Three weeks after Papa died and two weeks after the funeral service at St Paul’s chaplaincy, I was sitting on the hotel bed, rubbing my fingers along the embroidery on the brocade I and mama wore on the burial day. I loved the texture and the patterns but the clothe smelt of grief. I will tell Aunty Patty to get me another one.
Mama came into the room and watched me with berieved eyes. Her low- cut hair was covered with a net cap she complains stings her scalp. I saw sorrow sitting in her eyes and wished I could drive it away. She folded her arms across her chest, and spoke in a cracked voice. “Ifunanya, are you sure you are alright?”
“I know why I am asking” she said.
I smiled and lay on the bed. She saw my pains, the shock of being without a father at nine. I loved papa, deeply. Even though he had slapped my face for holding hands with a boy and had deducted my second term fees for breaking the mirror in the visitor’s room, I loved him still.
Mama told me that we will be staying in the village for a while. She left the room, her face still sad. She expected no questions from me and I couldn’t think of any. My heart was heavy again. Mama had sold papa’s two lock-up stores at Apapa to a Yoruba textile dealer to finance the burial ceremony.
At the village, we slept in Orlu Hotels for six days because Papa’s brother, Barrister Nwachukwu wouldn’t let us in the house Papa built. He had threatened to render us useless in jail, with his judicial influence. Why he made those threats, I didn’t know. I was only a girl, nursing the wounds of a father gone so suddenly; I only had a young mother whom the death of her husband left her looking dried- up like a twig. She would seat on a chair in the corridor of our hotel room, flipping through papa’s pictures, imagining the good times they had together: the sleep they shared, the meals they shared, the bath they shared.
Things got worse by the day. But on Sunday, the sixth day after the funeral, Barrister Nwachukwu called mama, as usual, persisting she killed Papa with “mami water” charms. As always, his voice was filled with hate as he spewed hot air through the phone. Mama was quiet all through, taking in the torture, soaking up his acquisitions. I felt like grabbing the phone and screaming “thunder fire you there!” to the bully but I was just a young girl, unable to protect her forlorn mother. But this time, Mama ended the call midway. She walked to the wall socket and switched it on. The television blared. She looked fed- up but determined.
“Let’s watch T.V, it’s been awhile.”
While we watched, Mama was tapping her feet, jaw in hand, nodding.
“When will we leave here?” I asked.
She got up and scanned through some documents, smoothing out their dog- eared pages. She dropped the files and looked me in eye.
“We will leave here soon. We will….” The phone rang, cutting her short. She whispered, “It’s Father Chukwuleta.” He was the priest that appointed mama as the C.W.O president at St.Paul’s. Father’s voice was tiny and slow and he spoke like he was reciting poetry. Mama smiled and chuckled and said, “thank you”, then she ended the call.
“He will come …to take us back.”
“To Lagos?” My eye shone with hope.
“Yes. To Lagos,” She said. “And, he has found another job for me and an apartment for us.” She was beaming.
I saw happiness gradually replace that sadness that sat in her eyes. She found the will to smile again, her first since we came to Orlu hotels. I smiled too. She drew me close and inspected my face, pressing the pimple on my forehead, then she asked me to wash my face with the bar of tetmosol we brought.
Normalcy was returning. We could smile again.
(Chimee is creative-director, Black Boy Review)