Mother left when I was just five.
I have two sisters—Isioma and Onyi. My parents had just three girls. In Africa precisely Nigeria, having only female offsprings and no male heir was seen as a great deal of misfortune. Dad was determined to have a male child but couldn’t; because he could not provide for three children — let alone four. Mother was never happy and everyone in the village called her names like "Amusu" which means “witch” in Igbo language. We lived in a small village called Umuego and everyone knew each other by name.
My father was a teacher and mother was a tailor. All our clothes were sewed by mother. When the news got out that my mother had taken in with another girl—people began to talk. No one patronized her again, calling her a witch. Mother had just taken in with Isioma and needed money for medical bills. Father wasn’t making much either from teaching and could barely provide three square meal for the family.
Villagers’ spoke of how mother had eaten up all the male children in her and was only left with female offspring. All this fetish bull shit. She was labelled a "witch" and no one wanted their children to come close to her or associate with us. They feared that she will bring misfortune to them. I can remember how mum cried every night when she thought we all were asleep. She had no friends and no one brought clothes to her to sew anymore.
Father was rarely home. He taught English at a local school in Lagos—the big city. He couldn’t bring us to Lagos to live with him as the cost of living there was too high and he couldn’t afford it. He came home every month to see and spend some time with us and leave back for Lagos. I saw very less of him.
My mother’s name is Ngozi. She was very beautiful, slender and well spoken. She had never been to the big city—but I could tell she was never a small town girl. She was made for more than this village.
She studied at one of the best schools in the village but her education was brought to an abrupt end when her father met his early death—a car accident. I never got to meet grandfather but was told he was a kind hearted fellow—An Anglican priest. My father’s father died when he was just seven. I never heard much about him as I did of my mum’s father. All I knew was that he was one of the best carpenters the village ever had.
Mother hailed from one of the neighboring villages. She was introduced to my dad by one of her aunts and moved to this village when her and father got married. I was told that father built all the furniture we had in the house. He worked with his father in his workshop until his father’s death. Father was forced to work at an early age to support the family. He made wooden furniture and sold them to raise tuition fees for his siblings and himself. His mother was terribly sick—so all the responsibility fell on my seven year old father's shoulders.
He was forced to grow up fast, he looked like he was in his late forties but he was barely thirty two. His head was covered in grey hair but he always found time to smile in the midst of all our problems. I admired his strength. But I could sense that mother was growing weak. She stopped singing and putting on makeup. She stopped everything that made her happy and spent more time gazing into emptiness.
Mother was very intelligent and helped us with our school assignments whenever we couldn’t understand it. She was my first teacher. She was fondly called by her friends “Ngo” —a pet name for Ngozi. Now all her friends were all gone—none spoke to her. Their husbands had warned them not to communicate with mother.
She was excluded from the village meetings and no one invited her to important occasions. One morning mother woke up very happy.
She was singing. Onyi and I wondered what had put her in such a good mood. She washed and cooked. She even prepared our favorite meal—Oha soup and fufu; a native food of the Igbos. She swept and cleaned the entire house—even the compound. She prepared food for lunch and even dinner. She then nursed Isioma; our newly born.
“Adaeze, hold Isioma for me, let me go to the market, I will be back soon. There is food in the kitchen in case you and your sister are hungry,” mother said to me as she placed my little sister in my hands. Mother had never been to the market for almost a month now—as no one would have sold anything to her.
Her sister went to the market on her behalf. I was surprised she was going to the market alone when her sister had gone to the market two days ago to get all we needed for the week. “Maybe she wants to buy something Aunt Nonye didn’t get when she went to the market,” I said to myself.
6 hours later
She was still not back. My older sister Onyi and I sat at the entrance of the house waiting for her while I carried Isioma in my arms. We were getting hungry and Isioma had been crying uncontrollably—I guess she was hungry too. Onyi got up and went into the kitchen to fetch our lunch while I sat waiting for mother. We had eaten lunch and mother was still not home. I began to worry as Onyi tried to calm me down. “Has something happened to mother?” I kept asking myself.
Isioma is hungry and I don’t have breasts to feed her. I was only five. I was scared but tried to control my emotions.
Few minutes later, people began to peep into the compound. Some were shaking their heads while some were whispering to themselves. “Taboo, Taboo” I heard from a distance. Soon a large looking man with thick beard emerged from the bush—it was Mazi Okeke; my father’s best friend. “Taboo, Taboo” he kept chanting.
Onyi and I sat there motionless; trying to decipher what was going on. It wasn’t long until the entire compound was flooded with people—people who never came around—people that called my mum a witch and isolated themselves from her. “What are they doing here?” I asked Onyi. “I don’t know my sister” Onyi responded as she rolled her eyes at them.
“They have killed my sister” aunt Nonye wept as she came into the compound; throwing herself to the ground. “They have killed her for me.” She continued as she rolled on the ground in every direction.
“Which sister did they kill, is it aunt Chidinma?” I asked Onyi as my heart pounded heavily in my chest. Soon I could see aunt Nonye holding my mother’s scarf—she had worn it when she was going to the market. Quickly I got up as I handed my little sister Isioma to Onyi to carry. “Aunt Nonye, where is my mother? Talk to me, what is going on?” I stuttered as I spoke. Aunt Nonye did not respond. It was as though my question made her cry even more.
“Won’t anyone tell me what is going on?” I asked the crowd, dragging Mazi Okeke by the hand. “Please Sir, What is going on? Is my mother alright?” I added. Still nobody spoke with me. Soon aunt Chidinma came. I could tell she had been crying. She tried to hold back her tears as she approached me. “Aunty Chidinma what is going on? Is my mother alright?” I asked—as aunt Chidinma bursted in tears. I could tell mother was dead.
I lost my mother that day. It was the fourth of July 1995. People who saw her die narrated the story. Mother hanged herself from the tree behind Mazi Okeke’s house.
She did it using her scarf—the one Aunt Nonye was holding. She had given up and left us in this cruel and harsh world to suffer. She was a coward. She hung herself with a red scarf and from that day onwards I hated the colour red. I remembered her last days, her silence, her late night shrieks when she thought we were all asleep and her gaze into emptiness. These are not the memories I wanted to remember. So I rather chose to remember the smile on her face when she woke up that morning. I chose to remember her singing. Her rocking Isioma until she fell asleep. I chose to remember my mother this way.
Onyi just sat down crying looking at baby Isioma. “Our mother is dead” she said to the baby. It was just the three of us now. Onyi was just seven years and was about to become a mother to Isioma and I.