Living My Mother's World by Okoronkwo Chisom

Living My Mother's World by Okoronkwo Chisom

I've watched you hold me like a tulip and nurtured me, till I morphed into a useful being.

The first day I spelt my name to you, you made me paste it on the wooden slate hung at the kitchen doorknob. I didn't know how to spell my name, so I would always shiver whenever you instructed me to do so. You would chastise me for any alphabet I misplaced or left behind and would ask if I'm dashing those to the wind. My heart would wobble.

"Don't they teach you anything?"

You've asked about the community school your little earning could send me to, where my small ass would stay glued on the burnished chair all day long. I would lament silently the fun I'm missing and to pass the time, would observe the coiffure of every female teacher. There was the fat one who liked leaving her hair curly or permed, she said it made her look more like a white lady than a negro. The first time I learnt to steal a look at the direction of class six, it was because of her. She will yell at everybody and everything that I wondered if her nagging was part of the reason why she never marry. She would always blame our dumminess to inheriting our parents 'block heads.' 'Isi aki,' I remember her calling one of the boys in the class one day, referring the poor creature as 'coconut head' because he couldn't recite the national anthem. I never liked her aggressive looks and her protuberant eyes, which have the shape of a gargoyle. She wasn't a beauty but she carried herself as one. Looking at her manoeuvre her steps on her stiletto most times, one will nothing but wonder if she has goldmine at her backyard. I doubt if she received much salary, because she didn't reek wealth. Her constant floggings, especially if you miss answering her questions, made me to always pray for the bell ringer in class six to carry out his duty ahead of time. The break time bell was a momentary relief, it would see me playing with my classmates till every strokes of canes I've secured from missing the woman's correct answers in class healed. The last bell for dismissal, would see me scampering homeward gingerly, happily and optimistically, at least I will rest my stomach on your pot of soup, devouring the contents gluttonously.

The first time I learnt to spell mother, I've caught your menacing stares. "Your mates are making undiluted sentences except you," you've told me, as if there was any law that mandated me to be like them. 'Maybe, school is not for me,' I've thought to myself.

"Spell mother," your voice had roared. 

That day, I've stood transfixed like the broken hands of our wall clock, allowing specks of sweat to gather round my palms. My heart had ran a marathon race, racing round the globe, thank God it came back to me. 

"Define a home," your voice came the second time. You kept telling me to spell this or define that as if I'm into some spelling bee contest.

How do I define a home if not as a house with a mother that houses the dreams of her dreamless child?

You'll engage me in word drill, telling me words to cram, failure of which will warrant hunger or flogging.

"Spare the rod and spoil the child."

You'll always say, the words now overused that it held no new meaning to me. That was your favourite verse from the holy book. I'm sorry mama, I once used the one you bought for me to form a cigarette, which I smoked at the confines of my room. I've puffed and puffed till I nearly choked, if not for your timely intervention. You've taken me to the prayer house where they told you that I'm possessed. They've poured the world's anointing oil on my head, engaging me in a kind of exorcism. That was the day you vehemently insisted my joining the seminary.

At times I would wonder if you really birthed me. Our other neighbours never flog their kids the way you did. You'll always remind me how wayward I'm growing, as if you never see the other children in the street who are way more obstinate than me.

They taught you to believe I'm a juvenile delinquent but failed to tell you that delinquency is a disease common among teenagers. They failed to show you the many street children I'm better than. For instance, the mulatto living down the dale who they said always use his school fees to play game and the small Oge living across the road who they said once slipped into the skin of a cobra at night to bit his aged father, the next day, they said the man didn't wake.

You'll always send me racing to the throne of God with your many preachings, I as your sinful listener, shedding off his cursed delinquent lifestyle. I'll watch you shout and shout whenever they brought you news of my misdemeanors and would fear having you morph into a cat the next day but you never did. I wondered if you ever tire from bellowing.

'Efukwana,' you'll always cry, pleading with me not to get lost, as if I'm into a kind of peregrination, when all I do is wander aimlessly round the street like a jobless child. I never dreamt bringing food home to cure the poor family's hunger. I never knew what you meant by 'efukwana'  till an old woman said you desired me to live aright and not to derail. How will I know when all you do is release morphemes of our broken dialects? When all you do is see my heart as sealed with cement, 'stony heart,' you would call me, especially the nights when I will frown my face like a bitterleaf, rejecting your every imploration to join the family in prayer.

On such nights, I'll hear your voice tear through the darkness, louder than the hooting owl, which never escaped your curses. You've thought I'm too obstinate to be registered among the living. You've transferred your disappointment of my lack of moral rectitude at everything, including the whetstone, for I've seen you grumble most times, when you're sharpening the blunt kitchen knife.

During one of the spring time, when everywhere was sunny, when I began to shed off my old self, like an aged snake acquiring new skin for itself. "We ought to beautify the compound," you've told me. "Let's plant flowers to add splendour to our surroundings," you continued as if my approval was needed to do that. We've planted marigold at every corner of the building. I told you I love hibiscus and you approved my planting some. I was elated, I did that beside the marigold, careful not to let any overshadow the other. I wanted to plant few at the orchard but decided against that.

Every morning, I will be the first to inspect the flowers to dictate any new change. On evenings I'll water the roots of the flowers carefully and tenderly. I became the gardener and it gladdened your heart. I imagined trimming them when they grow, the way the family living next compound does to theirs.

The day I announced to you that the marigold and hibiscus at the orchard had sprung, though I know you must have seen that yourself, you smiled affectionately. That was my first time of seeing you do so for ages. I observed the hollow in your right cheek and regretted not inheriting the dimple.

I became a homeboy, now more affiliated to you than to any other person. For some time, you anxiously observed my behaviour. I kept being the cynosure of your attention. One will wonder if you never have other kids even when there were two other ones, the little twins Nnemamaka and Nnaemeka, who you said came five years after me. 

It soon degenerated into my joining you in the kitchen. I will tell you stories about any new boy in school as you prepare the dishes. You would listen with rapt attention, yet I doubted if the onion sizzling in the oil ever let you catch all I said. I became eager to learn how to cook but you told me that the kitchen is not for boys. I was resolute, Nnemamaka was too small to handle the kitchen soon, I've thought. I learnt to prepare food in your absence. I would slice the onion the way you did and would force Nnemamaka to grind the pepper to make a good soup. I learnt to feed my little ones and ensure yours is ready before your arrival.

"Your head is coming home," you told me on one of the occasions, as if my head had previously embarked on a sojourn.

"I always have you in my mouth whenever I'm sending words to God, anam akpu gi n'onu," you told me looking up, as if you want to see God acquiesce to your statement. "My efforts are yielding meaningful results," you've bragged optimistically, making me wish being the panacea to your craving soul. At least to make God rest from your constant prayers, though they said he never rest. I pitied the way you stuff words into his ears every day.

I remembered your telling me how the departure of father made you love sick. How it deprived you of your joy, making you to take the colour of someone else unlike your jovial self. You never mentioned your missing a man to warm your bed and kiss your parched lips. I wanted to remind you that, but my head was sane enough to only let out a gentle nod. 

I wondered why father left. I wondered if you nag at him like most of the women in the neighbourhood. I conjured up vividly his face in my mind eyes, the oval face with a flat nose that looked as if it was pressed flat at creation. That was the only thing I could remember about him. I wasn't privileged to spend time with him as a child but a part of me loved him like a father.

"Would you be suffering if he was here? Would we not feed well and dress like the children of the rich?" I found my voice questioning myself most days. I harboured my fears and questions to myself.

On days when you're in your mood, you would tell us stories. Stories of the bad child that got rewarded and would ask us the moral lessons afterwards. "It is not good to be a bad child," you would conclude, I feared your having me in mind while telling these tales. You would nudge any one's head whenever it seemed as if the person's mind was wavering.

The first day I came home to tell you about my good results, your face had shimmered like water. You've hugged me, not the usual hug I've gotten but a passionate one. I saw tears run down your cheeks. I saw hope ignited in your face. You stared at me confining your words in your heavy laden stares.

"Congratulations son," you said ecstatically. That was my first time of not carrying the entire class on my head, as you would tease me whenever I came last in class.

The next day, you sat me down and began to tell me the story of Ben Carson. I did not know him but you did. You told me he was a renowned neurosurgeon and that his childhood wasn't palatable, that it was somehow like mine.

"Did his father ever elope with another lover?" I've asked inquisitively but your puckered face made me wish I could withdrew the question.

We talked till we got tired. You asked me what I will like to become in future. At seventeen, I still don't have any dream of what I want to be, so I told you I want to become somebody. I watched you crease your brows.

I searched for the right words. "I'll like to be an engineer, so that I'll build you a fine house," I said after much contemplation. You've giggled, displaying your set of white dentition and sparkling white eyes, a trait I was glad to inherit. The eyes made me remember the argument that had ensued between two of my classmates one day. One had argued that I have the eyes of snow, by virtue of which I can see clearly. The other, somehow skeptical stated that white eyes is not a guarantee of seeing well. I didn't join them in the argument.

Silence lingered between us for some minutes. Within this period, we kept stealing glances, you ruminating on what I've told you and I contemplating how I'll do it. I never like the rat infested house we were living in. I always envied the children of the big men in the vicinity, whose bungalows and storey buildings made caricature of our little abode. I knew you resented the house as I did but you never admitted that, you like accepting whatever fate gives you.

That night, we've embarked on one of those long prayers that chases sleep away from one’s eyes. I wanted to tell you to stop praying too much but restrained from the temptation for fear of your seeing me as a demon possessed child. I wondered if the big men in the vicinity pray as much as you do. You once told me some do while others used juju to protect themselves. I haven't seen a juju before but somehow I knew it was demonic. 

At twenty, when I secured admission on scholarship to study at the prestigious University of Columbia, you went aglow. Your joy filtered into God's ears for I heard you praising him. You told me it was your constant prayers that did that. I never doubted but yet I was somehow skeptical, I didn't accept that wholeheartedly.

"Your efforts did mama,' I've blurted out, you said nothing. We stood transfixed for long, staring at each other, watching our hearts and eyes amalgamated, my black dissolving in your grey.

I've hugged you, I've cried, unable to hold back the tears that welled up my eyes. 

"Your spankings, stories, advice and prayers did mama," I continued, bringing prayers last so that you wouldn't see me as an atheist.

You held me in your firm embrace for long. Memories of my obstinate years flashing vividly at your mind. I guessed at that instant that you will remember telling me 'efukwana'  and thanked God I didn't get lost. Lost in the labyrinth of juvenile delinquency, youthful shenanigans and exuberance, though I'm still in my prime, but I didn't plan going back to being an obdurate child.

This was many years ago. As I stood before your very presence after what seemed like ages, I observed that a lot of things have happened between us. The flowers at every side of the compound have all blossomed, adding splendour to the surroundings. I knew the twins, Nnemamaka and Nnaemeka are trying their best in trimming the flowers now that they are of age. I read happiness in your eyes. The twins were happy too.

We've stood under the mangrove shade which prevented the sun rays from scorching us, it only managed to penetrate its little sliver like rays, for long discussing. I wanted to tell you many things but I kept appreciating you. Your sacrifices, especially the one that made you sell your lappa to see that I become somebody. Your midnight tears which washed sins out of me because I always hear you say "forgive him his sins" whenever you're pouring prayers into God's ears. It dawned on me at that instant that the place you normally stay to render your prayers then was the family altar, how can my little head dictate that earlier than now. There was the image of whom you called Jesus.

I've returned from the University of Columbia a changed man. I, once called a dummy by my chemistry school teacher ended up being the best graduating student of the university, winning many prizes and even securing another scholarship grant at Oxford. I hope to decline the offer of doing my masters there, to aid you run the affairs of the family.

As I broke the news to you that day, you broke into one of those incessant praises of yours, pouring them into God's eardrum as you always do. I marvelled at your resilience and persistence in everything. I began to trust your God but don't trust my ability to pray and praise him as much as you do.

"Dear mama, you ignited light at the tunnel, thank you" I've whispered into your ears as we hugged. Your glinting eyes casting rays of hope round the compound.

I regretted not planting tulip together with the marigold and hibiscus because I saw myself as a tulip in your gentle hand. It wasn't late nor bad anyway, so I thought finally, as the two flowers are already doing wonders in the compound which I dreamt furnishing or rather renovating soon. As we sat on one of the tree trunk, long converted into a chair, my eyes focused on the flowers which were now fully grown. I compared myself to them, "ain't I blooming like these poor things?" I asked proudly.

"Every little being is a flower," you answered, looking now at them, as if that was your first time of seeing them in the compound, as if you dictated something different.

"You water children as flowers and watch them bloom on spring," you heaved as wisps of air caught your face.

"God bless you mama for nurturing me like one," I giggled as I thanked you, recounting within me how you contributed to my wellbeing, enabling me to be who I am today.


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  1. Good one
    Well articulated

    May God bless all good mothers in the world

    More grace and heights to the writer

  2. Very interesting please write more

  3. Weldone Chisom. You will have to watch your sentence constructions and grammar. Keep writing.


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