THIS IS THE FIRST PART OF FOUR POSTS ON A VERY COMPELLING NARRATIVE!
SHE INSPIRED THIS COMPARISON!
To the memory of a lady from Bauchi,
Who I most certainly here will never meet.
In the peace and sanctuary of only He,
May we dwell as conquerors of this feat.
THIS IS NOT HER STORY!
To the memory of this oldest woman,
Who I most certainly here will never have.
In the pieces and mortuary of her son man
May the duel they conjure pray behave.
THIS CAN ONLY BE HER STORY
Is to live a curse or gift?
If you wonder, you need a lift;
Up to the skies of living memory,
Back and forth man’s own glory.
She must have come on a visit. Though not the ‘all-talking’ type, she did all the talking. This story can only be told by her.
“She made her way; her own, very own way through life. No one helped. She wasn’t alone, but no one helped. She had to start quite late in life too, but she did it all on her own.”
The maid coughed softly. She reached to her right hip and unfolded her wrapper. She untied a knot at the wrapper’s edge with both hands and got out a piece of kola nut which she offered round. No one wanted some. She threw the whole piece of kola into her mouth and started to chew it noisily.
“Everyday I look at her and I say to myself, ‘God, is this what we struggle all our lives to be, alive; only alive?’ I look at her and she looks back at me. Again I ask myself, ‘Where is the fun in living?’ You are born to want to live, to live and live. Is that it? The answer was in the depth of her mind’s inner recesses somewhere, out of sight, but I wasn’t looking for it.”
Somewhere in the street outside, in the breezeless thick humid dusk air, a hawker calls out loudly the names of her wares, as she quite noisily solicits patronage from those she disturbs. The maid is silent. Only the soft sound of her chewing reaches her listeners for a short while. The kola in her mouth is slowly being broken down into small pieces.
“She might have been eighty, ninety, hundred or more. I did not know which was closest nor had I any way of telling. She was so old she seemed to need help to cough or even whisper. But the Lord has mercy for the things that came out of her mouth! The things that old woman will say, you never would have thought it possible of a ‘Believer’. The curses! God! She could call anything or anyone with names off a list as long as my arms, both! And she still manages not to repeat a single name again for ages, like only the aged could. Ha!”
She shrugged like only African women do, pulled back her lips and a deliberate click is heard somewhere in the borders of her mouth and throat. With a sinister grin and an unforced hard stare she very carefully shook her head. She paused in her chewing and it looked like she winked with both her eyes. Then she slowly closed them for a short while, firmly. And quite suddenly, she swiftly opened them again, focused.
“I think it is because she grew up with the Hausas. You know how free with curses and mockery they can be. She must have gotten this vast abusive vocabulary from them. That is the only reason possible. That notwithstanding, she became a Believer! Well, anyhow you do not expect a life time long habitual way of talking to change abruptly, do you?”
The maid was silent, as if waiting for the solicited answer she had insinuated she didn’t want. The listeners looked on, obviously waiting for her to fill the silence with some more words or action, but she made none for that brief while. The so many ways people fill up those uncomfortable periods of brief silence reveals, more than it is often acknowledged, the hypocrisy in their act of honest conversation; which is most often just the two sided polite hearing of the others’ boastful revelations of privileged experiences already known and felt.
“The Pastor promised to look her up all the time. ‘The Pastor promised to see me a lot!’ The old woman would complain always. The way she said it always, it was obvious that the holy man didn’t show up as often as ‘a lot’ interprets itself to her. The man was visiting her almost thrice weekly! I know how large his ‘flock’ is. And at the rate of thrice weekly visits to every family; even for a few minutes a visit, no sleeping or office work and ignoring travel time; it is impossible! The old woman was getting special treatment and she knew it. She not only knew it but demanded it with her continuous bickering. Like the desert traveler gulping more than the helpful bowl of water, I knew the Pastor’s patience will soon start to hurt.”
She grabbed the edge of her wrapper, where the kola nut had been, and suddenly folded it back into place on her right hip. She made an unpleasant face and that click is heard again, faintly above the fading voices of a passing group of people just outside the wall. Their conversing voices just audible enough to hum out words not loud enough to render the said words comprehendible, as the sound came over the wall.
“The smell was sickening. She smelt like…I don’t know. Her body just smelt badly. The rooms always smelt like someone just threw out a rat that had been dead in the room for weeks. You could never get use to the smell. You may think coming and going, in and out of the smell will help, well maybe staying in it all the time like she did might help. I doubt if it did. The smell hovered over the densely furnished rooms like an invincible ceiling and depending on the humidity, it changes its intense offensiveness incredibly so regularly.”
She untied her slacken head tie and firmly retied it again.
“I really didn’t like the job that much, but the pay wasn’t too bad. I did very well with the extra money I got. Little as it was, it helped. Everybody would do well with extra money these days, things are so hard. Kai! Things are so hard.”
She widened her eyes and looked hard at her listeners, craning and stretching her long neck almost painfully. For only a brief while, it looked like a habitual facial expression.
“My youngest; Markus, just got into secondary school and I have to give him money for transportation everyday. I am planning to buy him a bicycle. It will make things easier.”
She was quiet again, her forehead lined with thought, like she was wondering where the money for the bicycle would come from. She moist her lips with her tongue and noisily cleared her throat, all the while she continued to chew. The kola nut in her mouth had slowly tuned into a saliva soaked mash, leaving dark brown stains on her lighter coloured full plumb lips, which she almost ceaselessly protrudes habitually.
“She said she has four sons and six daughters, all living married and doing very well. Her husband had been dead for a very long time now. She was his only wife but he had many mistresses. There were nineteen children in their house then; ten of them were hers with him and the remaining nine were his, with the other women. They all lived together in the big house her husband had built, but she showed no difference. She looked after all the children like they were all hers. I figured, they were all his anyway and she hadn’t a choice. That is why he had them all in his home anyway. Her hands were twisted all along and there was only pain in her gain.”
She shrugged and moved in her seat, protruding those lips.
“She hated taking her drugs. She promised to give me money if I don’t make her take them. I protested only briefly; and falsely, and then I told her I agreed. Then I collected the miserly money she offered me and I still secretly mashed and mixed her so many colourful drugs into whatever food I fed her. I would not lie that I didn’t want the money, meager as it was. Everybody would do well with extra money these days, things are hard. Kai! Things are so hard. But honestly, it was only fair to her I reasoned. If I didn’t take the money and promised not to make her take the drugs, she wouldn’t believe me or trust me. I will accept that my only sin is not telling the Pastor about this. But he would have made me return the money, which would have made things harder for me. I mean, I gave her the drugs, not him. Then he would have probably insisted I give the money to his church as an offering, since it was ill-gotten money. I would have refused still. So I kept it quiet.”
She choked and coughed but continued to chew softly.
“She lost all sense of most things; touch, taste and smell, definitely. But she still had complete cognizance of her money, her hate and her God. She could curse and pray in one short sentence. It is a first for me. I don’t know about you, but it is new to me. She is the only person I know that can do that and she did it in a way that almost normalizes it, making it appear proper and not the blasphemy it really is.”
She laughed. It was a good laugh; short, just the necessary length. Her listeners join her, politely. The unheralded burst of all kinds of sounds, which mostly should pass for wailing, encouraged her. She went on before the noise settled down.
“The old woman’s house is very big. I grew up in a village, but even now in the pigs ‘infested’ part of town I live in with my family, there are no bigger compounds. Her house has as many as fifty doubled rooms, with tenants in all of them. She occupied four rooms with connecting doors, a toilet and a kitchen. I slept in the room that served as a sitting room. That is not to say that I slept much while I was there with her.”
The maid cleaned the dark moist stains on the corners of her mouth with her right hand’s thumb and fore-finger, in one swift elegant move. Then the annoying protruding lips again.
“She always wants something. Sometimes I wonder if she doesn’t spend her days sleeping so that she could be awake all night to torment my nights. But I suppose, it was what I was paid for and she was just putting me to work, typical.”
She looks away with an insinuated disgust her expression hid.
“I have wondered for very long what I will find myself doing more of when I’m really old. They say with the insane, it is always those things one thought of the most when still sane. But what of the really old, they are still sane and mentally alert to know what they would prefer to do. Being mainly unable to physically do most of what they would rather do, what options are open to them? It’s like being in prison. I think it is worse. It is worse than insanity too, because the old have complete knowledge of everything and everyone. It is worse than being in prison too, because in jail your body still has its physical abilities. It is like being physically disabled. It is.”
She smiled. It was a good smile too. She didn’t look middle-aged when she smiled. Her smile lies about her age.