I am sorry.
I’m starting this post with an apology to all my readers. I promised you one post a week and I have been MIA for four weeks, one whole month, Kai. I honestly didn’t realize how long it has been until right now. I’m really sorry. I’ve been having a creativity block. I have all these ideas in my head but I’m having difficulty writing and developing them. The few I write are devoid of emotions. I don’t even know why. I read a few days ago that the best way to get over ‘blocks’ of this nature, is to read books. So I got off my ass and stopped watching crappy TV shows (sidenote: power is such a shitty show, how can Ghost be such a big bastard?) I’m currently reading “The Kite Runner” by the awesome and brilliant Khaled Hosseini, and as always, he has my heart in pieces.
This is not a story I miraculously wrote after I started reading (el oh el). This is something I wrote a few months ago and is featured on TUSH magazine, the really cool magazine I’m privileged to write for. You can check out their (our) cool stuff here. I added more than a few twists to the story, thanks to the creativity that Khaled’s book has given me in the past one day I’ve been reading. To all the lovely people that have been harassing me for the weekly blog posts I promised (Sandra and co, my sisters, Denike, Ope), I’m sorry, once again, but I’m really trying, really. Please enjoy this story, and as always, leave a comment, share and subscribe for email notifications if you haven’t yet.
Love and kisses. Xx
“Ovbiemwen Lahor, bring the children to see me, the end is near.”
That was the content of the text message Ivie received a week ago from her mother that forced her to take her two daughters to Ologbo, Edo state, to visit their estranged grandmother. Ivie had bluntly refused to stay at her mother’s house, choosing instead to lodge at a hotel a comfortable distance from the house. She had a premonition that staying at that familiar, old house would awaken the demons she had left behind. The hotel had poor service, poor food, no hot water and rude attendants, but she didn’t care.
Surprisingly, little had changed in the last ten years since she left Ologbo. The red sand which was everywhere still had the same bright and fierce colour she remembered, the families that lived in her street when she was a child still lived there, and the street tap, although now rusted from lack of use or repair, still stood at a strategic point in the middle of the street. Her mother’s three-bedroom bungalow remained unpainted and ungated, the same old furniture lying around the living room; a tattered couch and three armchairs arranged in a semi-circle; even the tiny black and white TV which had gone bad a few months before she left home remained on a small stool at the front of the room, unrepaired. The pots and pans and plates in the dark, warm kitchen, had not been changed. The familiar smell that had enveloped the house all those years ago still lingered, carrying a lot of memories with it. Ivie found herself wondering how ten years could go by with so little changing.
Ivie had spent three days in Ologbo, taking the girls to visit their grandmother every day, but she never spoke to her unless she was greeting her or answering a question or saying goodbye. She would sit in a corner, allowing her mother and the children talk and play and eat until she decided it was time to go. It annoyed her that her mother still insisted on calling her ‘ovbiemwen’ meaning ‘my child’, a name she had always called her endearingly as a child.
On the fourth day, Ivie took the children into the city and spent the whole day showing them around. That evening, she took them to her mother’s to say goodbye. Approaching the house, she heard a soft, familiar song playing loudly from one of the houses in the street; an old bini song by a local artist whose name she tried to recall but failed. The song instantly made her nostalgic, it was one of her sister’s favourites back in the day. She felt a lump form in her throat as she held back a sob.
Later on, as Ivie listened to her mother sing a song she had sung to her as a child, to the girls, the memories of her childhood which she had tried so hard to forget for years came flooding back and she felt an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, again. She felt her eyes brimming with tears and quickly excused herself to the veranda. It was almost 6pm and dusk was already beginning to set in; the chickens that moved out in groups at dawn to search for food in the streets and in dustbins had already returned to roost and were strutting around the compound like they owned the place. As a cold breeze swept through the compound, ruffling the trees and sending dust into the air, Ivie hugged herself tightly, noticing that goosebumps had formed on her skin. She could hear the familiar sounds of the neighbourhood; men laughing and talking loudly at a nearby beer parlour and women loudly conversing in their backyards while cooking dinner. She had lived in this compound for twenty years; more than half of her life. This was where she had grown up and shared a life with her younger sister.
In that moment, the reality of her sister’s death hit her harder than it had in years. Unable to help it anymore, she burst into silent tears.
Ivie was raised by her mother, along with her sister, Amenze, in abject poverty in this house. Their father, now dead, was a prominent titled chief, who married dozens of wives, who in turn bore him scores of children. When Ivie was barely three years old, shortly after Amenze was born, their mother left their father’s compound and brought them here to stay in the house she had inherited from her grandmother, so there was very little she could remember of her life in her father’s house. She only saw her father on the local TV channels, ITV and EBS, when he either hosted or attended parties. The only time she had seen him physically was when, against her mother’s warning, herself and Amenze attended his lavish birthday party in Benin. They struggled through the crowd to get close to his seat, expecting some kind of recognition, willing him to look at them and say,
“Oh! There you are my daughters; I’ve been looking for you.”
But Chief Imade had looked right through them, and when they tried to go closer, his huge bodyguards warded her off. They returned home in disappointment, the kind of disappointment that numbed the pain of their mother’s lashes as she flogged them later that night for disobeying her orders.
Their mother was an abusive mother — she liked to call herself a disciplinarian but she was really just taking out her frustrations on her children. Whenever she had a bad day at the market where she sold second-hand clothes, she would verbally abuse them and curse their father. She never told them why she had left their father’s compound or why she hated him so much. She would call him all sorts of names and blame him for everything that went wrong in their lives. When she didn’t have money to buy food or to pay bills, she would lament and curse the day she met him. Sometimes, she would tell Ivie and Amenze that giving birth to them was the biggest mistake of her life.
Amenze was the only solace Ivie had known. They would stay up at night for hours and talk about all the faraway places they would travel to, to escape their mother’s bitterness. They had inside jokes and nicknames, they shared everything and did everything together. They had dreams of a good life away from their neighbourhood together. People often asked if they were twin sisters. They both went everywhere together, and when Ivie got admitted into the University of Benin, Amenze studied very hard to ensure she also got in two years later. They both had plans of becoming successful women and proving to both their parents that they weren’t useless after all.
When Ivie was in her final year at Uniben, Amenze fell sick. The doctor said her heart was packing up and she needed a transplant. Ivie couldn’t understand how a heart could suddenly pack up. The surgery could not be done in Nigeria and when Ivie heard the amount needed to fly Amenze out for surgery, She screamed in disbelief. She went on the internet and searched for heart foundations and NGOs for people needing heart transplants. It would take months for Amenze to get to the top of the waiting lists and according to the doctors, she barely had weeks.
After thinking very hard for a solution, Ivie finally came up with a seemingly brilliant plan and happily went to share it with her mother who was at Amenze’s side at the hospital. She told her mother that she would go to her father and ask him for the money they needed. To her greatest surprise, her mother vehemently refused, saying that it would be over her dead body. Shocked, Ivie asked why and her mother became silent. Ivie tried to get her mother on board with the plan but she blatantly refused and kept insisting that ‘God would provide’.
A week later, with Amenze’s condition worsening, Ivie decided to go to her father on her own. Without telling her mother, she took a taxi to her father’s house in Benin. Being one of the richest men in the city, it wasn’t difficult to locate his present residence. A massive compound in the Government Residential Area, each fence of the compound was located in a different street. At the middle of the compound was a sprawling white mansion, built to resemble a medieval-style castle, surrounded by smaller bungalows all around the compound. As Ivie got closer to the gate of the compound, it seemed more and more daunting. Two armed policemen sat on a bench at the gate of the compound, chattering away and sharing a meal of boiled groundnuts from a bowl. As she approached them, the younger looking one stood up, one hand on his gun, and shouted at her,
“Small girl, who you dey find?”
Ivie hadn’t really imagined she would be accosted at the gate, somehow she imagined she would be led right to her father’s presence without question. For a few moments she was dumbfounded and when she finally found her words, she said,
“I’m looking for my father, sir.”
“Who be your papa? Here na your papa house?”
“Yes sir, Chief Imade is my father.”
It was only after making this statement she realized how stupid she must have sounded. A tattered looking girl, standing at the gates of a rich chief saying he was her father. The policeman must have assumed she was insane.
The policeman burst into laughter, pulled out his gun, and used it to wave her away. Her pleas to be allowed to see her father fell on deaf ears as the policeman threatened to shoot her if she came closer. She finally gave up and returned to Ologbo when the sun started to set.
The hospital ejected Amenze three days later due to lack of funds. Apart from the small deposit made by her uncle, they had not paid the hospital a dime. Ivie took Amenze home and fed her with drugs that they had gotten at the local chemist, while her mother tried in vain to raise money for the surgery by borrowing money from her fellow petty traders.
The day Amenze passed away was a peculiar day, the sun was shining and it was raining, at the same time; it made Ivie think of elephants giving birth. The house was very silent, apart from Amenze’s loud breaths and Ivie’s muffled sobs. She was massaging Amenze’s head with a wet cloth to bring down her fever when she suddenly started having a seizure. Ivie held Amenze, screaming, crying and praying it would stop. It seemed like it went on forever, Amenze shaking uncontrollably under Ivie’s grip, Ivie shouting incoherently. It stopped eventually, but so did Amenze’s breathing.
Amenze was buried the next day unceremoniously by her uncles and they didn’t even allow Ivie know where she was being buried.
Ivie blamed her mother for Amenze’s death back then and she still did. She hardly spoke to her mother after her sister died; talking to her only when necessary, in monosyllables.
Repeatedly her mother tried to connect with her, to share the grief with her but Ivie shut her out. When relatives and friends came to sympathize, Ivie refused to come out of her room and allow them to pity her. This frustrated her mother and she would complain bitterly to anyone who cared to listen. Ivie returned to school to write her final exams and did not return home until it was a few weeks to her NYSC posting. To her utmost relief, she got posted to Lagos.
On the night of her departure, her mother had come to her room crying and begging Ivie not to abandon her when she got to Lagos. She said she had no one else and if Ivie turned her back on her, it would kill her. The next morning when Ivie left the house as early as 6am, she didn’t bother waking her mother up to tell her she was leaving. She never returned home until now.
A nearby sound stirred Ivie out of her thoughts. She looked at the watch — 6:45pm — they had to get to the hotel before it became too dark. She got up from the bench she had been sitting on and wiped the tears from her eyes as she headed into the dark living room.
“Iye, ma kian kpa. We have to go, it’s getting late.” She said to her mother.
Her mother, reluctant to part with the children replied,
“Ovbiemwen! I don’t know why you won’t stay here, ehn. See space full everywhere.”
When Ivie remained silent, she continued,
“You will come tomorrow abi?”
She looked very hopeful and for once, Ivie felt sad for her. She truly was old and alone.
Still, Ivie replied curtly,
“Eho, we have to leave very early tomorrow. We won’t be stopping by.”
As her mother averted her face quickly to hide the tears that had just now formed in her eyes, Ivie felt a pang of guilt.
Her mother walked her and the girls to the front of the house where the cab she had called was waiting. The children hugged and said goodbye to their grandma and climbed into the car. Ivie’s mother then followed her to the other side of the car and spoke to her pleadingly, her palms pressed together,
“Ovbiemwen, I know you may still be angry at me over what happened to our dear Amenze. But you can’t desert me like this, you people are all I have”
Ivie winced a bit when she mentioned Amenze. They both had avoided the topic during her short and forced phone conversations over the years; the ones where she informed her of her marriage and then the birth of her children, more to fulfil obligations than from the need to share her life’s details with her mother.
“Tohan mwen, please forgive me. I wronged you and I failed as a mother but I want to be a grandmother to these children. They are my children. Ivie, ghė gui.”
Ivie stared at her mother for a few seconds. She still felt resentment towards her. Now that she had children, she understood fully the love a mother should have for her child, so it both baffled and angered her more now, more than before, how her mother had allowed Amenze die instead of swallowing her pride.
Ivie muttered weakly, “I’ve heard you. The girls are tired. Goodnight ma.”
As Ivie opened the car door, her mother made one last attempt to change her mind.
“When you lost your sister, I lost my daughter too. Why do you choose to act like I killed her?”
Ivie had tears in her eyes as well as she got into the taxi. She intended to ignore the question but as she closed the door, she leaned out of the car window and said,
“I know you didn’t kill her, but you allowed her to die.”
With that, the taxi drove off, sending billows of dust into the air.
Ivie did not see the stunned expression on her mother’s face, or the tears running down her face as they drove off.
But a couple of months later, she would receive a call from a neighbour of her mother, informing her that her mother had been found dead in her kitchen, foaming at the mouth, and it would affect her in ways she didn’t expect. And each time her daughters speak about their grandma with voices full of adoration, her heart would break into a thousand pieces.