One Sunday evening, my husband and I sat in the comfort of our balcony, hearts beating in unison to the tune of the evening breeze. It was a calm evening, and we basked in the orchestrated symphony of sounds around us; the occasional rustle of pawpaw leaves from our neighbour’s back garden, the crackling sound of fallen leaves being swept across the German floor of our compound, completely surrendering to the passing wind. It had become a habit – this sitting on the balcony act – and we carried it out with ritual meticulousness. Kola and I gathered the stories of each day of the week and raked them together into a humongous heap for Sunday. At 6pm, he would rise languidly from his recliner chair and draw the curtains in our room shut. He would then take a blanket from our closet and make his way to the balcony.
Kola often joked about not needing the blanket, as I almost always ended up squeezing next to him, my arms forming a ring around his torso, and my bare face grazing the muscles of his firm chest. We would watch as people flowed to and from our street, a river of humans thinning out with time until only random trickles could be seen. Before the twins came – and in the infancy of our marriage – we shared kisses from that spot, purposefully attracting the attention of passers-by who repeatedly shouted their disapproving remarks in our direction. When the twins came, we adjusted this routine to include them, as this was the only moment I did not talk about baby food, or the latest childcare author I found on mum’s hub.
Those days are now long gone, and this Sunday evening, I decide to sit in silence. Kola talks for a while about his latest business deal: he secured a two-year contract with the state government, beating Julius Berger and MCC. As celebration, I pour out two glasses of plum wine, and watch as both glasses drown the purple liquid. I drink them both in a heartbeat, as Kola let’s out uncontrollable laughter, the repeated cackles that had me spellbound the first time I met him.
He sneered in my face, ‘See you! Alcoholic like you!’
From where we sat, I could see Musa the tall, lanky and olive-skinned suya seller poke a stick into his mini furnace. A couple of moments later, fatty meat sizzled above bright red coals in front of him. I always worried that his sweat got mixed with the suya, and was the secret ingredient to its unique flavour. That worry was often very short lived, as I missed no opportunity to partake of his culinary masterpiece. Something must kill a man.
As we sat side-by-side observing the world around us, a thought crossed my mind. My mother. She was right. She was right all along. She saw this day way before I did, this contentment that could only be birthed from acceptance and positivity.
Growing up, it was difficult to see reasons with my mother on so many issues. In JSS1, Chinenye Okafor brought a full makeup kit to school, and made a lot of friends because of this. Everyone dipped fingers into the pink creamy lip stain, and smeared their lips with its corruptive influence. I sat back, wondering why mother deemed it right that Vaseline was enough to moisturise my lips. I sat there with its residual white lines on my lip, secretly annoyed at Chinenye.
Another time, when my friend Bosede invited me to her home for the third time, my mother insisted that I stayed home. “Even the bible says your feet should be rare in the house of your fellow man” she stated calmly.
In both aforementioned instances, I did not see and could not comprehend what my mother tried to protect me from. Even now, I still do not fully grasp it. What is even more surprising is the fact that I see fragments of herself in me, and when I laugh loudly, tilting my head backwards and clapping so loudly, my husband grabs me from the side and whispers, “you are your mother’s daughter”. My daughter praises her grandmother, my mother, for being more lenient with her. It is as if her barriers have been trodden upon with age, and remoulded into me-shaped frames. It all makes sense now.
Kola is shaken by my prolonged silence and asks if I am okay.
“I’m fine, babe. I was just thinking. Do you ever just feel like you’re becoming your parent? You know, finding yourself doing and saying things you once criticised them for?”
Kola pours himself another glass of plum wine, and brings it to his lips. He takes a long sip, and then places the rim on my lip.
“Most times, my love, we become the people whom we have spent the most time criticising. May we become the good in them, and be honest enough to remember how the sting felt at the time of biting”.
I take a sip.
The sun is almost down now, and there is a queue in front of Musa’s flame. I bless my mother, and her mother, and the mothers before them. I say a little prayer for myself, and the mother that I have become.
When the sun is completely gone, and sounds of insect life fill the night air, I stand up and pick up the wine bottle. I gesture for Kola to come inside; it is time to sleep. As I return the leftover wine to the fridge, I catch a glimpse of Derin’s art sketch from years ago, hanging loose from the trophy board in the dining area.
From within it, a stick woman with a green gele and red lip peers about. Beneath her – written in black ink- were the words “My mother. My role model”.