Happy New Year, everyone. Rancho here. Thanks for being with us through all of 2014. May this year usher in new vistas of joy, happiness and fulfilled dreams and expectations for you and yours.
Apologies are in order. No, we did not run off from The Graduate Monologues. What happened is the kind of thing that is wont to happen when you have a doctor and an engineer running a blog. Somehow, we got swamped by work so that we have unfinished business here, and for that, we are sorry.
I’ve been writing, however. In particular, I’ve been writing a series for The Naked Convos, and it has been keeping me very busy. Eight episodes have gone up, and you can view them by clicking on the links below.
I trust you will enjoy the series.
Now, today’s post.
It’s my mum’s birthday today, the one special woman in my life. I have an interesting relationship with my mum: I am her first child, the closest to a daughter she has, and frequently, her 2nd husband.
I have tried to weave a story about mothers into the Graduate Monologue theme. (As an aside, I find that stories about mothers and motherhood are a recurring theme on this blog. Fascinating.) This story deals with feelings and emotions a lot of people can relate with and recognize, and with an often-overlooked aspect of growing up.
Your mother cried when her mother died.
You were a curious preteen of 11 or 12, and you could not understand why mummy was crying. Crying was not what adults did. Crying was what the 4-year old in church to get the attention of his parents. Adults did not cry. Even if adults cried, mummy did not cry. Mummy was strength and solidity. You couldn’t understand. Grandma had lived to be 85, and she had lived well. You barely knew her: you could tell she was fond of her first grandchild when you met her the few times you went for holidays, but you didn’t understand old people, and sometimes it was hard to make out the words that came out from between her dentures. You were confused. Mummy hadn’t even grown up with her, and you couldn’t figure out why she was crying over a stranger. But you wrapped your hand around her waist as she stood by the brown gate of your house on her way home for the funeral. Even then, you wanted to comfort her. You did not like how she cried like your neighbour’s baby, and you wanted to follow her on the trip and make her smile. But she had decided that the journey was too far and stressful, and she shook her head and smiled at you through the veil of tears and slowly disentangled your hands from around her waist. She waved at you through the rear windshield of the car as it pulled away, and you stood outside and watched her as the road swallowed her from view.
You are grown now, an adult man with a deep, gravelly voice better suited to breaking up fights and loading Lagos danfos than any choral activity. You have arms that have won more arm-wrestling challenges than lost, and the way the shock absorbers of your car sink when you sit in it not only reminds you that you should start saving money to replace them but proclaim to the world that you are on the wrong side of 80kg. You are increasingly at an age where talk of ‘digging roots’ and ‘settling down’ begin to look less like a faraway dream and more like a looming target. You are acutely aware that your own father got married at 25, and that age is not really an excuse. You have a job and live in another city. By all appearances, you are the typical 20-ish year old developing a career and a life.
You cried the first time you left home.
It is your dirty secret. Of course you had not planned to. You had noticed your mother making sniffling noises around you as you made your final preparations for the trip, and, like the real G you are, you ignored her. One emotional person was well and truly over and beyond the recommended allowance per family, and two was grounds for exile and loss of citizenship. By the time you stood shivering in front of the house to take a family portrait and hug your mother, she had given up trying to hide it and was doing her best Nkiru Sylvanus impression. You were remarkably clear-eyed as you hugged her and listened to her advice about life, prayer, Jesus and destiny-snatching women, and you are almost relieved to jump into the car taking you to the motor park. It was only when you got into the bus that the gravity of your condition hit home fully. You were heading into a new vista of life in a new city you had never been to, and the one person who always had your back was in a city falling rapidly behind you at about 120km/h. You still didn’t cry, though. Real Gs may worry about the future, but they never flinched from meeting it head-on. The treacherous wuss somewhere in your head looked and you and chuckled before beginning to play the words you had read on Osemhen’s blog over and over like an endless reel. By the time you got back into the bus after calling your mother the first time the bus stopped to allow passengers stretch their legs, the tears had built up behind your eyes, and a few drops had evaded your self-control and found their way out. You faced the window, bowed your head and rehearsed the lies you would tell if anyone asked why you were crying.
“Do not be so busy growing up that you forget your parents are growing old.”
You were excited to leave home. All the years of training, education and discipline you had had were aimed at making you someone who could stand and compete in the world outside your house, and you were proud and felt ready to have an opportunity to chart your own course and build your own future. It felt like the attainment of some lofty goal, like some grand accomplishment. Your parents smiled and congratulated you when the news came, and your friends hugged you and pumped your hands and planned going-away parties and offered up words of advice and told you the best places to live and buy food and register in hospital and take buses and shop in your new city. But no one ever warned you of the pain of loneliness, of the dull throb in your chest as you lay in your room at night. No one told you of homesickness or how difficult it could be to make friends and memories in a new place. No one ever mentioned how the sight of a boy playing in the estate you lived could conjure up memories of your younger brother, or how you longed to have dad wave and gesticulate as he held discussions with you. No one told you how you could feel like a third wheel, and how difficult it could be to have a life after work. You had no clue of how overwhelming the urge to sneak out of a boring meeting and call your mum could be, and so you are entirely unprepared when it washed over you.
You become a regular visitor to the woman in the buka near your office: her nsala and stockfish-loaded bitterleaf soups brought back memories of mummy weaving magic in the kitchen and hot, stuffy nights spent shirtless in front of a fan demolishing basins of eba while mummy clucked at the bottomless pit that was your stomach. You miss home. You miss family. You miss the warmth and comfort of friends. You particularly miss your mother. You need to be an adult. It’s hard.
The first time you go back home, you are struck by how everything seems to be the same and yet seems so different. The gate still squeaks noisily on its hinges and the generator sounds like the hounds of hell baying at you, but there is an intangible, almost imperceptible change in the atmosphere. You almost do not notice it. You sink into the warm cocoon that is your bed, snuggling and swaddling in familiar, well-worn sheets, but even that act feels different. There is a tint of maturity in your worldview and actions now, and you can’t tell if you like it or not. You want to be free, to enjoy home and friends, but you realize that things are not the same. Again, you don’t know if this is good or bad, but you have never been one to let your uncertainties stop you from enjoying your present. You notice other things.
Mother asks you to help her get some groceries, and you jump into the car and drive off. She tries to press some money into your hand and pockets when you return, but you tell her she would have more success bathing a cat. You have not watched your parents sacrifice and toil over you only for you to accept refunds from them. She reaches to hug you, and your heart thuds faster. The woman with her arms around your waist has greying hair rapidly spreading from the middle of her head. Laugh lines and frowns have carved elaborate wrinkles into the skin of her face and they have been cicatrized by Father Time. The woman holding you is not the stately, infinitely strong woman you held at the gate so many years ago. This one is more delicate, more wizened, many times more valuable for being so. You have dared to think your mother will always be there, an immortal wellspring of love and support, and the impudence of those thoughts mocks you now.
You find a short-term goal in a burst of mental illumination. You will make your mother proud of you, make her as comfortable as is within your power.
You don’t look forward to leaving home. This woman needs you now more than ever, but she shoos you off. She reminds you you are a grown man with a job and responsibilities and promises to be there when you return, and your heart sinks. She has never had to say that. You look at her and realize she knows your fears and worries. She has always been psychic, able to read you the way no one else can. She smiles and pushed you into the taxi, pressing parcels of meat and small chops into your hand and pocket like you were a small child. You shake your head feebly and accept them. She is mother, and you don’t know when you will see her again. You might as well take some of her cooking along.
You have barely left the house when the pain of longing and nostalgia washes over you again, but you resist the tears and channel your emotions into poetry, composing and sending a text to the woman who bore you and will kill for you. You can tell she is expecting it; your phone vibrates in response almost immediately. You smile at your phone and lift your heart in prayer to the One who can answer, praying Him journey mercies, protection, grace to help you make mummy proud, and health and strength for her to see it. It is your most heartfelt prayer in months, and when you finish, you sigh and return your focus to the journey ahead of you.
Mummy will be alright. Someone was watching over her.
It has taken you more than a decade, but finally, you understand why mummy cried in front of the gate.