18 May Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [I]
My mother is funny; she thinks she can out-run her destiny.
She has joined this group and forgotten where she came from; where her journey began.
She is refusing to acknowledge how it all began, how I came about…as if that can be forgotten! Tucked away in an old basket and buried in the Forbidden forest! She is funny, my mother is, not funny humorous… funny, silly and suddenly short-sighted.
My mother could not have children.
They said the bag inside her for carrying children was too hot, too dry. They said any time my father planted a seed in it, it shrivelled up and died. My father didn’t particularly care whether his seed bore fruit or not, he was happy being married to my mother. She was quiet like him and could read his thoughts from his eyes. My father liked that; he liked quiet. He liked to be left alone to get on with the shaping of wood with his hands. But, he was the only surviving male child of his mother. For that reason, his mother, her seven daughters, (his sisters), and all their minions, great and small, had no intention of leaving him alone in his state of childless peace. They wanted to make him fruitful by all means. So they laid the burden, the weight of a childless marriage, on my mother until it threatened to crush her.
Oh, they were clever, very clever, my seven aunties and grandmother were; they laid the weight with smiles and guile. If my father was any the wiser, he gave no heed. Perhaps he placed the quiet above the noise of the weight that his sisters and mother placed on my mother.
My mother was going to have me; she just didn’t know it. I was waiting, waiting patiently for her to come and ask for me so that I will be given.
Eventually, she did.
After seven years of crushing, (one year for each of my father’s sisters; that’s what I think anyway; my mother thinks differently), she believed the noise of the crushing finally got to my father. She said she saw it in his eyes. One night, as she lay with him, she saw he couldn’t take it any more. It racked him like the dreaded fever, Iba.
“Shh”, she rubbed his fevered brow with the back of her hand, “the quiet will return. Permit me to go and fetch it from where it has been waiting patiently.”
My father’s eyes acceded to her request, his brow cooled in response and the fever that had laid hold of him, took flight almost immediately. My mother sent Ekejiuba, the errand boy, to fetch Nlota, my father’s kinsman, to keep my father company.
She packed a spare strip of cloth, a small tripod and cooking pot, a knife, some herbs, salt and a small tuber of yam. She tied them up in a bundle, put it in a tightly-woven basket, balanced it on her head and left the village at first light. Her day of leaving coincided with the first day of preparations for the Week of the Remembrance. The noise from the preparations, prevented the absence of her quiet from being noticed.
The Seven-Towns-Bound-By-One-Blood, of which my parents belonged to, spent a week preparing for the Week of the Remembrance. The Week of the Remembrance was a time of story-telling and great feasting; a time when all is forgiven, no grudges are held and all sin is purged.
So done, to remind all, that peace is better than war.
My mother returned in the midst of the celebration and joined in straight away. Everyone was making merry and no one noticed that her feet were dry, her lips cracked and her hair was the colour of dust, different from that of our town. My father, who had been waiting at the edge of town, quietly but anxiously, enveloped her in the midst of all the merriment and like a silent, swooping eagle, whisked her away before sharp eyes and sharper tongues could ask questions that he had yet himself to ask.
My mother shivered as my father washed her himself, ridding her of the travel woes and dust. So as not to draw attention to the activity in his home, by the smoke of the fire, my father did not boil the bathing water. He dried her with his top cloth and massaged the oil of the sweet nut all over her body and applied the rest of it to her scalp and hair. She shone like a polished, precious coral bead.
“Did you?” My father’s voice rose enough only for my mother’s ears to hear.
“I did. But you must lay with me before the night is over or the cooling water that I carry in my child-bag will be drained away”. Her mouth was close to his ear, her breath sweet, like the after taste of icheku.
My father needed no further telling. He had felt my mother’s absence keenly; more keenly than he cared to admit. He pulled her into the coolness of their inner room, spread his wrapper on the floor and covered her.
I came exactly nine months later.