little twisting of the door’s handle saw the hinges creak and the door opened. Mum was sitting still by the opposite door that opened into the balcony area. She was enwrapped in viewing the overlooking hills and quietly swaying trees that formed the montage for the backyard area of the residential estate. She’s always been a meditative and reflective person for as long as I can recall. For I remember her once telling me that God speaks mainly to people who keep a quiet heart, and it made so much sense that day. As I stepped into the apartment, mum swirled around and beamed her usual smile. The glint in her eyes was accentuated by dimples and wrinkles on her pretty face.

“Nwam nwoke iyolaa!’ she welcomed in our local Igbo dialect. We hugged passionately like we normally did in the past. I still can’t explain the chemistry between us. Maybe it could be that as her last child, I sucked the last drop of her breast milk without having any younger sibling to share with. That may have bonded us strongly but who can tell anyway? Though in her early 70s, she’s as playful as a little girl who waltzes around in joy. Maybe that is the secret that has kept her young and agile at old age, I thought!

“Mama, gini ka ina eme ebe ahu?” I had asked wondering why she sat still and facing the east, gazing steadily at the Wuye Hills which overlooked Abuja‘s Amusement Park.

“Muna Chineke na akpori. Anam ekele Chineke maka ihe oma nile ona emere anyi” she answered. She hinted that she was meditating and thanking God for all his goodness and was appreciating the beauty of nature as well; the trees, the lush green grasses and the Wuye Hill that sheltered the estate where I lived.

It’s possible my appreciation of nature had its early beginnings in her. As a little kid, I remember how I strolled into the woods all alone, to listen to the chirps of birds and insects and sit still under the huge but old and scaly Iroko tree that belonged to my great grand father, Icheku Anyaegbu. I didn’t understand why nature had such a great pull on me as a lad but I enjoyed quietness anyway. I would often be enthused by the golden rays of the sun as it glides into the bosom of the western horizon in the evenings. And I loved to watch hawks build their nets atop the Iroko tree during the harmattan season when its branches have been stripped to the bare, of all their green leaves.

After I released mum from the hug, she nudged me to go and help myself in the kitchen. A pot of stew made from fresh tomatoes and garnished with smoked Titus fish, made me eat more than one plate of rice that evening. How refreshing to eat what mum and my sister had cooked for me. To add variety, a friendly neighbor’s wife had prepared a tasty and well flavored bottle of chilled “Zobo” drink for mum. So I had enough food and drink to whet my palate and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. After the meal, I sat facing mum so we can really gist and have a tete a tete like mother and child!

Though I had heard so many stories about my dad from mum and close relatives, I wanted to hear more since I scarcely knew him before he died 34 yrs ago. I had become acquainted with the familiar accounts of his death but what I wanted to know was what only mum could tell me about. Like a trained journalist, I began to reel out questions for mum to answer .Though quite friendly and easy going; she is not one you’d ordinarily prod to talk if she’s not willing to volunteer any gist or info. So I slipped into the ‘diplomatic mode’ once again and had my way eventually. And it was a moment I so much treasured in that for the first time, she shared a secret about her life that benumbed me!

She told me how as a teenage girl, my dad, Abraham spotted her on her way back from school one fateful day. She had just started primary school but never got far with formal education before my dad’s cupid’s arrows struck her heart. Long before then, a guy from a neighbouring village had hinted my maternal grandma about his interest in my mum when she was a little girl. But according to mum, the dude had gone on ‘onudu ije’, a long trip away from home, and never came back after so many years and that paved the way for my dad to step in. More so, this earlier suitor had not commenced any marriage rites, and customarily my mum was as free as any spinster could be, in those days. That was how he missed out in marrying one of the most-cherished women the world has ever known, and his loss was another man’s gain; and my gain too!

It is obvious that as a pretty young damsel she made my dad’s heart skip the very first time he saw her. He couldn’t rest and no sooner, he sent his elder brother to her parents, thus expressing his interest in marrying her. He gradually won her heart over, and gave her gifts from his thriving shop then. Legend has it that long after she had my first brother, suitors still traced her back to my father’s house; ignoring her pleas that she’s a married woman with children. They always got the rude shock from my uncles who would reject the drinks from these unfortunate suitors. We laughed out loud and I wondered how my dad was able to nip the bud, that offshoot of jealousy and rage that every man feels when his wife is stalked by other men.

Despite the good laugh we had, I wasn’t yet done with my questioning. It was going to be the hardest and toughest for both of us. As a clue, I had wondered why mum did not remarry after my father’s death and I needed to now seek the answer from her, especially now that she’s under my roof. For then, she was still young widow and possibly in her mid-30s and quite desirable to become an

other man’s wife. After all, there were a couple other widows in our village who were her contemporaries but had either remarried, or had kids for anonymous men who stepped in to become ‘uncles’ to their children. Though conscious that it may keep her uncomfortable, yet I leaned forward and asked her all the same.

” Mama, gini mere ijiri alughi di mgbe papa m nwuru?’ I prodded. I had wanted to know why she didn’t remarry years after my dad’s death.

“Chukwudi hapu m aka ooo” she retorted jokingly, and not out of anger. She wasn’t ready to volunteer any answers, but I wouldn’t let her be. After all, she had no other living son but me, and I felt it was good for me to know the reason that motivated her to remain a widow all these years. I nudged her gently and with time she thawed after a long pause.

‘Nna m, onweghi onye ga ahum na anya dika dim, Abraham,’ she said with a glint on her face. She had conceded that no other man could have loved her like her husband, Abraham.

“Abraham bu nwoke nwere obi oma. Onaghi acho okwu.Onakwa eghere ndi mmadu na ndi ogbenye aka nke ukwuu”. That he was such a kind-hearted man that helped the poor and needy much of his life. She said such glowing things about her husband; my father which made me feel proud though I never have seen his pictures and have not retained any faint memories of him.

After a long pause, she told me what she might not have told anyone before now. Though it shocked me but at the end, I thanked God for the kind of mother he’d blessed me with. She spoke with such seriousness tinged with humility that I listened to her in great awe.

“My son, after your father died, I decided to have no other husband but God. I told him to be my only husband and I handed you all my children over to him since he is the Father of the fatherless. Knowing that I was a young woman and had feelings and the desire to be intimate with men, I decided to pray a radical prayer which no one taught me. I actually asked God to quench every longing for a man which a woman like me would normally experience”.

Still in shock I asked, “Mama, how did you get such an idea and who taught you how to pray that kind of prayer?”

“I took a fast for about three days and went to the Chapel at the Reverend Father’s residence to pray through the time I fasted. Then I picked up a pen to write on a sheet of paper, all my desires and placed them on the altar for God to attend to them.”

Knowing that my mum can’t read or write since she didn’t complete any formal education, I became all the more curious. So with such curiosity I asked her again, “Mama, how then did you manage to write the prayer petition since you didn’t really go to school and don’t know how to write?”

“Chukwudi ” as she fondly called, “I just scribbled something on that piece of paper, believing it expressed my heart. By faith, I placed it on the altar, prayed with all my heart to God and that was it. God did the rest I must say and that was how I managed to live all these years without having any other man in my life aside your father, Abraham!”

For moments that stretched infinitely, I silently mulled over what secrets she had shared just with me. And for the very first time, I realized how deeply and passionately she had loved my father and this made her brush aside her legitimate needs, so she can sacrificially care for us; the four children my father had sired with her. I was stunned that a woman could so love a man that she gave up so much for his sake, even when death had rudely severed the legitimate bond between them. I had thought earlier that my formal education had equipped me with more knowledge about love than my mum, but how mistaken I was!

I sat still taking tutorials on selfless love from my ageing mother. A lesson borne out of her experiences in life; a pot-pourri of triumphs laced with much pain and sorrow. I had a kind of ‘de javu’ experience that made me understand why she has been such an exceptional woman of both inner and physical strength that hasn’t so much waned at old age. I felt privileged to have such a mother that has led an exceptional and exemplary life of love and devotion to God. Though she may have lacked enough of material goods to show for her sacrificial love, but I am all the same so proud to have been her doting son.

I may have written just a single ode; and a verse to celebrate her, but deeply I know I love her and would wish I would so much as love others sacrificially like she has been doing. And I never would forget this cherished evening that we spent together in Abuja in October 2007!

Written by
Felix-Abrahams Obi
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