My shadow was twice my length. Noon seemed to be steadily packing its bags. I emptied the refuse bin into the big blue waste drum by the gate. The drum was almost filled; I hope the waste-carriers would come before the week runs out. I looked across, to the house nearly opposing ours and saw Mama as she is mostly called. I greeted her. Most of her days are spent on the wooden bench always placed at the verandah; sitting peacefully, staring at nothing in particular; returning greetings from passersby in a low, calm tone. Occasionally, she would walk up the jagged road to the junction, slightly bent and staggering, to buy food or perhaps search for her grandchild. The five-year-old boy, Toby never quite to stay put; innocently stressing the poor old woman. Of course, she never rose any complains, she would calmly brought him home again and again. “Such a calm and tolerant grandmother”, I thought; but then, isn’t that to be expected. The greatest joys of a grandmother are her grandchildren. I returned inside and gently closed the gate behind me.
Something just seems odd. I could not see joy in mama’s eyes. The odd is that I can neither feel sad nor feel too comfortable to pity. One could barely read any emotion from her stoical face; she seemed to be in a realm difficult to understand. Except for her grandchild, no other relative had ever seen with her. What about her children? Where is Toby’s mother or father? Or are they no more? All these thoughts were circling my head when I heard the call to prayer. I hurried to make ablution and prepared my praying mat. I have learnt from the chronicles of my creed that the key to success is to pray on time. “The call to prayer is a signal that God is calling you to Him; when you answer Him in haste, He answers to your wants in haste as well”, my righteous mother would always remind us almost every day after the Morning Prayer.
My mother is my first-class role model. Most nights, she would make us read stories of pious people of the past; telling us that we need to know how they lived successfully with no regrets. Most times, she would emphasize the importance and reward of helping others and caring about them. This brought back the thought of mama, our neighbor. Mother would regularly send my brother to give her food and other essential things she might need but would never ask for. At other times, she would stopped by her house for a while on her way to work; Mama was mostly on the verandah, so mother always had no reason to enter the house. Usually, Mama never showed her appreciation and I wonder why. But mother would say, “Always give and when you do, never expect thanks or appreciation from the receiver. Do things for the sake of the Creator. That is healthier for you!” I believed that for I believe whatever mother says.
Gradually, it happened that the bench on Mama’s verandah started becoming empty. Mama became scarce and Toby wasn’t seen anymore. At first, I thought they had travelled and so did mother. Perhaps I was wrong about mama having no relatives. The house where mama lives was the indigenous type, having a long corridor with rooms on opposite sides, commonly known as ‘’face-me-I-face-you”. There were two other tenants that live in the house; however, it wasn’t so weird that they had no close relationship with Mama. Generally, people around the vicinity had always perceived my mother as a brave and brazen woman for always checking up on Mama – whose relatives seemed to have abandoned.
Mother became worried. No one had seen Mama for almost two weeks. On a particular day, she got back from work and went to Mama’s house; determined to seek any information she could acquire so as to be sure of what exactly happened to Mama. One of the tenants was around but she could barely give any helpful information as regards Mama’s whereabouts. Is the world that wrecked? I questioned innocently. She pointed toward Mama’s room uncaringly, as she talked. Mother walked over to the room, she wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do but she was gravely concerned. The door was slightly opened; she called out, ‘Mama…mama’. Of course, she didn’t expect any response. Mama, most definitely couldn’t be inside her room for almost two weeks. She had probably travelled but then, Mama would have told her. She made a quick silent prayer and then peeped inside the room. Her eyes traced the first corner of the room; there were dirty, overturned utensils on the floor and then, to second corner of the room were sullied clothes from which an awful odor emanated. By the third corner of the room, to her utmost disbelief was a mat on which was a folded human form. Mother exclaimed, ‘The Creator be glorified…Mama! Indeed…it was Mama!
For almost two weeks, Mama had been bedridden. She was very frail and could barely move her limbs; her voice was so faint and almost lifeless. Everyone who heard that was shocked. At first, mother didn’t know what to do; different thoughts were racing through her head. After much deliberation, she contacted one of the community nurses she was well-acquainted with and explained Mama’s condition to her. The nurse promised to check on her the following day. That night, mother sent my brother with some food to Mama. “At least, if she is able eat, she wouldn’t be so lifeless”, mother thought. I felt really bad for Mama; she must have been relieving herself on the mat all these while. That definitely, would have worsened her sickness. Now I was rest-assured Mama had no one except mother.
The nurse came over the next day and after examining Mama, she made a rough diagnosis of stroke. She advised that Mama should be taken to the hospital for further diagnoses and tests. She emphasized that it’s a matter of urgency. Mother thanked her and replied that she would contact Mama’s relatives. Wait a minute…Mama’s relatives? She has relatives? Unbelievable! I barely waited for the nurse’s departure before blurting out in shock, “Mother, is that true?”, “Yes”, she distressed. “She has two daughters”, she added. It was too much for me to take in; it was as if there was bile on my throat. Why anyone would abandon their own mother? Can there ever be a sufficient reason to do that? It sounded like a bad omen to me; I forbid that! I could never ever do such! But I hadn’t seen anything. What an ideal mindset I had.
The following week, mother made effort to contact Mama’s children. She was fortunate to find someone within the area that had a connection to them; she got the mobile number of one of the daughters. How woeful they will feel when they knew the condition of their mother; if they have to crawl to her, they will. There goes my idealistic school of thought. Again, I was wrong! Mother called and related Mama’s critical state to her. She happened to be the second daughter and in fact, Toby’s mother. After grumbling inaudibly for a while, she said she couldn’t come as she is presently busy but she would call the first daughter to come over. Mother felt less worried. I didn’t! Why? My city of idealism was gradually being swept over by a hectic hurricane. A week passed and neither daughter one nor daughter two showed up. All the while, mother did the best she could to take care of Mama. Mother wasn’t a very free woman either but she added Mama to her priority list. Though, she couldn’t take Mama to the hospital for they’ll request for a relative and it would be highly improper to put up herself as a relative when Mama still had able and capable daughters. Mother kept trying to contact the second daughter but most of the efforts proved abortive. When she was finally able to reach her, she told her to send the mobile number of the first daughter and gave a stern and cold warning that if they don’t come together and find a way to take care of Mama and she breathes her last in that condition, they would regret it bitterly for the rest of their lives.
On the third day, a woman knocked on our gate and asked for mother. I ushered her in and asked for her details and then I realized she was Mama’s first daughter. I so much wanted…so much wanted to ask her from the depth of my idealistic mind why she and her sisters abandoned their mother. What could Mama have done to deserve that? If I was able to know the reason, could it be a cure for my crumbling city of idealism? But I couldn’t ask. Her face was so rigid and remorseless. She greeted mother reluctantly but that was the least of mother’s concerns. A daughter had shown up; there was hope. Mother had several discussions with her, perhaps her heart would soften and Mama’s condition would at least be better for there is a limit to what mother can do for Mama without the consent of her relatives. How ironic it was that someone has to be beseeched to take care of one’s own mother. Whoosh! Another building crumbled. She stayed the night with Mama and left the next morning.
Two days later, she came with a cab and took Mama with her. Mother felt so fulfilled. “Alhamdulillah…Alhamdulillah”, she kept muttering. Mother’s words touch her heart just as she has touched the heart of many. As we read stories of pious people of the past that night, I looked at mother and thought, “If my creed allowed it, I could worship this beautiful woman for I love her unconditionally”. Though my city of idealism was almost destroyed but that thought gave me strength and I started recovering, gradually from my puzzled state.
No…it didn’t end there. After two weeks, Mama was brought back. Her condition had worsened. The first daughter complained that she was also sick and had no money. As such she couldn’t be in charge of Mama. She had come along with her husband to drop Mama. Mother was again disturbed, explaining to her that money isn’t the issue. Mama needs care, love, and attention. But mother’s counseling wasn’t swallowed not to mention digested. The most infuriating of all was when the husband who stood outside the whole time and didn’t even enter the house for once to check on Mama, called mother and praised her. Then, he dipped his hands into his pathetic pocket and stretched it out with “a sum of two hundred and fifty naira” towards mother. Oh no…That was the last unlucky straw that broke the enduring camel’s back! Mother was angered! “How shameless you all are” she said calmly. They were taken aback. “Do I look like a jobless woman to you? Or do you think I’m in search of money? All these while, I must have seemed to you a petty pest pestering you to take care of your own mother! Maybe, she had done something to you but you think that is enough reason to neglect her at this crucial moment of her life. She needed not open her mouth to curse you; you are already walking on a cursed path and if you are heedless, there, you will end. Do you know the position a mother held in one’s life? If she dies in that state, you will regret it for the rest of your pitiful lives. I am neither a seer nor soothsayer but that is the fact of life. How difficult it will be for you to escape a just nemesis! You are playing with fire!” Mother said sternly and walked out.
However, that didn’t stop them from leaving Mama that day. Though, a bit of sense must have strayed into them, for Toby’s mother came the next day. But where had her sense been? Toby had been under Mama’s care for so long before her illness. Had she forgotten that so fast? If she couldn’t perform her duty as a daughter, she could have at least returned the favor. But I wasn’t so puzzled any longer; I was getting used to it, though I didn’t understand. My city of idealism was almost gone.
Toby’s mother stayed and took care of Mama for like a week; after which the first daughter joined her and brought some herbs for Mama. Mother could obviously sense their reluctance to take care of Mama but that wasn’t important. The important thing is that Mama should be fed, cleaned, medicated and attended to, all the time. And that is gradually becoming a reality as Mama’s condition has started improving.
One morning, they complained to mother that Mama hasn’t been responding well to them. When they ask if she was hungry or wanted to relief herself, she wouldn’t reply. “She’s probably pretending to be ill. That’s how she does”, the first daughter grumbled. How ludicrous, what a lousy statement – I thought. Of course, that had to be. What do they expect? That she should welcome them with opened arms of gratitude. The Mama I have studied over time wasn’t the kind of person that would accept her daughters back so easily. That nature never made her show her appreciation to mother not to mention her undutiful daughters. Although, she responds to mother whenever mother goes to see her but never to her daughters. Unfortunately, she seemed not to care for her daughters, since they cared for her too unwillingly.
After some days, they both left again, with their irrational reasons. Mother didn’t bother questioning them; she had done enough. She would act within her capacity and keep praying for Mama. However, two days after, Mama’s conditioned suddenly worsened. She lost her voice and started drifting into unconsciousness. This wasn’t a good sign, mother thought. The following day, she informed her daughters and told them to hurry over to Mama as soon as they can. Mother knew mama was close to her final departure. That noon, she and some women from the community religious circle gathered to pray for Mama.
That night, I was doing the dishes after dinner when my brother rushed in and exclaimed, “Mother…mother, Mama is dead” Mother hurried out of her room to Mama’s house. She kept muttering sadly… “From him we come and to Him we shall return”. I stopped washing and stood silently for a while. A teardrop ran down my cheek, very slow as if it didn’t want me to know. I was miserable. Mama had died quietly and pitifully. I had a connection to her; not because she was my neighbor but I was opportune to view a version of life’s reality.
The following morning was one I could not forget even if I tried. As I sadly prepared to witness Mama’s burial ceremony, I thought, it would just be my family, Mama’s two daughters, a preacher and some community women. I stepped out of our gate and in shock, I almost ran back into the house. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a huge and bustling crowd. Some women were moving up and down busily and I realized they were cooking. Cooking? Worse still, I couldn’t even see a flash of soberness on their faces. When I later got to know that more than half of the crowd was family-related to Mama, I asked myself helplessly, “Where have they been? Where were they when Mama was sick and lonely?” After Mama was prayed on and placed in her grave; I looked at Mama’s remorseless daughters as they act busily around. What made them so chatty and comfortable? They had barely managed to take care of Mama. Could their unwilling act of caretaking be rewarded? The food you never cooked for her happily when she was alive; you are happily cooking it when she was no more. The world that never regarded you when you are in it will become loyal to you when you are out of it.
Is the world that wrecked? “Yes, the world is that wrecked”, I answered myself. And as I walked away from Mama’s burial celebration, for that was what it was; all that was left of my city of idealism was a painted memory.