When Love Costs Everything

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

It is not the changes that occur in our lives that make us who we are, but our response to these changes. Follow Mama, whose response to love, to life, to people cost her almost everything.

She always sits still there by herself every day. Everybody knew that, but not everyone knew her, her story, not everyone knew the real reason she sits still on that spot in such a studied, wild, sullen silence every day. The bold manifold fold upon her broad brow tells her age, her experience, her hurt, and in a monstrous way, they unveil her ever-present pain.

here every day stunned by some powerful present delirious dilemma and mutters. She mumbles with what seems a conspicuously obscured heaviness of heart. Her lips move in such wild rage as they violently complain about things her mouth will not utter. Yet, the things she says, I would never know. Her lips move with a pouty, practiced movement; like they mutter the same things over and over again. No one knows why she sits here every day or why she mutters consistently, though no one cared or bothered enough to know. She seemed like another dot of a human being in the vast cloud of burdened and troubled souls on Joye street.

But she wasn’t always like this. I first saw her, when we moved into Joye Street. She seemed benign and friendly. Everyone called her Mama with the stress placed on the second syllable making it sound like a title bestowed upon her by the street. Indeed, everyone called her Mama even those her age. She seemed deserving of the name. Something in her eyes seems to put her in the know, something beyond experience like she has the knowledge of us all on Joye Street. She knows us all by name and before she started her daily sittings at this spot, she used to call us all by our names and for every child, she would inquire of the parents, and when it’s a parent, she would inquire of the children in a most loving and caring way that showed she is concerned.

In a subtle strange way, she is a mother to everyone on Joye Street. So, when we called her ‘Mama’ we do mean ‘mother’. Not just out of a usual perfunctory, livid show of respect but for a fact. The truth is she has been a mother to us all in the deepest sense of the word. She has poured herself into our lives, shared our moments personal, private or painful. Mama has been there and knew what to do at every moment. She was a rock and fountain and we all stood firm and drank freely.

So, when the sittings began, none of us took it seriously or attached any meaning to it.  But we became disturbed when she no longer says hello to us or our parents. And when we cast a greeting to her, she responds with only a gnawing nod of the head. 

She scarcely spoke to us or speak back when spoken to. She looks at everyone now in a brutal, sullen silence. She shakes her head at everything and her mouth mutters endlessly what none of us could hear, no matter how close we get.

When June came that year, the rain still poured now and then in great torrents. Yet Mama would not quit her spot. Sometimes when I passed by, we would lock eyes. The vibrance and life in her eyes were gone. Now, they are despondent, desperate, and decrepit. She sits still and stares into space like a lost lover waiting to catch the last bus. Her tenacity seemed to have waned and drained, although she believes awkwardly, that whoever it is, she’s waiting for would come through; that when the rain rescinds, they would emerge from the hazy horizon.

But Mama was good until the year her husband died, and her son, Segun left the house. First, she cried for about two weeks, and then she fell into this deadly silence and took a spot in front of this boisterous compound where she would sit still gazing straight at nothing, staring into the deep distance expecting, waiting, believing that Segun or her dead husband would emerge from the horizon, walk toward her; take her in their arms and then her life would be the same again.

See, it is not the changes that occur in life that make us who we are, but our response to these changes.

Both men that mean anything and everything to Mama slipped out of her life in a matter of weeks. She could have been hysterical, but silence is what she greeted this predicament with. But every time we lock eyes, her eyes would tell a tale that she would never tell a soul. When her eyes began to tell me her story, I suddenly fell into the same harrowing silence that gripped Mama's drifting soul. 

Papa Segun, Mama’s beloved husband, had died of a fatal wound in a hospital two days after an incident in his house. See, on Joye Street there were all kinds of violence, but domestic violence topped them all. Papas against Mamas, Papas against sons and daughters, brothers against sisters, and the raging list could continue. They fight over nothing; they fight over things as mundane as a bar of toilet soap, a tube of Tura cream, or some other body lotion. Other times it is a deodorant spray, even over a mean piece of meat in the soup or left-over food, ironed shirt, singlets, or underpants. If there was a curse on Joye Street it was this, people fight fiercely, sometimes with weapons; broken bottles, kitchen knives, clubs, whatever the hand could reach in the moment of wild rage was used.

Mama had stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife without an intent to kill him, but she hit the wrong spot and no doctor could save the man. Actually, no doctor she could afford could save the bleeding man. All her doctors quaked at the sight of the bleeding man. Some were horrified by the sight of the knife still lodged in his rib cage. It was an ugly fatal blow. Papa Segun died with a wild regret on his lips. 

Segun left home a few weeks after his father’s funeral and I plunged Mama into despair, into guilt. Guilt has seized her voice, her vivacity, regret has torn her entire self into shreds. She sits here in silence, contemplating suicide. So in this month of June while the rains fall in torrent Mama would hurl herself into a channel that overflows with rainwater in an attempt to take another life, only this time it will be deliberate and it will be hers.

As I passed by that rainy afternoon running half-naked hysterically excited in the falling rain. The sound of heavy rain was always music to us and we will dance in the rain, forcing the cold to go away. We would run from one end to the other end of our short street, splashing puddles of rainwater that have gathered in potholes on our street at one another.

As I ran past Mama’s house her chair was there and empty, I stopped and noticed a wild rage in the gutter. It looked like a hungry shark has moved from the deep ocean to swim in this narrow channel. I called to the other boys; we all gathered for a waiting moment and watched the raging motion in the gutter. A fierce struggle against death. A vicious fight for life. The momentary regret in all suicides.

Suddenly, Ifeanyi, one of the bigger boys, threw in a long wooden rod and pinned down the furious object that was raging in the gutter. The bigger boys playing football in the rain came and just then somebody was fished out of the gutter. There, it is Mama.

The street gathered at the only public health centre; there was pandemonium and fear that enveloped the hospital. There were no doctors; of course, it’s a rainy day, a bad time to let sickness get you or have any kind of medical emergency. The unfortunate nurses on duty ran hysterically in an obvious charade. They acted out an all too familiar script. The older men begged the nurse to do something,

‘Please, try to save her.’ One woman already wailing begged.

The nurses maintained their busy movement no one talked back to us, filled us in with any update, or gave us any form of assurance.

Darkness was bearing down on the dim brightness of the rainy evening. The rain has now reduced to trickles and we could hear it pattering noiselessly on the asbestos roof of the government health centre. Every now and then during our wait, we were compelled to change our position because of the leaky roof or the flooded floor.

Strangely, my mind drifted and I remembered with a shattering shock Mama’s struggle for life in a pool of pure and smelly water. I thought with bitter wonder, how she got into the gutter: ‘who pushed her?’ I thought out loud. But my question was wrong. It is not ‘who pushed her? It is ‘what’ pushed her in?

Suddenly, after a period of tumultuous and traumatic wait, three nurses emerged from the dirty ward where Mama had been receiving 'intensive care'. The whiteness of their uniform does not equal their wild intent or the obvious absence of professionalism. They stood like emissaries or harbingers of doom in front of the nervous crowd waiting at the reception. They addressed the men directly. From where we were hobbled, I could hardly hear their conversation; only the movement of the lips of the glass-wearing head nurse. I noticed the men shaking their heads in what seemed like pretentious despair. And others kept straight faces like whatever the head nurse was saying was a confirmation of their suspicion.

The men dispersed from the nurse and were swallowed up by the curious crowd of mostly women. Then and only then did it become clear to us that Mama had lost the fight. These were the very words of the head nurse. ‘She had lost the fight.’ A sudden terror overtook the crowd, there were suppressed moan and silent wailing from some women. Suddenly the vast crowd of men, boys, and children from Joye street broke into groups of twos, threes, and fours we dispersed trudging towards our homes, a walk that will take eternity for some of us.

I walked out of the hospital alone, drenched in shock and soaked in terror. The kind of terror that envelopes you when you witness someone die such useless death. It made me wordless for a while. The guilt of not speaking to her when I had the chance; the failure of not confronting her about the darkness that hung over her like a deadly white cloud; the assumption that she’s fine when, in fact, she wasn’t and rested on my shoulder and made me dreary, miserable, and culpable.

I looked at the others walking into their houses to cook, fuck, eat, sleep, watch porn or do whatever they do on a cold evening. They had never truly cared for Mama. Mama, who had opened the doors of her heart and let milk and honey flowed to every hurt and hungry soul. They had only waited long at the hospital to get first-hand info and restrain their wandering heart and ears from any form of curiosity. Now that their eyes were satisfied and their ears full, they will live to forget tonight; they will live to forget Mama and all her blasted love and excessive concern.

They will let Mama, who had poured herself like a basket of water into their emptiness but bore her private guilt alone, die in their hearts. And in their hearts, they will only remember her as a killer. She had killed her husband and has taken her own life most brutally in front of us. Her story will be full of death, despair and darkness.

That night no one had said a prayer for Mama’s dead soul. Not even me. No one waited to place coins in her eyes to ensure her safe passage into the afterlife. No one cared. Most of us left the hospital angry and embittered. Not at the loss of Mama, but at what she has brought to Joye Street.

There was now a new rage raving on the Street that Mama had created. And everyone found it offensive in such a hypocritically pious way. She has made death a familiar thing on Joye Street. Mama who loved boundlessly had brought death to Joye Street. Quickly co-tenants in her house moved out and left the house looking fearsome and empty.

The house now wears a dark mask and an ugly, cold, and grim stance. It faces the east of the city, yet when the sun rises the house never glowed beneath the yellow-colored light of the rising sun nor beamed under the orange brightness of the setting sun. Mama’s death seemed to be the death of the house itself. It still stands at the same place, looking out on the street dead.

But the house was not the only thing that died with Mama, the familiarity and communion shared within the neighborhood also died. The common filial spirit that she represented was part of the things that raged and drowned to death in that cesspit.

On the day Mama was buried, her only son, Segun did not show up. And I stood in utter dismay and brutal shock as members of Joye street danced wildly and ate with joy and relish. I picked up my plate of jollof rice and fried chicken but had no will or desire to eat. After a long pause, I picked up the fried chicken which was lush with much flesh and attempted to take a bite. Just then it started to rain without warning. The rain poured like millions of sharp rocks from heaven and everyone scampered for shelter. The large canopy that provided shade against the sun could not protect guests from being drenched in the rain.

I had sought shelter at the balcony of a quiet house. I stood there holding the piece of chicken, drenched and confused. Then I looked around. I was standing in Mama’s deserted house, right by the chair she always sat on. A cold, wild wind wafted in and wrapped me up. The fried chicken I held, unsure about what to do with it now, fell off my hand to where Mama's feet must have trod a thousand times. I stood and stared strangely at the lush piece of meat. 'Maybe Mama was again trying to help me do the right thing', I thought. I dashed into the rain bolting towards home.

 


Submitted: January 17, 2021

© Copyright 2021 O'maleD. All rights reserved.

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