A young boy walks into the house to find his mother clutching a Bible, singing with tears in her eyes. This poignant story is deeply moving and focuses on the loss of a mother by her son who’s trying to comprehend death.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”
– Revelation 21:4, KJV
I have just returned from school in my red shorts and white shirt uniform. Today the gate is unusually open, and the house is stony silent except for singing coming from Mommy’s room. There’s something about this singing that makes me feel a little uneasy.
As my legs carry me to mommy’s room, I wonder if it is really her singing this song. Mommy is lying on her bed, clutching her New International Version Bible to her chest, singing “Because He Lives”, and there are tears in her eyes and the words of the song are not coming out right. I stand at the door for a while, staring at this woman, my mother, her hands on her bible, her eyes on the ceiling, and I do not know what to do.
I have never seen her like this. Never like this. I don’t know how long I stand there and she does not realize I am there until I drop my schoolbag beside her bed, until I slip into her arms, until I rest my head on her breast where, as I am told, a stubborn lump has crept in and refused to leave.
Her cries become even more labored as I rest there, even louder. It stretches on for a while and ceases, stretches on for a while and ceases. Like that. It’s as if she’s telling herself that she needs to stop tearing herself apart in front of her seven-year-old, as if she’s trying to tell herself she should stop crying even though she is not able to. I say nothing.
“My Moon”, that is all she says before she sleeps off.
She is no longer singing now. She is holding me. She is patting my head and sobbing. I am not thinking of anything because I am completely blank, because I do not know what to think. “My Moon”, that is all she says before she sleeps off. Moon is what she calls me.
Someone lets out a scream that tears into the night when everybody is sleeping. It is sharp and biting and terrifying. It barges into my sleep, drags me out of my bed, leaves me utterly confused as to the direction it came from. As to the voice that owns it, I am unsure. Then I realize it must have come from Mommy’s room; which is between my room and Daddy’s. And it couldn’t have come from Daddy’s room because then it wouldn’t have sounded as shrill, as piercing, as close.
I am staring at Mommy, but my mind has gone blank again.
Daddy is already in Mommy’s room. He kneels by her bed, presses the back of his hand against her forehead, his palm on her chest, his hand on her wrist. He whispers into her ears, “Angela, Angela, Angela, can you hear me?” He calls her by her first name, which is something very unusual. It is Darling or My Love or Sweetheart. But he is calling her by her first name now, and she is not even answering. Instead, she is sobbing, hiding her face behind her hands. Ukamaka is pacing the room with my brother, Etumdi, on her back. And me, I stand by the door and stare for a while, until Mommy is no longer crying, until Daddy is sitting on the edge of the bed, until Ukamaka is standing by the wardrobe just staring. I walk to the corner of the room, by the window, and I sit still on the cold, tiled floor. I am staring at Mommy, but my mind has gone blank again.
(Or Sometime thereabout)
It is visiting day in my school, the day parents come in to examine their children, turning them this way and that like one does a chicken in the market before buying. They always say, you look thin, you look dirty, your clothes are torn, you look subdued, are you sure you are alright? And then they leave, only to return the next visiting day to ask the same questions all over again.
Ifeanyi’s parents have come and gone. They came with a giant cooler of jollof rice and chunks of fried chicken. They cook the food as if they are throwing a party when it is just one person they are visiting. I do not understand this. As usual, Ifeanyi will call me to share with him. He will say, Muna, bring your plate. He will hand me a packet of Ribena from the many packets in his cupboard.
But I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want to be pitied or reminded of my mother’s absence, so I step out. I sit at the verandah and stare into the dark sky. I am trying to count the stars. One-two-three-four-how many?
Inside the hostel, students are shouting and playing and sharing from coolers of rice and fried chicken and drinks. Students whose parents did not visit are going round with their plates and spoons and begging; they are making fine music with their plates and spoons. There is excitement in the air and a gaudy feeling of happiness and I wonder why I am not able to tap into this feeling. Instead, I am thinking about Mommy and wondering where she has gone and if I will ever see her again. I am wondering why she left in the first place.
I try to caution myself not to resent Daddy for not visiting. Something tells me it is not right. Resentment is ungodly. He is my father. He pays my school fees. He gives me pocket money. He is a medical doctor; he is busy. But the excuses I make for him do not convince me enough.
I don’t know what time it is when Ifeanyi finally comes to drag me into the hostel.
We never really talk about Mommy at home. It’s as if we have pushed her into a dark past and locked her up there. It’s been twenty years now, but Daddy never brings her up in a conversation. Etumdi does not remember much, neither do I.
I am surprised when I get to the village for the Easter break and Etumdi tells me that Daddy has brought out two big bags that belonged to Mommy and said we could have whatever was inside them. We have moved around quite a bit, so I wonder how Daddy has managed to preserve these bags. From our house in Odidama-Agulu with the giant coconut trees and concrete stones in the compound, to the one in Nnohia-Agulu with the guava tree behind my room and the sour-sop tree behind the house, to our little bungalow in Awka, and now to our village where Mommy was buried just by the gate.
Etumdi and I sit around these two big bags, tense, hesitant. His hands are trembling. So are mine. We dust the bags and zip them open with a lot of effort, and there, t-shirts, skirts, gowns, shoes, scarves, photo albums, journals. I flip through the photographs in the albums. This is when I begin to imagine the kind of woman Mommy would have been. Four words come to me then: gracious, gentle, generous, chic. She smiles into the camera occasionally, and when she does, it’s as if there’s something she is not saying, something she wishes the person looking at her will decipher from her posture and expression.
But it is her handwriting that fascinates me the most, the slant of it that has a striking resemblance with the way Etumdi’s handwriting floats between lines, the precision in the letters, the fragility and tenderness of her words. For the very first time, I imagine her in me, taking possession of my very being, living her life through me. Uncle Chigbo had said sometime ago that I look like Mommy, but how do you know you look like someone when you do not even know what they look like?
And God shall wipe away all their tears… Why did he give us tears in the first place?
Thursday, April 27
At my landlord’s wake-keep, his beautiful wife reads from Revelation in front of the mourning crowd. Her words come out unhindered, and this is what upsets me.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death…
It is the way she calmly reads out the words that makes me think of where her husband could possibly be that very moment. Does she not worry that she may never see him again? Has she cried enough? Has she mourned him enough? I had imagined her choking at those words, but here she was, reading them out loud and clear. Does she have all the answers she needs from God? Has she questioned him enough?
When I get back to my room later, I am restless. I scatter my bookshelf looking for the brochure for Mommy’s funeral. And God shall wipe away all their tears… Why did he give us tears in the first place? Why did he put us here? How does it make sense for someone to create, only to take away to some place where there shall be no more death? What sort of thing is that?
My aunts say Mommy looked really peaceful in her last moments. They say she was talking to some persons nobody in the hospital room could see. They say she did not struggle. I am tired of hearing all of that. What I want to know is what I was doing that night she slipped away. Was it the night I was memorizing lines from W. H. Davies’ poem, “Leisure”, from my Primary 4 Macmillan English? Was it the night I was bouncing off words against the walls of the house? Or was it the night it rained heavily, twelve coconuts falling off the coconut tree by the black entrance gate?
I look at W. H. Davies’ poem, now in my handwriting, on a sheet suspended on the wall of my shelf by a tack pin.
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare…”
There’s something depressingly nostalgic about this poem. I want to stop thinking about Mommy on her sickbed. I want to stop thinking about death. I want to remember something else about her, but my memories fail me now and something is circling in my head. As I pace my room, I remember my landlady’s face as she read out those words from Revelation. She looked like she believed them. I wish she did not.
Munachim Amah explores family, loss, and gender through his writing. He is an alumnus of the 2016 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and his writing has been published on africanwriter.com, sarabamag.com, kalaharireview.com, connectnigeria.com. His short story, Stolen Pieces, is on the long list for the 2017 Writivism Short Story Prize.